The hottest new site
Airbnb.com has enjoyed glowing reviews from the media and public as the hottest on-line short-term rental site. In fact, this apartment sharing startup just raised $112 million with a valuation of $1.2 billion.
The site says “We connect people who have space to spare with those who are looking for a place to stay.” I wasn’t really sure what the hype was all about. Sounds like you are just renting your home to a stranger while you are away. Is that really a $1.2 billion idea? But hey, they have been featured on a jillion media outlets from Forbes to Bloomberg to New York Times, so what do I know? Their PR peeps are working overtime no doubt.
They are the media darlings of the moment….that is, until Wednesday, when an Airbnb user’s home got completely destroyed by a renter. The renter stole her ID, credit cards, passport & savagely ransacked her home over a whole week. The media who were so quick to build Airbnb up, were just as quick to break the horrific story with headlines like “Woman Utterly Pillaged via Airbnb” (gawker), “Moment of Truth For Airbnb As User’s Home Utterly Trashed” (TechCrunch) to “Airbnb Horror” (Business Insider). This literally hits close to home because Airbnb is also headquartered in San Francisco where the vandalism happened.
Airbnb’s damage control
It’s admirable that Airbnb took to their twitter feed to do damage control. Their tweets from that day are peppered with updates. And they did not blame the Airbnb customer (that would have been a major doozie). Admittedly, the woman whose house was violated to the nth degree even said on blog that “They have offered to help me recover emotionally and financially, and are working with SFPD.”
What is most interesting to me about this whole sordid saga is how Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia broached it to an auditorium of tech savvy real estate agents the day after. He didn’t broach it at all. (Huh?!)
Giant elephant in the conference ballroom
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.
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.
Disconnect between Twitter feed and keynote speech
There was a total disconnect between Airbnb’s tweeter feed & the rosy picture painted on stage. What a missed opportunity for Airbnb to clear the air. Agents could be a huge proponent for a site like Airbnb. This would be great for our clients who need short term rentals, or another way to generate some rental income for clients with spare rooms.
But now in light of the grizzly incident, how can we recommend Airbnb with confidence? Any acknowledgement of the robbery would have been better than saying nothing. It is so crucial to be honest and upfront with consumers.
If you ask me, at the end of the day, it’s still letting a stranger into your home. There’s a reason why people don’t hitchhike anymore! Agents, what do you think about Airbnb? Is it a fancier version of house swapping on Craigslist? Has the Airbnb horror deterred you away from this service?