An amusing story about a man who inadvertently rented out his apartment for an orgy via popular website Airbnb is anything but funny for the company.
Airbnb pairs travelers with homeowners willing to rent out their personal space – a popular option in New York City, where the price of even a modest hotel room often daunts out-of-towners. One resident, Ari Teman, agreed to rent his apartment out to “David,” who said he was seeking accommodations for a wedding. As he’d done before, Teman met with the renter, showed him around the place and went to spend the night elsewhere. But he returned to pick something up – and walked in to a large crowd, overturned furniture, and a bag of condoms and liquor bottles strewn about his digs. Teman’s pad, it seems, was the venue for the “XXX Freak Fest.”
Many have gotten a chuckle out of the tale, but the top brass at San Francisco-based Airbnb aren’t laughing. Although Airbnb employs several methods to validate the authenticity and trustworthiness of both owners and visitors, they can’t guarantee that nothing untoward will happen in a client’s home. How to react to the bad PR? Airbnb immediately banned the renter from the site, put Teman up in a hotel for a week, wired more than $20,000 to him and said they will cooperate with law enforcement. Overkill? Not if there’s a possibility the salacious soiree could kill their business.
THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for Airbnb, which recognized that this funny story could have a sad ending – for the company.
THE PR TAKEAWAY: Don’t underestimate bad PR. Airbnb’s entire business model relies on homeowners trusting the people who rent their abodes. Since they can’t ensure that nothing bad will ever happen, they can do the next best thing – meaning, everything – when it does. Crises arrive in many forms. Sometimes they’re obvious; other times less so. Airbnb was smart to see this as more than a joke. There is no such thing as too much damage control.