Get your cocoa and settle in. Funny story, this…
If you were to visit Airbnb’s site, looking for large holiday cottages in Devon, sleeping 26 people you might well click ‘Homes’, enter ‘Devon’ in the search field, then click ‘Guests’ – entering 16 adults, 5 children and 5 infants – and then pore over the selection offered of which Bicclescombe Grange should be one. For me, currently there are 7 properties on offer. And we are not one of them!
Just to be clear, when I said ‘If’ I didn’t mean it. Go do what I just said, or there won’t be any point reading the rest of this post!
Done that? Really? Ok, how long did it take? About a minute, maybe two? Now how long do you suppose it would take someone from Airbnb to do it? And do you think one single Airbnb employee would be enough? Maybe we’d need more?
So, whatever you guessed, you’re not close, on either question. It turns out it takes at least nine employees plus an unspecified quantity of technical experts at least three months to achieve the same feat. I say at least, because at time of writing, I still don’t think they’ve quite got the hang of it!
Incidentally, if you type ‘Bicclescombe Grange’ into Google you’ll find a link to our Airbnb listing in about 15th position. We are on their site, clearly just a bit shy is all. You can find us directly on Airbnb, if you know how and I will tell you the secret shortly. But in the meantime, why not have a go yourselves?
Maybe we should start at the beginning…
Well, ultimately, as in all my endeavours, it’s about more bookings. Airbnb and HomeAway (that we have also joined at the same time) are massive sites. If we list with them we will either just get a booking or an enquiry, or if it were me, I’d search separately for the house name and then get to our site directly, maybe to book, but regardless it would mean more traffic and more reason for Google to improve our status. Yes, there is a cost and I may well come back to you at a later date to say whether it was worth it. Currently I think you know the answer for yourselves, at least for Airbnb!
November 8th 2018: Our Airbnb listing goes live. It’s a fair amount of work but I reason that once it’s done it will just generally be a case of keeping an eye on bookings, so I persevere. Matching their calendar with our own was a particularly arduous task.
November 9th 2018: I telephone Airbnb and speak to Roi as I have some questions and concerns. Ultimately I have to make some compromises with check-in/out days and cancellation policies, but otherwise ’tis all done and I can now sit back and wait for the deluge of enquiries.
November 10th 2018: I do as I have asked you to do above – I take a look at our actual listing on Airbnb, or at least I try to. And I eventually succeed! So, last chance to try and find us yourselves…
Kids! Who needs ’em?
Yes, obviously, all you have to do is leave the kids at home! Type in 16 adults and no children and there we are, gloriously positioned in only 80th spot! (Yes, keep scrolling…) So, congratulations if you managed it on your own.
Clearly this is no problem at all. After all, who on earth would think of taking kids on a family holiday in Devon? Since when did children have anything to do with a special birthday celebration? No, this is perfect; what we want for our large holiday house sleeping 26 that’s ideal for all extended family gatherings is for only people looking with 16 or fewer adults and no children to find us. Great!
Actually, if you play around with the inputs you’ll find that you can have children if you just leave a few more adults at home. The bottom line is that the total number of adults and children must not exceed 16, or we disappear. The infants do not affect the results, just the older children.
But what is curious, as I am sure you’ve noticed, is that some (currently 7) properties do appear. So, I think to myself, clearly I’ve done something wrong in my listing settings. I double check and then check some more, but no, I can find nothing to change. For ‘number of guests’ I am not allowed to enter more than 16 and children are not separately mentioned.
Book Now! Or forever hold your pence.
I have another look at the lucky few who do offer accommodation for 17+ guests and surmise that maybe it is because they offer a ‘Book Now!’ facility – as they all do. We did not want to do that as we were concerned with potential double bookings through our own site. I keep this in the back of my mind and get a message sent off to Roi!
13th November 2018: Roi responds. Only it’s not Roi; Roi’s had enough, now I’m dealing with Deepak. Deepak just tells me he is looking into it and will get back to me.
15th November 2018: Which he does, two days later. And this is what he says:
‘For the number of guest issue, As per Airbnb policy we do not allow our users to look for a listing for more than 16 people, this is due to some laws and regulation which Airbnb need to follow. But in this case you can mention on your profile that you can host up to 25 people so that a guest can contact you and then you can charge them extra for the extra guest.’
‘As for the 16+ guests, you are incorrect that you do not allow users to look for a listing for more than 16 people. You do not allow them to look for more than 16 adults, but they can also add up to 5 children and up to 5 infants, so they can search for up to 26 people in total, which we can accommodate. However, if the total exceeds 16 in any combination of adults and children, our listing disappears! As I said, some properties do appear, such as Amberstone Manor, but we do not.’
For reasons that will become apparent I am going to refer to that exchange as: ‘The Really Important Primary Exchange’ (TRIPE).
