Kenya’s Airbnb investors feel the heat of party ban

Guests on Airbnb who opt to pay using a different currency from the host's currency will have to cough up an additional two per cent of the booking total before taxes. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Kenyan renters listed on the Airbnb app have started experiencing a downturn in bookings following a global party ban by the short-term accommodation listings company.

Airbnb last month made permanent its ban on parties at the properties rented out through its app globally, saying the rules had been effective against problematic events.

Airbnb said it suspended more than 6,600 customers in 2021 for violating the party ban.

In June 2022, the home-sharing company announced it was permanently prohibiting “disruptive parties and events,” including those promoted on social media.

Renters and rentees who flout the rules could face consequences, such as having their accounts suspended or being permanently banned from the platform.

The ban was enforced following high-profile incidents of insecurity, including a shooting in Houston and Pittsburgh.

Both shootings were a result of a night party, one a graduation ceremony in Houston and the other an Easter weekend house party in Pittsburgh.

In Kenya, many renters do not allow house parties in their Airbnbs over concerns about safety and neighbourhood nuisance.

Celestine Mwango, a host in one of the rentals in Kisii town, said she once had to involve the police after an altercation ensued in one of her houses.

“A group of young people rented my Airbnb only to hold a party and destroy my property,” said Ms Mwango.

Complaints about raucous partying at houses booked through the service have piled up over the years, culminating in the temporary ban that the company applied in August 2020.

At the time, guests were using these houses to congregate in large groups while restaurants and bars were closed because of the pandemic restrictions.

After the pandemic struck in early 2020, the country went into lockdown and night curfews. Bars and restaurants were closed, echoing the end of the nightlife.

The closure of many nightlife venues implied more people turned to host events at places rented through Airbnb, which in turn became a problem.

People would book Airbnbs to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, bachelor and bachelorette parties, baby showers and short vacays or staycations, home away from home.

During the pandemic, a few months before the temporary ban in 2020, Airbnbs were commonly used by companies and executives to hold meetings and work from home.

Airbnb said in a statement that the permanent ban kicks in after the effectiveness of the first temporary restriction imposed by the company.

Some renters fear that the permanent ban will turn off their clientele who want to enjoy gatherings involving sharing of drinks and drive them to hotels.

Edwin Nyawira, a renter on the home listing platform, said since the ban in June 2022, he had hosted fewer people.

“Booking rates have gone down since the party ban. Now my clients call to ask if they can hold house parties but I decline,” said Mr Nyawira.

“I have started experiencing a decline in the booking rates in my houses.”

The ballooning industry has been a major disruptor in the hospitality industry, competing with hotel accommodations.

In the United States, the firm’s occupancy rate is 48 percent while Canada had an average Airbnb occupancy rate of 27 percent in 2021, according to analytics from Alltherooms, a short-term vacation search engine.

Mr Nyawira says customers are now calling in advance to inquire if they can hold parties and similar events in the Airbnbs. He says whenever he declines the clients lose interest in using his houses and that his business has been affected greatly in the last month after the ban.

Prior to the permanent ban on all parties by Airbnb, some hosts in Kenya were already opposed to the idea of their guests having parties in their homes.

This was mainly due to losses incurred on damaged assets and home accessories, theft incidents and noise.

Unlike their hotel rivals, Airbnbs are mostly found in residential areas.

Complaints about noise and disturbances around neighbourhoods were among the reasons hosts like Ms Mwango had prohibited gatherings even before the global ban.

Some hosts have shown preference for a specific clientele such as executives who are deemed less troublesome.

Under the new policy, the rental host lifted its 16-person cap at rental properties, a rule enacted against COVID-19 but which will now take into account that some homes can accommodate more people comfortably.

“Guests who are reported for throwing a disruptive party or violating our rules on gatherings of more than 16 people are subject to suspension or removal from Airbnb’s platform,” said Airbnb.

Airbnb said in the policy statement that it had introduced a number of anti-party measures in recent years to enforce the ban and try to stop both unauthorised parties and chronic party houses.

“These include anti-party reservation prevention, special holiday anti-party measures, a 24-hour safety line, our neighbourhood support line, and a partnership with Vrbo to share information on repeat party house offenders in the US,” said Airbnb.

The company added that the new and long-term policy was enacted to help encourage and support community safety.

Airbnb guests took to Twitter to share some of their horror stories highlighting disguised cameras and dirty homes. Some said they found hidden cameras disguised as motion detectors and fire alarms.

Airbnb says it has set guidelines on cameras and recording devices, requiring hosts to disclose which devices are on the premises.

These devices are also only allowed in common spaces, such as front doors or driveways.

Common spaces do not include sleeping areas or bathrooms.

The issue of hidden devices has been going on for quite some time amid concerns by clients that these cameras interfere with their privacy.

Airbnb, however, said it was illegal to have recording devices without the client's knowledge and that they should therefore be disclosed in the listings.

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