Airbnb, a stab in the back

I started my photography career in 2011 with no clients and no money coming in.  The company I was working for went under, luckily I saw this coming and I decided months before that if or when this happened I would buy my first digital camera (I already had a film camera) and start a career in photography.  Photography has been a hobby and passion of mine since my teenage years. 

I saw an ad on linkedin that Airbnb was hiring photographers, I have always loved interior design and architecture so I reached out and they hired me as a freelance photographer.  The starting pay was $50 a shoot and they had me take the Malibu and Topanga Canyon territory, about an hour or more from where I lived.  Like I said, I had absolutely no money coming in at that time, so I traveled to these shoots so I could learn how to photograph homes and make a little money.  The pay was incredibly low and remained so for over five years, they increase my pay by $15 around 2016. I had never shot homes or interiors, so there was a learning curve.  Airbnb supplied a shooting guide and basic instructions on how to capture a home and rooms in their style, which changed constantly.  So, there was always photos that would get rejected and need to be re-photoshopped. I'm pretty sure they didn't know what they wanted and so they kept trying new styles.  Interior photography is not easy there are many factors to creating a great interior image, now after shooting homes for over six years, I like to think I have come close to mastering it, my website

 

 This is not an Airbnb listing, but from a real estate shoot.

This is not an Airbnb listing, but from a real estate shoot.

Airbnb was happy with my work, they would have terminated my contract years ago if they were not, they were sure to remind us of this often.  They also hired me on a few years ago to take part in a program to inform host during the photo shoot as to where they could learn more about hosting and how to become a successful host. I was one of a few people in my area that they brought on to do this.  The Airbnb photographer is the only person hosts will probably ever meet in person from Airbnb. I always wondered why Airbnb didn't pay us more and put us to better use, or at least pay us respectfully.  I suggested this in the past, with no response of course.  The Airbnb photography team had always been cordial to me except for one person who was very difficult about the constantly changing styles, but other then that it was a pretty good experience.  I would send in a request to make more money every year and It was always declined.

 

 I did not shoot this directly for Airbnb.

I did not shoot this directly for Airbnb.

 Image not photographed for Airbnb

Image not photographed for Airbnb

A few years after working for Airbnb I actually used their hosting services for my second bedroom so I could make money and put it towards rent.  Los Angeles is an expensive city and starting your own business is incredibly difficult.  I rented the second room out for a while and stopped.  I continued to photograph for Airbnb and in 2017 they decided to start a new pilot program, called the "Spotlight Program" where they would have the best photographers capture their most popular and exclusive listings and do a walk through to check off certain items and amenities for the potential guest.  I was asked to be one of those photographers and they were actually paying a much better rate, it was much closer to the going rate for a home photographer in Los Angeles.  I was very appreciative and excited to start this new program!  

During this time I decided to rent my second bedroom on Airbnb again, just for the month of September which is a very slow month for my business, so I needed the extra money.  Being that I live in the apartment and would be sharing the entire space I wanted to make sure I got the right person and that I felt comfortable and safe. This wasn't happening in the beginning and I wasn't going to just accept anyone, so I declined a few inquiries.  So, I am not sure, but I think this is what upset Airbnb and they decided to close my hosting account.

 Image not photographed for Airbnb

Image not photographed for Airbnb

Problem is, my photography jobs are under that same account, so when they decided for whatever reason to close my account, my photography jobs were stopped and my contract was terminated as well, with no warning, reason or discussion.  I tried to find out why this happened and I was told that they don't have to give me a reason... after over six years that was it! I was owed nothing, no reason, no great working with you and certainly no respect.  Airbnb terminated my contract for something that had absolutely nothing to do with my performance as photographer.  I could not believe the way I was being treated.  Some ominous women at the Airbnb offices in San Fransisco decided I did something that went against their terms of use and shut my account down!  Apparently this is a secret department at Airbnb and there was no way to contact her, she didn't respond to my emails and customer service didn't have any way to contact this department.  I'm assuming she didn't realize at the time that I worked for them and once she did, she just had to go through with it. 

I actually enjoyed working for Airbnb most of the time. Although some people can be pretty disrespectful of your time and there were a lot of people that just weren't serious about hosting and lazy when it came to cleaning up their house.  But when I didn't have my own jobs coming in from real estate shoots or fashion shoots, it filled in those empty spots.  I would have to shoot 2-5 listings a day (yes 5!) to make decent money, but it did help.

 

 

KorbinBielski_Homes-11-2.jpg

If you have ever dealt with Airbnb you know as everyone else does, that their customer service is horrible.  I would get berated by host when I went to photograph their homes on how horrible Airbnb is and how no one could help answer their questions.  On one visit I had to tell a man that if he didn't calm down I would need to leave and not photograph his apartment, this all took place in a very small elevator in Hollywood.  I was freelance, I was not an employee of the company, but I had to endure the harassment and disrespect by Airbnb's host all the time! 

Unfortunately being a freelancer you have no rights and the company has no obligation towards you.  I wouldn't take back my experience shooting for Airbnb.  I shot hundreds of listing for them and learned how to shoot interiors, I met many great people during my shoots, made some money and I met clients that I still shoot for.  So indirectly, I'm still making money off Airbnb... a lot more money!