How the large OTAs handled the COVID-19 crisis

travel_covid19

*Updated on 24 of April*

Undeniably, the coronavirus pandemic is a game-changer for the travel industry. Airlines, hotels, and many more industries are now coping with the virus’s severe downstream effects.

The first signs of COVID-19’s effect on the short-term rental market have emerged with thousands of cancelations worldwide. As hosts report empty booking calendars and research by analysis website AirDNA shows that bookings in some cities have fallen by as much as 96%, many owners of short-term or holiday rental homes are struggling to plug the hole in their earnings.

Online travel agencies have announced the extendable measures they are taking to protect both travelers and hosts, including the setting and implementation of their Force Majeure Policies. We gathered all the advice and booking cancellation policies to keep track of how the large OTAs responded to this outbreak.

*For quick access use the following links:

Airbnb
Expedia
Booking.com
HomeAway
Tripadvisor


airbnb logo
Cancellation policy before the spread of the coronavirus pandemic

In some cases, Airbnb is able to give a refund or waive the cancellation penalties if a host has to cancel because of an unexpected circumstance that’s out of his control. Penalty-free cancellations are only available for extenuating circumstances that occur before the official check-in date of your reservation.

Below is a list of circumstances covered by the Extenuating Circumstances Policy:

  1. Death of a host, guest, or their co-host, additional guest, immediate family member, or caregiver
  2. Unexpected serious illness or injury affecting a host or member of the traveling party.
  3. Government-mandated obligations including jury duty, travel restrictions, court appearances, and military deployment.
  4. Unforeseen property damage, maintenance, and amenity issues to the Airbnb listing that makes it unsafe for host guests or that prevents guests from accessing basic amenities like running water.
  5. Transportation disruptions that make it impossible to travel to your destination, including road closures and flight cancellations where there are no alternative methods of travel.
  6. Train, bus, or ferry cancellations where no alternate trips were available on the same day
  7. Natural disasters, terrorist activity, and civil/political unrest that prevent the guest from traveling to or from the destination, or that make it unsafe for host guests.
  8. Epidemic disease or illness that suddenly affects a region or an entire group of people.
  9. Travel restrictions imposed by a government, law enforcement agency, or military that restrict travel to or from the listing or experience location.
  10. Safety and security threat advisories issued for the listing or experience location or the guest party’s departure location
  11. Essential utility outages that affect the listing or experience location.
  12. Changes in visa or passport requirements that make it impossible to travel to the destination. This doesn’t include lost or expired travel documents.

Learn more about Airbnb’s regular cancellation policy options

 

Cancellation policy after the spread of the coronavirus pandemic

Extenuating circumstances policy (Updated 9 April)

In response to the coronavirus outbreak, Airbnb provides the following coverage for COVID-19 under its extenuating circumstances policy:

  • Reservations for stays and Airbnb Experiences made on, or, before March 14, 2020, with a check-in date between March 14, 2020, and May 31, 2020, are covered by the policy and may be canceled before check-in. 
  • Guests who cancel will have a variety of cancellation and refund options, and hosts can cancel without charge or impact on their Superhost status.
  • Airbnb will either refund or issue travel credit that includes, all service fees for covered cancellations. In order to cancel under the policy, you will be required to attest to the facts of and/or provide supporting documentation for your extenuating circumstance.
  • The host’s cancellation policy will apply as usual to reservations made after March 14, 2020.

On 11 March, the World Health Organization (WHO) upgraded the coronavirus (COVID-19) from a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) to a pandemic. Three days after that, on Saturday 14th, Airbnb put in place a global policy allowing all guests to cancel eligible reservations for a full refund—including all Airbnb fees.

At the same time, Airbnb encourages hosts to:

  • Adopt a more flexible cancellation policy 
  • Open their calendar for longer stays—and offer weekly or monthly discounts. 
  • Let guests know that their space has the amenities they need right now (like fast wifi, a comfortable workspace, and/or is suitable for children).
  • Offer self-check-in. Many guests may prefer to check themselves in rather than meet in person, consider installing a key lockbox or smart lock with a keypad. 
  • Review the cleaning tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and provide to their guests’ extra info about the cleanliness of their space.

Airbnb also introduced a suite of tools and programs— called “More Flexible Reservations”—to help guests travel more confidently during this difficult time. Click here to see what it includes.

On 26 March, Airbnb launched a global platform called Frontline Stays to help support and house more than 100,000 COVID-19 healthcare staff and first responders in Airbnb properties around the world.

