Airbnb Hopes Big-Name Hires Can Salvage Its Image

Airbnb, sharing economy, discrimination, taxes, Leon Kaye
Former Attorney General Eric Holder.

What started as a benign space-sharing service has turned into an elaborate $30 billion company. In the meantime, Airbnb — which had a huge role in launching what used to be called the sharing economy — suffered a series of setbacks. And its edgy reputation is suffering.

The company has become the face of the ugly side of gentrification. And critics say it is partially responsible for sparking housing shortages and high rents in some of America’s most expensive cities. When it comes to the optics, having a Kardashian gloat about her $6,600-a-night Nantucket estate, rented from Airbnb, is hardly helping the company win over an increasingly dubious public.

To that end, Airbnb made some notable hires as of late, including President Barack Obama’s first attorney general and former mayors of cities across the world. And AirBnb is reported to have a huge presence this week at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, perhaps in an effort to win over some of the party’s most influential leaders.

The hiring of former Attorney General Eric Holder is a response to allegations of discrimination that culminated in a lawsuit filed with a federal court. Last month, Airbnb said it would review its anti-discrimination policy. But that wasn’t enough to satisfy many stakeholders and users of the service who said they were denied accommodations because of the color of their skin. Gregory Selden, a Virginia resident whose experience with racial profiling was met with silence by Airbnb, eventually sparked a social media fire with a viral hashtag, further embarrassing the company.

Meanwhile Airbnb is in a fierce battle with cities across the country — including its hometown, San Francisco. The city issued regulations earlier this year that affect how homeowners and tenants can rent out their property and spare rooms. Airbnb fired back, suing the city and saying the ordinance violates federal law.

The company’s response to the growing pushback from users and civic leaders is the establishment of what it calls a “Mayoral Advisory Board.” Claiming this step is part of its “ongoing commitment to work cooperatively with cities across the world,” this panel includes former mayor Annise Parker of Houston and Francesco Rutelli of Rome.

The former civic leaders say the board is part of Airbnb’s promise to be transparent. It will work with municipalities to ensure they score their fair share of hotel and tourism taxes. But watch for the company’s critics to be wary of this move as it brings the scent of yet another lobbying effort.

These recent shifts follow upon Airbnb’s recent announcements that infer a promise to become a more responsible and conscientious company. But as another TriplePundit writer opined, Airbnb is very “late to the party” on this front. As with Uber, Airbnb has become the symbol of a movement that promised to build community and be more environmentally conscious. Instead, these companies became the bounty of investment bankers and Wall Street, with watered-down benefits for everyone else.

Image credit: North Charleston/Flickr

Corporate Responsibility

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Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010. He has lived across the U.S., as well as in South Korea, Abu Dhabi and Uruguay. Some of Leon's work can also be found in The Guardian, Sustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. You can follow him on Twitter (@LeonKaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost).

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