Airbnb was in the headlines for the wrong reasons this week, as an Asian-American guest was stranded by a vicious host who offered race as the reason for the last-minute cancellation. Despite Airbnb’s best efforts to combat discrimination via changes to the platform, the issue continues to plague the company.
Today Jasper chats with Nicole Prentice Williams, VP of Strategic Partnerships at Hostfully, about the adjustments Airbnb has made to create an unbiased environment and whether those changes go far enough. They also cover the governor’s race in California, and the big donations Airbnb employees are making to a certain candidate.
Listen and learn about the currency conversion fee Airbnb guests are facing as well as the gear you need to outfit your vacation rental. Want that coveted five-star review? Provide your Airbnb guests with these amenities!
Article #1: ‘One Word Says It All – Asian’: Airbnb Host Reportedly Leaves Guest Stranded Because of Her Race
Article #2: How Airbnb’s Redesign Aims to Combat Discrimination on the Service
Article #3: The Best Gear to Outfit a Vacation Rental or Airbnb
Article #4: Newsom Raises Most for Governor’s Race, With Boost from Airbnb
Article #5: People are Really Annoyed About Airbnb’s ‘Hidden’ 3% Conversion Fee
This episode is sponsored by Aviva IQ. Aviva IQ automates messages to your Airbnb guests. It’s also free!
Complete Transcript for Get Paid for Your Pad Episode 144
Welcome to Get Paid For Your Pad, the definitive show on Airbnb hosting, featuring the best advice on how to maximize profits from your Airbnb listing, as well as real-life experiences from Airbnb hosts all over the world. Welcome.
Jasper: Before learning about Aviva IQ, I used to spend so much time managing my guest communications manually. Now, with Aviva IQ’s easy-to-use automated service, my workload has reduced by 80%. Did I mention it’s free? Automate your Airbnb messages now at www.avivaiq.com.
Welcome, everybody. I’m here with my co-host for today, Nicole Prentice Williams. Nicole, how is it going?
Nicole: Great. I’m so happy to be here with you again, Jasper. Thanks. Thank you.
Jasper: Awesome. Well, thank for joining me. And, of course, Nicole is the VP of Strategic Partnerships of Hostfully, and she’s been on the podcast before.
What shall we start out with?
Nicole: I think this video that surfaced, actually right outside of Los Angeles where I’m based, is making all kinds of headlines, so maybe we should start there, about the woman who was, basically, her reservation was cancelled as she was arriving to the property, and Airbnb has removed the host because it was all based on… it was discrimination, basically, against her. It’s amazing, amazing screenshots that she grabbed, and just the whole story is quite shocking.
Jasper: It absolutely was quite shocking, and I find it a bit of a strange story, as well, because, first of all, this took place in February. There was a lady and her fiancé. Initially, they wanted to travel by themselves, just the two of them, and the lady’s a 25-year-old law student at the University of California, and she made the reservation in, what was it, Bear Mountain?
Nicole: Big Bear, which is the closest ski area to Los Angeles.
Jasper: Right, okay. So, initially, it was just going to be the two of them, but then, they decided to invite some of their friends to come along, as well, and also, two puppies.
Jasper: Which is interesting because, initially, the host actually accepted the change in the reservation, but only when they arrived and she asked the host how she could pay for the extra guests, and that’s when the host started spewing all sorts of racist comments at her, and you can read them in the screenshots on the article. She’s also posted these pictures on her Facebook page. She was saying things like, “I wouldn’t rent to you if you were the last person on Earth. Want something for nothing. In one word, ‘Asian’.” So, you know, this person really made it sound like the reason that this person cancelled the reservation was because the lady was Asian.
Nicole: Which she must have known from the very beginning, since she approved her, or maybe, it was an instant-book, and who knows, she just discovered it later, but the comments were outrageous. And this woman just happened to pull over, I guess, in Big Bear, trying to figure out where she was going to stay, her and her friends, or her fiancé and friends, and there happened to be a local news crew there that got all of this on video as it was happening. I mean, great timing by the news crew.
Weird that the host cancelled her at the last minute after all of this conversation, and even if it was an instant-book, there was communication after that, so she must have known that the woman was actually Asian. So, yeah, it’s very strange, the timing on this, as the woman arrived. I mean, my guess, like why would this happen, maybe she got a better booking on another platform at the last minute, because it’s been a record snowfall, great conditions here this winter, or in winter when this actually happened, in February, but why come after somebody so viciously? That part doesn’t make sense.
