An unknown number of salespeople contracted to the company, but said to be working remotely, used Craigslist to attract new customers to Airbnb by pretending to be ordinary punters talking up the benefits of the service.
The tactic came to light in a blog post by Dave Gooden explaining how he created a number of anonymous accounts on Craigslist and was subsequently approached by a number individuals raving about Airbnb and urging him to list his property with the site.
At no point did the individuals identify themselves as employees or contractors of Airbnb. Gooden’s suspicions were raised when he received identical approaches each time.
Airbnb, one of the most talked about travel startups for years, has now admitted that contractors used the tactic to find new property owners, although it has today come out strongly against the process after claiming it has only recently come to its attention.
An official says:
“This is not a tactic we condone or endorse, and it is our policy to forbid such actions.”
Its own investigation has confirmed that no automated process or data harvesting was used but it has no indication as to how widespread the tactic became.
“We did have remote sales people that we contracted to acquire listings through person-to-person sales, but their efforts were largely ineffective.”
Acknowledging the existence of the controversial (“black hat”, says Gooden) marketing tactic comes as the spotlight has beamed even brighter on Airbnb in recent weeks.
The company is rumoured (officials consistent with “no comments” all week) to be negotiating a mammoth $100 million+ funding round, a figure which some say would value the business at an eye-watering $1 billion.
Airbnb does not publish the number of properties featured on the service but has confirmed today that it currently has around 110,000 listed – around half of those on rival rental service HomeAway.