The ACCC has instituted proceedings in the Federal Court against Airbnb, alleging the home-sharing site mislead customers into thinking bookings were cheaper than they actually were.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) alleges that Airbnb (comprising officially of Airbnb Inc. and Airbnb Ireland UC) led consumers into believing prices for Australian accommodation were in Australian dollars, when in fact, for many consumers, prices were in US dollars.
Between January 2018 and August 2021, the average Australian dollar to US dollar exchange rate was about $1 AUD to $0.72 USD. At this rate, an Australian consumer who thought they were paying $500 for their accommodation booking would have actually paid almost $700 AUD, before any foreign currency conversion fees.
With proceedings in the Federal Court instituted, the ACCC is alleging that, between that aforementioned timeframe, Airbnb made false or misleading representations to thousands of Australian consumers. That Airbnb’s website or mobile app for Aussie accommodation, the ACCC explained in a press release, was displaying merely a dollar sign ($) for many bookings, without making it clear that those prices were in US dollars.
The ACCC did clarify, though, that on some occasions, Airbnb referred to the price as ‘USD’ in small font on the last page of the booking process. But the ACCC said this happened only after the platform had already displayed numerous dollar amounts on earlier pages, without nearby reference to US dollars. It was also after the user had clicked to ‘reserve’ accommodation.
The watchdog said thousands of consumers complained to Airbnb about being charged more than the displayed price. As a result, the ACCC is alleging that Airbnb engaged in further misleading or deceptive conduct by telling many of them that it had displayed prices in US dollars because the user had selected this currency, when this was often not the case.
“Airbnb did not compensate many consumers who complained about this conduct, and so we will be arguing that the court should order Airbnb to compensate people who were misled about the price of their accommodation,” ACCC chair Gina Cass-Gottlieb said.
“Despite thousands of consumers complaining to Airbnb about the way prices were displayed, Airbnb didn’t amend its booking platform until after the ACCC raised the issue.”
Airbnb’s country manager for Australia and New Zealand, Susan Wheeldon, told Gizmodo Australia that the company is undertaking a comprehensive review of how the issues raised by the ACCC happened.
“Ensuring our guest community is able to book with confidence and enjoy positive travel experiences is one of our top priorities and at the heart of what we do,” she said. “While a fraction of a percentage of guests are believed to have been impacted, we were nonetheless extremely disappointed to have found that this occurred and we will compensate affected guests.”
She said that upon this issue being brought to Airbnb’s attention by the ACCC, it worked to update the platform so that the relevant currencies were clearly displayed from the first page for all Australian guests.
“We’re also conducting a comprehensive review of how this issue occurred and the way in which guest complaints were initially handled,” Wheeldon added.
“We have worked constructively with the ACCC with respect to this matter from the start, and we will continue to engage and cooperate in good faith.”