And the other thing that doesn’t make sense, and I actually reached out, I know some people at that news station here in Los Angeles and reached out to them this morning, but have not heard back, is why this video was shot in February with the woman about her reservation being cancelled and how distraught she was, yet it wasn’t released until this week, until April. So, it’s what, six weeks later.
Jasper: Yeah, that’s a bit strange, as well. The woman, she was very emotional on the video. She was crying. And, you know, I think the video’s been shared all over Facebook. And, yeah, I don’t know. I don’t know why, suddenly, this week, a lot of news channels reported this story. I mean, I saw at least a dozen sites worldwide – in Australia, in England, in the U.S. It was really all over the news, so I don’t know, maybe, is there an initial article that was published in February by the original news crew, and maybe it was just shared by other websites last week? I’m not sure.
Nicole: It doesn’t seem like it. It seems like they reported on it this Wednesday and they released the video this Wednesday. And it’s actually a story on the Washington Post, and it says it’s unclear why they did not air the story earlier. And it’s not a print news outlet, it’s a TV station, so it’s all about the video, and this is a pretty compelling video.
So, I almost, just being a former journalist myself, and always suspicious and wanting more sources to back up the credibility, I wonder if they reached out to Airbnb with the video and alerted them before, and if this was some type of planned, you know, “We’re going to release this video, but we want to give you a heads-up,” and if there was some strategy there.
I don’t know. I don’t know. Maybe that didn’t happen, but I’m just trying to figure out why you would release such great video, coming from a television background myself, six weeks after the fact.
Nicole: It would only help them ratings-wise.
Jasper: Got it, yeah. It’s a really strange story, you know, and I mean, my first thought when I read the article, I was thinking, it sounds like this person, the host, was maybe completely drunk or something. I don’t know. I can’t think of a good explanation because, if you want to be racist, then you would probably decline the reservation initially. Or, if you really want to screw somebody over, like you decline it last minute, but, I mean, you must be a pretty evil person to even think of it, you know?
Nicole: Yeah, that’s really evil.
Jasper: I mean, that’s kind of extremely evil. I’d like to think people won’t be that evil, but I just feel like maybe the person was just drunk or on drugs or something, and suddenly, just out of the blue, decided to go into this rage, and just cancelled the reservation. I don’t know. It just doesn’t really make sense to me.
Nicole: It’s very odd.
Jasper: Anyway, let’s move on to the next article, which is kind of in line with what we’ve been talking about. It’s an article on CNBC, and it talks about the efforts that Airbnb has put in to combat discrimination on the platform, and this is something that they’ve been doing for a while. I think they’ve made it a big priority, and I think the instant bookings, you know, promoting instant bookings more to hosts was one way of doing it, but also, they’ve made some other changes to the platform now in order to try to really create an environment where people are very unbiased as to the host’s or the guest’s race, or gender, or age, or whatsoever. And one thing that they’ve done is, which I actually haven’t seen before, this must have been a recent change, is that they removed the pictures of the hosts in the search results.
Nicole: Yeah, they’ve taken that out, which is interesting, and they’ve also minimized the profile photos in general for guests and hosts. Yeah, you know, critics say that they’re not going far enough, that they should just not have any of that information available, like the pictures and identity, until the booking is complete, and then reveal it. That’s how you’d get rid of all the discrimination. But, Airbnb says that’s part of their culture, is getting to know each other, and it’s important for security, too.
And, I think, as a host, and we’re both hosts on Airbnb, I don’t know how you feel about it, I want the picture there. We have instant-book on and we have an open-door policy, as Airbnb likes to promote, however, our property is in a very quiet neighborhood where there are families and retired couples. And so, when I see a picture that looks like a partier, like it’s somebody in a swimsuit that’s scantily clad, or you know, it’s just not a professional-looking profile picture, it makes me ask more questions. So, I need that picture to vet.
Jasper: Yeah, I agree with you. At the end of the day, the host, as a host, you should be able to choose who gets to stay in your house, and you know, the picture is one of the pieces of information that you have, as a host, to make that decision. I mean, you have to base your decision on something, right. And so, what you base it on is, you look at the person, and you read their profile, you look at their verifications, their reviews, their references, and you form an impression of somebody. And that’s the only way to base the decision on. You have to base it on that information, and I mean, every now and then, you’re probably going to make a decision that’s maybe not fair.
