Improvements to Holiday rental platforms to prevent abuse


 This article is the product of an experience with a guest whose intentions were dubious. The platform on which this transaction occurred was When researching the topic and experience of other hosts, a number of pain points surfaced. This article collates the experiences of many hosts and provides recommendations that platforms should implement for the benefit of all parties.

What happened 

We have been operating as hosts for many years and use a number of platforms to promote our properties. Our reviews have been top-notch, and, broadly speaking, guests have been great and understanding. Like others, we experience our fair share of operational challenges. In our case, the two most notable ones were due to storm damage. On one occasion, lightning took out a handful of appliances; on the second, a storm blew a branch into a window. We were reactive and got everything operational to the guest's satisfaction. The guests gave us positive ratings, and one has visited us subsequently.

We charge for air conditioning. That is clearly stated in the conditions. Even though we do not need to justify our decision, we feel that with electricity prices being what they are, certain guests would switch on the A/C while leaving the windows open or leave them running when they are out. We could not absorb the additional costs and felt that rather than distribute these on all guests, we installed a card meter so that those who wanted to leave the A/C running could do so without impacting those who had a different behavior.

As a gesture of goodwill, for every week or part thereof, we provide guests with a €10 credit. This gets added to any credit that was left by previous guests. Metres are programmed to offer an additional credit of €3 before stopping. Top-ups of €5 and €10 are available for purchase.

Over the 3 year period, 97.4% of guests did not require an additional card, 1.4% requested an additional €5, and 0.7% topped up using a €10 card.

We welcome guests in person. Upon arrival, we walk them through the apartment, show them the appliances, indicate the documentation related to WiFi and answer any questions they might have. Most guests really appreciate the in-person welcome. Normally this takes around 15 minutes, although the record stands at well over an hour when an elderly guest asked to have the WiFi password inserted into all their devices and wanted to (re)document how the washing machine works and share more about themselves :-). Part of the process involves topping up the A/C meter with a €10 card, showing the guest how to check the credit, and explaining that if they run the credit to €0, they have a €3 buffer.


Guest Dan Mark* (not real name) 

Mr. Mark booked through for a week. Upon arrival, he switched on the three A/Cs and opened the windows, after which the familiarization process commenced. Everything was fine until he was told that the consumption over and above the €10 plus €2.46 credit left by the prior guest would have to be paid for. We also explained the €3 additional buffer. 

Mr. Mark claimed that A/C was free. We explained that it had been set for almost 2 years and pointed out that the €15 in credit would probably last him the week and that we could also bring up the matter with The reply of the guest was that "if I want to leave the A/C running full blast with all the windows open and use Euro 15 a day, that is my business, and that is what I will do."

We tried communicating with The first problem we experienced was that blocks hosts from contacting them until 24 hours after the guest has occupied the property. This is outright stupid because the likelihood that support is required is highest at the beginning of their stay.

In an effort to help address the concern of the guest, we shared a screenshot of the A/C conditions on His reply was that this had been changed after he had booked. We explained that we could not get a hold of and suggested that he contact from his end and ask them to share a copy of the booking record as it stood when he booked. We informed him that as soon as became accessible, we would do the same.

Mr. Mark raised a query with In it, he alleged that the A/Cs were not working and that he purchased furniture because some were damaged. We learned about these after a agent contacted us. Based on the communication from, he did not appear to have requested a copy of the booking record. The agent's only interest was to close the case, and their suggestion was for us to foot his demands. The agent was not able to provide us with a screen shot of the booking record as it stood when the guest had booked, nor were they able to explain why they felt that we were at fault. could not even explain what furniture was damaged.

On a matter of principle, we felt that accommodating this request would encourage Mr. Mark to repeat this process with other hosts and that the generation of alternative facts was tantamount to negotiating with terrorists, so we therefore refused to engage in such activities. 

In the end, Mr. Mark requested an additional €5 card. 


How can systems be improved?

Allow Y/N answers about the property to have a comment field. In the comments, hosts could, for example, clarify that even though A/C is not free, guests are given, as a gesture of good will, a credit.

In our case, we would have still marked it as 'N' but would have added the €10/week topup.

  1. By default, both guests and hosts should view the record as it stood when the booking was confirmed. The booking-related information should be clearly labeled. This ensures that changes made after the booking are not shown, as they did not form part of the contract between the parties. This should also include conditions set by the platform. 

Anyone operating in the hosting services business knows that prices and conditions change seasonally. Platforms themselves today are making use of AI to make suggestions depending on the season in order to maintain occupancy. Also, facilities change depending on the season. A guest looking up the current record rather than the one that was in force six months before, when they confirmed, would make them feel they were cheated.

