EXTENUATING CIRCUMSTANCES

Cancel without charge: Airbnb during Covid-19

Hosts say extending the refunds to practically everyone through April 1 will be 'devastating'

In Summary

• The outbreak has caused travel restrictions and disruptions, disrupting the industry

• Airbnb has allowed hosts and guests to cancel eligible reservations with no charge

A traveller uses the Airbnb app to find a home
A traveller uses the Airbnb app to find a home
Image: PIXABAY

For all its charm as an affordable alternative to hotels, Airbnb has not been immune to the coronavirus outbreak.

Maina Azimio, a wellness trainer who owns several Airbnb facilities (see separate story), says most of his booking reservations have been cancelled.

He says Airbnb hosts are also reluctant to allow people into their facilities as they do not have the proper equipment to test and know who is infected or not.

In the event they will be given the equipment to test and know who is infected or not, they do not have the knowledge of how the testing is done.

The virus has led to several Airbnb facilities around the world cancelling bookings as there are travel restrictions.

Through their platform, Airbnb has activated their extenuating circumstances policy to offer impacted hosts and guests the option of cancelling eligible reservations with no charge. It is being updated regularly and observes guidance and recommendations from the World Health Organisation and governmental and health authorities.

The platform entails accommodation fees and service fees. Usually, a 50 per cent refund is given if the guest cancels a reservation at least 30 days before check-in. If they cancel when there are less than 30 days left until check-in or after check-in, the accommodation fees will not be returned.

If a host cancels after accepting the booking, they get penalised on their earnings. If it is more than seven days before check-in, Airbnb will deduct $50 from their next payout; less than seven days before check-in, they'll deduct $100 from the next payout.

The coronavirus outbreak has caused travel restrictions and disruptions that have had a direct impact on the travel and tourism sectors. In the platform, Airbnb is also alerting travellers with travel advisory banners when they are searching severely impacted areas and are guided to seek official information sources.

Maina said the projections on his business have been low since they cannot increase the price of the facilities as the payment is made from abroad.

He said they are not taking in any guests if the rooms are vacant since they are wary of having any of the guests coming into their facility with infection. In the meantime, they are having the rooms that are vacant disinfected.

“Some of my workers might get infected with the virus as they will be in direct contact with some of the guests, hence why I am not taking in any guests,” he said.

REFUNDS 'DEVASTATING'

Airbnb says in their platform that if the host cancels a covered reservation, they will not be charged, there will be no impact on their Superhost status and it will refund all service fees. For the guests, in case of cancellation, they will receive a full refund and will be refunded all their service fees.

For those whose reservations are not covered, they are advised to reach out to their host or guest to discuss the cancellations and refunds.

Maina said for those guests who are still in the facilities, they have been encouraged to observe the directives given by the Ministry of Health.

“We are only taking in medical tourists and those who are coming to take care of their sick relatives in the hospitals,” he said.

“Even when they come to the facilities, we urge them to take the exclusive rooms so they do not come into direct contact with each other in the case where one is infected.”

He urged the government to do thorough testing of travellers getting into the country to keep residents safe from the coronavirus.

Thousands of Airbnb hosts around the world are grappling with the lost income. Under their Airhosts forum, they are sharing their concerns about the financial impact of refunding the money.

A short-term vacation rental group-purchasing organisation, Host GPO, on March 14 wrote to Airbnb, saying extending the refunds to practically everyone through April 1 will be devastating to hosts. They argued that the decision is a break from the company policy and asked Airbnb to reconsider. However, Airbnb has stood its ground.

Edited by T Jalio