Like, for example, if I get a request from a couple guys from London who come over to Amsterdam for the weekend, and they’re kind of young, and you know, maybe they’re asking for a discount, that will create the image in my mind that these guys are going to come to Amsterdam to party, right, and that would be reason for me to decline the reservation. But, who knows? I mean, maybe these guys are really well-behaved, and they actually want to go and see the Van Gogh Museum, and you know, go to a coffee shop and discuss their thoughts about the different paintings, and behave very well. I mean, I don’t know, but there’s no way for me to know, so I have to base my decision on what I have.
Nicole: Right, and that picture helps you. It helps you know if you need to have further communication with this person in setting expectations. You know, I would say to that, if that kind of guest was looking at our property, “Just want to make sure you’re clear that you’ve read in our description that this is a family-friendly community and neighborhood, and that there are, not curfews, but times where we expect the music to be down and people to be indoors, and not out in the front and backyard.” So, that picture helps you, whereas, if it was a retired couple, I wouldn’t need to have that conversation, I don’t think.
Jasper: Yeah, exactly. That’s exactly right. So, you know, I think Airbnb recognizes that, and they understand that the whole hosting experience, especially when you’re hosting a spare room, so you’re sharing a space with your guests, I think getting to know who the person that you’re hosting a little bit, as far as you can, is part of the experience. And so, I get why they don’t want to remove the pictures completely.
It also doesn’t really make that much sense to me that they removed it in the search results, because when you click on the listings, you can still see the pictures of the hosts. So, I mean, if you’re an Airbnb guest and you want to be a racist, I mean, you can. If you really want to be a racist, you can, and I don’t think there’s anything much you can do to stop that. I mean, there’s, unfortunately, there’s some crazy people on this planet. You know what I mean?
Nicole: Yeah. I think that they do that, just showing that they’re trying. I think that that’s part of it. Like, yes, you can go a step further and see who is the host of that property, but I think that’s just their way of just trying to really live by what they’re promoting, which is the open-door policy. And I really commend them on that, for guaranteeing lodging for any guest who’s unable to book on Airbnb because of discrimination.
You know, I feel like they’re taking the right steps. They’re not going to be able to eliminate it completely, and they don’t want to compromise the product by doing what some critics are suggesting, which is take out the pictures until the booking.
Jasper: Yeah, I agree. I think they want to show that they’re doing something, and I guess they also think about the perspective of the host. So, you know, they don’t want to piss off the hosts, and they don’t want to piss off the guests, but at the same time, they want to show that they’re doing something, and I guess removing the picture on the search results, I don’t think anyone, any hosts, are really going to get very upset about that, and neither are the guests because it’s kind of like a minor thing, right?
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Let’s talk about the next article. So, I found an article that’s actually been published a while ago, back in December 2016, but it came up in the search results when I was looking at the Airbnb news, and I want to mention it because I thought it was a useful article. And so, the article’s called “The Best Gear to Outfit a Vacation Rental or Airbnb”, and I think, especially for people who are starting out, one thing that’s really important to do is to think about, what do my guests need? Is there something that they would need that I don’t have?
And, you know, it’s very easy to sort of overlook certain items, and I learned this the hard way, because I remember, one of my first bookings that I got when I started hosting back in 2012, was a group that consisted of two couples, and I got some feedback from them because I didn’t have a hairdryer. Now, as you can imagine, I don’t really dry my hair, being a guy. I just, I really didn’t think of it, you know. I just didn’t realize that a hairdryer is very important for women when they’re traveling.
And so, I think there’s a few items. I also bought a toaster, and I didn’t have a teapot, for example. I never drink tea, but then I had some English guests, and of course, they wanted to have some tea with their breakfast.
So, I think it’s useful. What do you think?
Nicole: Yeah, absolutely. Basically, this is a checklist of 24 items that you should invest in, just to provide more of a better experience, a comparable experience to a hotel room, as well. I love the list.
I think we started hosting in 2012, and maybe didn’t have all these, initially. I’m sure we didn’t, and of course, now we do, but it’s a good checklist for anyone getting started, and actually, it’s a good checklist for me to make sure that we have all this still in stock.
