I’ve been blocked from Airbnb for discrimination, mainly because I mentioned the canceled guest’s country of origin in trying to explain that normally someone from 7,000 miles away doesn’t book in our tiny town, and that the person could not tell us why he booked here. On an afternoon this summer, a guest had booked for a stay starting three days later. We are in a town town in the middle of the Midwest, so there are specific reasons people usually give when they book.
This guest was coming from a place literally 7,000 miles away. I asked what brought him to the area, and he said “we are tourism” and would arrive in three to five hours. It seemed pretty odd that someone would arrive in less than five hours from somewhere 7,000 miles away. I responded and told him that he had not booked that day. He said he meant three days from then. I asked other questions (which I have screenshots of), but he did not and could not mention specifics regarding our area.
I checked his three reviews, which were brief and vague: “… was a great guest”; “very polite, friendly and clean person”; “excellent guest and well spoken and easy to communicate.” That was it. Normally when I check someone’s reviews, they’re pretty specific about the visit, so my weirdness radar had kicked in.
I called the Airbnb help number within six minutes of the booking to ask for guidance. The customer service representative I spoke to said that there were reviews on the Airbnb user and that he didn’t see anything odd with the guest, but that there was a policy that a host could cancel at least once (maybe twice?) without repercussion, and I had not done so before. I contacted the person who booked to try to elicit a better explanation, which is when he said he was going to be visiting a major city more than 200 miles and four hours from my Airbnb location.
It seemed odd; Airbnb’s website says: “Trust your intuition: If you don’t feel right about a reservation, don’t accept it!” It encourages guests to explain themselves and their trip to put their hosts at ease. This was not happening. The entire length of this booking was for about an hour; I try to respond to people as quickly as possible in regard to their travel. This was not a last-minute cancellation of something that had been booked for a long time. Suddenly, someone called from Airbnb (but actually probably from the arbitration company). This is when I should have had a lawyer right by my side, or just not agreed to talk on the phone.
I honestly could not even understand at first what would have caused the claim of discrimination against a nationality, because to me it was a decision based on multiple reasons, none of which were the specific country the person was from – it was the distance, the vagueness, and the indication that he would be visiting somewhere completely different, nowhere near my Airbnb. At the time of Airbnb’s initial indication that they were looking into me being discriminatory, there were two standing bookings at my property, and I conveyed my concern about those to the person who had called me from arbitration.
My account was delisted but not deactivated, so I assumed Airbnb would at least allow me to host the last two guests while making its decision. I heard nothing from Airbnb and lost a couple thousand dollars in income. At this point, I felt so personally gutted that I decided even if Airbnb were going to let me keep my account, I would never use them again because of the awful assumptions it made about me even though their employees could easily see, in messages, how weird the whole transaction was.
I got to host one of the two already-booked guests, but here it is five days before the last booked guest (who had a special need of having a place that accepts more than one pet), and my account has been deleted as of now and forever. Why would a company do that? I don’t even know what happens to that guest now. Is she totally out of luck? Where will she stay?
Of course, Airbnb uses forced arbitration clauses that give me no rights to even present the evidence I have of the person giving vague and incorrect answers to any questions I asked, nor did Airbnb apparently review a recording of the customer service representative telling me that I had a free cancellation to give. Would I have canceled without Airbnb’s permission? Likely, because of my gut feeling about the booking, but that certainly seemed to me to imply the company’s consent.
While waiting for the complete cancellation of my account, I’ve researched the legality and the common occurrences of Airbnb just leaving people high and dry for no reason. I understand they have to protect people from discrimination, and if I fit that category of one who discriminates, so be it; that’s apparently in the eye of the beholder. However, Airbnb seems to have totally erred on the side of caution when the word “discrimination” is invoked. I would try HomeAway or another company, but my Airbnb is not in a tourist town at all. One of the reasons I’d been booked every weekend is because I was one of three Airbnbs in the whole area. It’s very painful to do so much to tend to every little detail, build up a perfect rating from really happy guests, then have the rug pulled out from under me.