Airbnb offers travel coupons as users ask for refunds

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(IANS) As more and more people poured their frustration on social media against the tech hospitality platform Airbnb for refusing to pay them refunds over the coronavirus-hit travel plans, the company said it is difficult to see anyone in its community suffer financial loss or emotional strain.

Started in 2008, Airbnb emerged out of the economic downturn as a people-to-people marketplace (some call it a two-sided platform) that economically empowers hosts and provides unique and authentic experiences to guests.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic is a completely different scenario — spread over 100 countries and growing — for the $31 billion valuation company as travel plans go haywire.

“I really wish that @Airbnb would update the places from which people can cancel with a full refund. This is no longer isolated to a few places in the world. We are now affected in the PNW (Pacific North West), and your policies need to account for this,” tweeted one Airbnb user.

Another posted: “It”s because Airbnb can’t be bothered to offer travel insurance (even via a third party). They just make it sound like their policies make it unnecessary (which isn’t the case).”

According to the company, because of the two-sided model, when a crisis like COVID-19 hits, “we know that it doesn’t just impact us as a company, but also the individual stakeholders within our community”.

“The hosts who rely on their Airbnb income, and guests whose travel plans have been disrupted. We are committed to doing everything we can to fairly support both parties, consistent with how this two-sided marketplace works,” Airbnb said in a statement on Wednesday.

In the case of COVID-19, where travel restrictions have been put in place by governments or health authorities, Airbnb said its extenuating circumstances policy allows guests to cancel eligible reservations without charge, and the host is required to refund the reservation, irrespective of the previously contracted cancellation policy.

“For bookings made now through June 1, 2020, if guests need to cancel and are not due a refund of the Airbnb guest service fee, we will refund that fee as a travel coupon which can be used on a future trip,” the company noted.

Airbnb charges hosts 3 percent of the price they charge to list their space on its platform and guests pay a variable service fee.

As an example, for a listing where a host sets a price of $100 and a guest pays $112 (not counting applicable tourist tax), Airbnb collects $15 to cover operating costs and the host earns $97.

According to the company, hosts offer flexible and moderate cancellation policies on over 60 percent of active listings.

Many guests will also separately purchase travel insurance to guard against unexpected disruptions.

“We know that COVID-19 will have an impact in the near-term, but we also know that travel is resilient and will rebound,” said Airbnb.

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