Relational Work in Airbnb reviews

Cover Page

Cite item


Peer-to-peer businesses such as Airbnb have recently given rise to new travel trends in which electronic word of mouth, in the form of online consumer reviews (OCRs, henceforth), is the main trust mechanism with a threefold purpose: to make informed decisions regarding accommodation, gain good reputation, and manage the relational component as continuity from the offline stage of the experience. In the light of the above, this study will analyse 120 reviews (60 positive and 60 negative) written by Airbnb travellers and linked to three different emotional orientations: delighted/satisfied, ambivalent/neutral, and dissatisfied/disappointed. Taking an illocutionary and stylistic domain perspective, the reviews will be examined to understand how users manage relational work (Watts 1989, Locher and Watts 2005, Locher 2006, Locher and Watts 2008), and to ascertain what is likely to be the ‘norm’ in this particular genre (i.e., OCRs) and for the particular Virtual Community of Practice (VCoP, henceforth) (i.e., guests and hosts interacting in Airbnb). The results show that being polite seems to be the norm (hence being politic), while being rude or offensive is the exception. The data also suggest that users tend to be politic/polite through very enthusiastic and friendly messages, while dissatisfaction and ambivalence are shown by means of a process of depersonalisation, with a tone based on formality and distancing from the host. Information is also obtained from what is not said, which creates the implicature of dissatisfaction. This seems to be implicitly understood by the members of this VCoP, who seem to perceive sociability as pivotal to assess their experience.

About the authors

María de la O Hernández-López

Pablo de Olavide University

Author for correspondence.

Lecturer Pablo de Olavide University. She holds a PhD in English Linguistics from Pablo de Olavide University and an MA in Applied Linguistics from Birkbeck College (London).

