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Following several cases of holiday-makers being scammed recently by people pretending to be Airbnb staff, the company itself has now come under fire from a Dunedin resident.
Airbnb is an online community marketplace for people to list and book unique accommodation around the world.
Laura Bennett (22) said she booked an apartment in Sydney for September last year, so she could do an internship at a fashion label.
The Otago Polytechnic student graduated in 2016 and worked all summer to save money for her accommodation, and hoped it would increase her chances of landing a fashion job.
"I was stoked when one of my favourite Australian fashion labels said they would have me as an intern."
She booked $3500 worth of accommodation through Airbnb in April last year because it was affordable and she had only heard great things about the company.
"My chosen listing was advertised as being fully refundable in more than three places online, but to be extra cautious, I contacted the property host through the site, as I found it odd you have to pay up-front the total amount."
She said the host confirmed it was all fully refundable, minus the website service fee.
However, three weeks later "something personal" forced her to postpone the trip.
She arranged to change her internship start date from September to October 2017, but when it came to changing the dates for her accommodation, it was a different story.
"What unfolded instead was a five-month stressful ordeal of eventually getting money back, but that was only $1200 of my $3500."
She sought legal advice, tried to contact Fair Go and had the Sydney police involved to deal with the issue.
"But Airbnb provided little to no assistance and didn’t want to hear of my problem.
"I even had a customer service operator laugh at me on the phone.
"Pretty much, Airbnb offers no true support system and they don’t care about people’s money being lost."
Miss Bennett said she had since contacted Airbnb again to question why she had not received a full refund, and was told her case no longer existed and she would have to lodge a new complaint.
"So I just gave up as I couldn’t go through another five months of stress.
"It’s been an extremely disheartening experience as I had to say no to the internship in Sydney, as I couldn’t afford to go anymore."
"It’s put me behind financially with my life plans."
Airbnb Australia and New Zealand public affairs manager Julian Crowley apologised to Miss Bennett and the company has since refunded the remainder of her deposit.
"Our original handling of this case did not meet the high standards we hold ourselves to.
"We work hard to make sure every guest has a great experience and want to make it right when things don’t go as expected."
Mr Crowley also provided some useful tips for Airbnb guests to make sure they had a pleasant experience with the company.
He suggested guests get to know their host and home before booking, by reading the host’s detailed profile, listing description, house rules, amenities, and cancellation policy.
"We also have a safe and easy way for you to get to know your host before booking a reservation through our secure on-platform messaging tool."
He also suggested guests read previous community reviews.
"If a guest arrives at a listing and it’s not as advertised, they should immediately reach out to our global customer service team for help."
And most importantly, always communicate and pay on the Airbnb platform to avoid a scam, he said.
"We never release payment to a host until the guest is safely checked in, and you should never be asked to wire money or pay another user directly.
"In fact, if you are, we advise you to report this behaviour to us right away."