AirBnB: First & LAST Experience

We have lived in Panama 14 years and the last time my daughter and her family were able to visit my oldest grandson was only 4 years old.  So, we had the whole family down and with two boys, ages 5 and 10, we wanted this to be a special and perfect visit.  Knowing that I would be on a ship, flying home the same day they arrived and literally meeting up with them in baggage claim at Tocumen Airport, I wanted everything arranged and nothing left to chance.  We had a busy three days planned for Panama City before flying up to Boquete.

I had never used AirBnB, but I’ve heard a lot about it, and was amazed while I was working on a ship going to Cuba how popular the concept was … in Cuba!

Logging on to the AirBnB Web site, I was surprised at how cumbersome and clunky it was, and how difficult it was to actually navigate and find things.  But I did find what looked to be a perfect solution for us …

https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/24377495

It was right in the heart of the old, colonial city, Casco Viejo, had beautiful pictures, was one of the old colonial buildings that looked to have been delightfully restored, and had beds sufficient for the six of us, and with a complete kitchen would make it very easy to keep the kids happy and fed, and all of the amazing Casco Viejo was in walking distance.  So we booked it to the tune of $532.98.

“Superhost” Maurcio was praised in the write ups, so all looked good.  Knowing how chaotic Casco Viejo can be, and that, like most of Panama, there are no street signs or addresses, and since no postal deliver service, I emailed “Superhost” Mauricio for detailed directions.    Since I was onboard ship with very limited email/Internet connectivity I requested several times directions and addresses from Mauricio.  His only response was “Calle 6 Oeste, Casco Viejo.”  Knowing that I needed much more than this I made several requests without response.

So as I travelled between the ship, airport, and flew to Panama I could only hope that our driver could find what was advertised on AirBnB as the “Mi Casa Inn.”

We arrived in Panama, got our luggage, piled into our driver’s van and headed off to find “Mi Casa Inn” on “Calle 6 Oeste, Casco Viejo.”  Knowing we needed more precise information we called the phone number provided by “Superhost” Mauricio, but there was no answer.  We left a message and asked him to call back ASAP.  Driving around Casco Viejo at 9:30 PM, up and down Calle 6 Oeste, neither the driver, nor anyone we asked, which by the way included four policemen on the beat, three restaurants/stores, and one woman working the street, and nobody had heard of anything like “Mi Casa Inn” or knew anything.  Predictable?  Yes, which is why I had been so insistent asking our “Superhost” Mauricio for specific directions, even a GPS location, but he provided nothing.

By this time, it was 10:30 am, driving around Casco Viejo in the darkness, with two kids, ages 5 and 10, who had been up since 4 am Pacific Time, we had no choice but to abandon our plan and seek a place to stay.  Fortunately, Wyndham Albrook was able to accommodate us with two rooms at a cost of $300 for the night.

Since “Superhost Mauricio” had cancelled our stay by his nonperformance, after a brief flurry of email attempts to AirBnB, we decided to remain at Wyndham, at $300 a night, and not mess around any further with Mauricio or AirBnb.  I requested a full refund for nonperformance.

The morning after driving around Casco Viejo in circles, getting into the Wyndham, I was able to get online and find that “Superhost” Mauricio had indeed sent me directions, the detailed directions I had requested when I booked and several times in the interim, he had send the directions at 8:45 PM the night before we were scheduled to check in … when of course I was traveling between the ship and Panama without Internet access, which of course is the reason why I had explicitly asked him for the information earlier, explaining that I was on traveling without reliable access.

Between my wife and the driver we attempted to call Mauricio’s number, as listed on the reservation, SEVEN times, leaving an urgent message each time, but we never received any response.

First, Mauricio offered a $50 refund.

Then AirBnB offered to cover half of the cost of our first night hotel, if we went back to trying to find Mauricio’s “Amazing new and big apartment with terrace/garden.”  Had they offered to cover the whole cost, $300 for two rooms, rather than only half, I might have viewed it as at least a noble gesture of good will.

AirBnB has upped their offer to $200.

I paid $532.00 for nothing!  Of course I want a complete refund.  AirBnB is located in Dublin so they can duck all responsibility and  I will probably need more than the luck of the Irish to get any refund.  We shall see.

Doing a little online research, I discover that even although prostitution is legal in Panama City, it turns out that “Super Host” Mauricio’s business is not.  According to the Administrator of the Tourism Authority of Panama, Gustavo Him, the rental of apartments or residences through the Airbnb platform for less than 45 days is prohibited in the district of Panama.  Without any government oversight, you stay in an AirBnB at your own risk since there is nobody checking on the health and safety of these very independent and sometimes illegal accommodations even although in many jurisdictions, apparently nobody really cares. And AirBnB is located in Dublin, so good luck with that.

It sounded good … maybe too good to be true.  I know the AirBnB concept is popular with almost everyone but hoteliers, but based on my experience with a “Superhost” no less, I’m not sure I want to be taken in by the beautiful pictures and hype of AirBnB again.

Interestingly, I note that AirBnB no longer identifies Marucio as a “Superhost.”  AiBnB sent an email requested information/evaluation which when I attempted to respond had apparently been disabled.  Their Web site makes it almost impossible to communicate with them, which I guess is their intent.