Ctra. Utrera, 1, 41013 Seville, Spain


  1. Angouri, Jo & Miriam A. Locher (2012).Theorising disagreement. Journal of Pragmatics, 44 (12), 1549-1553.
  2. Arundale, Robert (1999). An alternative model and ideology of communication for an alternative to politeness theory. Pragmatics, 9, 119-153.
  3. Arundale, Robert (2006). Face as relational and interactional: a communication framework for research on face, facework and politeness. Journal of Politeness Research, 2, 193-217.
  4. Barros García, María Jesús & Marina Terkourafi (2014). First-order politeness in rapprochement and distancing cultures: Understandings and uses of politeness by Spanish native speakers from Spain and Spanish nonnative speakers from the U.S. Pragmatics, 24 (1), 1-34.
  5. Botsman, Rachel & Roo Rogers (2011). What’s Mine is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consump­tion. New York: Harper Business.
  6. Bridges, Judith & Camilla Vásquez (2016). If Nearly all Airbnb Reviews are Positive, Does that Make them Meaningless? Current Issues in Tourism, 19, 1-19. 13683500.2016.1267113.
  7. Bulchand-Gidumal, Jacques & Santiago Melián-González (2019). Why are ratings so high in the sharing economy? Evidence based on guest perspectives. Current Issues in Tourism, 22.
  8. Burt, Ronald (2000). The network structure of social capital. Research in Organizational Behavior, 22, 345-423.
  9. Cansoy, Mehmet & Juliet Schor (2016). Who gets to share in the sharing economy? Understanding patterns of participation and exchange on Airbnb. Retrieved from dam/files/schools/cas_sites/sociology/pdf/SharingEconomy.pdf.
  10. Chairunnisa, Sabrina & A. S. Benedictus (2017). Analysis of Emoji and Emoticon Usage in Interper­sonal Communication of Blackberry Messenger and WhatsApp Application. International Journal of Social Sciences and Management, 4 (2), 120-126.
  11. Dayter, Daria & Sofia Rüdiger (2014). Speak your Mind, but Watch your Mouth: Objectification Strategies in Negative References in CouchSurfing. In Bedijs, Kristina Held, Gudrun & Maab, Christiane (eds.) Face Work and Social Media. Berlin: LIT Verlag, 193-212.
  12. Dubé, Line, Anne Bourhis & Réal Jacob (2005). The impact of structuring characteristics on the launching of virtual communities of practice. Journal of Organizational Change Manage­ment, 18 (2), 145-166. doi: 10.1108/09534810510589570.
  13. Eckert, Penelope & Sally McConnell-Ginet (1992). Think practically and look locally: Language and gender as community-based practice. Annual Review of Anthropology, 21 (1), 461-488.
  14. Edwards, Derek (2000). Extreme case formulations: softeners, investment, and doing non-literal. Research on Language and Social Interaction, 33 (4), 347-373. S15327973RLSI3304_01.
  15. Ert Eyal, Aliza Fleischer & Nathan Magen (2016). Trust and Reputation in the Sharing Economy: the Role of Personal Photos in Airbnb. Tourism Management, 55, 62-73.
  16. Fraser, Bruce (1990). Perspectives on politeness. Journal of Pragmatics, 14, 219-236.
  17. Garcés-Conejos Blitvich, Pilar (2010). A genre approach to the study of im-politeness. International Review of Pragmatics, 2, 46-94.
  18. Garcés-Conejos Blitvich, Pilar & Maria Sifianou (2019). Im/politeness in discursive pragmatics. Discursive politeness. Special issue of the Journal of Pragmatics: Recent developments in the field of pragmatics, guest edited by M. Haugh & M. Terkourafi, 145: 91-101.
  19. Guttentag, Daniel, Stephen Smith, Luke Potwarka & Mark Havitz (2018). Why Tourists Choose Airbnb: A Motivation-Based Segmentation Study. Journal of Travel Research, 57(3), 342-359.
  20. Haugh, Michael (2019). The metapragmatics of consideration in (Australian and New Zealand) English. In: Ogiermann, E., Garcés-Conejos Blitvich, P. (eds.), From Speech Acts to Lay Understandings of Politeness. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 201-225.
  21. Hernández-López, María de la O (2019). What makes a positive experience? Offline/online commu­nication and rapport enhancement in Airbnb positive reviews. Pragmatics & Society, 10 (2), 180-206.
  22. Hernández-López, María de la O & Lucía Fernández-Amaya (2019). What makes (im)politeness for travellers? Spanish tourists’ perceptions at national and international hotels. Journal of Poli­teness Research, 15 (2), 195-222. Doi:
  23. Herring, Susan (2004). Computer-Mediated Discourse Analysis: An Approach to Researching Online Behavior. In S. Barab, R. Kling & J.H. Gray (eds.) Designing for Virtual Communities in the Service Learning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 338-76.
  24. Ho, Victor (2017). Giving offense and making amends: How hotel management attempts to manage rapport with dissatisfied customers. Journal of Pragmatics, 109, 1-11.
  25. Kamoen Naomi, Maria Mos & Robbin Dekker (2015). A hotel that is not Bad isn’t Good. The Effects of Valence Framing and Expectation in Online Reviews on Text, Reviewer and Product Appre­ciation. Journal of Pragmatics, 75, 28-43.
  26. Levin, Irvin P., Sara K. Schnittjer & Shannon L. Thee (1998). Information Framing Effects in Social and Personal Decisions. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 24 (6), 520-529.
  27. Locher, Miriam A. (2006). Polite behavior within relational work: The discursive approach to polite­ness. Multilingua, 25, 249-267.
  28. Locher, Miriam A. & Watts, Richard J. (2005). Politeness theory and relational work. Journal of Politeness Research, 1 (1), 9-33.
  29. Locher, Miriam A. & Richard J. Watts (2008). Relational work and impoliteness: Negotiating norms of linguistic behaviour. In Dereck Bousfield and Miriam A. Locher (eds.) Impoliteness in Lan­guage. Studies in its interplay with Power in Theory and Practice. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 77-99.
  30. Mills, Sara (2003). Gender and Politeness. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
  31. Pizam, Abraham (2014). Peer-to-peer travel: Blessing or blight? International Journal of Hospitality Management, 38, 118-119. doi: 10.1016/j.ijhm.2014.02.013.
  32. Rosen, Devan, Pascale R. Lafontaine & Blake Hendrickson (2011). CouchSurfing: Belonging and Trust in a Globally Cooperative Online Social Network. New Media & Society, 13 (6), 981-998.
  33. Spencer-Oatey, Helen (2000). Culturally Speaking: Managing Rapport Through Talk Across Cultures (1st ed.). London: Continuum.
  34. Spencer-Oatey, Helen (2008). Culturally Speaking: Culture, Communication and Politeness Theory (2nd ed.) London & New York: Continuum.
  35. Sthapit, Erose & Jano Jiménez-Barreto (2019). You never know what you will get in an Airbnb: poor communication destroys value for guests. Current Issues in Tourism, 22 (19), 2315-2318.
  36. Torres, Edwin & Sheryl Kline (2013). From customer satisfaction to customer delight. International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management, 25 (5), 642-659. IJCHM-Dec-2011-0228.
  37. Tussyadiah, Lis P. & Pesonen, Juho (2015). Impacts of Peer-to-Peer Accommodation Use on Travel Patterns. Journal of Travel Research, 12, 1-19.
  38. Vásquez, Camilla (2011). Complaints Online: The Case of TripAdvisor. Journal of Pragmatics, 43 (6), 1707-1717.
  39. Vásquez, Camilla (2014). ‘Usually Not one to Complain but...’: Constructing Identities in User-Generated Online Reviews. In Seargeant, P. and Tagg, C. (eds.) The Language of Social Media: Identity and Community on the Internet. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan. 10.1057/9781137029317_4.
  40. Virtanen, Tuija (2017). Adaptability in online consumer reviews: Exploring genre dynamics and interactional choices. Journal Pragmatics, 116, 77-90. j.pragma.2017.03.009.
  41. Watts, Richard J. (1989). Relevance and relational work: Linguistic politeness as politic behavior. Multilingua 8 (2-3), 131-166.
  42. Wong, Siu-Iun & Janet Salaff (1998). Network capital: emigration from Hong-Kong. The British Journal of Sociology, 49 (3), 358-374.
  43. Forbes (2018). Retrieved from: the-airbnb-effect-cheaper-rooms-for-travelers-less-revenue-for-hotels/#26fbfc79d672
  44. Sundadarajan, Arun (2014, November 27) What Airbnb gets about culture that Uber doesn’t. Harvard Business Review (Retrieved from

Copyright (c) 2019 Hernández-López M.O.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

This website uses cookies

You consent to our cookies if you continue to use our website.

About Cookies