Questionmarks over consumer protection offered by home rental giant Airbnb have been raised by established UK hospitality trade bodies ahead of its planned shares listing.
A leading lawyer in personal injury and package travel law, who examined the small print offered by the platform, found that “consumers are at risk in using Airbnb”.
William Audland QC was asked by a group of trade bodies representing more than 200,000 mainly small and medium sized hospitality businesses across the UK to examine the terms and conditions (T&Cs) of Airbnb.
The bodies, including UKHospitality, the Bed & Breakfast Association Tourism Alliance and Professional Association of Self-Caterers, wanted to discover the level of protection offered to consumers and how this compares with that offered by traditional businesses such as hotels and B&Bs, and traditional intermediaries such as tour operators and letting agencies.
Audland called for short term Airbnb lets to be registered with local councils, mandatory third-party insurance as a condition for obtaining a listing on the site and for the company to adhere to the kind of liability regime in the Package Travel Regulations.
He claimed that Airbnb’s small print avoids responsibility for the safety – and even the legal compliance – of the accommodation it offers.
Its T&Cs claim that the global accommodation business is a mere “platform”, taking no responsibility in law for the accommodation that “hosts” advertise and sell through its website and app.
Travel Weekly has approached Airbnb for a response to the findings.
The QC found that “Airbnb’s position starkly contrasts with more traditional holiday letting businesses which must comply with coronavirus regulations as well as other more general health and safety regulations.
“Airbnb… circumvents this by virtue of its stated position as a ‘platform’ offering short term lets, disavowing itself of any responsibility for the listings.
“A consumer who suffers personal injury as a result of accommodation provided through Airbnb has no apparent recourse against Airbnb. Any civil claim against the host is fraught with difficulty, particularly if the host is domiciled abroad.”
Audland added: “By contrast to more traditional… holiday letting contracts, which are subject to both mandatory regulatory compliance and a far easier liability regime, consumers appear to be in a substantially riskier position in booking accommodation through Airbnb.”
UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said: “The hospitality industry has always put guests first, so taking responsibility for their safety is at the very heart of what we do.
“At a time when thousands of small businesses are struggling to survive and have made huge investments in extending their guests’ safety to include Covid-19 secure operating, it is wrong that giant platforms have so far been allowed to avoid all responsibility.
“They are putting their guests at risk. We call on the government to take note of this leading QC’s expert warning, and to sit down with the whole industry as soon as possible, to implement his ‘suggestions for reform’ and give all consumers the protections currently enjoyed by those of hotels, B&Bs, lettings agencies and tour operators.”
David Weston, chairman of the B&B Association, said: “No commercial business should be allowed to ‘opt out’ of responsibility for customer safety in the way that Airbnb and similar ‘platforms’ have been able to so far.
“All our guests deserve equal protection – and the UK’s tourism reputation is in danger as long as such huge ‘black holes’ in safety are allowed.”
A total of 54 million people worldwide booked 327 million nights and experiences on the platform last year. Airbnb has handled more than 825 million guest arrivals since its inception in 2008.
The home-sharing giant is expected to be valued at almost $35 billion in the US stock exchange listing.
Consumer group Which? last month awarded Airbnb its ‘Recommended Provider’ status in the accommodation booking site category. Airbnb was the only company in the category to be recognised with the award this year.