January 17, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

What Airbnb is doing to stop Christmas, New Year’s parties

That secret party-house rager you were hoping to throw on New Year’s Eve? Don’t think you can book it on Airbnb.

The short-term rentals site has clamped down on listings during the COVID-19 pandemic in an effort to prevent large gatherings of the sort health authorities are urging people to avoid. That includes instituting a global ban on all parties and events until further notice and restricting users under 25 from booking entire homes in the areas where they live, a move that a spokeswoman said has resulted in more than 770,000 blocked reservation attempts in the U.S. and Canada.

Over Halloween weekend, Airbnb prohibited one-night reservations in entire-home listings to reduce parties. It is implementing a similar (though slightly looser) measure for New Year’s Eve, banning guests without a history of positive reviews from making one-night reservations for entire homes.

Guests who have a history of positive reviews will not be subject to the rule, and those who booked one-night reservations for New Year’s Eve before Dec. 3 can go ahead with their plans as well.

With strict travel restrictions in place around the world, and people growing weary of not being able to socialize, many have turned to short-term rental sites to get out of their homes and hang out with friends.

The businesses, along with city, county and state officials, have sought to curb such gatherings, but it can be challenging. The Los Angeles Police Department has responded to numerous complaints about party houses since the spring, including one in May that saw more than 100 people partying at a property in the Hollywood Hills.

Airbnb, which has a trove of user data that it taps to analyze and predict guest behavior, has implemented “high-risk detection systems” that flag potentially problematic reservations — such as bookings made for large groups — for manual review.

The technology looks at attributes including the duration of a user’s stay, whether he or she has a history of positive reviews, the size of the listing, and the number of nights of the reservation. The San Francisco company said it has identified and proactively canceled roughly 9,000 high-risk reservations in the U.S. and Canada as a result.

In September, Airbnb launched an initiative to prevent guests from booking homes on extremely short notice in their home cities; that led to more than 170,000 reservation attempts being blocked in the U.S. and Canada. It also took legal action against guests and party promoters, including in Sacramento and Glendora.

Airbnb users who have been blocked from booking reservations have been expressing their frustration on social media.

“I’m 2 hrs from home in a [different] state needing to book a last minute Airbnb and it won’t let me because I’m at risk of having a party? An hour dealing with support and they can’t override it,” user Michael Fisk tweeted in October. “Telling me to get hotel — I’m a 4 year superhost.”

“So Airbnb won’t let me book places ‘last minute,’ even though I have good guest reviews, because I’m under 25,” tweeted another in August.

Guests who booked holiday reservations but want to bow out because of COVID fears or new shutdown rules might find hosts and the company to be less sympathetic than they had expected: Airbnb’s Extenuating Circumstances policy doesn’t apply to reservations made after March 14 for COVID-related reasons other than actual sickness. The rationale: Once COVID was declared a global pandemic, “its consequences were no longer unexpected, including the risk of continued or new travel and movement restrictions,” the company said.

However, if an Airbnb host or guest is currently sick with COVID-19, that is “always covered.”

Airbnb went public this month, with its shares more than doubling in their trading debut in one of the biggest first-day rallies ever. The company, which was founded in 2008, is currently valued at $97.5 billion.