How Airbnb builds trust and helps keep hosts and guests safe
Airbnb is committed to earning the trust and ensuring the safety and security of its global community.
At the foundation of that commitment is Airbnb’s robust Trust and Safety team, which is comprised of a range of 24/7 response agents, engineers, data scientists, product managers, designers, law-enforcement liaisons, crisis managers, and victim-advocacy specialists. That’s in addition to the company’s deep bench of experts in policy, privacy, cyber security, insurance, and fraud issues.
According to Nick Shapiro, Global Head of Trust and Risk Management at Airbnb, the team works across the company on a number of safety and security programs, products, and features from offices in San Francisco, Portland, Dublin, and Singapore.
A global security expert, Shapiro previously served as the Deputy Chief of Staff of the CIA and Senior Advisor to former CIA Director John Brennan. He was also on the National Security Council staff and served as a White House homeland security and counter terrorism aide to President Obama.
The following question-and-answer session provides a deep dive into how Airbnb addresses the safety concerns of travel managers, companies, and their business travelers.
Nick, tell us about Airbnb’s approach to trust and safety. What makes it work?
We know that keeping employees safe while they’re traveling is every travel manager’s top priority, and at Airbnb, I can tell you it’s ours as well. While no one can ever take all the risk out of traveling, we work day in and day out to mitigate that risk as best we can and build a safe and trusted environment for travelers.
Trust is the fundamental currency of the sharing economy, and it’s at the heart of everything we do. Our approach to trust and safety is really best described as a “hierarchy of needs.” We believe that in order for guests and hosts to trust each other and trust Airbnb, we must accomplish three things. First, safety is fundamental. Without being safe, people will not be able to trust each other. Next, we need to maximize transparency so that travelers know exactly what they’re getting and how to use Airbnb. Finally, we need our community to know they are not alone—no matter what happens—we have a dedicated team standing by 24/7 to help resolve any issues that might arise.
The result should be that when any company’s employees travel with Airbnb, they are safe, they can feel right at home, and they can just focus on their work.
What role does technology play in Airbnb’s suite of safety and security features?
It is hard to overstate the importance of technology. It is one of the key advantages that sets us apart. At Airbnb, we are not only a hospitality and travel community, but we’re also a technology company. Unlike hotels, we use predictive analytics, behavioral analysis, and machine learning to assess the risk of each and every host, guest, and listing on our platform. This real-time detection system instantly evaluates hundreds of risk signals to flag and then stop suspicious activity in the first place.
While no background check system is infallible, we screen all hosts and guests globally against regulatory, terrorist, and sanctions watch lists. For United States residents, we also run background checks looking for prior felony convictions, sex offender registrations, and significant misdemeanors. We are working with additional governments around the world to identify where we can do more background checks.
How does Airbnb address safety issues specific to business travel?
We know that traveling for work requires different things than traveling for leisure, so we’ve tailored our business travel offering to help make things as easy as possible for travel managers and their employees.
Once a company has registered, our Airbnb for Work company dashboard gives travel managers easy visibility and added control to keep track of employees while they’re spread across the globe. The company dashboard map clearly displays where each person is currently traveling and will be traveling in the future. The map page also displays each employee’s direct contact information, as well as details on the specific Airbnb host and listing where they are staying, so you can get in touch quickly if need be.
For the employees themselves, our work collection filter ensures that they only choose from top-rated listings as well as the many amenities business travelers expect. For companies that seek additional choice, Airbnb Plus listings are another option; these homes have been verified in person for quality and comfort.
Does Airbnb also address duty of care obligations?
Yes we do. First off, our Airbnb for Work company dashboard provides real-time travel tracking of all current and future Airbnb trips. We’ve integrated data from this dashboard with top duty of care providers like iJET, ISOS, Anvil Group, and UnitedHealthcare Global (UHG) so that travel managers can ingest Airbnb data and view it right alongside the rest of their partner companies’ data. For example, they can see all of their travelers staying in a hotel and all of their travelers staying in Airbnbs around the globe—all in one place.
What about information security?
