The nature of Airbnb’s product and its status as a platform would ensure the peer to peer site is in a different position to Thomas Cook in the event of a tragedy like the one in Corfu.
James McClure, UK general manager, was speaking at the annual Institute of Travel and Tourism conference this week about the phenomenal growth of Airbnb.
He was asked about an incident in 2006, when two children died from carbon monoxide poisoning in a Corfu hotel caused by a badly maintained, faulty gas heater.
Last month, a jury at an inquest in Wakefield found Cook had breached its duty of care to the family and Cook has faced a barrage of media criticism over its handling of the case, which has raised questions over health and safety responsibilities.
Asked how Airbnb would react in a similar situation, McClure said: “If something like Corfu did happen we would do everything we could to help the family.
“The difference is the nature of our business. First of all it’s people’s homes. It’s not an empty property, not something that’s subject to a lot of change.
“Also it’s the nature of being a platform rather than the owner or wholesaler. It’s the host’s home, we are helping people to connect to people.”
McClure said that 80% of hosts in London share their primary residence, the majority living in the home they are renting, and the average age is 50.
“The income they get from Airbnb helps them to pay for their homes, it makes London a bit more affordable.
“McClure added that reassurance is provided by reviews, the site’s “currency of trust”.
Users can opt to interact with someone with a verified ID and there are links to their Facebook profile, added McClure.
The site also employs 150 people to work in its safety team to deal with any issues that arise. It also offers hosts $1 million cover in case of any damage.
In 2013, £500 million was generated for the UK economy through Airbnb stays, and 41% of spend remained in the borough of the property.
McClure rejected the idea of Airbnb as being disruptive in a negative way. “We think it’s about providing different options for people when they travel..
“The origins of travel are people staying in people’s homes. That’s really what Airbnb is helping to facilitate. It’s about the quality of the experience; I’m getting a different experience than if I was staying at a hotel and the host has facilitated that.”
McClure added: “We believe we are part of the travel industry. From our point of view we are a hospitality company. We are in the business of trips and giving people great experiences.”
The profile and individually driven nature of the firm would be at odds with Airbnb adding other features like a flight booking engine, but McClure said the site was already working closely with the travel industry.