'Why would I donate to my host?' Airbnb guests perplexed by 'kindness card' email suggesting extra payments

Airbnb sent emails to guests suggesting they send "kindness cards" to their hosts – including an optional monetary contribution – which has irked many a guest on social media.

"Like all of us, hosts on Airbnb are impacted by COVID-19, and many of them are unable to welcome guests," the email reads. "Now more than ever, it’s important to reach out and support one another – even in small ways.

"Today, we’re introducing a new way to connect with your favorite hosts," it continues. "Now you can create personalized kindness cards that make it easy to send a message of appreciation or encouragement, with the option to add a contribution. We hope these cards will make hosts smile, and bring a little joy your way."

Once users click "send a kindness card," they're able to choose a host, pick the style of card, add a note and opt for how much they'd like to pay. Detailed instructions are available on Airbnb's website.

Guests expressed their disbelief on Twitter.

"There's a lot of weird COVID-related corporate marketing strategies, but Airbnb's suggestion that I send a 'kindness card' to a property owner who deigned to let me pay them money in exchange for sleeping at their property is weird even by these increasingly weird standards," @notstevenwhite wrote.

"Airbnb has lost its (expletive) head," @olenskae wrote. "Why would I donate to my host? I can't even afford one house."

"Airbnb asked me to send a 'kindness card' to the host who made my female friends so uncomfortable they didn’t want to spend a minute alone inside the apartment in case he came back," @dgottleib wrote.

"During this challenging time, we heard from many guests who were interested in supporting and reconnecting with past hosts," Airbnb spokesperson Ben Breit said in a statement. "In the spirit of rekindling connections, we developed a new feature that allows guests to send virtual cards with messages of support and encouragement to hosts who provided excellent hospitality. If they wish, guests have the option to add a voluntary financial contribution.”

Not everyone disliked the idea. "Airbnb does have a unique way build community, the 'kindness card' initiative is admirable," @apterson wrote.

Hosts don't have to keep the donation and can send an equal value to nonprofit groups assisting COVID-19 responders who need places to stay near hospitals or isolated from their family.

Guests booked more than 1 million nights of stays around the world July 8, the company said in a blog post Tuesday. That's the first time this has happened since March 3 amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Here's a look at what Airbnb sent guests.
Here's a look at what Airbnb sent guests.

Airbnb previously angered hosts during the COVID-19 pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic prompted many Americans to rethink their travel or cancel it entirely, leaving airlines, cruises and hotels on the hook for refunds or travel credits. Short-term rental services' unique models – in which hosts and guests exchange money on the platform – created a complicated refund issue.

In booking short-term rentals, travelers assess a listing of homes, then book available dates from hosts. If guests have to cancel, they must abide by certain policies. As the pandemic unfolded, companies had to decide how to handle refunds and whether they, the hosts or guests would be responsible.

For customers of short-term-rental giant Airbnb, a cash refund requires documentation explaining why guests can't travel as a result of COVID-19, such as a link to a government site or a letter from a medical professional.

When the pandemic happened, Airbnb had more than $1 billion worth of cancellations, CEO Brian Chesky told USA TODAY. The company chose to override its host cancellation policy to offer refunds to guests, which prompted an intense backlash from hosts.

"We did not want guests to feel like they were compelled to travel, putting themselves in harm’s way because they weren’t going to get a refund," Chesky said. The company offered an apology and $250 million to its hosts, which Chesky said wasn't enough to cover what they would've earned but was the most it could do. Airbnb created a relief fund for its Superhosts, which is up to more than $17 million.

A closer look at Airbnb's policy revealed it has made changes, according to Teel Lidow, CEO and head of product at FairShake, which assists consumers with arbitration forms and processes. He told USA TODAY Airbnb hedged language promising guests full refunds.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Airbnb guests confused by kindness card, donation email