How Airbnb Makes Horror Stories Go Away
Airbnb can be a great way to experience a new city, especially if you are staying away from tourist areas. I have used Airbnb often myself, and have always had pleasant experiences. When the whole process works smoothly, and everything is as advertised, then Airbnb turns out to be a great option. But that’s not always the case.
While you can do your research and check out reviews, you are still trusting strangers, and that can sometimes take a dark turn. An article from Bloomberg describes what happens when horror stories surface and Airbnb’s safety team goes into action.
The information in the article comes from current and former Airbnb employees, who describe how the company tries to strike a balance between helping customers and hosts and keeping Airbnb’s popularity intact.
Airbnb reportedly spends around $50 million annually in payouts to hosts and guests. Airbnb says that money covers property damage claims, but Bloomberg says it also covers things like a $7 million settlement with a woman who rented a NYC apartment and was raped by a stranger who had duplicate keys. Keys were apparently left at a nearby bodega where guests would stop by to pick them up.
Airbnb says that fewer than 0.1% of stays result in a reported safety issue. But the platform has more than 200 million bookings a year. That means that there are up to 200,000 incidents that occur annually. Only the most serious problems are transferred to the internal safety team.
That team is made up of about 100 agents in major cities around the world. Some have emergency-services or military backgrounds. They are given autonomy to spend whatever it takes to make a victim feel supported. That includes things like “paying for flights, accommodation, food, counseling, health costs, and sexually transmitted disease testing for rape survivors.”
Some cases describe the internal safety team counseling guests to hide in wardrobes or running from secluded cabins after being assaulted by hosts. The cleanup also gets messy in some cases, and requires specialized help. “Agents have had to hire body-fluid crews to clean blood off carpets, arrange for contractors to cover bullet holes in walls, and deal with hosts who discover dismembered human remains.”
Former safety agents told Bloomberg that Airbnb “handles thousands of allegations of sexual assault every year,” many of those being rape cases. Yet only one case related to a sexual assault has reportedly been filed against Airbnb in U.S. courts. The main reason is that terms of service bar legal claims for injury or stress arising from a stay and require confidential arbitration in the event of a dispute.
Airbnb continues to make some improvements, but it still seems to be more focused on brushing real problems away, instead of making systemwide changes that can actually make a difference. And Airbnb can’t really dictate much about how hosts chose to live in their own homes. That might discourage them from listing on the platform. After all, Airbnb is supposed to be people renting out their own homes on the platform.