A secret team of Airbnb agents from across the world including Dublin, Montreal, and Singapore serve as “black box” operatives for the vacation rental chain, with virtually unlimited discretion to keep disasters out of the press through hush money and other forms of compensation.
Airbnb “Black Box” Team Serve As Fixers
A company with a portfolio of property as large as Airbnb, 5.6 million listings worldwide, is bound to run into issues, but what happens when murder, rape, or violent theft afflict a guest while inside an Airbnb property? Answer: a team of “black box” operatives springs into action with one goal: bury the incident as quickly and cleanly as possible.
An example would be illustrative. It was New Years’ Day in 2016. A 29-year-old Australian woman and her friends had rented an apartment close to Times Square. While her friends partied, the woman returned to her apartment. There, a 24-year-old was hiding in the bathroom in waiting. He proceeded to rape her at knifepoint. It is not clear how he gained entrance, but the ladies were not asked to produce photo identification when they picked up the apartment keys at a nearby bodega.
When her friends returned, the woman called the police who promptly responded to the scene. The rapist, perhaps looking for more action, returned to the apartment while the police were there and was apprehended.
Airbnb saw red flags: New York had been trying to expel Airbnb and this incident could be the perfect catalyst. Immediately, the company flew out the victim’s mother from Australia and put them up in a luxury hotel. Consequently, Airbnb paid for health care costs, counseling, and eventually $7,000,000 in exchange for a waiver promising not to sue nor disparage Airbnb.
All in a days work for the “black box” team.
There are many other grizzly stories, but I think you get the picture.
A Bloomberg profile of this “black box” team details the extraordinary lengths they will go to keep bad incidents under wraps…to the tune of $50 million per year.
Team members include people like Nick Shapiro, a former Central Intelligence Agency operative and National Security Council adviser to President Barack Obama. Speaking to Bloomberg about his role, he said:
“I remember thinking I was right back in the thick of it,. This brought me back to feelings of confronting truly horrific matters at Langley and in the situation room at the White House.”
Shapiro was free to speak only because he has now left his role at Airbnb. The Bloomberg report adds:
Team members have the autonomy to spend whatever it takes to make a victim feel supported, including paying for flights, accommodation, food, counseling, health costs, and sexually transmitted disease testing for rape survivors. A former agent who was at Airbnb for five years describes the approach as shooting “the money cannon.”
I suspect most hotel chains (and indeed many companies outside the hospitality industry) have teams like this. When something goes wrong, precision and attention to detail are key in our social media-driven and litigious age. That such a team is necessary is a sad reflection on humanity, but Airbnb cannot be faulted for taking steps to minimize fallout when things go sideways.