Airbnb ordered to make prices more transparent

European Commission says online rental service must stop other ‘unfair practices’

Airbnb has been told to modify the way it presents information on pricing from the initial search on their website. Photograph: John MacDougall/AFP/Getty Images

Airbnb has been told to modify the way it presents information on pricing from the initial search on their website. Photograph: John MacDougall/AFP/Getty Images

 

Online accommodation platform Airbnb has been criticised by the European Commission for a lack of transparency in the presentation of its prices, and ordered to clean up its act or face enforcement action.

Commissioner for justice, consumers and gender equality Vera Jourová said Airbnb’s current pricing presentation, as well as a number of its terms, do not comply with several EU directives governing consumer rights.

European consumer authorities and the European Commission have demanded a number of changes from Airbnb. The company has until the end of August to present their proposals.

Once Airbnb proposes solutions to rectify the issues highlighted, the commission and EU consumer authorities will review the proposed changes. If they are not deemed satisfactory, Airbnb could face an enforcement action.

“More and more consumers book their holiday accommodation online, and this sector has brought many new opportunities to holidaymakers,” said Ms Jourová. “But popularity cannot be an excuse for not complying with EU consumer rules.

“Consumers must easily understand what for and how much they are expected to pay for the services and have fair rules, for example on cancellation of the accommodation by the owner. I expect Airbnb to follow up swiftly with the right solutions.”

Unfair practices

Among the issues facing Airbnb is price transparency and “other unfair commercial practices”. The presentation of Airbnb’s pricing, as well as the distinction between private and professional hosts, currently does not comply with EU law.

Airbnb has been told to modify the way it presents information on pricing from the initial search on their website in order to ensure that whenever properties are offered, the consumer is provided with the total price inclusive of all charges and fees.

When it is not possible to calculate the final price in advance, the company has been instructed to clearly inform the consumer that additional fees might apply. Airbnb must also clearly identify if the offer is made by a private host or a professional.

Airbnb’s terms of services should be brought into conformity with European consumer law, which requires that standard terms and conditions do not create a significant imbalance between the parties’ rights and obligations, to the detriment of the consumer.

Clear language

The law also requires that terms are drafted in plain and intelligible language so that consumers are informed in a clear and understandable manner about their rights.

With regards to Airbnb, this means that the company should not mislead consumers by going to a court in a different jurisdiction from their member state of residence.

It also cannot deprive consumers of their basic legal rights to sue a host in case of personal harm or other damages.

Airbnb has until the end of August to propose detailed solutions on how to bring its conduct into compliance with EU consumer legislation.

If necessary the commission and the consumer authorities will meet Airbnb in September to solve any outstanding concerns.

In a statement Airbnb said it would work with EU authorities to address the issues raised. “We take this issue seriously and are committed to being as transparent as possible for our community,” it said.

“Guests are made aware of all fees, including service charges and taxes, before confirming their decision to book a listing, and we will work together with the authorities to clarify the points raised.”