The Value of Vocation

For three weeks this summer Henry and I stayed at our first, and probably last airbnb. We have no true horror stories to share, we were not robbed, or cheated, nor were we in any danger. At worst we experienced a few minor inconveniences or injustices. However, what airbnb gave us was a reminder that Hotelier, like Chef, or Writer (to name just a few), is a serious vocation, not something just anyone can play at (my written word is evidence enough).

We were staying in Phoenix for 3 weeks, and wanted to have a bit more homey feeling, than a usual motel or inn. Searching airbnb we found the prices for such luxury (whole house, one room condo/apartments) were at least ten percent higher than staying in a studio suite in a chain lodging business, but we wanted to try, so we did. 

The first problem for us with airbnb is the sunk cost. On rare occasion (like at Lake Yellowstone) we found the lodgings completely inhospitable. In such cases professional lodgers will normally not charge for the remainder of the stay, in some rare cases that they do, it may be one night, certainly not the whole stay. Airbnb has no such escape path for its users. Many “hosts” have very mean cancellation policy, and in any event you are fully charged a week before you check in. So, after just two days in our apartment we were dissatisfied with the professionalism of our host, but we were stuck either having to flush a HK rent down the drain or muddle through. Again nothing awful or we would have left, but nothing professional and at a very high price. 

Our fist hint at how little we were getting came with the check in. Our host, Ray, messaged me to call him 10 minutes before we arrived. I had assumed he would greet us. Instead he told me that the key was under the mat and the main lobby door was unlocked during daylight hours, and to enjoy my stay. This was true and were were in like Flynn as they say…speedy (if impersonal) check-in, check.

The next morning we decided to try the pool and, noticed that there were no spare towels or sheets (two bath towels and one set of sheets). It was clear if in our three week stay we wanted fresh linen we would have to launder it ourselves. To do so we would have to have a stripped bed and no towels while laundering. a chore which I suppose is apt. 

On day two we took sock of the dwindling supply of basics: toilet paper 1.5 rolls, tissue 1/4 box, shower soap 1/3 bottle, etc. We realised we would run out of toilet paper quite soon, so I contacted Ray. He replied promptly but told me he only provided a basic “starter set” and that for long stays we were on our own. 

As we began to settle in we recognised a growing list of things missing from the home that would be common in a decent vacation rental and certainly common in your own home. 

Essentials (Absent and Felt)

  • Mop & Bucket
  • Duster
  • Vacuum Cleaner
  • Cleaning Chemicals
  • Extra Bath Soap
  • Extra Shampoo
  • Extra Tissue
  • Toilet Paper
  • Dishwashing Liquid
  • Sponges
  • Kitchen Towels 
  • Wall Clock
  • Waste Baskets in Every Room
  • Bin Liners

Nice Extras Any Competent Lodging Would Provide

  • Fresh/ Extra Linens (Towels, Sheets)
  • Toiletry Kit
  • Pool Towels
  • El-safe
  • Periodic Cleaning (daily/weekly)
  • Telephone
  • Patio Furniture
  • Detailed information/instructions in room. 

Everything listed would have been provided ( along with everything provided) in a professional lodging company/hotel. The only difference in that area for a similar (actually lower) price would have been a studio vs the one room suite. 

We enjoyed having two rooms, but with the build-up of dust and general lack of cleaning supply we didn’t invite anyone over and use the kitchen or entertain. We likewise spent a portion of our vacations (measured in hours not days) cleaning, even sometimes, on our knees moping the floor with paper towels we bought ourselves. 

I was suspicious at the outset. Sure there are some home-cooks with enough raw passion to risk everything and find some success at professional cooking, but they are rare. I suspect there are even fewer home hospitality experts who are striking up their own businesses and excelling at providing actual bnb services. But it seems to me that air bnb is populated with property speculators who just want to help pay the mortgage without actually providing the level of service of even a basic motel.

Our check-out came just on time, as we became more disillusioned with the dusty apartment, and lack of any hostly duties. Ray checked us out in as diligent a fashion as he check dust in. He sent a text asking me to leave the keys under the matt. This may be some of the dregs of the new peer to peer economy, but I suspect it is the cream of Airbnb. 

2 thoughts on “The Value of Vocation

  1. We very much avoid anything that is not run by a reputable management company (for instance, when we used to visit Hawaii), and even then, the idea of staying at someone’s house/home is strange to us.

    As strange as calling Uber as opposed to a cab (another thing we’ll never do).

    I’ve heard horror stories and of people who loved it, so I suppose there’s a spectrum of experience, but I like the consistency of the hotels we use.

    Side note . . . last year, three sisters rented the condo next to us through Airbnb . . . for over twice the monthly rent we pay for essentially the same condo. Even assuming a cleaning fee and the included utilities, that was a lot of money for a place without A/C or even a television in the unit. Plus, it was an open unit. Meaning, no doors between the living area and the lanai. Birds came and went as well as bugs and whatnot.

    We have used an outfit called HomeAway for a visit to Texas, but we shared a house with another couple and it was a very nice place (we relied on ratings which turned out to be accurate).

  2. This was a whole apartment not shared space but yeah the owner was literally phoning (and texting) it in. On Uber we have had excellent luck in several nations. A distinct difference is that uber hold very high standards of approval of vehicle alone so the vehicles we have been in are all pristine, the drivers have pride of ownership, and they exceed anything one can get from a taxi in the places we have been. Most taxis now a days are now owner operator but near slave labor. We have had just as low a level of service from dial a rides recently as well. But I think hospitality is not what most Airbnb owners are in it for, rather as I said they want to cover a mortgage.

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