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Headaches multiply for Airbnb ahead of float

Airbnb hosts could pay to fast-track inspections under the company’s new verification crackdown and advertise their accreditation with a badge, the company’s CEO has revealed.

The fast-track system is expected to give hosts an opportunity to gain a trust advantage over non-verified properties, although specifics of how it will work have not yet been revealed.

Following a mass shooting at a US property in October, the home share giant announced an ambitious goal to verify all home listings globally by December 2020 – a target it cannot realistically achieve through physical inspections.

Brian Chesky, CEO and co-founder, says Airbnb is moving ahead with its verification plans, including for its ‘experiences’ listings, but grappling with how to manage the vast undertaking.

In a recent Recode Decode podcast, he said: “The challenge is you can’t physically inspect seven, eight, nine million properties.”

The fast-track accreditations would likely be carried out through physical inspections, in the way that Airbnb Plus and Airbnb Luxe properties are already subject to inspections by an outside contractor.

But the verification of all Airbnbs in a short space of time is expected to mean the bulk of properties will be evaluated through online tools, using technology insiders say Airbnb has been working on for a year.

Industry publication Skift speculates: “Airbnb would probably have to rely on tech signals, and other online verification tools, including guest reviews, in a process that would be challenging and could fall short of the company’s safety goals.”

Senior industry figures, including Tourism Accommodation Australia chief executive Michael Johnson, argue the verification is part of a public relations exercise by Airbnb prior to its stock market listing next year.

The company this week lost a battle against stringent short-stay controls in the US metropolis of Jersey City, in a vote seen as a blow to its stature ahead of the public float.

Residents of the New Jersey city voted overwhelmingly in favour of greater short-stay controls follows a high-profile battle between Airbnb and the city’s authorities which saw the company spend $4.2 million on TV adverts, leaflets and canvassers.

The short-stay giant was campaigning against rules requiring hosts to be registered and limiting the kinds of guests permitted and lengths of stays. Almost 70 percent of residents voted in favour of the curbs.

Jersey City, close to New York, introduced rules legalising home-sharing in 2015 after a deal was established with Airbnb which saw the company work with authorities to help collect and remit taxes from hosts.

At first viewed as the poster child for successful short-stay management, the city has seen its 300 active Airbnb listings skyrocket to more than 3,000, the majority of them whole homes and allegedly operated by hosts responsible for multiple properties.

Critics say the sector is robbing the city of affordable housing stock and properties are being run as quasi hotels, driving up rents and ruining the amenity of neighbourhoods.

In June, the Jersey City Council voted to introduce a suite of new measures including a 60-day per year cap on rentals of whole home or apartments and a ban on short-term rentals in multi-family buildings. Airbnb then garnered some 20,000 resident signatures in opposition to the plan, forcing a referendum which saw the 265,000 population resoundingly supported the city’s stance.

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Kate Jackson

Kate Jackson is the editor of Accomnews. You can reach her at any time with questions or submissions: editorial@accomnews.co.nz

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