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Airbnb offers more help to guests and hosts hit by coronavirus crisis

Airbnb and the wider travel industry has been hit hard by the coronavirus, formally known as COVID-19.

With an increasing number of locations on lockdown, nations tightening their borders, and airlines slashing flight schedules, it’s likely to be a while before people have the chance to travel for leisure again.

Data released a few weeks back signaled tough times ahead for Airbnb, with guests canceling in droves and new bookings falling through the floor.

Attempting to sort out the mess, the company is offering a full refund for guests who made reservations before March 14 for trips starting on or before May 31, 2020. This is the second time Airbnb has extended the trip date deadline as it responds to unfolding events linked to COVID-19.

The company is also launching a $250 million fund for hosts impacted by guest cancellations. In practical terms, it means that if a guest cancels an accommodation reservation due to a COVID-19 related issue, and the check-in date is between March 14 and May 31, Airbnb will pay the host 25% of what they would normally have received through their own cancellation policy.

It added that the policy applies retroactively to all COVID-19 related cancellations during this period, with the first payments going out to hosts in April.

News of the fund came via an open letter posted this week by Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky. In it, he apologized to hosts for failing to inform them earlier of the company’s plan of action. Some hosts had been angered by Airbnb’s recent decision to offer a full refund to guests as it ignored their own personal cancellation policies and therefore left them with zero income through no fault of their own.

In other measures designed to provide support for those who list their properties on Airbnb, Chesky also announced a $10 million fund offering grants of up to $5,000 for so-called “superhosts” — those with a consistently high rating and regular bookings — who rely on their Airbnb income for mortgage or rental payments. Superhosts can begin applying for the funds in April.

Explaining the situation to Airbnb hosts, the CEO said in his letter: “On March 11, when the World Health Organization declared a pandemic, we were faced with a dilemma. If we allowed guests to cancel and receive a refund, we knew it could have significant consequences on your livelihood. But we couldn’t have guests and hosts feel pressured to put themselves into unsafe situations and create an additional public health hazard. We determined that we had to allow your guests to cancel and receive a full refund — including all our fees. Please know this decision was not a business decision, but based on protecting public health.”

Chesky is now hoping that the newly offered assistance will be enough to keep hosts onside while the travel industry waits for the COVID-19 crisis to pass.

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Trevor Mogg
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