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Airbnb CEO pledges to verify all 7 million listings in sweeping review of site

(Washington Post illustration; iStock) (Washington Post illustration; iStock)

After a bruising week, Airbnb announced several measures Wednesday to bolster trust and protect the safety of its users better. The news followed the deaths of five people after a shooting at an “Airbnb mansion party” in California last week.

In an email to employees, CEO Brian Chesky said the home-renting platform would start verifying all 7 million listings, a process expected to stretch into late 2020. By Dec. 15 of next year, he wrote, a review of every home and host on Airbnb will be complete, “with the objective of 100 percent verification.”

He did not detail how that process will take place but said during the New York Times’s DealBook Conference that the review would use a combination of company and community resources — guests, in other words.

Brian Chesky, CEO and co-founder of Airbnb, in 2017. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

“We’re going to make sure that we can stand behind every single listing, every single host to make sure that every single listing is accurate,” he said. “The information’s accurate, the photos are what you say they are, the addresses are accurate, they meet minimum standards, they meet basic safety protocol and the host is who they say they are.”

Wednesday’s announcement also comes nearly a week after Vice published a lengthy investigation into what it called “a nationwide web of deception that appeared to span eight cities and nearly 100 property listings — an undetected scam created by some person or organization that had figured out just how easy it is to exploit Airbnb’s poorly written rules.”

Chesky said the company will start asking more specific questions of guests who leave reviews as part of the overhaul.

“I think many of us in this industry … are going from a hands-off model, where the Internet’s an immune system, to realizing that’s not really enough, that we have to take more responsibility for the stuff on our platform,” he said. “And I think this has been a gradual, maybe too gradual, transition for our industry.”

The company also said it would put a “guest guarantee” into place starting Dec. 15 of this year, promising to rebook users at an equal or better property or fully refund them if a listing is inaccurate. A new hotline for people who live near Airbnb listings will go into effect Dec. 31, 2019, in the United States so people can call and report concerns. It will expand to the rest of the world next year.

Also starting this Dec. 15, the company will broaden its screening of “high-risk reservations” to “stop unauthorized parties before they start.”

Chesky had already announced Saturday that Airbnb would ban “party houses” in response to the shooting.

“This is another one of those moments where a tragedy happens and we say, ‘Enough is enough’ and we galvanize,” he said during the DealBook event.

Chekitan Dev, a professor of marketing and branding at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration, said in an email that Airbnb’s brand has suffered from reports of fraudulent listings and claims that guests didn’t get what they expected.

“Airbnb’s task becomes that much harder because, unlike a hotel, hosts can turn on and turn off listing at their pleasure,” he said. “So, verifying the millions of listings all over the world is critical to bolster trust in the brand. Doing so will be a tall order.”

While Dev said he expects the company to follow through with its verification plan, he also thought Airbnb could go beyond the money-back guarantee that Chesky announced Wednesday. He said the company should give guest the promise of 120 percent back if they have to change their plans unexpectedly because a listing fell short.

“Money back for a last-minute negative surprise is small solace for guests being rendered homeless, even temporarily,” Dev said.

Read more:

A couple was scammed by a $12,000 Airbnb listing. Here’s how to make sure that doesn’t happen to you.

Frustrated Airbnb hosts wait for D.C. to explain new regulations

If your vacation beach house looks too good to be true, it may be just that

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