Airbnb faces backlash after encouraging guests to donate money to hosts
The Airbnb website is seen in this file photo. (AFP PHOTO/John MACDOUGALL)
TORONTO -- Airbnb has received online backlash after the company encouraged some guests to send their former hosts “kindness cards” with an optional monetary donation to help them during the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the short-term rental company’s website, eligible guests can send the personalized kindness cards – with the option to add a financial contribution – to hosts they have given a four or five-star rating to in the past.
The gesture is intended to show “appreciation or encouragement” for the hosts, the company stated.
“Airbnb will charge no fee, and 100 per cent of your contribution goes directly to the host. The cards make it easy to reach out to a host who’s provided excellent service during a stay or an Airbnb Experience,” the website message reads.
Hosts who receive financial donations from past guests don’t have to keep them and have the option of passing along the donation to non-profit organizations that support COVID-19 responders who need to stay near hospitals or stay isolated with their family, Airbnb explained on its website.
In recent days, a number of Airbnb renters have taken to social media to share their outrage after the company emailed them to encourage them to send “kindness cards” with optional financial donations to their former hosts.
“Why would I donate to my host? I can’t even afford one house,” one Twitter user wrote in a post with an accompanying screengrab of the email she received from Airbnb.
Another guest called the message she received an “email solicitation” from the rental company.
“This is nuts. C-19 is tough on everyone, but I can’t imagine anyone with free money to give out of kindness for past business transactions, however nice they were. Shaking down customers?!?” she wrote.
A twitter user named Kimberly also appeared to be baffled by the kindness card request.
“Logging on to send a ~kindness card~ to people who *checks notes* own multiple properties?” she posted. “Top tier trolling @Airbnb!”
Steven White, an assistant professor at Syracuse University in New York, also seemed to be perplexed by Airbnb’s new feature.
“There’s a lot of weird COVID-related corporate marketing strategies, but Airbnb’s suggestion that I send a “kindness card” to a property owner who deigned to let me pay them money in exchange for sleeping at their property is weird even by these increasingly weird standards,” he wrote on Twitter.
An Airbnb spokesperson explained the company heard from “many guests who were interested in supporting and reconnecting” with past hosts.
“In the spirit of rekindling connections, we developed a new feature that allows guests to send virtual cards with messages of support and encouragement to hosts who provided excellent hospitality. If they wish, guests have the option to add a voluntary financial contribution,” the spokesperson wrote in an emailed statement to CTVNews.ca on Thursday.
Airbnb has also come under fire from hosts and guests on the platform for its refund policy in response to the pandemic.
In an effort to support hosts who have reportedly lost billions in revenue from cancelled bookings, the company set aside US$250 million in March to reimburse some of their losses.
Airbnb appears to be experiencing a recent boost in recent days, however, with guests booking more than a million nights’ worth of future stays on the platform on July 8, according to the company, which said it’s the first time that threshold has been reached since the beginning of March.