With coronavirus spreading across the globe, thousands of travelers have called off plans for vacations, work trips and family visits.
Responding to travel bans and a surge of requests for cancellations, the short-term rental platform Airbnb is offering unprecedented flexibility to delete bookings without penalties. When the policy was announced, some owners of short-term rentals saw their vacation-rental calendars wiped clean.
Some owners say they received four cancellation in just one day.
As Airbnb has expanded its cancellation policies related to the Covid-19 pandemic, hosts have lost a significant source of income.
On Monday, the company responded to some of those host concerns with the announcement of a $250 million Host Relief Fund to cover some costs of coronavirus cancellations.
The reimbursements are funded by Airbnb, and will go to hosts with qualifying cancellations, paying 25% of what they would normally receive from a canceled booking.
The gig-economy hustle of short-term rental hosts can’t overcome local rulings banning short-term rentals altogether.
The desert communities of Palm Springs and Rancho Mirage made similar decisions.
On March 25, the City of Palm Springs released a statement that vacation rentals, hotels and home shares could only be used for purposes related to the mitigation and containment of coronavirus. The city directed that all bookings through April 20 be immediately canceled.
“Residents of other communities need to stay at home where they live,” said Palm Springs Mayor Geoff Kors in his statement, “so as not to add to the spread of the virus in the Coachella Valley, endangering our residents, frontline workers and local healthcare system.”
A $250 million relief fund
In addition to the $250 million Host Relief Fund announced on March 30, Airbnb created a $10 million Superhost Relief Fund, offering grants of up to $5,000 for hosts who rent their own homes and need help making rent or mortgage payments. (This fund only applies to top-rated Superhosts, and some Experience hosts.)
Bookings with check-in dates from March 14 through May 31 qualify for the special reimbursement, as long as the reservation was canceled due to coronavirus.
The policy applies retroactively, and payments will be issued starting in April.
Guests benefit from the updated policies, as well. Airbnb is extending penalty-free cancellations through May 31 for bookings made before March 14. (A previous policy extended to April 14.)
The company hopes the changes will help repair damaged relationships with hosts following several chaotic weeks in the travel industry.
“We have heard from you and we know we could have been better partners,” wrote Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky in a letter to hosts released on March 30. “What you need are actions from us to help, not just words.”