By Avery Barror – 2/14/21
Airbnb recently got caught in the midst of a violent political affair, the Capitol Riot that took place on January 6, 2021, and gave CEO Brain Chesky a run for his money. Along with this came severe backlash and pressure to respond to his company’s role in the riots as well as its “responsibility to the American democracy.” However, despite the animosity connecting Airbnb to the riots, somehow Chesky’s company still came out on top. Ironically Airbnb became a burgeoning startup as a result of the 2008 presidential election and just thirteen years later Chesky is worth billions of dollars. While primarily examining Washington, DC, and the DMV area, the most recent presidential election and inauguration bode very differently than the first election in which Airbnb was around. The problem that Chesky and the company faced prior to and after the Capitol Riot last month was how they handled the influx of people coming to the nation’s capital amidst rumors of a protest on behalf of the right side. Between the threats being made online, hate groups navigating to the city, and large numbers of people threatening COVID-19 safety and guidelines, there needed to be precautionary measures implemented. Earlier this month, “Airbnb hosts were alarmed to find their homes used as staging grounds for violence” which in turn had a lot of Airbnb hosts restricting their homes for rent. With that being said, Chesky was not the only one who had to step in which is what caused a lot of people to question his motives and his devotion to customer safety. Organizers in DC also messaged about 3,400 DC Airbnb hosts and highly encouraged them to not rent their homes and apartments. Airbnb’s reputation was on the line while Chesky his response to the insurrection and how that would be perceived by Wall Street investors and other investors alike. Both Chesky and Airbnb altogether refused to comment on the story and after the Capitol Riot on January 6, the company released a “Capitol Safety Plan” essentially stating that it would review DC reservations and ban any people involved in criminal activity. He revised the plan on January 13 canceling all short-term reservations refunding guests’ payments.
This touches heavily upon the distinction between owner’s purpose and stakeholder purpose while examining the owner’s needs and wants and the stakeholder’s needs and wants which is really what it came down to for Chesky. The bottom line is, he did not think he would be in a position where political unrest would affect his company from a financial standpoint. There had to be a quick reaction and a fast answer to a question that considered so many factors. He needed to please his stakeholders which consist of his customers, his employees, the renters, his investors, and so on. To find common ground here was a tough decision especially with politics being the foundation of the issue. There is also the role of corporate power here, could Chesky have used his organizational resources more effectively to influence government, society, and his stakeholders to sway a certain way or help become part of the solution. Chesky and Airbnb’s choice to not comment on the insurrection and lack of action taken to prevent acts of violence against the American Democracy does not sit well with me. Therein lies the question of, could the riots have been prevented or minimized without the renting of DC residencies through Airbnb? We may never know as Airbnb seemed to navigate the situation without any major issues and, somehow, still came out on top.