What I love the most are protectors for the mattress and pillows. I think this is really reassuring to any guest. We’ve put them on all of our mattresses and pillows, just to let the guests know that cleanliness is high on our priority list in making sure there are no bedbugs getting into any mattresses and stuff. So, I’m glad to see that that’s on the list.
I think, actually, one thing that we don’t have and I need to get is the teakettle. We are big on coffee. We even have a video on how to work the coffee machine because we have a fancy one in there, but we don’t have this teakettle and haven’t had a request for it, so I should do that before I get the request.
Jasper: Yeah, exactly. And I’ve actually been staying at Airbnbs quite a lot recently, and you know, now when I stay at an Airbnb, I always wonder and ask myself, like, “Hey, is there something missing here?” And just to name a couple of examples from the last few months…
One place I stayed in, in Santiago, in Chile, it was… You know, when you’re cooking, how you do you call the thing that you use to cook on? The furnace?
Nicole: The stove?
Jasper: The stove.
Nicole: The stove, yeah. Or furnace, maybe, I don’t know. In the U.S., it’s a stove.
Jasper: I’ve been known to make up words in the English language, so I don’t know if a ‘furnace’ is a word.
But, anyway, the stove, it was a gas stove, and so, you know, you have to light it somehow, and the host provided matches to light it, which I thought was not really the best way to light it because you kind of have to get close to the fire with your hand. And so, you know, you have these devices, and they’re a bit long. I really don’t know how you call them, but they’re basically used… It produces a little spark. It’s almost like a little gun that produces a spark, right. And so, I thought it would be useful to provide that.
Nicole: Instead of matches.
Jasper: Yeah. I think, yeah, because the matches, also, you have to throw them away, and they can run out.
And then, also, one host didn’t have a bottle opener. So, I bought a bottle of wine, and then I couldn’t open it.
Nicole: Oh, no! So easy! It’s just like making sure you have better toilet paper. You can get a wine opener for like under $10. You can upgrade your toilet paper for under $10.
Jasper: Exactly, yeah.
Nicole: These are easy things.
Jasper: But then, if you never drink wine, which is kind of hard to imagine if you live in Santiago, in Chile, because they have excellent wines there, but if you never drink wine, that could be something that you don’t think about.
Nicole: It’s hard for you and I to imagine, period, wherever you are.
Jasper: Exactly, yeah.
Anyway, this is a good list. It has some other stuff, some other things that are pretty common sense, like towels and a shower curtain liner, (I actually don’t know what that is), coffee making gear, electric kettle, mini-fridge, (mini-fridge is an interesting one, actually), wineglasses, standing fans, space heater, and lots of other stuff. So, just wanted to mention that.
Nicole: You know, one thing that we don’t have is the Wi-Fi extender, too. That was close to the last, the Wi-Fi extender. Do you offer that?
Jasper: No, I don’t think I have a Wi-Fi extender. I did buy a more expensive router that has a wider reach, so I think, maybe, it has an extender in it, built in. But, yeah, my apartment’s also not so big. It’s not very big.
Nicole: Yeah. We cancelled all cable in our properties and installed the Google Chromecast, as well as, we have a smart TV. So, we do get some questions on that, and I always have to redirect them back to the listing, like, “No, we don’t have cable. It’s all through your own device and you cast it on there.” But, I prefer that, and that way they can watch. They’re not telling me, “Oh, you don’t have this, you don’t have that.” It’s just like, “Well, you can watch whatever you have that you subscribe to.” So, it works for most.
Jasper: Yeah. Yeah, that’s a great idea.
By the way, for the listeners, if you want to find these articles that we always talk about and mention, there’s three ways that you can find them. First of all, I post them in the Airbnb group called ‘Airbnb News’ that you can join. Secondly, they will be in the show notes of the podcast episode that you can find at getpaidforyourpad.com/podcast. And then, the third way is to subscribe to my newsletter because I always mention the articles, as well, in the newsletter that’s always sent out on Monday.
And Nicole recently mentioned to me that it was hard to find how to sign up for the newsletter, so I’ve added a completely new button to my blog, where it says, ‘Sign Up for the Newsletter’, so now it’s easy to find. So, I just wanted to mention that, so people know where to find all this.
Nicole: Awesome, thank you.
