‘Sharing economy’ companies like Airbnb, Uber, TaskRabbit and others have grown popular for offering new types of work, and by association, additional incomes to people worldwide. While making a little side money comes in handy, a cautionary tale from a top Airbnb host in Asia shows the potential perils of becoming too reliant on these services.
Last week, Airbnb suspended the account belonging to Bangkok-based Kelly Kampen, one its ‘Super Hosts’ and a top Airbnb ambassador in Asia, with immediate effect and no explanation, as he explained in a post on Medium.
The move is particularly odd since Kampen was a prolific host, having welcomed over 700 guests to his Bangkok-based home over the past two years, netting himself more than $40,000 in revenue in the process as he previously disclosed. Kampen is well known inside Airbnb, too. He was scheduled to speak at Airbnb’s ‘Open’ event in Paris this coming November — with the company covering his flight and accommodation — and had been involved in the company’s community events.
Kampen told TechCrunch that he is unsure why Airbnb terminated his account. While he received notification of his suspension via a phone call and emails, none of this correspondence nor his subsequent conversations with company representatives, explained Airbnb’s decision. An email that he sent to Airbnb’s three founders elicited a response from CTO Nathan Blecharczyk who promised to look into his case, but there was never any follow-up.
Airbnb declined our multiple requests for comment on Kampen’s suspension, but it did provide a general statement in response:
We do not generally discuss confidential information regarding individual hosts and guests. There may be many reasons why people are removed from the platform including quality or safety concerns. Dedicated members of our team continually review host and guest profiles. While these decisions are difficult, ultimately there is nothing more important to us than the safety of the people who use Airbnb.
In this case, you’d think that Airbnb might be inclined to be more specific — since other hosts may well be concerned that they, too, might experience a similar nightmare — but that’s all that we have.
Kampen told TechCrunch that he didn’t believe that user safety — one aspect flagged by the company’s statement — was an issue. In the event that a guest had lodged a complaint against him and his rooms — and there is no evidence that this is the case with Kampen — you’d expect that Airbnb would look into the issue and weigh in a host’s history, rather than making a snap decision to remove them based on a single piece of feedback.
Another area of safety could be that it appears that Kampen’s account had been accessed by a third-party. Reviewing his account, he noticed that an iPhone had been logging in as him from different locations across the U.S. over the past couple of months. Since Kampen hadn’t left Bangkok during that period — and he confirmed he doesn’t have a VPN client on his phone — it wasn’t him. He flagged the issue to Airbnb, but didn’t get a direct response. In the event that his account had been comprised by a third party, terminating his account in this way is certainly an extreme response.
It’s interesting to note that, according to Kampen, Airbnb representatives in Thailand and regional team in Asia told him that they had “fought” to retain him as a host. Since the decision was never reversed, it stands to reason that it was made by Airbnb HQ in the U.S. and that it was a contentious one. Conspiracy theorists might argue that the company didn’t like Kampen’s very public declaration of his revenue, or perhaps felt that he had become too influential a figure, though there is no evidence for either motivation.
Whatever the reason may have been, this example is one of caution for others who make money from Airbnb listings.
“Hedge your income with other services,” Kampen warned other hosts. “I am already on 9flats, Flipkey and others [but] prior to this I never put any serious thought into other services.”