Airbnb’s public relations glitch
Short term rental website, Airbnb.com has been in the tech sector spotlight for some time after major success raising funds based on an impressive $1.2 billion valuation. Last week, some of the air was let out of the Airbnb tires when a user’s home was destructed by a renter.
The week long renter stole her credit cards and passport after “pillaging” her home as many tech columnists are portraying it. The user then alleged that Airbnb attempted to keep her quiet, meanwhile another user came out to tell a similar story of destroyed property, stolen identities, stolen goods and meth pipes left behind.
Co-founder omits “Airbnb horror” story on stage
Airbnb was hard at work immediately to manage their Twitter feeds and the like and were highly interactive in the public stream, but AGBeat columnist Herman Chan noted that “The ‘Airbnb Horror’ was splattered over the press Wednesday and Joe Gebbia was slated as a keynote speaker for Inman Real Estate Connect on Thursday. Talk about bad timing! At any rate, he was clearly there to extol the virtue of his site and that’s what he did. He praised it to high heaven.”
Chan continued, “All the while, there is a white elephant in the room. People in the audience wanted to know if is Airbnb dangerous? Is it a blow to their credibility? What is Airbnb going to do to prevent crimes against their users? Anyone who looked up Airbnb in the audience during Gebbia’s talk would have come across this horrifying experience. And yet, not a single peep.”
Addressing the elephant, Airbnb’s redemption
Since the real estate conference, the Airbnb team has had a major battle. Co-founder Brian Chesky said, “In the last few days we have had a crash course in crisis management. I hope this can be a valuable lesson to other businesses about what not to do in a time of crisis, and why you should always uphold your values and trust your instincts.”
Chesky said, “With regards to EJ, we let her down, and for that we are very sorry. We should have responded faster, communicated more sensitively, and taken more decisive action to make sure she felt safe and secure. But we weren’t prepared for the crisis and we dropped the ball. Now we’re dealing with the consequences. In working with the San Francisco Police Department, we are happy to say a suspect is now in custody. Even so, we realize that we have disappointed the community. To EJ, and all the other hosts who have had bad experiences, we know you deserve better from us.”
As a result, Airbnb has announced their “commitment to trust and safety” which offers a $50,000 to cover Airbnb users from loss or damage from theft or vandalism by another Airbnb guest which will apply retroactively to users who reported vandalism prior to August 1st.
They’re doubling the customer support team, opening a 24 hour customer hotline, a review team for any reports, they’ve made the CEO’s email public, and verified profiles. The company says they will continue to improve their safety offering going forward.
Airbnb has shown humility in a tough situation after learning the hard way how to handle their press. The elephant in the room has been addressed and the storm appears to show signs of calming.