Skift Take

Many Airbnb hosts of the mom-and-pop variety — yes, there are a few left — feel aggrieved when they welcome guests into their homes and have to bear the consequences of hostile reviews penned with the worst intentions. Airbnb is trying to tip the balance back toward hosts — and is probably making neither party totally happy.

There has been plenty of publicity about scammers posting listings on Airbnb that don’t exist or don’t resemble their descriptions.

Now Airbnb is announcing a series of measures to protect hosts from misbehaving or scheming guests.

You’ve all probably seen or heard about the short-term rental or hotel guests who threaten to write a negative review if they don’t get a discount or perk, for example.

Airbnb has rolled out, and is in the process of introducing, a series of new policies to protect hosts from unruly, scamming, or otherwise misbehaving guests. These follow earlier announcements about the company taking steps to attempt to verify all listings, and to stiffen licensing requirements for certain tours after California shootings at a Halloween party at an Airbnb-booked property, and revelations about a nationwide host scam.

Among the changes is a reworking on how Airbnb handles guests — and hosts — reviews on the platform. Airbnb support agents are empowered to remove posts and star ratings that stem from irrelevant, biased, and fake reviews, and may banish repeat offenders among guests and hosts from the platform entirely.

Examples of irrelevant reviews, according to Airbnb, might be ones written by guests who are no-shows for reasons having nothing to do with the host or listing, but decided to criticize the experience or to vent about the dirty couch. Other supposedly irrelevant reviews might include descriptions of the host’s appearance, public transportation, or “the type of people in our neighborhood.”

Airbnb intends to remove extortionary reviews, such as those written in retaliation for the host not providing a late checkout.

Hosts, too, are getting new scrutiny. Hosts will be reprimanded or even kicked off Airbnb if they trade positive reviews for perks, or fraudulently write disparaging guest reviews about competitors.

Airbnb stated that it is trying to strike the right balance between enabling guests to have their say, and providing useful information to hosts and other guests.

The update to Airbnb’s review policy was introduced a week ago.

Guests Standards Revamp

Airbnb also said it will introduce in early January new standards for guest behavior to combat excessive noise; unauthorized guests, parking, and smoking; and guests who leave piles of trash or debris in their wake.

Some of these steps grew out of host feedback. “That’s why in early 2020, we’ll be rolling out enhanced guest standards that set higher expectations for a trustworthy community,” Airbnb stated in a blog post.

The policy will give hosts the ability to cancel the remaining nights of a stay if they can’t resolve the issue with the guest. Hosts can also file damage claims under Airbnb’s $1 million host guarantee.

While many of the policy changes Airbnb has announced in recent weeks, including verification of listings and neighborhood hotlines, are geared to protect guests and surrounding communities less-than-scrupulous hosts, many hosts feel left out of the solution when it comes to dealing with unruly, problematic, or law-breaking guests.

This has led to forums outside of Airbnb, such as on Facebook, where Airbnb hosts blacklist guests — and vice versa. Some of these forums, under the guise of being closed groups, yet sometimes having thousands of members, trash the privacy rights of guests and hosts alike.

Hosts and guests have had diverse reactions to Airbnb’s new policies as expressed on Airbnb’s host community forum.

One Jersey City, New Jersey superhost, Mark, said he’s unsure it’s wise to bar guests from commenting on the listing’s neighborhood. “Also, I’m not sure why guests should be prevented from commenting on the neighborhood, there certainly are sketchy type areas that appear dangerous or run down and that would be information that future guests would want to know,” he wrote.

He also argued that Airbnb’s way of trying to police irrelevant reviews is too subjective; he wants to see more objective criteria for limiting guests’ reviews.

Meanwhile, Andrew, an Airbnb host in Kreuzberg, Germany, countered that guests have the responsibility to research a property’s neighborhood, and critiques of the neighborhood aren’t particularly useful because everyone brings their own biases to such descriptions.

“On the whole though, I agree — none of these changes address the main issues that hosts have been bringing up, and I think we’ll have to grimly accept that all the anxiety caused by guest ratings is a feature, not a bug,” Andrew wrote.

“On the neighborhood issue, it’s because guests are racists and will say neighborhoods are bad because they saw people of color people in it. I’ve experienced this multiple times. My neighborhood is good, but some guests are just afraid of diversity,” wrote Stacey an Airbnb host in Tampa, Florida.

Several hosts called on Airbnb to ensure that guests provide proof of their real names with government-issued IDs.

Airbnb isn’t committing government IDs because it said more than 1 billion people around the world don’t have them. But the company it is expanding a program beyond 11 countries that it already does this to confirm users’ identities with the information they provided in the reservation.

“The person you interact with online should be the person who shows up at your door in real life,” Airbnb stated.

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Tags: airbnb, alternative accommodations, guests, hosts, reviews, short-term rentals, ugc, user reviews

Photo credit: Airbnb Luxe property in Oracabessa, Jamaica. Airbnb is trying to crack down on sketchy guest reviews. Airbnb

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