Whilst waiting for a reply I do discover more: The Favoured Few that are showing for 17+ guests are all ‘Book Now!’ but also, if you try to make a booking with them you are free to increase the number of guests up to the house maximum, whatever that may be. Checking our listing, although we can say what we like in the wording, when you try to book it quite clearly says our maximum is 16 and there is no way to add more. I expand my search to the whole of the UK and the pattern remains. Curious!
19th November 2018: The days pass and there is no more from Deepak so I telephone Airbnb. It starts well enough, I get through to a lady there and explain the problem. We share some TRIPE (see, saved me a load of typing already!) and eventually she seems to accept what I’m saying. At which point the line goes dead. Didn’t even get her name!
I ring back. Music this time. I put it on speaker and wait it out. Twenty minutes later I’m beaten and hang up. But I do give it another go and this time I’m through, to Louie! It’s not a great line and it is a difficult accent and my hope that just giving out my account number would instantly make him privy to all my woes is in vain. ‘Is this regarding your listing?’ he asks. It is, and I explain the problem. And then? Yes, of course, a bit of TRIPE – well, it feels impolite not to! And after all, it is Really Important.
Finally Louie assures me he sees the problem. He says he will get the technical team to look into it. And just to be certain he sends me a message saying it again. Excellent. All will be well!
23rd November 2018: Obviously Louie and the tech team have been beavering away in the meantime trying to resolve this, but the strain has told; it’s too much for him. Iran steps into the breach, and this is what he says:
‘Hello, Andrew! This is Iran from Airbnb Customer Experience, and I am making a follow-up on behalf of my colleagues Loui and Vanessa (I get the name after all). A member of our technical team is now working on the concern you have raised. Thank you for raising this matter.’
26th November 2018: Not particularly impressed with the progress and at a loose end I ring Airbnb once more. Marielle this time. ‘Is this regarding your listing?’ We get the TRIPE out of the way pretty quick (well, it’s not my first time!) and it was going pretty well until she said she’d just need to go off and check some things, whilst I listened to some music. Fifteen minutes later I hang up.
To her credit though, Marielle had not apparently abandoned me and did message me thusly:
‘Hi Andrew, thank you for taking time to call us regarding this issue. Sorry for the long wait, you ended hanging up because it took some time to test everything. I followed all the steps needed to fix the issue but it really still does not come up. At this point, I have to report this as a bug to our Engineering Team. I have just opened this ticket so that we can monitor the outcome of the report. Feel free to send me a message from time to time. Reports like this can take a week to yield results. I will make sure that you are updated every few days.’
Oh well, just another week then.
27th November 2018: Just a day in fact, for the Engineering Team to finally crack this case. And it was oh so simple; it was all down to our availability settings and the fact that we’d blocked off Christmas week in 2020…
Yes. Really. They even sent me a helpful screenshot. Some quite rapid messages and some more screenshots are exchanged during which I basically say their suggestion is nonsense and the gist of the exchange is:
I can find our listing for any date we have available as long as I don’t look for more than 16 guests; if I do we disappear. Availability does not have any bearing on this.
So, is this search listing issue being caused by the pricing issue?
No. The problem only occurs when the total of guests and children exceeds 16. For 16 or fewer guests we appear as we should.
I’m afraid 16 is the threshold when it comes to the number of guests.
I message back a particularly detailed account of how to reproduce my problem and for good measure I also put it into the feedback section that I have found on their website. No idea who will read that. Can’t be many people left there now, I muse…
2nd December 2018: No, don’t worry, plenty left, Alexandra has come to the rescue!
My name is Alexandra and I will help you today.
I am really sorry to hear about your experience. I am now investigating your issue, I will be back with more news as soon as possible. Meanwhile feel free to reply to my message if you have more questions, I will be here for you.
10th December 2018: Alexandra is good. It only takes her 8 days to come back with some important news:
Thanks for reaching out to us regarding this issue. I’ve forwarded your inquiry to a member of my team who can better assist you. They’ll be getting in touch with you soon.
I’m impressed, naturally.
13th December 2018: And it’s only 3 more days before Oksana joins the fray!
I would like to follow up on your request about search results issue. Please, kindly be advised that there were no issues or technical errors identified from our side as advised by our engineers.
Please kindly be advised, listings on Airbnb are limited to 16 guests. You can add infants, due to the fact that a child under 2 is not taken in consideration when counting guests; however, each child after 2 is considered a guest and will be counted.
Infants in the travel party do not count against the maximum guest count and are not charged the extra guest fee. Children in the travel party will continue to count against the maximum guest count and will be charged any applicable extra guest fees.
For example, you can select 16 guests plus 3 infants and that will work, however if you select 16 guests and 1 children you will see how the system will modify the number of guests to 17 in the search bar.
I can see Oksana and I are going to get along just fine. She’s got TRIPE out of the way all on her own! I’ve included this one in its entirety because it is such a masterpiece. In fact I’ve re-read it several times and I’m still in awe! Basically then, the Engineers have spoken and there is nothing wrong; it’s all in my head! And listings are limited to 16 guests! Who knew?! You can add children and then the number of guests goes up. What? Really?
