Airbnb promises to verify all its listings in a bid to regain trust

A Halloween shooting at an Airbnb ‘party house’ claimed five young victims. At the same time, a scam was uncovered which cons Airbnb users out of their money. So what exactly are Airbnb going to do about it?
Airbnb logo on office glass door
Airbnb are verifying all 7 million property listings. Image: Flickr

Airbnb’s frightful Halloween

An Airbnb house party in California ran tragically of control. As we reported, the guest rented the house for one evening under false pretences. They claimed it was a place for relatives to stay away from the wildfires in the area.

The truth was that they were hosting a Halloween party, using the ‘party house’ to host. Over 100 people attended, and the evening spiralled into disaster. A shooting left five young people dead. Not only is this incredibly sad, but shows a huge gap in the Airbnb safety and screening processes.

With anonymity when making bookings, writing in a field to say why you are renting the property isn’t exactly a robust safeguard.

In the same week, Vice published a damning report. The lax security and screening of Airbnb has created a hotbed for scams. This includes listing fake properties, posting photos of a completely different building and intimidating guests into paying more money.

Airbnb mansion with pool
High risk properties such as ‘party mansions’ will be manually screened. Image: Airbnb

How is the Airbnb system allowing this to happen?

Airbnb seem to have been oblivious to the scams being run in their name. Policies are not enforced and bookings not verified. Poorly written rules leave guests confused when their host starts changing the terms of their booking. Unethical hosts often demand direct communication, without any intervention possible by Airbnb.

Properties are rented out against the hosts rules, and then publicly advertised as a ‘party mansion’ on social media. Airbnb seem to have no way of connecting the two.

The report by Allie Conti makes for troubling reading. If a host switches the property at the last minute, Airbnb advises them to request the booking be cancelled if they are ‘not okay with the switch‘.

Not quite so simple when you have travelled to a new country, only to find out your dream accommodation is actually a nightmare. Guests with nowhere else to go have no access to immediate support, and are left in a difficult and frightening position.

Airbnb policies are, at best, chequered with holes.

Airbnb logo in neon lights
Airbnb are trying to rebuild trust. Image: Airbnb

How can Airbnb fix this?

The company CEO and co-founder, Brian Chesky, has since sent an email to all Airbnb employees. This was published yesterday in a release titled ‘In The Business Of Trust‘.¬†Chesky says that;

‘Airbnb is a business fuelled by trust.’¬† ‘But recently, events by bad actors on our platform took advantage of that trust’. ‘People need to feel like they can trust our community, and that they can trust Airbnb when something does go wrong. Today, we are making the most significant steps in designing trust on our platform since our original design in 2008.’

Here is the steps Chesky has announced:

  1. Each of the 7 million listings on Airbnb will be verified. This includes checking how accurate the listing detailed are. The timescale for the verification project is 15th December 2020
  2. From 15th December 2019, Airbnb have promised to offer 100% refunds, or to find an equal or better property for guests if their accommodation does not match the listing
  3. A new 24/7 ‘Neighbour Hotline’ is being launched in the US by the end of 2019 and worldwide throughout 2020. This includes a rapid response team to deal with issues and concerns. The hotline will be staffed by real people
  4. Manual screening is being introduced over the next year, beginning on December 15th 2019. This involves checking ‘suspicious reservations’ at high risk properties. These are the kind of properties which could be used for unauthorised house parties

Does this solve the problem?

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. I am sure the contributors to Airbnb Hell would agree.

One of the biggest issues for me is the roll out period. Granted, Airbnb can’t feasibly verify every listing immediately. It does seem sensible to introduce the new security measures initially in the US where gun crime is a more frequent occurrence than elsewhere in the world.

Chesky says that; ‘With these additional protections, we will work together with our community of guests and hosts to reinforce the trust platform that we have built with our community‘.

Whether it is enough to polish the tarnish from Airbnb’s reputation is quite another matter.

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