We understand that the novel Coronavirus poses a significant risk to the elderly and people with underlying health conditions that merits every effort to contain its spread such as cancelling large social gatherings. We understand why you’ve extended your extenuating circumstances policy to cover travel that would be contrary to CDC recommendations or travel bans or involving individuals who have been diagnosed with the Coronavirus, are under quarantine, have a note from a physician saying they shouldn’t travel due health concerns, or who have had their flights cancelled due to the Coronavirus outbreak.
But while traveling to and from the hardest hit regions or while sick is unwise, vacation rentals themselves are not part of the problem. In fact, social-distancing in remote cabins, beach getaways, and even urban condominiums is often a lot easier than in crowded hotels. Extending refunds to practically everyone through April 1st, will be absolutely devastating to hosts, many of whom will lose a whole month’s revenue. Such a unilateral decision contrary to AirBNB’s own policies is not only damaging to hosts, but also reflects a disrespectful lack of trust in their hosts to set cancellation policies that make sense for their businesses and their guests. To prevent hosts from losing their livelihoods, it’s important to make sure that hosts survive the unprecedented onslaught of cancellations and lost revenue by booking guests, moving forward, who are aware of the risks and actually plan to occupy our units.
Unfortunately, this is exactly what you are discouraging by urging hosts to switch from strict to flexible cancellation policies. Under strict cancellation policies, guests can already book with confidence knowing that if they get sick or it becomes objectively unsafe to travel to a region, they’ll get a refund. However, switching to a flexible cancellation policy encourages bookings from finicky guests likely to think, “I’ll book a vacation for next month and if this whole coronavirus thing hasn’t blown over by then, I’ll just cancel.” Hosts are already reeling from new anti-vacation-rental legislation in many cities that have severely hindered our ability to operate and are now on track to have the worst spring travel season in Airbnb’s history. In order for many hosts to survive without losing their homes or laying off hardworking staff, we must start getting bookings from guests who actually plan to stay with us, rather than opening ourselves up to even more last-minute cancellations and vacancies.
Your hosting community
Update (March 14th): Today Airbnb announced that it is extending free refunds everywhere except for mainland China through April 14th. This means hosts will continue to suffer from lost revenue for another two weeks. There’s no reason people aware of the coronavirus today should be able to cancel an April 14th check-in without penalty on April 14th. AirBNB, If you must override host’s cancellation policies by allowing free cancellations with a few week’s notice, then so be it, but at least let hosts book their units with guests who plan to stay rather than allowing cancellations until the moment of check-in!