  • Help by hosting

Hosts are able to set their price at their full rate, at a discounted rate, or for free. Airbnb encourages hosts to offer free or discounted stays and it is currently waiving all Airbnb fees for the first 100,000 bookings for COVID-19 responders through this program. How does this program work? Learn more here

  • Help by donating

Donations will go to nonprofits supporting COVID-19 responders who need to stay near hospitals or stay isolated from their families.

 

After the notable backlash from hosts about the policy allowing all guests to cancel eligible reservations for a full refund, Brian Chesky, CEO of Airbnb, in his address to hosts, on 31 March, announced the following actions to help hosts navigate the crisis:

  1. Airbnb will invest $250 million USD to share in the cost of guest cancellations due to COVID-19. For eligible cancellations under extenuating circumstances policy, Airbnb will pay 25% of what hosts would’ve received for a cancellation based on their cancellation policy. The  $250 million USD support will come entirely from Airbnb at no cost to the guest.
    *For a reservation to be eligible for the extenuating circumstances policy, it must have been for accommodations and booked on or before March 14 with check-in between March 14 and May 31, 2020.
    *For any reservations booked after March 14, the host’s cancellation policy will be in effect as usual and COVID-19-related extenuating circumstances will not apply. Except for cases in which the guest or host is currently sick with COVID-19. Learn more at Airbnb.com/250MSupport.
  2. A $10 million Superhost Relief Fund
    Airbnb’s employees have donated $1 million from their own pockets to kickstart a fund for hosts struggling to make ends meet. Airbnb’s founders are also personally contributing $9 million. Starting in April, hosts can apply for grants of up to $5,000 that don’t need to be paid back.
    More information about the Superhost fund here
  3. Previous guests can send financial support directly to hosts
    Maybe in April, Airbnb will go live,  a way for guests to send a note along with a contribution to any of the hosts who they’ve previously stayed.
  4. They have worked to secure support for hosts in the US Government’s recent COVID-19 Stimulus Bill
    This legislation allows US hosts to take advantage of many relief measures, including small business grants, small business loans, and unemployment assistance.

 

Airbnb announced, on 6 April,  that the Silver Lake and Sixth Street Partners will invest $1 billion in Airbnb in a combination of debt and equity securities.

The new resources will support Airbnb’s ongoing work to invest over the long term in its community of hosts who share their homes and experiences, as well as the work to serve all stakeholders in the Airbnb community.

Airbnb Co-Founder, CEO and Head of Community, Brian Chesky, commented that they will focus on longer-term stays. From students needing housing during school, to people on extended work assignments, Airbnb is a place where many have found longer-term housing.

*Silver Lake and Sixth Street Partners funds’ investment will include $5 million which Airbnb will contribute to its Superhost Relief Fund, which will provide grants worth a combined total of $15 million to Superhosts who rent out their own homes and need help paying their rent or mortgage, as well as long-tenured Experience hosts trying to make ends meet.

Three days after this strategic investment, Airbnb made the following updates about the Superhost Relief Fund:

  • A total of $17 million funding ($1 million from Airbnb’s employees, $9 million from Airbnb’s founders, $7 million from investors)
  • Starting on April 10, 2020, a specialized team at Airbnb will be inviting eligible Superhosts and hosts of experiences to apply for a relief grant via email.
  • This specific fund supports hosts in every country and region except mainland China, where Airbnb has already launched a dedicated assistance program.
  • Relief grants come with no strings attached. You won’t need to repay it and can use it in any way you need.
  • Who’s eligible for the Superhost Relief Fund? Read more here 

 

Reaction from hosts

The announcement by Airbnb, on the 14th of March, that it would allow almost all travelers to cancel their reservations penalty-free, overriding any individual host policies, put Airbnb’s relationship with its hosts on the rocks. 

Several hosts say they are sympathetic to impacted guests who seek refunds and they have already started offering full refunds to guests who canceled, despite their strict cancellation policies. However, many hosts said they feel that Airbnb, by making that guest-friendly move, has completely put the brunt of the situation on them. Airbnb hadn’t talked with them about how to handle the crisis, and it essentially acted unilaterally.

“Basically, they just cut our hands-off ” said Alba Jones, who manages Airbnb properties in Berkeley, Richmond, and El Cerrito, California, and another in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. “We had no say in the matter.”