Jasper: Yeah. Thank you for the heads-up, by the way. That’s really useful.
Nicole: Yeah, great.
Jasper: Let’s talk about the next topic. There’s something going on with the Governor of California, the person who’s running for the position of the Governor of California, who’s gotten some money from Airbnb, basically, correct?
Nicole: Yeah. I mean, so the Governors’ race is coming up, or it’s happening. They’re beginning to raise money, the candidates, and Gavin Newsom, who’s the former Mayor of San Francisco, he has received the most donations from Airbnb employees, basically, which is more than $200,000. And so, he’s leading, basically, against the other two candidates, which are the former Mayor of L.A. and the California Treasurer, which have received less than $100,000 from any one of their largest contributions.
So, I think this will be really helpful for Airbnb, to have the former Mayor of San Francisco in the Governor’s Office. That’s where Airbnb is headquartered, and he was a very progressive Mayor of San Francisco, and now he’s the existing Lieutenant Governor of California.
So, big discrepancy there in the donation, more than double.
Jasper: And how do these Governors get elected, by the way? Does everybody get to vote?
Nicole: Any registered voter, resident of California who is registered. The election is coming up in November 2018, so yeah, if you’re registered, you can vote.
Jasper: Okay, interesting. So, it’s in November, so we should…
Nicole: 2018, next year. So, they start these campaigns a year and a half ahead of time.
Jasper: Oh, it’s in 2018. Oh, it’s a year and a half. Whoa. Okay.
Nicole: Yeah, yeah. But, it’s all, you know, the money is starting now, Jasper.
Jasper: Okay, yeah. I’m not so familiar with American politics.
Nicole: That’s American politics for you, yeah, exactly. Nothing starts the year of.
Jasper: Yeah. I mean, I was going to say, like, “Hey, everybody, let’s all vote for Mr. Newsom so that Airbnb might have some more friendly laws in the state, but if it’s a year and half from now, then it’s a little premature.
Nicole: Yeah. So, yeah, it could be good for Airbnb to have him there.
Jasper: So, there was an article in the Business Insider where they were talking about sort of a hidden fee that Airbnb charges, because they’ve started charging a 3% currency conversion fee, and there’s been some comments from Airbnb hosts on certain platforms where they’re complaining about that. And, you know, I thought about it, and I think, basically, what’s happening is that if you book an Airbnb in a country where there’s a different currency…
For the sake of simplicity, let’s just assume that you’re in the U.S. and you want to book an Airbnb in Europe. Now, in Europe, you pay with euros, right. So, I think what used to happen before is that, if you book it, then you’re paying in euros. And so, you know, if you’re using your credit card, then the credit card company is going to change those euros to dollars, and it’s going to charge you in dollars, and it’s going to take a fee on the conversion.
And what I think Airbnb started doing is, they probably thought, “Hey, there’s nice money to be made on these currency conversion fees,” and the reason is that, because people are doing both ways around. You know, there’s Europeans booking in the U.S., and there’s U.S. citizens booking in Europe, and so, if it’s about the same, then Airbnb doesn’t actually have to convert anything, right, but they get to charge the fees to both.
Nicole: Yeah, I think there might be some confusion, where guests thought that they were just either paying the fees double, like to their credit card and to Airbnb. I think Airbnb is just doing it themselves so that once it gets on the credit card, it’s in the currency that the guest actually pays. So, it’s not a double fee.
I don’t know how much Airbnb has notified guests of this, because there seems to be a few conversations out there online about, “Hey, now they’re charging this fee. I’ve had to pay $150 extra.” But, I think they’re misunderstanding that they might have paid that anyway to the credit card company, so it’s just a transfer. Airbnb saw an opportunity to make money, instead of having somebody else do it.
Jasper: Exactly. Yeah, that’s what I think, too.
Nicole: Yeah. That’s how it reads, at least. You can actually go to the Airbnb site, and they have a page. I don’t know if you’re going to post this page there, Jasper, but it might be helpful to the listeners.
Jasper: Yeah, absolutely. I’ll put it in there, for sure.
All right, Nicole, thank you so much for participating in this podcast and hosting it with me.
Nicole: Thank you, Jasper. Always fun talking with you and talking to our listeners.
Jasper: Absolutely, and I’ll look forward to our next chat in a few weeks. And for the listeners, thank you for listening, and we’ll be back on Monday.