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For Airbnb, coronavirus proving an unwelcome guest

With an increasing number of travel restrictions being put in place around the world due to the coronavirus outbreak, and people deciding by themselves to cancel travel plans for the same reason, it’s no surprise to learn that online accommodation service Airbnb has taken a hit. The extent of the downturn may surprise some, however.

According to data from Airbnb analytics firm AirDNA, the first two months of 2020 saw daily reservations plunge in many cities in Asia, where the coronavirus (or COVID-19 as it’s formally known) first took hold in those early months.

The downward trajectory hasn’t been as pronounced in cities in other parts of the world, although, as AirDNA notes in its analysis, as the virus continues to spread to new communities, this could well change.

When comparing Airbnb bookings for properties in Beijing, China, from January 5 through 11 with those made from March 1 through 7, the data shows a huge 96% drop in reservations, making it the hardest-hit city to date.

Actual numbers for Beijing show a total of 40,508 bookings made for Airbnb properties for January 5-11, compared with just 1,655 bookings for March 1-7.

Also in China, Airbnb’s Shanghai hosts are suffering, as well, with properties there seeing a 71% drop in reservations.

Outside of China, Seoul in South Korea, which has been hit hard by COVID-19, has seen a 46% drop in Airbnb bookings, and outside of Asia, Rome has seen a 41% fall. In the U.S., New York City has seen a 21% decline.

With more governments bringing in travel restrictions in a bid to slow the spread of COVID-19, and major events being canceled, Airbnb cancellations look set to increase, with bookings likely to dip as well.

President Donald Trump, for example, this week imposed restrictions on people traveling to the U.S. from 26 European countries for the next 30 days. India has gone even further, suspending visas for most foreign visitors for at least a month.

While the disruption for travelers is certainly annoying, Airbnb says it also understands how a slump in bookings can be a major worry for hosts, with a recent survey showing that for half of the hosts that responded, the Airbnb income helped them to stay in their homes, while 24% said hosting on Airbnb helped them to avoid eviction or foreclosure.

Commenting on the current challenge facing the travel industry, Airbnb said this week: “We know that COVID-19 will have an impact on this in the near-term, but we also know that travel is resilient and will rebound, and when it does so, we believe our people-powered community will enable more people-to-people connections than ever before.”

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