Anita Balakrishnan, The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, December 3, 2020 11:29 PM EST
TORONTO – A few days after finding a big party in its rental assets, Airbnb said it plans to halt New Year’s celebrations this year, working to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus in Canada.
In addition to the ongoing ban on parties, Airbnb now says it needs a history of positive reviews in its application for guests to reserve an entire house for New Year’s celebrations in Canada. The policy has also been extended to the US, Mexico, Australia, the UK, France and Spain.
“We believe the plan will help prevent large gatherings by supporting a safe, responsible type of travel that benefits guests, hosts and the neighbors they invite home,” the company said.
Airbnb is offering an exemption for one-night bookings made until Tuesday, based on data indicating that bookings made before the beginning of December should rarely involve parties.
The app is easing its standards on Halloween by allowing customers with previous positive reviews to book a night home. Although the Halloween booking limit was successful, Airbnb said it had changed it following feedback from hosts in the US and Canada.
Airbnb has said it will implement a more stringent approach as the new year approaches, using technology to block certain types of last-minute bookings. Users who do not have past positive reviews, will see to book a nearby house at the last minute, the app will be targeted.
The company said anyone booking through the app would have to agree not to throw an unauthorized party before booking. The company plans to deploy a command center with “trained security agents” overnight during New Year’s Eve, “to get out of any trouble.”
Airbnb’s announcement last weekend came after Peel Police Deputy Chief Mark Andrews said the 60-person party had a short-term rental unit, which resulted in fines of thousands of dollars for parties violating the COVID-19 restrictions.
“Airbnb has banned parties, and the reported behavior is outrageous,” Airbnb policy spokesman Nathan Rotman said of the party’s fall over the weekend.
“We are contacting Mississauga authorities to offer our support and we have discontinued the list while we investigate further.”
Alex Burke, senior communications adviser to the City of Toronto, said the city of Toronto was limiting short-term rental bookings as part of the province’s gray lockdown period, which began Nov. 23. Toronto allows short-term rental reservations made before November 22, but the city has banned new bookings except for those in need of housing. The Peel area falls under the gray lockdown regulations on short-term rentals.
The lockdown phase, which has been in effect for at least 28 days, means people are advised to limit contact with members of their household and leave the home only for necessary activities, Burke said.
“Airbnb’s efforts to limit bookings to curb New Year’s celebrations this year will further increase these targets and help protect our community during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Burke said.
According to the company’s public offer documents, Toronto was one of Airbnb’s top 10 cities last year, and the city reduced short-term rentals by registering hosts and agreeing to certain terms.
On Thursday’s webinar about Airbnb’s upcoming IPO and terms to ensure affordable housing in Canada, some local legal groups criticized the company’s efforts. JJ Fuser, a member of the Fairbnb Canada Group, said the company was not doing enough to avoid large meetings during the epidemic.
“Airbnb says they no longer rent party houses, but every day you find them dropping a hundred units in one city or another,” said Dale Carlson, a member of a similar U.S. group of sharebrokers overseeing a shooting at a Halloween party in California.
Fuser did not directly address the New Year policy released by Airbnb on Thursday. When asked about the company’s potential liability around the “super-spreader” parties, Fuser said his team is pressuring Canadian lawmakers to ensure there are no loopholes in Airbnb’s regulations.
“It will be interesting to see,” Carlson said.
This report of the Canadian Press was first published on December 3, 2020.