As Airbnb tries to distance itself from a shooting that left five people dead inside an Orinda, California, home on Halloween, it announced new policies to both protect guests and prevent scammers from gaming its regulations.
Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky said Wednesday that Airbnb will verify all listings on its platform by December 15, 2020, and will finally guarantee to guests that the listing they have booked is accurate beginning on December 19, 2019.
Details are scarce, with this verification apparently coming from a combination of touchpoints including its technology and guest reviews instead of manual inspections by Airbnb employees.
In the lead-up to its expected initial public offering next year, Airbnb is addressing the elephant in the room: its hands-off approach to guaranteeing not just the quality of its product, but safety of its users.
“Trust is the real energy source that drives Airbnb and has enabled us to scale our platform to 191 countries and to more than 600 million members,” wrote Chesky in a letter to employees that reads like a press release. “But recently, events by bad actors on our platform took advantage of that trust, including at a home in Orinda, California. We intend to do everything possible to learn from these incidents when they occur. 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.”
Airbnb will also launch a “neighbor hotline,” so users can actually speak to a human being in a “rapid response team” when something goes wrong, by the end of 2019. It is unclear what exactly the staffers on this hotline will be empowered to do to help guests and hosts in need. It is also vague about whether this is geared toward guests who show up to a scam listing or hosts who realize a raging party has developed in their house. This hotline will roll out across the world in 2020.
Finally, high-risk bookings will be subject to manual screenings from Airbnb employees to help prevent unauthorized parties like the one in Orinda.
“This will help identify suspicious reservations and stop unauthorized parties before they start,” reads Chesky’s letter. “For example, we look at the duration of the stay and listing attributes such as the size of the listing, amongst hundreds of other factors. Risk scoring helps us focus our attention and find the needle in the haystack.”
Guarantees aren’t really anything new to the world of online travel; Travelocity has offered a 100 percent guest guarantee to customers for years, for instance. Platforms like Airbnb, however, have played off a lack of guarantees and skirting local regulations to help grow its platform over the years.
The scope of these new policies, along with the timing of Chesky’s announcement at The New York Times’ Dealbook Conference on Wednesday, shows that Airbnb has long been pondering these changes as it grows up and faces its first tests on the public markets.
“What we invented was a way for strangers to trust each other to stay in homes,” said Chesky on stage. “It’s reinforced this basic belief that we (have), maybe naive, that people are fundamentally good. Statistically speaking it’s true, two million people stay in an Airbnb each night, and most without incident. Very often there are moments in your company’s history… where a tragedy happens, and we say enough is enough.”
These new policies, however, are too little, too late for those who have already been swindled or lost their lives as a result of Airbnb’s quest to grow.