The tragic snowball effect of retaliatory reviews

I’m in a lot of Facebook groups for hosts only. In many of them, there’s this disturbing theme I’ve noticed going around lately.

Basically, it goes something like this.

Something negative happens during the guest’s stay. Either an obvious issue, or the guest seems to be complaining a lot, overly needy, etc. So the host assumes that if the guest writes a review after their stay ends, it will be negative and “retaliatory.” The host, therefore, simply hopes that a review is not left. If, however, they see that the guest did leave a review, the host then goes ahead and leaves a negative review for the guest to “get back” at them for the negative review they’re sure to have left.

There’s a few obvious problems with this approach.

One of the biggest of them being that reviews on Airbnb are a double-blind system. You don’t know what the other party has written about you until you’ve both filled out the review (or the review window has closed). So it’s really not fair to write a negative review simply because you think that the other party also wrote a negative review.

Another really big problem with this approach is that reviews are supposed to be honest. If your guest had a bad experience, but you had a good one (or vice-versa), those should both be legitimate reviews. This whole tit-for-assumed-tat thing is really harming the system of trust and peer review that the entire Airbnb platform is built on.

Here’s a personal example to prove my point.

I recently had one of the worst guest experiences ever. Actually, the guest herself was fine, but a minor misunderstanding snowballed to the point where the homeowner whose home she was in was no longer comfortable with the reservation, and asked me to cancel it. I really didn’t want to, but at the end of the day it wasn’t my house, so I proceeded with initiating the cancellation.

But then the homeowners changed their minds. And all hell broke loose.

I was already 3 hours into the cancellation (had to talk to multiple Airbnb reps to get it done). So we had 6 different voices (mine, the guest’s, the homeowner’s, and the 3 Airbnb reps) all telling different stories. It was chaos. So confusing.

Obviously, frustrations and tensions were extremely high. We all said some things we regretted. Eventually, we got through it, but it was an awful day.

I fully acknowledge the part I played in the confusion. If I had been the guest, I would have ripped the host apart in the review. So obviously, as a host, I sat back quietly hoping she would not leave a review.

I almost made it.

But then, 2 hours before the deadline, I got an email from Airbnb. “Your guest has left you a review! Write a review for them to see what they said.”

There is was. The dreaded retaliatory review.

I have to admit, I was so tempted to respond in kind.

It was such an awful experience all around…how could she possibly have said anything expect horrible things? Right??

But I finally realized that, as tempting as it was to do the whole “quid pro quo” thing, it wasn’t right. She had been a perfectly fine guest. Honestly, she had been overly nice and understanding. She’d been a great guest and I would have welcomed her back at any of my properties. So that’s what I had to write in the review.

After my review posted, I got to read hers.

And it was…really nice. Shockingly so.

“The place was clean, Lauren was a good and communicative host,” it said. That was it. No rants, no accusations, not even telling the whole ugly truth of the mess that had gone down. Just simple, kind, and to the point.

Can you imagine how I would have felt if I had written a bad review for her just because I assumed she had written a bad one for me? Oh my word, I would have felt like absolute scum.

But more so than that. If I had written a bad review for her when it wasn’t warranted, I would have made Airbnb a little less safe for everyone. I would have tarnished a good guest and made it harder for her to book elsewhere, harder for good hosts to be able to see that they have nothing to worry about in renting to her. Maybe she would also have changed, perhaps being less kind and understanding than she was with me because my treatment of her had jaded her.

This is the tragic snowball effect that happens when you write a review based on assumptions as to what the other review contains.

Listen, we all want to “get even.” That’s human nature. But you can’t get even if someone hasn’t done something yet. And until you’ve read the review, you don’t know what they have or haven’t done.

But beyond that…you are in the hospitality industry. That’s a service industry. That means it’s your job to put up with all sorts of crap with a smile. (That really is part of your job.) So please, can we all just act like grown-ups and stop lashing out like petulant children? Can we just learn to treat people with respect and dignity? Can we just be honest about our experience, without worrying if it jives with the experience of the other party?

It seems to me that if hosts could get that right it would fix a lot of our Airbnb platform woes.