Anita Balakrishnan, The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, December 3, 2020 11:29 PM EST
TORONTO – Just days after discovering a big party in one of its rental properties, Airbnb says it has a plan to curb New Year’s Eve celebrations this year, as Canada works to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
In addition to the ongoing ban on parties, Airbnb now says guests need a history of positive reviews on the app to reserve an entire home for New Year’s Eve in Canada. The policy also extends to the US, Mexico, Australia, the UK, France and Spain.
“We believe this plan will help prevent large gatherings while supporting the kind of safe, responsible travel that guests, hosts and the neighborhoods they call home,” the company said.
Airbnb makes an exception for one-night bookings through Tuesday, based on data suggesting that bookings made before the beginning of December rarely involve parties.
The app is relaxing its standards of a similar Halloween policy by allowing users with previous positive reviews to book a home for one night. While the Halloween booking restriction was successful, Airbnb said it was changing direction after feedback from hosts in the US and Canada.
Airbnb also said it will enact stricter policies as the new year approaches, using technology that blocks certain types of last-minute bookings. Users with no previous positive reviews, who want to book a home in the area at the last minute, are targeted by the app.
Anyone booking through the app must also agree not to throw an unauthorized party before booking, the company said. The company also has plans to run an all-night New Year’s Eve command center with “ trained security agents ” to “ get ahead of any problems. ”
Airbnb’s announcement comes after Marc Andrews, deputy chief of police at Peel, said a short-term rental unit was the site of a 60-person party last weekend, resulting in thousands of dollars in fines for partygoers violating COVID-19 restrictions .
“Airbnb bans parties and the reported behavior is outrageous,” Airbnb policy spokesman Nathan Rotman said of the weekend’s party crisis.
“We have reached out to Mississauga officials to offer our support and have suspended the listing while we conduct further investigations.”
The city of Toronto is also restricting short-term rental bookings as part of the county’s gray lockdown period, which began Nov. 23, said Alex Burke, a senior communications consultant for the city of Toronto. Toronto allows short-term rental reservations made before November 22, but prohibits new bookings in the city, except for those who require housing. The Peel region is also subject to the gray lockdown rules for short term rentals.
The lockdown phase, which lasts at least 28 days, also means people are advised to limit contact to members of their household and only leave the house for essential activities, Burke said.
“Airbnb’s efforts to limit bookings to curb New Year’s Eve celebrations this year are contributing to these goals and will help protect our community during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Burke said.
Toronto was one of Airbnb’s top 10 cities by revenue last year, according to the company’s public bidding documents, and the city has worked hard on short-term rentals by registering hosts and agreeing to certain rules.
In a webinar on Thursday about Airbnb’s upcoming IPO and regulations to ensure affordable housing in Canada, some local advocacy groups were critical of the company’s efforts. JJ Fueser, a member of the Fairbnb Canada group, said the company has not done enough to prevent large gatherings during the pandemic.
“Airbnb says they don’t rent out party houses anymore, but every other day you see them take a hundred units off the list in some city,” said Dale Carlson, a member of the similar US group Share Better, who is following a lawsuit over a shoot at a Halloween party in California.
Fueser did not immediately comment on the New Year’s policy that Airbnb published on Thursday. But when asked about possible liability for the company around “superspreader” parties, Fueser said her group is pushing Canadian lawmakers to ensure there are no loopholes for Airbnbs.
“It will be interesting to watch,” said Carlson.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on December 3, 2020.