Comment: Airbnb’s party ban invites trouble

Banning “problem parties” and reopening to larger groups is Airbnb who wants to have its cake and eat it. Photo / 123RF


Yesterday Airbnb said it was banning parties for good. At the same time, he lifted the 16-person cap on property rentals, opening the doors to very mixed messages.

In a press release the online rental company said it would make permanent the so-called “party ban” it imposed in 2020 amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

The U.S. vacation rental company began researching problem bookings, looking for ads posted on social media or profiling those who made reservations a few years ago. They say the largely automated selection process has worked and will be kept in place.

“We believe there is a direct correlation between our implementation of the policy in August 2020 and a 44% year-over-year decline in party reporting,” the statement said.

During its first decade, the Silicon Valley-based rental company was notoriously hands-off.

An initial interview with the company about what it was doing to protect guest homes from use for sex parties and destructive behavior revealed a cavalier approach to controls.

“A lot of these things happen, and you just have to deal with them,” said then-global hospitality manager Chip Conley in a now-infamous 2014 interview with Fast Company.

We’re doing what we can to stop the orgies in your house, okay?

That changed in 2019 following a fatal shooting at an Airbnb property in Orinda, California that was being used for a public party.

“Historically, we allowed hosts to use their best judgment and allow parties when appropriate for their home and neighborhood,” the statement read.

Community pressures and a global pandemic forced the company to pause party properties in August 2020, released “until further notice.”

The company says it suspended 6,600 accounts linked to “unauthorized parties” and “party houses” in 2021.

However, this did not immediately end the problem. In New Zealand, revelers continued to navigate screening methods.

In August 2021, a 16-year-old died at a party involving 80 young people at an Airbnb in Christchurch. The devastated owners of the Medway Tce property say they were ‘duped’ by a fake profile.

The company says it will continue to screen suspicious bookings and properties and support neighborhoods with a 24-hour hotline. Additional insurance has been made available by the platform for tenants.

However, the scale of the party police game is more daunting than ever.

In 2022, there were 5.6 million ads on the website, more than there were before the pandemic.

A technology-heavy approach, relying heavily on algorithmic filtering of bookings, is very close to the mark for Airbnb, but will go no further. You only have to look at other parts of the business to see that there will always be some degree of trial and error in “tech evangelism.”

For example, there have been incidents of guests being left outside in the cold and without a lock code after the Airbnb app started filtering messages for phone numbers. There is never a perfect solution. Especially at the scale of a company the size of Airbnb.

But now Airbnb seems to want to have their birthday cake and eat it.

While saying banning parties will now be part of his policy, he also wants to remove all caps on the number of guests. Large bookings for large specialty properties – castles, condos and private islands – are welcome.

Parties, symposiums, get-togethers are fine – but don’t call it a “party”. No parry the fiesta!

In the same statement, the company said “plans are still under consideration” to grant party ban exemptions to hospitality venues.

Without giving any substantial information on how they will implement this party ban, it is assumed that it will be much the same.

Airbnb has 6,000 employees, a fairly dispersed number on what is rapidly approaching 6 million properties.

Here’s a party plan: how about hiring more local staff in the more than 200 countries served by Airbnb?

For now, Airbnb may have taken on the role of global party police, but when things go wrong, it’s the hosts and owners who end up being the enforcers.

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