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Airbnb complaints on the rise

Almost eight years after it was put up in August 2008 by two hard-up industrial designers, online site Airbnb has become a $30 billion company whose value is now much larger than the Hilton group. Airbnb – whose name was inspired by the transient accommodations offered by AirBed & Breakfast founders Brain Chesky and Joe Gebbia, composed of an air mattress in the living room with free breakfast thrown in — recently celebrated its 100 millionth guest who booked for short-term rentals in one of the homes listed on its website.

Obviously, the concept of an online booking site that provides a list of homes, condo units and apartments available for short term accommodation for those looking to visit a particular place has caught on judging from the mushrooming of other similar startups offering the same service.  Homeowners who want to earn extra simply pay a processing fee to the online site to be included in the list.

A major reason why the home sharing app has become so popular to tourists is largely due to the fact that the rates are cheaper than hotels. According to reports, hundreds of thousands of guests book for short-term stays via the Airbnb platform. In fact, more than one million in bookings was recorded for New Year — and this figure was recently topped in June when about 1.3 million guests booked for a weekend. Not surprising since Airbnb has over 1.5 million listings of hosts offering 2.3 million rooms, bigger than the number of rooms offered by the Hilton, Marriot and InterContinental hotel chains combined.

The home sharing app is also set to conduct an initial public offering and disclosed plans to come out with “Magical Trips” wherein renters will be offered not just accommodation and breakfast but also full meals, tours and airport pickups — pretty much like the other services offered by hotels. In fact, reports also indicate that Airbnb has also added a number of listings for hotels and motels — underscoring its phenomenal growth and expansion. 

However, the home sharing app has been getting a lot of criticism with complaints also escalating on several issues —from taxes, to security to hygiene and now, discrimination. Critics say Airbnb’s business has gone beyond the simple act of mostly middle class homeowners renting out their homes (or rooms) to strangers and earning extra income in the process, because home sharing has become a highly commercialized enterprise.

Just recently, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren — who is gaining popularity as a potential running mate for Democratic candidate Hilary Clinton – has called for an investigation on the practices of Airbnb and other rental websites. Warren and other legislators have sent a letter to the US Federal Trade Commission asking the agency to see if the short-term industry is aggravating the housing shortage and driving up the cost of housing in many cities across the US. That’s because big real estate companies are allegedly buying up affordable housing units to rent out via Airbnb and similar platforms. 

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“…Short-term rentals may be exacerbating housing shortages and driving up the cost of housing in our communities… Furthermore, we are concerned that communities and consumers may be put at risk through violations of sensible health, safety and zoning regulations under state and local law,” the letter read.

One other serious issue faced by the online site has to do with the discrimination displayed by Airbnb hosts against African-Americans. In fact, the hashtag #Airbnbwhileblack went trending after several black tourists posted their experiences of being rejected by Airbnb hosts because of their race – prompting one of them to file a civil rights case while others formed a similar home sharing app that promises to be inclusive. But it’s not only racial discrimination that’s being thrown against the California-based app, it’s also facing criticism (and a lawsuit, reports said) following complaints that renters were denied service despite having solid bookings/reservations for being members of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community.

The company reportedly did nothing about the reports – until a tweet from a transgender who was refused service got retweeted over a thousand times – prompting the company to suspend the discriminatory host. Airbnb executives said they are doing an internal review to see how the problem of discrimination can be addressed, but they also acknowledged that homeowners have the right to decide who can stay in their homes.  “Discrimination exists in the world. We can’t interview (every host) and just rip it out completely,” remarked Chesky in an interview.

Aside from discrimination, other issues that have been raised include substandard facilities and poor “customer service” from owners. For instance, a tourist reportedly found himself getting trapped in his room because of a defective lock, while still others complained of weak water supply or faulty air conditioning units, among many others.

AhTop, a leading association of French hoteliers, has also filed a complaint before the Paris prosecutor’s office against Airbnb and other online accommodation services for unfair competition, alleging that these outfits have not been paying appropriate taxes. It can be recalled that Western Best CEO David Kong also spoke out against the app – even starting an online forum actually – and urged his colleagues in the hotel industry to also air their concerns against the sharing businesses. “We pay hotel taxes, state, local and tourism taxes… there’s income, liquor and rental taxes, amongst others. And then there’s a whole host of insurance, health and safety obligations that come with considerable oversight (meeting these exacting standards is a very good thing ─ guest safety is the top priority for any hotel),” Kong wrote in an online forum last year.

Ironically, some Best Western hotels are now part of the Airbnb list of available accommodations – and have been for several years before Kong’s “It’s Personal” post.

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Email: spybits08@gmail.com

 

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