Imagine coming home from a trip and finding your home or apartment ransacked by strangers. Horrifying, right? Now imagine that the person or persons who did it had your permission. Well, not really, but you were the one that gave them the key. Even more upsetting, right?
That's what a California woman said happened to her in June when she utilized an online vacation rental/lodging/hosting travel website called Airbnb. Heard of it? You may have since the site has been growing in popularity and trending on the upswing with financial backing from supporters like Ashton Kutcher.
Airbnb works kinda like a dating service for travelers looking to find a place to stay. Folks who have rooms or rentals sign up, creating a profile, and then you can search the listings and hook up with a host in the city you're visiting. It's free to list a space and hosts only pay Airbnb when they secure an actual booking.
All sounds great. Until it doesn't. Until you open your home to some irresponsible schmuck. After the woman came forward with her story of vandalism and theft, another host also claimed the same thing had happened to him. Frankly, I'm kinda surprised this didn't arise as an issue sooner. Airbnb doesn't screen the visitors, so hosts are indeed taking a risk with, well, strangers. (And travelers are taking a risk that the host property is as advertised and the host is, well, hospitable.)
The travel website has been very apologetic - but only after the victimized host blogged her disgust and generated lots of online support. Airbnb admits they dropped the ball. But even more important, it is trying to make changes to help clients feel more safe.
On Monday, the website announced that beginning Aug. 15, it will offer a $50,000 Airbnb Guarantee that will reimburse hosts who have property destroyed by a guest booked through Airbnb. There's also a new "Trust & Safety" center on the website, with safety tips, better profile details and increased 24-hour customer service.
Not sure that's enough to make a host feel totally safe using the service, but it's certainly a very good start.