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Airbnb's Delistings Anger Hosts And Raise Claims Of Data Fudging

As the BBC reports delistings across the United Kingdom, a new study says Airbnb purged hosts before opening its books to the public.

Airbnb's Delistings Anger Hosts And Raise Claims Of Data Fudging

[Photo: Flickr User Open Grid Scheduler / Grid Engine]

As many as hundreds of Airbnb hosts in the U.K. may have been delisted in recent weeks "for no reason," according to a new BBC report. But last week, critics of the platform pointed to one explanation for another purge in New York City in 2015: The company is eager to "clean up" its listings as it faces continuing scrutiny from regulators and pressure from the hotel industry.

One London man was told two weeks ago that his listing, a well rated 1730 Soho townhouse that he's rented out on Airbnb since 2013, would be cancelled. "We found it a bit insulting," he told the BBC. "We really try to arrange the flat to give people a good experience. We provide fresh flowers and breakfast for guests. We take a lot of trouble and we've had uniformly positive reviews over three years." Another delisted host with multiple properties complained, "I feel as if Airbnb has completely ruined my business."

A search of host forums turns up dozens of upset hosts whose rentals have been removed from the site with little explanation. Hosts in cities like London and Barcelona are claiming the site is unfairly blocking them from renting out their properties.

In the case of the London man interviewed by the BBC, Airbnb explained in an email, "Our systems have shown that the listing mentioned below is not delivering the kind of local hospitality experience guests are looking for." But hosts like him claim they had received hundreds of positive reviews and few complaints.

"Our mission is to allow Airbnb guests to connect with hosts who provide local and authentic experiences that make cities better places to live, work and visit," an Airbnb spokesperson told the BBC. "We routinely carry out initiatives for quality purposes and adherence to this mission... this is not unusual or unique. It's routine activity that happens around the world."

One possible impetus for the purge is the increasing pressure the company is feeling from regulators and the hotel industry. The American Hotel & Lodging Association recently commissioned a study that found Airbnb makes $378 million—almost 30% of its revenue—from units that are available 360 days a year, and in some cases, hosted by owners who rent out multiple units. Rentals like that make Airbnb "a platform for dodging taxes, skirting the law, and flouting health and safety standards," said Katherine Lugar, president of the group behind the study.

Last week, InsideAirbnb.com, a self-appointed Airbnb watchdog, raised concerns that the company had "fudged data" in its effort to win regulatory approval in New York last year. InsideAirbnb.com published statistics showing a drastic purge of 1,000 New York City rentals last year, immediately before CEO and cofounder Brian Chesky posted a "Community Compact" that declared the company is committed to paying appropriate taxes, being transparent, and cracking down on long-term rentals.

A spokesman for Airbnb disputed the findings of the study to Fortune, noting that "the vast majority of our hosts are everyday people who have just one listing and share their space a few nights a month to help make ends meet."

Last year, the company spent more than $8 million campaigning against a San Francisco ballot measure, Proposition F, that would have severely limited the ability of Airbnb hosts to rent out their apartments; similar political fights continue to simmer in New York, Berlin, and Barcelona. "We are on this brink of greater legitimacy," CEO Brian Chesky told Fast Company. "But we’re not there yet."

Part of the company's growth strategy, says Chesky, involves mobilizing its more devoted hosts to better support its growth. But with cities cracking down and the hotel industry crying foul, Airbnb's efforts to clean up its listings also risk angering some of those hosts, too.

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