The existence of user and host ratings in the sharing economy sets up a mostly fair environment, but it can be a little taxing when users feel overly exposed.
After years of using the service, I have maintained a five-star rating with Uber. It’s not a bragging point or even an attempt at a humble brag. I do the bare minimum for a rider: I’m at the pickup location at the appointed time; I don’t make a mess of the car; I keep to myself, but if the driver is talkative, I’ll engage; and I always tip. I’ve been lucky in my overall rideshare experiences, so I’ve given nothing but five-star ratings to all my drivers except for the one who pulled a U-turn and almost put us into the path of an oncoming pickup truck—I gave him a four-star rating (kidding, it was really just three stars).
In the sharing economy, in which consumers are either always or nearly always interacting directly in some way with their driver or host, it makes sense that each side has the ability to rate and/or review the other side.
I’ve never used Airbnb or any other home sharing platform in my travels. If I did, I would hope that I would maintain the highest rating, not only because that should mean I’m not being a terrible guest, but also because receiving lower ratings puts you in danger of losing access to the platform.
A reporter from MarketWatch wrote about her experiences as a frequent Airbnb guest and how she was constantly self-conscious about her behavior as a guest and whether she would inadvertently upset her host, resulting in a lower rating. While her concern about whether she would offend her host in Brazil by not taking part in a local snack prepared by the host because it was 10 p.m. and she was exhausted might seem overly anxious, she followed up with a story about another writer who forgot to return the keys and received a one-star rating even though he overnighted the keys back the next day.
Overall that sounds like an exhausting experience. Obviously users and drivers/hosts should be able to share honest ratings and reviews of each other, especially if someone created a problem. However, when there aren’t standards in place to help guide those ratings/reviews, those negative reviews can hurt either side if the person leaving the rating is easily upset.
The article also points to the guilt users might feel if they leave a negative rating, because they’re aware that could affect their host’s/driver’s income. Everyone has a bad day now and then, and that shouldn’t be reason enough to lose your job.
At the end of the article, the reporter shares that after her Airbnb stay in Brazil, she checked into a hotel a few blocks away.
“For a marginally higher price than my room on Airbnb, I got to sleep in the exact same sheets everyone in the building slept in, was provided with a basic variety of snacks in the mini-bar, and given a uniform key in for the door. It was standard, boring, and delightfully predictable,” she wrote. “Thankfully, I did not get rated on my way out the door.”
The other thing that benefited the writer here that she did not state, at least not explicitly, is that by going to a hotel, where she is one guest of many, she gained back her anonymity. That’s not to say that once guests check in, the hotel staff completely forget who they are, but guests are able to go up to their guestrooms and, essentially, disappear. They can control the interactions with the hotel staff. If they make a mistake, they don’t have to worry about the GM leaving a bad rating through the loyalty program that follows guests to each property they visit—which is different from hoteliers keeping track of guests who cause disturbances and damage property.
There are travelers who will always want to have an “authentic, local experience,” whatever that actually means, but sometimes that can be more tiring than it’s worth. Sometimes travelers just want to be able to disappear and not have to worry about pleasing their hosts or worry that leaving a bad review means someone is getting kicked out of a platform or fired.
Those are some of the benefits of hotels. Guests can decide how much or little they want to engage with the staff. If they make a little mistake, there’s no fear over getting a bad review. If they have a bad experience, they can leave an honest review that won’t necessarily cost someone his or her job (though it could help show an overall trend in poor service that would hopefully be corrected).
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