  1. Allow hosts and guests to request support at any time. A platform that does not allow hosts to contact them until 24 hours after the guest has taken possession of a property is ludicrous. 

The platform is being paid to support the transaction, and its success depends on both the guest and the hosts having a smooth experience. Coming with hard-to-understand limitations is nonsensical and hard to comprehend. All parties should be available from the moment the booking has taken place to a few weeks after it has concluded. 

  1. Hosts, guests, and the platform must have the same reply conditions. If guests or hosts are given 24 hours to reply, then the service must be bound by the same conditions.

  See (4)

  1. The platform and its agents should keep their promises. Promising hosts and guests that they will reply within 48 hours but do so 4 days after is unprofessional.

Being professional means meeting or exceeding what you expect from others. 

  1. Allow hosts to be able to exclude particular guests from being able to book their apartment.  If a host has had a bad experience they should have the facility to not have their property listed for a particular account.

A host should have the ability to indicate that their properties should not be listed for a particular guest. Hosts have reported situations in which they have to manage the hassle of refusing a guest when the platform could do it more efficiently. Hosts should have the ability to tell the system not to list our properties when guest #123456 searches for accommodation. 

  1. Guests should have a compound score against them.

There have been stories of guests who are out to get a discount over and above what was negotiated. They do this by threatening hosts with fabricated facts that they would put in a review. While researching this article, we came across a number of stories of guests who booked for two adults but turned up with additional children. Hosts who attempt to address this abuse are threatened with negative reviews.

The platform should protect guests by not computing a score until a number of reviews have accumulated. Also, the scoring should be such that the score covers the last 12 reviews over the prior 4 years. Platforms may want to use other metrics, such as recency-weighting, to further reflect a fair and true system.

This mechanism ensures that new guests are not discriminated against and also works towards wiping clean the slate of guests who had a bad experience. A one-off incident would not impact the score significantly. Above all, it fairly highlights repeated offenders who seem to have an issue with all the hosts they interact with.

  1. Allow hosts to not have their property listed for guests below a certain score (see point 7).

  Similar to point (5), the filtering would be on the guest score.

Rather than force hosts to accommodate problem guests just because the platform wants to make its commission, hosts would be provided with a function to hide their listings from being presented to guests having a particular score range.

When a guest has built a negative score over numerous bookings with many hosts over a number of years, the likelihood is that the numbers are indicative of reality.

 This function would:

  • Protect hosts that do not have the resources to deal with problem guests. This would encourage new property owners to become guests. Property owners prefer to have their property vacant rather than deal with nightmare guests, and such a system will increase the probability of this happening.

  • Create a market for low-scoring guests. There will be hosts who, for a premium, will be willing to invest in the necessary resources to accommodate low-scoring guests. Higher prices benefit the host and the platform.

  • Send a message to abusive and cheating guests that trying to work the system does not pay.

  1. Ensure that support agents know how to follow up on a case. Having a host (or a guest) reiterate their case because the support agent did not bother to read up on the thread is counterproductive, especially when support agents are only reachable through an asynchronous medium. Platform should either train agents so that they know how to follow up on a story or have a case assigned to a support cell that can coordinate amongst themselves. Agents should receive the proper training to communicate truthfully with both the host and guest.

If a host or guest asks an agent to provide the record of the transaction as it stood when the booking took place, it should not go unanswered. When an agent suggests to a host that they should carry an expense, they should provide justification when asked rather than ignore the thread.

Furthermore, agents should demonstrate that they understand the language in which communication on the platform takes place. It’s frustrating when a host or guest gets the impression that the support agent is unable to comprehend a written exchange.

  1. Rate agents not only on how quickly they close cases but also on the quality of service and follow-up. It is useless to have cases marked as complete when the host, the guest, or both are not properly assisted.


Share to help

Share this article with hosts of the various, Airbnb, VRBO, Plum Guide, Sonder, Blueground, and others, as well as with guests of these services. More efficient and informative platforms will improve the experience of both guests and hosts and, at the end, will impact only those who are driving up costs for the rest of the ecosystem.

If you've suffered injustice as a host (or guest) on these platforms, share a comment below.


  1. Mr. Bonnici, I recently re-found your videos on malware after more than 10 years. I just wanted to let you know how big an impact they had on me, as they inspired me to become a software engineer and one of my hobbies now is doing reverse engineering on some of the malware you showcased. Thank you for your interesting content and knowledge all those years ago.

    1. Thank you for your comments. It is comforting to know that some of my work has benefited others.

      Keep you the great work.


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