Is it wise for Airbnb to put at risk its relations with hosts? A challenge that Airbnb will have to overcome in the near future, is the increasing trend that hosts list their properties on more channels besides Airbnb.

Alan Tillman owns nine properties he lists in Kansas, and he said he’s likely to start listing those properties on websites like Vrbo, HomeAway, and Booking.com.‘’ I’d rather just not never deal with Airbnb again,” Tillman said.

‘’Airbnb has built goodwill with hosts since its launch in 2008, but if the company doesn’t do something to help out its hosts, it risks alienating many of them’’, said Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst at Atmosphere Research Group.

“This is a free travel insurance policy at our cost,” said Evan Lohr, who manages three Airbnb properties in Santa Cruz, California. “It’s much harder for us. It’s not really equitable.”

In response, Airbnb’s CEO Brian Chesky apologized to hosts upset about the company’s cancellation refund policy and promised that Airbnb will pay $250 million, the 25% of what hosts would’ve received for a cancellation based on their cancellation policy.

David Jacoby, president and co-founder of property management software and digital guidebook platform Hostfully and board member of the Home Sharers Democratic Club of San Francisco, stated: “But for many hosts, it still doesn’t feel like enough. I think they’re feeling like they’re second fiddle, in a way. I think hosts and managers will be looking at how they can increase their distribution by having a multichannel approach, being listed on Airbnb, Vrbo, Booking.com, etc., and really looking at that long tail of websites.”

Hundreds of Airbnb hosts have resorted to online groups to complain that they have yet to receive any payments from a $250 million coronavirus relief fund announced by the company.

Henry Harteveldt, travel industry analyst at Atmosphere Research Group, said ‘’Airbnb’s slow delivery of the relief fund’s payments threatens to drive hosts to competing services and will not benefit the company in the long run’’.

If you scroll through Twitter, you’ll see case after case of users complaining about their experiences. The hashtag #Airbnbrefundnow is overwhelmed with hosts demanding refunds.

 


expedia logo

Cancellation policy before the spread of the coronavirus pandemic

Whether you’ll get money back depends on the type of booking you made and how close you are to check-in.

Travelers that booked their package:

  • Within the last 24 hours: may be able to cancel and get all their money back.
  • More than 24 hours ago: hosts may have a cancellation fee 

Here’s how it breaks down:

  • Refundable booking? you’ll get all your money back as long as you aren’t too close to check-in.
  • Non-refundable booking? you won’t get any money back

 

Cancellation policy after the spread of the coronavirus pandemic

Expedia Group, on 30 Mars, announced that it will support its partners with a wide range of flexible cancellation policies.

These are in addition to the industry standard policy of a free 24-hour window in advance of check-in and include refundable rates with cancellation criteria such as 48/72 hours, 7/14/30 days, one night penalties, 50% penalties and more.

For all reservations with check-in dates through April 30, 2020, the Expedia group has made its lodging partners’ offerings simple, flexible, and attractive to travelers.

This simplification materializes as follows:

Non-Refundable Rates:

  • They’ve temporarily stopped displaying fully non-refundable rate plans on their sites for booking windows between 3 and 60 days. This is to increase traveler confidence to book and minimize post-booking complications.
  • For existing non-refundable bookings canceled by travelers, they will issue refunds and send an email confirming the cancellation.
  • They strongly encourage hosts to make competitive, fully-refundable rate plans available to travelers. You can do this in Partner Central or through your channel manager.

Refundable and Partially-Refundable Rates:

Existing bookings

  • They will automatically extend the free-cancellation period to 24-hours before the check-in date and issue a full cash refund to travelers who choose to cancel.

Future bookings

  • They will update all rate plans to a free-cancellation 24-hours in advance of the check-in date, allowing travelers to cancel now or delay their decision until closer to their stay, should the situation improve.
  • If a host doesn’t want the 24-hour cancellation policy to apply to his future bookings, he can remove inventory for those rate plans in Partner Central or through his channel manager.

Expedia Group will not earn any fees or compensation for these canceled bookings and they expect hosts to waive, or refund, fees, and other amounts as well.

On 14 April, Expedia Group made the decision to extend its force majeure cancellation policy to all bookings worldwide that were made prior to March 20, 2020, with stay dates prior to May 31, 2020 (“Eligible Reservation Dates”). Learn more about the force majeure cancellation (Updated: 20 April)

 

Reaction from hosts

Expedia Group’s VRBO compared with the rival platform Airbnb, adopts a more hands-off approach, ultimately leaving it up to guests and hosts to work out the details for the compensation of canceled travel plans. Vrbo’s refund policy requires its hosts to give back only 50% of the money people paid to book. Anything more than that is at the hosts’ discretion.

