Posted August 2, 2011 9:54 am by with 3 comments

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I had never heard of Airbnb until yesterday. Chances are you’d never heard of the “rent a room in my house” service either.

However, sitting in Chicago’s airport–returning from an extended vacation–I couldn’t help but learn all about Airbnb. At least, the part about the vandalism and theft suffered by one of its members.

Now, it’s unlikely that I would ever have cared about Airbnb–or that one of its members”EJ” had suffered such a horrible event. After all, who in their right mind rents out their house to a complete stranger and expects never to face theft or vandalism? Apparently 60,000+ people do exactly that and, up until this point, have never had any major issues. As far as Airbnb was concerned, it had cornered a small, but growing market that relied on the honesty and decency of those looking for a bed for the night.

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Unfortunately, whenever you provide a service to thousands of users, you’ll always find a bad egg. And that egg will often be rotten in a way you’d never comprehend. Vandalism and theft is one such bad egg that Airbnb didn’t see coming.

Whether Airbnb is to blame, or not. Whether “EJ” should have assumed this risk, or not. Or, whether this is all overblown, or not, is not the focus here. At least, not for me. Instead, I’d like to point out the extreme measures Airbnb took to protect that reputation it had worked so hard to build up. OK, so you can argue that it may have initially dropped the ball, but you can’t argue that its eventual response was perfect…maybe even excessive!

We want to make it right. On August 15th, we will be implementing a $50,000 Airbnb Guarantee, protecting the property of hosts from damage by Airbnb guests who book reservations through our website. We will extend this program to EJ and any other hosts who may have reported such property damage while renting on Airbnb in the past.

Fifty thousand dollars in protection? Retro-active? A personal apology from the CEO? Wowzas!

When I give reputation advice, I tell people to look beyond the initial “cost” of making right a bad situation. Airbnb could have just fixed EJ’s problem and then gone on. Instead, it used a hammer to smash a fly (or bad egg) and implemented a new policy that not only (should) satisfy EJ, but sends a clear message to everyone that you can, and should, trust Airbnb for your next stay.

Heck, I may even have to check them out for my next trip! 😉

  • I have to say I’m really shocked they didn’t have some type of insurance program already in place. It’s good to see the CEO step up like this and be real with how he’s feeling about the entire situation. I haven’t tried Airbnb but it is comforting to know they’ll be stepping up their efforts to make everyone involved in the process feel safer.

    • Bob D.

      I’ve used Airbnb before, having learned about it by a close friend. While my experience was fine (I wasn’t too demanding), and I’m respectful of property, people, and such, in general, I have wondered about what safeguards are in place for such rental arrangements to protect both the owner and the visitor. For me, the word-of-mouth recommendation and the proximity of friends were reassuring, in case I needed assistance if something happened to go wrong and Airbnb couldn’t help (though the owner of the flat had backup contacts in place in case of urgency or emergency). Off-hand, the damage control on the part of the CEO and ownership of any responsibility was impressive, as you said, Josh. Perhaps will make for a case study someday.

  • paula davis

    Do you know WHAT the company has DONE yet for the EJ victim? I read the statements, but have never seen anything else about the company doing anything specific. It would be great PR for them if the CEO’s had a photo in the press doing SOMETHING FOR HER. I was just wondering…