I love Airbnb. It gives me an affordable way to go on writing retreats every month without burning a hole in my pocket. And it is also super convenient to spend a vacation in an apartment with a kitchen and washing machine at hand.
The lovely red sign you see above is what greeted my friends and I when we "checked in" to our Airbnb unit in Penang recently.
The guy who rented us the place explained that just a few months ago, the management committee decided to ban AirBnb guests from using the gym and very gorgeous swimming pool.
Our spirits fell when we were told that we weren't allowed to use the pool. A huge bummer because that's why I booked this apartment. I didn't read the fine print that the owner had put into his ad that the pool was not available. My bad.
To ensure absolute compliance, the management actually grilled up the pool area. One would have to swipe security cards just to enter the area.
He had to give his apartment number to the management, and was summarily banned. Even if he tried to sneak in, the security guards at the pool area (yes, you read that right) would stop him because his apartment has been blacklisted.
"It isn't fair," he said. "After all, I pay for management fees too. Why should I and my guests be banned from using facilities that we paid for?"
The whole place felt like a detention centre, not a swanky condo, and the screaming red signs placed around the lobby made us feel like fugitives. Each time we walked past one of those posters, we felt like we were wearing a scarlet letter A!
My friends, possibly unused to the unpredictability and hiccups of travel, did not know how to react to the red-hot "unwelcome". They believe that as it was bad form and bad for Malaysian tourism.
Well, I think Malaysian tourism will be doing fine as there are many Airbnb units that are far more welcoming. I also don't think the apartment committee is responsible for good Malaysian tourism neither should they be, because this is their home after all.
Yes, believe it or not, I am sympathetic to the management of this condo.
AirBnb like Uber is disrupting the way of life as it is. Hoteliers complain that AirBnbers get to avoid hotel tax and that their burgeoning presence is eating into their profits.
I suppose most of us would shrug and say, "Well, too bad. You're a business so you should adapt to new threats to your business."
But what happens if you own a unit next to an Airbnb unit and you sometimes get guests that walk around naked, get drunk or play loud death metal music until the wee hours of the morning, waking up your baby which you took hours to rock to sleep and thus, sacrificing not just your little darling's sleep but yours as well?
You get the picture. (Read Airbnb Hell just to see how bad it could get!)
So I can understand this condo management's desperation and fury, and who knows what horror stories they had to endure before taking this drastic step, but I still don't agree with how they went about doing it.
The loud red signs create a bad vibe for not just Airbnb guests but also residents. Imagine coming from a hard day's work to see the furious, red poster spewing such negativity?
Also, the policy creates resentment because apartment owners are being separated into two camps and one is being treated like pariahs.
And our apartment owner had a point: Why should he be barred using the facilities that he paid for?
I think, in the end, it would be inevitable that some kind of tension would brew between these two factions.
Wow, talk about a bad situation!
As far as I can see, there isn't really an easy solution to this. Apartment owners do have the right to rent out their properties for as long (or short) as they want, and people who live in condos have the right to a peaceful place to live.
It makes me wonder: Will Airbnb go the way of Napster?