Can Airbnb’s safety program rebuild user trust?

Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky

It has been a tough week for peer-to-peer home rental service Airbnb. The media picked up on the account of an Airbnb user whose home was ransacked and burglarized in late June, and the company has come under fire for what many say was a sluggish and inconsistent response to the situation.

In a contrite blog post published Monday, Airbnb’s chief executive Brian Chesky apologized for his company’s handling of the matter, writing:

“We felt paralyzed, and over the last four weeks, we have really screwed things up… We should have responded faster, communicated more sensitively, and taken more decisive action to make sure [the victim] felt safe and secure. But we weren’t prepared for the crisis and we dropped the ball.”

As part of an effort to make things right, Airbnb has debuted a new safety section of its website and a series of new policies aimed at security, customer service and insurance. The major initiatives the company has unveiled are:

  • A $50,000 Airbnb guarantee. Starting August 15, any host whose property is booked on Airbnb will be covered for loss or damage due to vandalism or theft cause by an Airbnb for up to $50,000. The program also applies retroactively to any hosts who reported such damage prior to August 1.
  • 24-hour customer support hotline: Starting next week, Airbnb will have operators and staff working at all times to provide support. In addition, since last month the company has doubled its customer support team to a staff of 88 people.
  • Verified profiles: Airbnb has updated its user profiles to chronicle people’s public history on Airbnb. It will now be visible if a user’s profile has a verified phone number, is connected to a Facebook account, and whether the majority of their reviews are positive or negative.

Airbnb plans to unveil more product updates in the coming days, Chesky wrote, and the company is open to suggestions on more safety products it should implement.

Whether these changes can really repair Airbnb’s now-sullied reputation remains to be seen. But clearly Airbnb, which recently closed on $112 million in new venture capital, is willing to invest its money — and energy — to get back in the public’s good graces.