It isn't the first utterly tone-deaf thing that Airbnb has done as a company, but amid a global pandemic and recession, it seems wildly inappropriate and dumb to be asking customers to pad the pockets of hosts — i.e. homeowners — who are suddenly out their side income.
I don't mean to be insensitive to any low- or fixed-income people — especially those in poorer countries — who have managed to eke out a better lifestyle in recent years thanks to the fad of home-sharing sites like Airbnb. But when times are tough for broad swaths of the populace in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world, it seems less than wise, politically, for Airbnb to start soliciting gifts for people who are essentially landlords. This feels especially egregious in communities like San Francisco and New Orleans where the existence of Airbnb has been directly blamed for taking full-time rental housing off the market and driving up rents for longtime residents.
"I’m not sure I will be contributing to the mortgage for anyone’s second house at this time," writes Brianna Wu on Twitter, reacting to the company's solicitation of "kindness cards" for hosts.
"Airbnb has lost its fucking head," writes another on Twitter, "Why would I donate to my host? I can't even afford one house."
I’m not sure I will be contributing to the mortgage for anyone’s second house at this time. https://t.co/qfhIN8qR6o— Brianna Wu (@BriannaWu) July 14, 2020
The campaign for host donations comes as Airbnb enters its fifth month of deeply reduced business amid the pandemic, and it seems to be a way of trying to appease angry hosts who had gotten used to the extra income that Airbnb has provided them for the last few years. And Airbnb says that 100 percent of all contributions will go directly to the hosts.
"Now you can create personalized kindness cards that make it easy to send a message of appreciation or encouragement, with the option to add a contribution," the company writes. "We hope these cards will make hosts smile, and bring a little joy your way."
But as Business Insider explains, the worst-off hosts are not likely the retirees renting out spare rooms, but rather people who took out mortgages on second and third homes in popular tourist markets, gambling on their ability to make a steady income from this without interruption.
New York Times tech columnist Mike Isaac today reacted to Airbnb's gaffe calling these mega-host empires like the "mortgage-backed securities of the sharing economy." The request for contributions is basically asking customers to "donate money to landlords... many of whom have overextended themselves by leveraging multiple properties which they rented out pre-covid, and are now going empty," he writes.
"To be clear, they've created this because their hosts absolutely hate them right now, due to the fact that their homes are largely uninhabited and Airbnb won't (can't) pay the hosts for their empty houses," Isaac continues. "Crazy situation where basically the entire platform has turned on them."
And Isaac surmises that this effort, which must be geared more toward those mega-hosts than to mom-and-pops with spare rooms, is "a tacit admission that they know who their base hosts are."
Good luck with this, Airbnb!