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Airbnb has blocked tens of thousands of partiers in COVID crackdown

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It introduced a total ban last year in response to the pandemic

In this photo illustration, an Airbnb logo seen displayed on... Photo Illustration by Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Airbnb has blocked or redirected “potentially risky reservation attempts” from over 50,000 people across 15 US cities as part of a crackdown on parties in its properties during the pandemic. These include 7,000 in Dallas, 6,000 in San Diego, 5,100 in Charlotte, 3,500 in St. Louis, 3,000 in Columbus, and 2,700 in New Orleans, the company’s head of trust and safety communication Ben Breit tells The Verge.

The Denver Post reports that it’s blocked 5,000 people from making bookings in Phoenix, 4,500 in Las Vegas, 4,500 in Seattle, 2,600 in Denver, 2,600 in Portland, 1,800 in Salt Lake City, and 1,500 in Albuquerque. “In the past year, this technology has blocked or redirected potentially risky reservation attempts from more than 2,000 people in Cincinnati,” the company told WLWT5, while 3,800 were blocked in Austin, according to KXAN. The total number of blocked bookings may be higher, Airbnb says, since each of these blocked individuals may have attempted to make more than one booking.

The numbers show the scale of Airbnb’s enforcement action, and follows a total global ban on parties introduced last year to prevent its rental properties becoming an alternative to local bars and clubs forced to close due to the pandemic. “Instituting a global ban on parties and events is in the best interest of public health,” the company said at the time. The ban was an expansion of existing rules prohibiting dedicated “party houses,” which came into force in 2019.

Breit outlined to The Denver Post which kinds of bookings its system has been automatically blocking in the US since July last year. “If you are under the age of 25 and you don’t have a history of positive reviews, we will not allow you to book an entire home listing local to where you live,” Breit said. However, other bookings which make less sense for party locations would still be allowed. Trying to rent in a distant city is ok, for example, as is renting a smaller location more locally. Airbnb is now using this particular system across the US, Canada, the UK, France, and Spain.

The company believes its ban has worked, and said that major events like Halloween and New Year’s Eve were “quiet” as a result. In Denver specifically, The Denver Post reports that complaints about short-term rental properties halved between January and May this year compared to the same period in 2020, though it’s unclear how much of this can be attributed to Airbnb’s policies versus a more general decline due to the pandemic.

Although vaccines are continuing to roll out across the world, Airbnb is showing no signs of relaxing its rules, and recently said it would be extending its ban on parties through to the end of summer 2021. It explained why as part of its “summer of responsible travel” announcement in April when it cited warnings from public health experts about the continued risks of mass gatherings.

The automatic blocking of suspected party bookings is just one part of the company’s crackdown. Other elements include providing discounted noise detection devices to hosts and a 24/7 neighborhood support line in the US, the company says.

Correction July 6th, 3:49AM ET: Airbnb has clarified that the initial figures listed as bookings were actually the number of people who’ve been blocked from making bookings, where one person might make multiple booking attempts.