“The real culprit here is VRBO, which is pitting working people against one another,” said John McDermott, a River Forest native, now living in Los Angeles.

An Expedia group spokesperson said: “We have not taken this decision lightly. However, we believe it is the right thing to do for our industry, for travelers and, overall, for our partners, thousands of whom have already opted-in over the past few days because they see the benefit of simplifying the cancellation process.”

While hosts seem to appreciate Vrbo’s decision, some guests are struggling to recoup even 50% from hosts. 

“Our owner has refused to cancel our reservation (which means we cannot receive a refunded service fee) and will not apply any type of refund,” said one guest, Ashley Gordon.

The hashtag #boycottvrbo on Twitter turns up a barrage of complaints, from guests being ghosted by hosts to getting paltry refunds — or no refund — from property owners who insist on sticking to their cancellation policies.

In response to complaints that some property owners were dismissing the coronavirus threat to discourage cancellations, Vrbo told unit owners in mid-March not to downplay the crisis and threatened to ban those who didn’t comply.


Cancellation policy before the spread of the coronavirus pandemic

  • The host can indicate if there’s a period when free cancellation is possible, as well as specify its time frame before a guest’s arrival.
  • The host can also specify how much to charge a guest in the case of cancellation or no-show

Cancellation policy after the spread of the coronavirus pandemic

For reservations made before Monday, April 6, Force Majeure conditions are applied. 

In this case, Booking.com, encourage hosts to arrange:

  1. new dates for a future stay through Booking.com (different rates may apply), or
  2. a voucher issued by the property for a future stay, for the value paid by the guest or a higher amount at your discretion, or
  3. a full refund of any prepayments/deposits.

In cases where (in which) the reservation is canceled, all commission will be waived. For more info click here. (Last updated: 15 April)

For all new reservations made as of April 6, 2020, Booking.com will no longer apply Force Majeure conditions for guests seeking to cancel or modify their booking due to the coronavirus. 

These reservations will be treated like any other standard booking, according to their policies and procedures. This means that hosts are in control of how to respond to cancellation requests for reservations made on or after this date.

On 8 April, Booking.com informed its hosts that if they take additional precautionary measures to protect the safety and security of guests from the coronavirus at their property, they can display them with a banner on their property page on Booking.com.

This can easily be done by selecting the precautionary measures on the Extranet. 

Just follow the steps below:

  • Go to your Extranet “Property” tab and select “View your descriptions.”
  • Scroll to the section called “The Fine Print” which now includes “Coronavirus precautionary measures,” and tick any measures you have in place at your property right now.
  • Click “Request a Fix” at the bottom of the page.

 

Reaction from hosts

Booking.com, like Expedia, refer perplexed and exasperated guests to the hosts to see if they’ll charge a cancellation fee, provide a full or partial refund (which hoteliers have pointed out could be the full room cost), or merely issue a credit toward a future stay. 

At a time when hosts are fighting for the survival of their businesses, Booking.com has given greater flexibility to consumers with measures including abolishing cancellation charges and introducing a blanket refunding of pre-payments.

David Weston, chairman of the Bed and Breakfast Association, said that his organization had written to Booking.com & Expedia, arguing the changes were “unfair and damaging to small businesses”.

Hoteliers have said they cannot afford to take on the changes put in place by Booking.com, explaining that after paying bank charges on canceled and reimbursed bookings they are making a loss.

Weston said the changes showed “a total lack of support for our members and added: “The OTAs want to leave us with negative income while protecting their own income at all costs.”

A spokesperson said: “Ultimately, at Booking.com, our utmost concern is for the safety and security of our customers, partners, and colleagues. We all feel the impact that the current uncertainty around travel brings, and we believe that working with our partners to make it relatively easy for our mutual guests to change their plans is both the right thing to do and means they will be faster to return to travel when the situation improves, which in turn protects the future of our industry’’.

