Airbnb is finally putting sharing back in sharing economy

Airbnb wants your friends to pay you back.
Airbnb wants your friends to pay you back.
Image: Reuters/Heino Kalis
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Last year, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky asked his followers on Twitter what they’d like to see changed on the platform in 2017.

The company has made many large-scale additions since then—including a partnership with the restaurant app Resy, launching paid-for Experiences, and acquiring high-end rental company Luxury Retreats. Now it appears at least one change has come straight from the people themselves: a split payments feature.

The new feature, which launched yesterday, will allow a group “organizer” (every friend group has one) to put a 72 hour hold on a qualifying listing by paying their portion of the rate up-front. Other group members then simply have to log on to Airbnb and pay their share before the time limit to fully secure the listing.

In a blog post announcing the change, the company offered some data for the reasons behind the new feature, which served as further proof that getting your friends to pay you back is a universal headache.

For those that have traveled with a group, two-fifths (38%) have experienced not receiving all the money owed from a group trip. Of these people, a whopping 43 percent have lost $1,000 or more in group trip repayments, and a stunning 18 percent of the most frequent group trip takers* report losses of $10,000 or more. Group trips often times mean one person fronting big costs.  Fifty-two percent of group travelers report they’ve fronted $500 or more, and almost a third (31%) have fronted more than $1,000.

The blog post also noted that “15.5 million groups took trips on Airbnb, with an average stay of 3.5 nights” each. In a way, creating a feature for this budget-conscious demographic seems like a welcome nod to the company’s sharing economy origins. Which is a good thing, considering many of Airbnb’s recent launches have strayed from the core offering that made them so popular—and valuable—in the first place: Sharing cheap accommodation.

Airbnb may still well want to be the largest travel and experience company in the world—one that everyone from backpackers to business travelers use. But even as they aim for global domination, it’s nice to see they at least still care enough to make sure your friends pay you back along the way.