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Open letter to AirBnB: Do the right thing: extenuating circumstances are the New Normal!

Thanks AirBnB, I regret to inform you that you will no longer be eligible for my consideration when I book rentals and vacation homes!

Reposted from Medium.

To Brian Chesky (CEO), the board and the investors of AirBnB

I am dismayed about your policies and your behaviour in regards to Covid19 -related refunds, and generally your stance on what you call ‘extenuating circumstances’ for cancelling bookings because of Covid19.

I think your position on these issues is ill-guided, unsustainable and unconscionable; and if you want to be able to count on people’s trust ever again when/if the corona-crisis is over you’ll need to do a lot better than this. In fact, I think your much-envisioned IPO will become a mere mirage of you don’t resolve these issues asap (and never mind all the issues you faced before Covid19 which you’ll still need to address, as well)

People are asking, and will increasingly do so “what did this company do during this ‘war’” (an apt moniker for the Covid19 crisis, maybe), and, “Can I trust them to do the right thing, going forward?” And sadly, in the case of AirBnB the answer might well be: “they made it hard or even impossible to get my money back during the last crisis, while charging their service fees regardless, and overall they did not care of me”.

Frankly, Brian, what you are practicing right now, is plain old ‘shareholder capitalism’ (as opposed to now widely touted ‘stakeholder capitalism’) and continuing in this fashion will sink your boat.

I am a long-time and high-value airbnb customer, myself, and it has generally been a good experience, over the years. But with my many upcoming bookings in 2020 and 2021, AirBnB’s stance and behaviour in regards to changes, refunds and cancellations has simply been appalling (sign this petition if that has happened to you, as well).

Let me give you only one personal example: I booked a nice place in Waiheke / NZ for 6 weeks, starting in in January 2021, for a big writing and filming project. Needless to say that: a) NZ is not very likely to welcome a lot of global visitors during the next 9–12 months b) my business (keynotes at large events around the globe) is basically shut-down and unlikely to resume in any material way until next year, thus making such a large trip economically unfeasible, at this time. Now, my host in Waiheke has graciously agreed to waive their original cancellation requirements (50% after 48 hours), but AirBnB is still hell-bend on charging their outrageous services fees of some 2190 NZD (note the screenshots of my ‘conversation’ with your customer service below for further evidence). This is utterly unacceptable.

But apparently this is not merely an isolated instant that just happened to me — rather, this seems like a widespread issue and a survival strategy on AirBnB’s part: stick with a ridiculous and self-serving refund policy that leaves your customers to pick up the pieces while you get to keep your cash.

In the case of service fees upon mutual cancellation (as mine was), neither the host is making money nor does the customer get a full refund — but AirBnb still collects their outrageous service fees (and in a good many cases, also refuses to negotiate with unwilling hosts on behalf of customers that are unable to come due to Covid19).

This behaviour is appalling and constitutes a total breach of trust. Have you not realised that pretty much EVERYTHING related to Covid19 is now an EXTENUATING CIRCUMSTANCE? Every single traveler now has to deal with extenuating circumstances, and clearly ‘business as usual’ is no longer — yet you intend to stick with a rulebook that protects you, above all. I am severely disappointed in your lack of compassion and moral leadership during these difficult times.

I implore you to review your stance on this (and not for my own sake but for every other AirBnB user/customer (as well as the hosts) that is being short-changed and mistreated like this) and to a) waive your service fees for any and all Covid19 related cancellations (maybe you could still retain a nominal amount to pay for your efforts ? b) negotiate with unwilling-to-refund hosts on behalf of those guests that have booked with a strict cancellation policy but now need to cancel because of Covid19, and institute a new overwrite-rule that offers safe harbour for any customer that finds him/herself in this situation (and I don’t mean offering coupons etc — I mean CASH REFUNDS). And yes, of course I would ask the same thing of other platforms such as VPRO.

I don’t know how far you’ve thought this through yet, but if you continue to leave your customers in a lurch like this, valuing money-in-your-pocket over relationships and longterm trust, I think AirBnB is doomed as soon as this crisis winds down. On my end, I will certainly draw my own conclusions and stop using AirBnB, altogether.

If doing the right for your customers means you’ll need to get more money from your investors (even at unfavourable terms) then so be it!

@brian Show some moral leadership! (maybe this piece by Dov Seidman is helpful 😉

DO THE RIGHT THING!

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