Communications: the art of not communicating

by | Jun 1, 2017 | Despatch


Airbnb was first approached for an interview about tax avoidance and its failure to produce financial statements eight days ago on May 29. It finally responded to the simple question about its actual company name in Australia and its ACN three days later but is yet to respond to questions about its apparent failure to file company accounts.

Expedia is uncontactable. was approached on May 29 and still refuses to answer questions. These questions were put:

1. Status of ACCC investigation?

2. Estimated market shares in Australia of major online accomodation operators?

3. Is company in talks with ATO about restructuring of tax affairs?

4. Amount of income made in Australia by commission on accomodation in Australia.


For a journalist, there is only one indulgence greater than pontificating as if one is just as important as one’s subject, and that is pontificating about one’s self.

So it is that today that we crave the understanding and forebearance of readers, for we not only intend to talk about you-know-who but also intend to be snide about it.

This is a story about stonewalling, obfuscation and fluffing about. It is a story about public relations, or “communications” as they call it these days without a hint of irony.

On Monday this week we called the PR people for Airbnb with a simple request: “Hi, I have been trying to search your corporate entity in Australia on ASIC’s database. Could you tell me please what the name of the head entity in Australia is and ACN number?”

At least Airbnb had somebody to call. We had tried to touch base with, whose PR operative is Holland and sooled an external agency onto us whose spokesman dithered amiably for two days, “keeping us updated” with nothingness until deadline had passed.

Expedia had nobody. Multinational corporations raking in $750 million a year between them … zip.

On Tuesday, we backed up with another email to Airbnb, after a phone call: “Hi, how are we going?”

“Apologies for the delay – we’ll have a response through to you tomorrow”. Then this: “has (sic) Airbnb and Expedia got back to you?”.

Tomorrow arrived and the response came, not to the question, but it was a response nonetheless, a fulsome response. Many people think fulsome means full, with a bit of then-some. It actually means oily or wheedling.

It spoke of the majestic contribution of Airbnb to the Australian economy, nonchalantly plucking a figure of $1.6 billion annually from the inter-gluteal cleft.

“Airbnb guests supported more than 14,000 jobs, in addition to host activities” etc, etc, etc.

There was also the boilerplate PR riposte: “We comply with all relevant tax regulations in Australia and around the world”.

Thank you … but “who is “we”?”

“”We” is Airbnb”.

Thank you but … the original question: company name as registered with ASIC and ACN number for the head entity in Australia? (We can’t find any financial statements filed by any Airbnb entity).

At this point came the “in a meeting” manoeuvre. We promise to keep readers abreast of any developments as they arise in this lightning-paced and enthralling story. But you get the picture.

You know they are really trying to avoid you if you get the old “back-to-back” meetings line. Such-and-such “is overseas at the moment” is a frequent retort, which begs the question: “Don’t they have telephone or email overseas?”

“On leave at the moment” suggests you might be onto something big and “no comment” … ah, how the heart yearns for the good old “no comment”. Alas, as it lends an impression of guilt, “no comment” is not deployed as much as it once was.

When it comes to most of the subject material this correspondent writes about, it is rare to get an honest response; multinational tax avoidance for instance. It is highly unlikely to get anything meaningful but the questions still have to go in. For one, it is a responsibility of the profession to give the subject the opportunity to respond. Common courtesy too.

Also, if you don’t call, they may complain (this is the wonderful thing about running your own show, you also operate the complaints department so complaints are uncommon).

This is a bit of an in-house story, a behind the scenes account of the hours and sometimes days which are depleted week-in week-out, almost without fail, getting nothing.

So, dear PR people of Australia, please feel relaxed about giving us a quick “no comment”, a “commercial-in-confidence”, a “not prepared to discuss the matter at this point in time” or a “my client has no further comment to make at this point in time” on behalf of your clients and bosses; straight up. Do the world a favour.

Airbnb, we await your no-comment and will update this riveting, white-knuckled story as events unfold.


Michael West

Michael West

Michael West established to focus on journalism of high public interest, particularly the rising power of corporations over democracy. Formerly a journalist and editor at Fairfax newspapers and a columnist at News Corp, West was appointed Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Sydney’s School of Social and Political Sciences. You can follow Michael on Twitter @MichaelWestBiz.


  1. Avatar

    I guess we’re not playing for a meat tray, but, my guess is that any bookings for Airbnb in Australia are actually with Airbnb Ireland UC. Here’s a link to an ACCC enforceable undertaking concerning Airbnb on Australian online platforms

  2. Avatar

    According to insideairbnb there were 5,833 recent, frequently booked properties in Sydney with an estimated average income/month of $2,328 giving a total annual revenue of $163m ( Melbourne figures were comparable with 4,403 properties earning an average of $1,982/month ( Given Airbnb takes a fee of between 6%-12% this gives potential annual fee revenue of between $16m and $32m

    • Avatar

      You forgot that Airbnb Ireland also take a 3% fee from the hosts.
      Airbnb Australia supply marketing services to Airbnb Ireland.
      I understand that the costs of these services are deducted at 30-40% tax rates.


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