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A related emergent motive was that of cost savings; participants that did not mention increased value for money did refer to a perception that accommodation through Airbnb was generally less expensive than that of a hotel, using words such as “affordable” and “cheaper.” The great majority of participants were financially motivated to use Airbnb, whether to get more value for their money or to save money while traveling.
5.1.2 Flexibility A penchant for the flexibility inherent in Airbnb accommodations emerged during the interviews in various ways. Some participants cited the highly customizable nature of Airbnb’s search function, enumerating the various filters that could be applied to the accommodation
search. P7 discussed the convenience and utility of the expansive search criteria as follows:
I’m going to be arriving at this time, on this day, and I’m going to be leaving at this time, on this day, and I’m going to be with three friends for the first night and two friends for the second night, and I’m looking for something that fits this budget in precisely this location. You just don’t have those options with a hotel.
The notion of the ability to customize with the website’s search function was also extended to the capability to filter by specific amenities; many participants mentioned the advantages of accommodations offering the use of a kitchen. P3 commented “The [Airbnb] accommodations offer a bit more freedom and when I travel – I still tend to cook a lot, so having access to a kitchen with all the supplies is pretty nice.” Another emergent aspect of Airbnb’s more flexible nature was the ability to book a room on short notice. P6 mentioned that he only used Airbnb “Because I booked, like, two days before I arrived,” and P8 cited better odds in finding a place to stay on short notice in comparison with a hotel. Ultimately, accommodation flexibility with relation to the number of guests, type of place, location, amenities, or reservation lead time was a major factor in most participants’ decision to use Airbnb.
5.1.3 Cultural experience Many participants cited Airbnb’s cultural nature as a major reason to choose Airbnb over a comparable hotel. This cultural aspect was often manifested as an opportunity to meet and
interact with local hosts in their homes and neighborhoods; P9, for instance, commented:
It is memorable to meet and chat with the host, so the trip experience is more interesting.
How many times do I recall my hotel clerk? Never! But the [Airbnb] host conversations become part of my enjoyable life memory around the trip.
A few participants even mentioned that they use the potential to meet an interesting, extroverted, or otherwise compatible host as a preliminary filter in searching for Airbnb accommodation.
P10 expounded on this concept, remarking:
I would say that I’m definitely looking for people who will chat with me…this most recent time when I went to New York, the host that I chose, I picked because I got my master’s at [institution redacted] and she worked at Sotheby’s, and I picked her because I thought it would be really fun to talk, and we actually spent an evening just like chilling with wine, and talking about art things.
P7 further emphasized the potential for the hosts’ local knowledge to improve the quality of travel, commenting “I get to meet awesome, awesome people all the time, and they’re like my own little tour guides.” Most participants referenced this cultural experience that Airbnb provides, both in terms of forming new relationships and in experiencing a destination from a local perspective.
5.2 Perceived risks of using Airbnb In order to develop a more complete picture of the enabling role of trust within P2P accommodation transactions, participants were asked about perceived risks – if any – of using P2P accommodation services, and more specifically, of using Airbnb. Emergent themes (specifically regarding the use of Airbnb) were the lack of site-wide standards of hospitality, the chance that the listing might not be accurately represented, and concerns about personal safety.
5.2.1 Lack of site-wide hospitality standards Concerns about a lack of site-wide hospitality standards surfaced during many discussions of the risks in using Airbnb. Some of these concerns pertained to more general
elements of the stay; P5 surmised his concerns in stating:
People have different ideas of what it is to travel…you’re going into people’s homes, and you don’t know what their standards are, and you have to deal with people who are not trained in hospitality management or hosting people, so there’s always that fear that you go somewhere and people are just weird and you have to deal with that.
These concerns also seemed to aggregate around more particular elements, namely, cleanliness and noise levels. Some participants further mentioned that they mitigated these risks during their
Airbnb accommodation search. P9, for instance, said:
If I see unmade beds and a mess in the apartment photo, I won’t go. If they can’t care enough to straighten up just a wee bit before photographing, I figure they have no sense of pride and that will manifest itself during my stay.
Overall, the lack of site-wide standards of hospitality proved to be a bit disconcerting for most participants; P4 summarily observed that one of the main Airbnb risks is “not knowing what to expect.” 5.2.2 Listing not accurately represented Participants were similarly vocal about the chance that listings on the Airbnb website – their photos, descriptions, and locations – might not be accurate representations of the real-life counterparts. These risks stem from both general concerns and concrete past experiences. P5, for example, expressed general skepticism of P2P accommodation sharing related to the theoretical idea of the online representation not matching the offline accommodation, noting “I mean, I’ve always been a bit skeptical of [P2P] arrangements…because there’s always that Xfactor of you showing up, and it not being the experience that you thought it would be.” Some participants related actual past experiences in which this risk had manifested itself; P11 linked a
past disappointing experience directly to the trustworthiness of the host, remarking:
You really hope that people are being honest about their places, that they aren’t going to stiff you – with Berlin…the language used to describe the place made it sound a lot better, so when we got there it was like oh, this is not what we expected.