Oh. That’s all she said. I already knew all that. But still, the genius is that she’s somehow managed to make it look like she has answered all my questions and utterly and finally solved my issue.
I thank her, with a particularly long and detailed rant in which, amongst other things I point out the following:
I just searched on Airbnb for homes in the UK for 16 adult guests and found a choice of 310 properties. I found the same total of 310 for properties accommodating 12 guests so I assume this is a limit you have deliberately set and therefore the actual number is probably a lot higher.
HomeAway has 1104 properties for 16 adults in the UK, which is a lot more than you. If I add a child that number drops to 808, which means 73% of their 16+ properties are also actually 17+. Surely it must be quite similar for Airbnb? No, it’s not. Of your 310 properties when I add a child I am offered the choice of just 95 properties which is just 30%. And since you almost certainly have a lot more than 310 properties for 16+ it’s really a lot worse.
I thought, obviously futilely, that if I brought up the competition, and how much better they were doing this, that they might want to try a bit harder. It’s not just our property this is affecting and they’re not offering their customers the best choice for gaining a sale. You’d think they’d care a little!
20th December 2018: A mere seven days later the response hurtles back:
Thank you so much for your detailed message and all feedback. Andrew, I was able to check your request with our specialists and have provided all your feedback. Unfortunately, our engineers cannot identify any technical errors in our system. I wish I could help to resolve this issue but I won’t be able to do so.
Please, refer once again to our explanation as per previous email.
Yep, I’m still making it all up. Oksana solved it last time, remember?
I fight Oksana’s Jedi mind tricks and try a succinct response asking if she can reproduce my problem or not.
21st December 2018: Not expecting a speedy reply I take matters into my own hands and make our listing ‘Book Now!’ Can’t do any harm I thought; no one’s seeing us currently. I retry the search and… no change.
So I try a new search, on Google, to see if anyone else is struggling with this and yes, they certainly are. In fact I find a forum where people are asking exactly the same questions. More interestingly I actually find…
One of the responses on the forum says this:
You must be a property manager/management company with multiple listing over 6 at least most are well over that number of listings. They are given different options like over 16 guests, Super Strict 30 or 60 day cancellation policies, longer/more character titles for their listings, etc.
I check on the Favoured Few and yes, all run by Property Managers. I ping off a new message to Oksana, detailing my findings as well as saying, specifically:
I would appreciate your letting me know as soon as possible whether this is true, because if it is then I have wasted a huge amount of time creating our listing with you, and then have continued to waste more and more time trying to resolve an issue that you were quite aware of and simply did not want to explain to me. It’s possibly not true as I cannot think of a good reason why you would want to promote a small subset of your clients at the expense of hosts such as myself simply because we only have one property. And is Airbnb really happy to only show 95 properties catering for 17 guests, when HomeAway have 808?
January 1st 2019: Pesky Christmas! Anyway, a reply appears, surprisingly from Oksana. Maybe she’s the only one left?
I have submitted all your feedback once again, and we are awaiting now final decision and investigation from our engineers.
A final decision. Sounds exciting!
January 3rd 2019: And it only takes two days!:
Your issue was confirmed now by our engineers, and they are working on it to fix. I’m sorry you experience these issues and for any delay.
We unfortunately cannot provide any time frames when issue will be fixed, but once again I can confirm that issue was identified and our specialists working on it.
Now I wonder, if, like me, what you actually read there was:
We knew about this all along, and we’re not going to do anything about it. We couldn’t care less about your problems or how long you’ve been experiencing them. Leave us alone!
January 11th 2019: I do leave them alone, for 8 days anyway. Well, it was my birthday! Then back at them with an email containing the following suggestion:
I cannot think of any good reason why you would not want our business so instead of waiting indefinitely for a solution I am offering you one, which would appear to be quite straightforward. Give my account ‘Property Manager’ status.
January 14th 2019: It’s too much for Oksana. ‘If it’s Bicclescombe Grange I’m not in!’ are the last words she is heard to be shrieking as she disappears over the horizon, running for the hills. Fortunately, Allison is made of sterner stuff:
This is Allison from Airbnb.
Thank you for reaching out to us.
I am more than happy to assist you on this matter.
Your concern has been handed over to me.
Let me assist you with this one.
I do apologize for any inconvenience that this may have caused you.
This is regarding with your listing right?
Yes, I manage to wearily reply, it may have something to do with our listing….
I appreciate your patience, as I try to resolve your concern. Let me reach out with our technical department.
Of the saga? No, of course not. I’ve heard nothing since but then Allison has only had since January 14th to ‘reach out’ with her technical department – and we all know from that minute or so we spent at the start of this post just how hard it is to reproduce the problem! So, nearly three months after starting all this it’s clear that Airbnb have no intention of resolving it and I’m pretty much beyond caring anyway. I am curious as to why they want to run their business this way. But I suspect I won’t ever get a straight answer to that either.
Sorry, did I say ‘funny’. I meant ‘depressing’.
Speaking of answers though, better get round to the latest enquiry from HomeAway…