Sep 23, 2020 - Technology

Airbnb rolls out portal for cities to review and act on listings

Illustration of a house being observed by a hand with a magnifying glass and another with a tape measure
Illustration: Sara Grillo

Airbnb is rolling out a new dashboard that will let participating cities and tourism organizations directly view and interact with listings and activities within their jurisdictions.

Why it matters: Municipalities have long asked for direct access to information about listings and the ability to take immediate take action against those violating local laws. And Airbnb has long resisted giving it to them.

Flashback: In 2015, after a defeating a San Francisco ballot measure that would have imposed stricter limits on short-term rentals, Airbnb put out what it calls its "Community Compact," a sort of pledge to work more with cities and communities to curb negative effects of rentals.

  • "Five years ago is when we began to really transition from a different perspective on our responsibility when it comes to sharing information and data on what people are doing in certain communities," Airbnb head of global policy Chris Lehane tells Axios.
  • Since then, it has slowly expanded its host tax collection on behalf of cities, implemented tools for host compliance tools, and provided municipalities with some data.

Details: Airbnb is first providing the portal to more than a dozen cities and tourism organizations, including San Francisco, Raleigh, Buffalo, and Calgary, as part of a test pilot program. Tourism offices include Visit Tampa Bay, the City of Krakow, and Visit Tuscany.

  • Each city will have a custom dashboard displaying Airbnb listings within its jurisdictions and activity data such as average earnings and where guests are traveling from, as well as a dedicated point of contact at Airbnb to help with any issues or questions.
  • Cities will also have the ability to take action against particular listings if they find they are out of compliance, and can directly block them through the dashboard.
  • Airbnb plans to make the portal more widely available after the initial testing program, though it declined to provide a specific timeline.

What they're saying: "Our Office of Short-Term Rentals has seen the tool and they really think it'll help a lot," Jeff Cretan, communications director for San Francisco Mayor London Breed, tells Axios.

  • "Right now the way we share information with Airbnb to identify these bad actors is really slow and laborious," he says of the current method of sending spreadsheets back and forth between the city and the company. "It'll be much more efficient."

Between the lines: Despite its commitment to play nice in 2015, Airbnb has not been shy in its regulatory fights — even suing its hometown, San Francisco, the following year over proposed fines.

  • Yes, but: Municipalities' powers to bar the company from operating are very real, and this threat is now more important than ever as Airbnb prepares to finally go public.
  • "The city portal is something we've been working on for some time and it is a next chapter but also part of the journey we've been on," says Lehane, declining to comment on whether the IPO is a factor in rolling out this portal.
  • But he pointed to the company's 2015 city ballot fight as "a fork in the road moment," adding that "the bigger learning we took from that was that it's really on us to begin working with governments."

The bottom line: This is has been a long time coming for Airbnb.

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