P9 similarly alluded to the host as the root of the disappointment risk, attributing mismatches in online representation and offline quality to “honesty.” This participant further described a mitigating strategy in avoiding such disappointment, stating “First, I know my target location and a bit about it, sometimes from the Net, so I can see in their write-up if they are honest about their own location.” Such mitigating strategies in choosing “trustworthy” hosts will be further discussed in Section 5.3.
5.2.3 Personal safety Concerns about personal safety comprised the third emergent theme related to perceived risks of Airbnb. These anxieties spanned many different facets of personal safety; the more serious safety topics, however – organized crime, murder, sexual assault – were considered by
most participants to be extreme outlier situations. P2 encapsulated this perception as follows:
I’ve also read a blog about somebody that was raped or murdered through Airbnb in the US in San Francisco, at some point…maybe one out of every million cases something like that happens…so it’s just like that kind of being one in a million, one in one hundred thousand, and maybe that feeling being more common at Airbnb than maybe at a hotel.
Something to be noted with regard to personal safety is the perceived difference between whether the guest was renting the host’s spare bedroom while the host was present or the entire apartment while the host was away. P11 for instance, refers to more stringent “criteria” that the
hosts must meet if she was going to be staying with them:
It does make a difference as to whether you’re renting the entire apartment…or whether they are going to be there and you’re just renting a room. I think I have more strict criteria when it comes to that, so if I’ll be in a room while they’re also there, then I’m definitely going to look for the most sane, normal, nice-sounding person. Versus if they’re not there, you might, like, let some things go.
This notion of “criteria” – of what guests look for in hosts before they book accommodations, or which elements of host profiles are most important in deciding whom to trust – will be discussed in more depth in the following section.
5.3 Trust-enabling elements of host profiles After filtering an accommodation search by location, date, and price range, guests must decide which hosts/listings to book their accommodations with, often from a large range of choices (see FIGURE 9).
One of the goals of this research was to explore how and why Airbnb guests  make an assessment as to whether a particular host is trustworthy, and  act on that assessment by initiating the process of booking a reservation with that host. Parsing this information into components of Airbnb host profiles and listings, the research investigated which components are most important – and in some cases, essential prerequisites – for initiating the process of booking a reservation with the host. The emergent components were reputation, listing photos, host profile photos, and social graph integration; each will be discussed in more depth in the following sections.
5.3.1 Reputation system The Airbnb reputation system, in which guests and hosts can rate and leave comments about each other and their experiences after the stay, was the most-referenced topic of the collective interviews. Every single participant mentioned the Airbnb reputation system. Most participants defined a host’s reviews as the most important criteria for initiating the process of making a reservation, and all perceived the reputation system as a mechanism by which Airbnb becomes a trustworthy marketplace.
Participants further cited the reputation system as the main criteria in choosing between available listings. P9, for instance, considers examining the reviews to be a prerequisite to initiating the reservation process, stating “I depend very much on the feedback system and reviews. I read every one with care, including the nuances between the lines, before booking.”
For P2, reputation filtering even trumps price:
I go to Airbnb and I figure out if they have apartments [in a specific location]. I usually go for the highest ratings, like most ratings, highest reviews…and I try to pick the ones within what I say is the fair price amount I’m looking for.
Other participants referred to the quality of reviews as the deciding factor. P10, for example, commented “I find it really important for me to see reviews from other users. I think that’s the kicker for me, like if I were choosing between two hosts or whatever…that’s what makes a huge difference for me.” While the reviews were unanimously important among the participants, there was a conspicuous divide among the participants as to whether they would stay with a host who has not yet been reviewed; this question sparked strong opinions from the participants. Most participants who would stay with a non-reviewed host would only stay under the condition that the host was new to the site, as embodied by P10’s remark “If they were really new, it’s understandable that they wouldn’t have reviews yet…I wouldn’t feel too uncomfortable if they didn’t have reviews because they haven’t been in the system that long.” P9 expressed a similar sentiment in commenting, “Other reviews are essential to me, but if it’s someone’s first attempt and I find the write-up honest, I will go with it also.” Other participants mentioned high-quality photos and well-written descriptions as mitigating profile elements of a non-reviewed host.
Other participants were adamant in not staying with a non-reviewed host. P8 mentioned a poor experience resulting from a stay with a non-reviewed host, declaring “I have and I
shouldn’t have, and I will never again.” P2 would pay a premium for good reviews, contending:
Traveling with my family I’d probably never go to a place with no reviews, ever, so if it doesn’t have above average review rates for that place, if it’s a relatively new place to Airbnb and didn’t have more than five, I probably wouldn’t go there. If it has 30-plus I’d definitely take a look at it and pay even more for it.
The reputation system generally comprised the core of participants’ decision-making processes, and was thus perceived as the most important criteria for this sample in establishing trust in both Airbnb as a marketplace and by extension in individual Airbnb hosts. The implications of this finding will be further discussed in Section 6.