SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF/AP) — Airbnb says it will spend the next year verifying that all 7 million of its listings are accurate and that the homes and rooms being offered for short-term stays meet basic quality standards.
It’s one of several moves the San Francisco-based company is making to improve user trust and make it easier for guests, hosts and others to report problems and obtain refunds when things go awry.
The changes come after a rough week for Airbnb. Last Thursday, a shooting at an unauthorized Halloween party in an Airbnb rental in Orinda left five people dead.
A Vice story, meanwhile, revealed a scam by Airbnb hosts who put guests up at inferior properties after claiming the ones they initially booked weren’t available. Guests told Vice they had trouble obtaining refunds from the company and were given bad reviews by the shady hosts.
And on Tuesday, voters in Jersey City, New Jersey, approved restrictions on short-term rental companies in a referendum in one of Airbnb’s most important markets.
In an e-mail sent to employees Wednesday, Airbnb Co-Founder and CEO Brian Chesky said the company will take its most significant steps to improve trust since its founding in 2008.
“People need to feel like they can trust our community and that they can trust Airbnb when something goes wrong,” Chesky wrote.
“We think this is a really really critical step for our industry because I think ultimately the internet can only function on a premise of trust,” he said in a CNBC interview. “Ultimately, technology has its limits. At least technology today so you have to put more humans behind it in the review.”
Airbnb hosts like Peter Kwan welcome the changes. Kwan has been a host for the last nine years. While he’s had a positive experience overall, he says he understands the challenges Airbnb faces.
“Whatever system you set up, it’s not going to be perfect,” Kwan says. “There’s going to be people that fall through the cracks.”
And many Orinda residents agree. Martin Laidler tells KPIX 5, “I also think what happened was an extremely rare and unfortunate event. I think even if you verify these, it’s still going to find a way to happen.”
Laidler feels Airbnb’s response doesn’t provide a true solution to the problems associated with short term rentals.
“What Airbnb needs to do for their image is to say we’re doing something. I think it’s more of a PR stunt than actually doing something about it,” Laidler said.
The city of Orinda has placed an emergency ban on unhosted short term rentals for 45 days.
Rob Muller, an Orinda resident says, “I think the cities are going to have to come up with ordinances that allow communities to not act like motels.”
Airbnb will also develop a rapid response hotline team to quickly address complaints suspicious activity. Former East Palo Alto Police Chief Ronald Davis is helping with the hotline and it should launch by the end of this year.
In summary, Airbnb plans to:
— Verify all listings on its platform for accuracy of photos, address and other details. They will also be verified for quality standards, including cleanliness, safety and basic amenities. Those that meet Airbnb’s quality expectations will be labeled. Airbnb said every listing will be reviewed by Dec. 15, 2020.
— Beginning Dec. 15, Airbnb said it will rebook guests to a new listing or refund their money if a property doesn’t meet its accuracy standards.
— By Dec. 31, Airbnb will launch a 24-hour hotline staffed by a rapid response team in the U.S. so neighbors, guests and others can report a problem. The hotline will roll out globally over the course of next year. The company has asked Charles Ramsey, the former chief of police for Philadelphia and Washington, and Ronald Davis, the former chief of police for East Palo Alto, to act as advisers and help train the response team.
— Beginning Dec. 15, Airbnb will be expanding manual checks of “high-risk” reservations flagged by its system to cut down on unauthorized parties. One-night reservations at large homes will get extra scrutiny, for example.
The company is under some pressure to improve its reputation as it eyes an initial public offering next year.
“Most hosts do a great job, but guests need to feel like Airbnb has their back, and we believe this commitment is a necessary step in giving guests peace of mind,” Chesky wrote.
© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. KPIX 5’s Andrea Nakano and The Associated Press contributed to this report.