 


homeaway

Cancellation policy before the spread of the coronavirus pandemic

  • No Refund – No refund offered for any reason or timeframe.
  • Strict – Bookings canceled at least 60 days before the start of the stay will receive a full refund
  • Firm – Bookings canceled at least 60 days before the start of the stay will receive a full refund. Bookings canceled at least 30 days before the start of the stay will receive a 50% refund.
  • Moderate (recommended) – Bookings canceled at least 30 days before the start of the stay will receive a full refund. Bookings canceled at least 14 days before the start of the stay will receive a 50% refund.
  • Relaxed – Bookings canceled at least 14 days before the start of the stay will receive a full refund. Bookings canceled at least 7 days before the start of the stay will receive a 50% refund.

 

Cancellation policy after the spread of the coronavirus pandemic

HomeAway strongly suggests its hosts to review their cancellation policy and consider adopting a flexible or moderate policy. 

*Hosts can always change their cancellation policy as the situation changes. Learn more

From 18 March, HomeAway is issuing a 100% refund of the money it makes through traveler service fees when someone must cancel a trip due to COVID-19.  

HomeAway partners are suggested to handle cancellations for trips booked before March 13 with stays that fall between March 13 and April 30 in one of two ways (even if those trips are outside of the set cancellation policy):

Option 1 (Default): Offer a credit for full value and flexible stay dates within the next year to travelers who can’t have trips now due to COVID-19. 

Option 2: If the traveler is unwilling to accept a credit, we advise partners to issue them a refund. If partners are unable to accommodate a full refund, HomeAway expects partners to provide at least a 50% refund if the traveler cancels during this time.

*Due to the fact that many areas have issued emergency public health orders limiting travel and lodging, HomeAway hosts should avoid using language in their property descriptions that could be seen as encouraging guests to disregard health or travel advisories, e.g., “escape coronavirus” “coronavirus hideaway” “quarantine here!” 

In addition, on 14 April, HomeAway created a new page to answer Premier Partner questions related to the Coronavirus (COVID-19), the upcoming May 2020 Premier Partner assessment, and ways they are rewarding Premier Partners during this time. Click here to learn more.

 

Reaction from hosts

HomeAway, a sister brand of VRBO, both owned by Expedia, is refunding service fees for all reservations booked before March 13 for travel until April 30 (the policy was last updated on March, 25). 

Hosts are being “strongly encouraged” to issue at least a partial refund if a flexible credit for a future trip at a later date within the next year can’t be negotiated. Undeniably, hosts with VRBO and HomeAway have a strong negotiating power.

 


tripadvisor

Cancellation policy before the spread of the coronavirus pandemic

If a host wants to cancel a booking:

Canceling a booking should only happen in extreme circumstances. 

In that case:

  • Your listing will appear lower in search results which may mean fewer bookings
  • If a host cancels frequently, they will remove him from all TripAdvisor sites
  • You will be charged a cancellation fee at the time of cancellation.  

If a guest cancels: they’ll be refunded in accordance with the host’s selected cancellation policy.

 

Cancellation policy after the spread of the coronavirus pandemic

For cancellations due to the impact of COVID-19, hosts will not be charged a cancellation fee.

  • Bookings due to start before 31 May 2020 will not be subject to a cancellation fee
  • If a guest cancels an affected booking, the host will not be paid out

On 22 April, Tripadvisor announced that the Extenuating Circumstances policy will continue until the end of June. For bookings on or after this date, at this moment in time, the hosts’ cancellation policy will apply as they continue monitoring travel and government advisories.

On 24 April, TripAdvisor made a change affecting upcoming bookings: they extended all balance due dates that were due in the next 6 weeks to be payable 15 days before check-in. The bookings remain confirmed and they encourage hosts to remain in communication with their guests in the meantime. By pushing back the balance due date TripAdvisor allows additional time while the situation unfolds. This will give travelers more reassurance, and helps to retain those all-important bookings for hosts.

*This change to balance due dates does not affect the rental fees paid to hosts, nor the timing of those payments.

 

Reaction from hosts

Tripadvisor is basically allowing guests to cancel their stays for a full refund and is angering vacation rental owners and property managers who need the funds to pay mortgages and survive.

 

coronavirus

Don’t forget that Syncbnb team is here, 24/7, to help you manage and minimize your booking cancellations.

We recommend that hosts:

  1. check regularly the new actions that global OTAs are taking to confront the hangover from the coronavirus pandemic 
  2. follow the latest health and safety protocols from the World Health Organization (WHO) 
  3. pay attention to local announcements
  4. come back on this article- it will be updated OTAs policies as circumstances change

 

More links that you may find useful:

European Commission

European Center for Disease Prevention and Control

How are airlines responding to COVID-19? 

CNN coronavirus travel advice

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