Airbnb undeniably has an image problem. Whether it’s nightmare stories about meth trailers and customers, bigotry in all forms running amok, or a host site turning out to have a dead body, it’s fairly clear that the buyer needs to beware, and Airbnb won’t help if you walk into a room where the furniture has corpses all over it and is more bedbug than upholstery.
Now Airbnb is doing something about it; no, not improving their customer service, just creating a “premium” tier instead.
Bloomberg has a full report on the upcoming initiative, where, for a fee, you can rent an Airbnb that the company has actually sent someone to inspect. Which sounds like a great idea, so why, precisely, isn’t Airbnb just doing this with all their properties?
In part, because they don’t seem to care. The Premium Tier is aimed at “wealthier travelers” who can afford hotels and thus don’t care about Airbnb’s primary appeal, namely finding a place to say for dirt cheap. Will there be decorative soaps? You’d better believe it! Competing with luxury hotels has always, at some point, been Airbnb’s goal; the most optimistic view of their business model is that instead of us building giant wasteful boxes of temporary shelter, we built more permanent shelters and use them more efficiently.
But another part of it is that Airbnb is probably afraid of what would happen if they sent an army of inspectors out to follow up on every horror story and bad review. They’d likely have to delist a number of properties, if nothing else, and lawyers will be likely to get involved if that happens. But it also would go against Silicon Valley’s one deeply held belief: That they’re “just the platform” and that they can’t be held responsible for the way people use the tools they provide.
Still, if they’re going to offer inspected properties to the rich and tell the proles “Let the buyer beware,” they might want to develop a better explanation as to why that is.