You’ve perhaps seen a video going around the internet (we embedded it below) of a supposed Airbnb host who complains that “we have FIRE boiling through our veins” and “are collectively OUTRAGED” because hosts are losing their shiny dress shirts over cancellations related to the pandemic travel restrictions and shelter in place orders. The video seems like a fake; it’s just too perfect with the spot-on techie rhetoric, the soul patch, and the exaggerated delivery.
But the situation he describes is accurate. Airbnb did allow guests to cancel for free in an announcement last week. “In response to the extraordinary events and global disruption to travel caused by the pandemic, today we are announcing updated coverage under Airbnb’s Extenuating Circumstances policy,” the company said, allowing anyone one to cancel with no charge for reservations made before March 14, or with check-in dates before April 14. “Airbnb’s Extenuating Circumstances policy allows hosts and guests to cancel eligible reservations with no charge or penalty.”
KPIX reports that this has economically shafted Airbnb hosts, many of whom have ditched their careers to become full-time Airbnb-ers, and were not consulted about the pandemic-specific policy change. "Basically, they just cut our hands-off," host Alba Jones, a manager of Airbnb properties in the East Bay, statewide, and in Mexico, told Business Insider (subscription required). "We had no say in the matter."
But the conflict is sweet schadenfreude for anyone who’s argued that Airbnb has been eliminating cities’ housing stock. We do not have current data for San Francisco, but other cities internationally are finding rents are plummeting as unwanted Airbnb apartments return to the normal native rental market.
For their part, Airbnb promises some form of aid to these jilted hosts. “We understand that this announcement will impact hosts around the world, many of whom depend on the economics they generate on Airbnb,” the company said in a statement to KPIX. “We will be working in the days and weeks ahead to identify tools and initiatives to support our hosts during these very challenging times.” But Business Insider adds that they’re hoping that money comes in the form of a government bailout, not their own money.
The publication says that Airbnb recently lobbied Congress to “offer loans and tax relief to property managers of short-term rental properties.” That seems an insane use of bailout money to anyone who is not currently an Airbnb host, but would skirt responsibility for Airbnb, who lost money last year and are taking an even harder hammering this year. Bloomberg reports they will likely delay their IPO, which was already supposed to have gone public by now.