Not only is the safety of a company’s employees paramount, so is securing their personal and financial information.
We take a number of measures to safeguard users’ Airbnb accounts, including requiring multi-factor authentication whenever a login is attempted from a new device. You will never be asked to wire money or pay another user directly, and in fact, if you are, we advise users to report this behavior to us immediately.
Keeping our Airbnb community safe and secure, both online and offline, is our priority.
How do you work with hosts to ensure the safety of Airbnb listings for travelers?
All hosts must follow all local safety laws and regulations, plus the majority of our hosts live in that same home when they are not renting it out. We routinely run home safety workshops with local fire services in order to equip our hosts with the best practices and the latest safety information.
Some of our work collection hosts also provide travelers with online safety cards containing important information—such as emergency phone numbers, locations of fire extinguishers, and fire alarms, as well as emergency exit routes. And finally, guests can check the reviews left by previous travelers to see exactly what others have thought about that same home and the host.
Plus, we never release payment to a host until the guest is safely checked in. If there is ever an issue, if a home is not as advertised or if something just doesn’t feel right, all the guest has to do is reach out and let us know. We will happily rebook them elsewhere, even in a hotel if need be.
You mentioned transparency as a key element of your “hierarchy of needs” approach to building trust. How do you facilitate that transparency between hosts and travelers?
We know the concept of staying in someone else’s home when they are not there still feels foreign to some people—ever since we were kids we were told not to talk to strangers—yet here we have millions of people opening up their homes. One way we build trust and confidence is by ensuring people don’t feel like strangers, because once you learn more about them, they really aren’t strangers anymore.
Each and every person on Airbnb has a profile page with information about themselves and their home. In order to book or host, you must provide us with a full name, date of birth, photo, phone number, and email address. Hosts can require that guests upload a government ID before booking their home, and then the host in turn is required to do so as well.
Next, through our secure, built-in messaging feature, we offer a safe and easy way for travelers to ask their host any questions they want about the home, the neighborhood—anything at all—and all before deciding whether or not to make a reservation.
Plus, every traveler has our global community to rely on. If they want to see what previous guests have thought about a potential host or home, all they need to do is check the ratings and reviews. Guests and hosts publicly review each other, and only after the stay is complete, so the feedback is informed and real.
Are there any safeguards in place if a traveler encounters problems with their Airbnb stay?
Peace of mind is critically important. That’s why our Trust and Safety and Customer Service teams are standing by around the clock and around the globe to help make things right if anything were to go wrong.
As I mentioned before, if any problems arise, all your travelers need to do is let us know and we will rebook them.
Our business travel clients also have the added benefit of a dedicated Account Manager and premium support—including a direct phone number—in order to ensure they have the best possible experience on Airbnb.
What about insurance? Does Airbnb have an insurance program?
Yes, we do. Our Host Protection Insurance program covers hosts with $1 million (USD) in third party liability insurance, so our guests have recourse. Just like in a hotel, guests are of course responsible for any damage caused to a listing.
Nick, any final thoughts you’d like to share?
At Airbnb, we are seeing people trust each other more and more. On any given night, two million people are staying in homes on Airbnb in 65,000 cities all over the world. We have grown to four million listings in more than 191 countries—that’s more rooms than the top five hotel chains combined.
Keeping our Airbnb community safe and secure, both online and offline, is our priority. There have been more than 300 million guest arrivals in Airbnb listings to date and negative incidents are extremely rare. Even so, we’re always working to improve our platform, policies and protections, because even one incident is one too many.
Many people are just starting to see the value of a trusted community on Airbnb and all of the access it can unlock. Tens of millions of travelers have been able to experience the world not as tourists or business travelers stuck in a sterile hotel room, but as locals in the comfort of their very own home.
All of this is possible because of the trust we are helping people put in each other and in us.
For more information, please refer to:
Perfect Strangers: How Airbnb is Building Trust Between Hosts & Guests
How host protection insurance works
Click here to view a Bloomberg TV video interview with Nick Shapiro on “How Airbnb is Using Tech To Build Trust.”
You can follow Nick Shapiro @nick_shapiro.