Airbnb recently sent emails to guests suggesting they send “kindness cards” to their hosts — including, if guests would like, a monetary contribution — which has irked many a guest on social media.
“Like all of us, hosts on Airbnb are impacted by COVID-19, and many of them are unable to welcome guests,” the email to guests reads. “Now more than ever, it’s important to reach out and support one another—even in small ways.”
“Today, we’re introducing a new way to connect with your favorite hosts,” it continues. “Now you can create personalized kindness cards that make it easy to send a message of appreciation or encouragement, with the option to add a contribution. We hope these cards will make hosts smile, and bring a little joy your way.”
Once you click “send a kindness card,” you’re able to choose a host, pick the style of card, add a note and opt for how much you’d like to pay. Detailed instructions are available on Airbnb’s website.
Guests expressed their disbelief with the email on Twitter.
“There’s a lot of weird COVID-related corporate marketing strategies, but Airbnb’s suggestion that I send a ‘kindness card’ to a property owner who deigned to let me pay them money in exchange for sleeping at their property is weird even by these increasingly weird standards,” @notstevenwhite wrote in a tweet.
Another user pointed out how the donation request might appear offensive. @olenskae wrote: “Airbnb has lost its (expletive) head. Why would I donate to my host? I can’t even afford one house.”
“Airbnb asked me to send a ‘kindness card’ to the host who made my female friends so uncomfortable they didn’t want to spend a minute alone inside the apartment in case he came back,” @dgottleib wrote.
Airbnb spokesperson Ben Breit said the idea for the kindness card initiative came from guests looking to help past hosts. “During this challenging time we heard from many guests who were interested in supporting and reconnecting with past hosts,” Breit said in a statement. “In the spirit of rekindling connections, we developed a new feature that allows guests to send virtual cards with messages of support and encouragement to hosts who provided excellent hospitality. If they wish, guests have the option to add a voluntary financial contribution.”
That’s not to say everyone disliked the idea. “I don’t usually dish out applause to unicorns but @Airbnb does have a unique way build community, the ‘kindness card’ initiative is admirable (and the UI/UX is pixel perfect)! #GoodJob,” @apterson wrote.
Hosts don’t have to keep the donation, and can instead send an equal value to nonprofits assisting COVID-19 responders who need places to stay near hospitals or isolated from their family.
This comes as guests booked more than one million nights of future stays around the world on July 8, the company said in a blog post on Tuesday. That’s the first time this has happened since March 3 amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The coronavirus pandemic has prompted many U.S. travelers to rethink their travel or cancel it entirely, leaving airlines, cruises and hotels on the hook for refunds or travel credits. Short-term rental services’ unique models – where both hosts and guests exchange money on the platform – have created a complicated refund issue.
In booking short-term rentals, travelers assess a listing of homes then book available dates from hosts. In the event guests have to cancel, they must abide by certain policies. As the pandemic unfolded, companies had to make choices about how to handle refunds and whether the companies, the hosts or guests would be on the hook.
For customers of short-term-rental giant Airbnb, a cash refund requires documentation explaining why guests can’t travel as a result of COVID-19, such as a link to a government site or a letter from a medical professional.
When the pandemic happened, Airbnb had more than $1 billion worth of cancellations, CEO Brian Chesky told USA TODAY. The company made the choice to override its host cancellation policy to offer refunds to guests, which prompted an intense backlash from hosts.
“We did not want guests to feel like they were compelled to travel, putting themselves in harm’s way because they weren’t going to get a refund,” Chesky said of the choice. The company offered an apology and $250 million to its hosts, which Chesky said wasn’t enough to cover what they would’ve earned but was the most they could do. Airbnb also created a relief fund for its Superhosts, which is up to more than $17 million.
A closer look at Airbnb’s policy revealed it has made changes over time, Teel Lidow, CEO and head of product at FairShake, which assists consumers with arbitration forms and processes, told USA TODAY, hedging language promising guests full refunds.
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