In early 2020, the world went into lockdown due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19). Almost every industry took a hit and lost money at a rapid rate. However, the tourism industry was perhaps the hardest hit. Preparing for the virus should be a top priority in order to keep you, your guests, and your business safe, even as COVID-19 restrictions ease and cases decrease.
Airlines still cancel routes left and right due to staffing and other changes in the industry since the Pandemic. Hotels and food service establishments have been hard-hit by staff shortages as the world determines a new way forward after the COVID-19 shut-down. But not to worry, perhaps as an Airbnb host, you have an advantage. Why? Because you can make the call on whether to keep or suspend your listing. Suspending it may give you the option to lease it for a longer-term, or use the property yourself.
As the virus spread from Asia to Europe and the farthest corners of the globe, it seemed as though the pandemic was not going to let up anytime soon. Hosts developed many strategies to deal with the virus to help them navigate such a challenging time. We’ll cover some key points that can help you ride out some of these difficulties.
As we mentioned earlier, the tourism industry was undoubtedly the hardest hit. Airlines cancelled flights and travelers cancelled plans. Of course, it didn’t help when governments shut borders, and this was something we could not control.
While many “experts” predicted the worst of the virus would be over by the summer, no one knew for sure. There was still plenty of time to cancel bookings and avoid any penalties, if necessary, and it was recommended that hosts cancel any bookings if their listing resided in an affected area. Or, at the very least, let the guest know the current situation so they could determine for themselves if they would still like to come or not.
Those with inner-city listings noticed a dramatic decrease in bookings, much the same as a heightened increase in cancellations. On the flip side, some (not affiliated with or advised by the CDC or WHO) predicted the virus could withstand climates over 77 Fahrenheit or 25 Celcius, so if the virus was gone by summer, those bookings might start to flurry in!
The ‘extenuating circumstances’ policy outlined by Airbnb allowed guests and hosts to cancel free of charge, but not all cancellations were penalty-free. Reservations and Experiences booked on or prior to the 14th of March, 2020 which had a check-in date of between the 14th of March and 14th of April, 2020, were eligible for free cancellation, by either party. This also included service charges.
If your booking fell out of these dates, then normal cancellation rules still applied and Airbnb monitored this very closely. Or, if your check-in was prior to the 14th of March and you were staying through the next month, the policy also did not apply, nor if you booked a stay prior to the 14th of March with a check-in date after the 14th of April.
In May of 2022, Airbnb updated the Extenuating Circumstances policy with regard to COVID-19, which removed many of the regulations regarding cancellations.
As stated, if you received a booking on or before the 14th of March for a stay between then and the 14th of April, you were eligible for the policy and avoided penalties. If you aren’t sure, you can simply check the booking.
As a host, if the reservation was flagged as covered, then you would also receive a full refund, including service fees. To top it off, your Superhost status, if applicable, was not affected. For guests, a full refund including service fees was granted. They could simply cancel through the ‘trips’ section of your profile. If a guest wished to cancel due to the situation, you could advise them accordingly.
Hosts who lost thousands of dollars in bookings and cancellations felt the brunt of the Coronavirus, and rightly so. Understandably, Airbnb gave the Airbnb community the opportunity to cancel, but hosts still had bills to pay.
One host reported to CNBC that they lost 90% of bookings over 3 months due to the pandemic. Guest cancellations were justified, there is no arguing with that, but now the ball lies with Airbnb being flexible to allow hosts to pay at least some of their bills. This all came despite hosts opting in on the cancellation policy when they first listed their properties for situations exactly like this. However, Airbnb overruled this and put into effect their ‘extenuating circumstances’ policy changes to address the public emergency.
This new policy from Airbnb has overrun current cancellation policies put in place for this reason. On the other hand, VRBO stated it intended to ban owners who downplayed the severity of the Coronavirus.
Despite changes to the Airbnb Extenuating Circumstances policy, there are some basic things to remember in a time like this to help prepare for the Coronavirus. Some will help reassure guests whereas others will entice guests to book sooner rather than later.
Fortunately, Congress passed the $2 Trillion stimulus bill and many Airbnb hosts were compensated with the exact amount determined by unemployment laws in each respective state. That being said, there are still some things you may want to consider as the virus continues to be a challenge in the short-term rental industry.
If you notice a drop in bookings or an increase in cancellations, this is no time to stress. If you rent a luxury or premium property, try lowering your prices for the next few months, even if your area has not been affected and you’ll notice a difference.
As governments shut borders and airlines cancelled international flights, hosts focused on the domestic market. There is still opportunity there, which means adapting your listing to attract local clientele, as opposed to the usual caliber of travelers that you welcomed previously.
Guest reassurance can go a very long way in either booking your property or choosing not to cancel. Bookings may be low from time to time, but it is also time for you to shine and really wow your guests that do arrive. From the moment they send a request or a message to the time they arrive, ensure your communication is positive, reassuring, and optimistic!
Keeping up to date is the best way to provide excellent customer service and reassurance. It also helps you prepare for your guest’s safety and comfort in the best possible way. The more you know about the situation, the better. It will also allow you to answer any questions with confidence your guest may have regarding the Pandemic. As no day is the same, keeping your pricing suitable for the current situation is key to attracting as many bookings as possible. Sign up for alerts from your local public health department to stay on top of Coronovirus and other potential changes that may impact your ability to rent your listing.
Preparing for the Coronavirus begins with a deep cleaning after your guest has departed. With the Coronavirus outbreak, it is recommended to completely disinfect everything possible in your property. Airbnb created high cleaning standards to address guest concerns and now supports a Five-Step Enhanced Cleaning Process. Find an excellent cleaning service to provide optimal cleaning so your guests are safe and comfortable and your reviews continue to shine.
Be sure to update your listing bio so that potential guests can know what to expect and that you are taking all measures possible to provide a virus-free accommodation. Guests want to know that your vacation rental is very clean and safe for them to spend time in, no matter whether there is a global pandemic or not!
These are only a few tips on how to plan and prepare for the Coronavirus and other hazards in your Airbnb. Protecting yourself and your guests is the number one priority. It is in times like these when you must take the extra time to really care for your guest, be it through communication or deep-cleaning your property.
We don’t know when the virus will cease to exist, if ever, but we know that the Airbnb Community will continue to band together and keep creating unforgettable memories for their guests. The most important thing is to stay calm, stay informed and keep updating your listing in accordance with the spread of the virus and government measures. Be sure to check out our article on How to Increase Bookings During the Coronavirus for more ideas.
This article was updated in January 2023 to reflect the current status of the Coronavirus and associated policies.
Jake Leavy has worked in the content industry for 8+ years. Travel writing has been his main focus, however, he also has luxury hotel management experience under his belt. He has traveled to over 50 countries and loves immersing himself into different cultures. Jake combines his passion for travel and hospitality experience to offer hosts tips and tricks to improve their business.
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