Vacation rental company Airbnb has expanded its extenuating circumstances policy on Sunday as coronavirus spreads across the globe.
Under the new policy, almost all travelers can cancel their reservations penalty-free, reports the CNN.
Reservations at Airbnb come with one of six cancellation policies set by the host. The cancellation policies range from flexible to super strict. The company can override those conditions with its Extenuating Circumstances Policy.
An automatic message is generated offering the chance to cancel without a penalty when the Airbnb website recognizes that customers are traveling from or to certain affected areas. Customers can still cancel their reservation and submit a request for a refund within 14 days of cancellation even if travelers don't receive that automated message.
With US President Trump's Schengen Area travel ban going into effect and confirmed cases of the pandemic in the US rising, Airbnb has made the area covered by the extenuating circumstances policy global.
Under the new policy, all reservations made before March 14, with the check-in dates from March 14 through April 14 will qualify for penalty free cancellations. Both hosts and guests can choose to cancel the booking. Airbnb experiences, where travelers can book tours, classes and workshops, are also covered by the new policy.
Only exception is for domestic travel in mainland China; from April 1, standard cancellation policies are back in effect there.
What about Airbnb hosts?
Travelers are not the only ones feeling the pain of canceled trips. Thousands of Airbnb hosts across the globe are coping with lost income.
On Airhosts forum, a popular platform for Airbnb hosts, users are sharing their concerns about the financial impact of refunding money.
In some cases, the 50 percent deposits paid by guests to Airbnb might be hundreds or even thousands of dollars, money that hosts won't ever get when travelers cancel their bookings — whether or not they are in an area already severely impacted by coronavirus.
On March 14th, the short-term vacation rental group purchasing organization Host GPO posted an open letter to Airbnb about the new refund policy.
"Extending refunds to practically everyone through April 1," they write, "will be absolutely devastating to hosts."
They argued that the decision is a break with company policy asking that Airbnb to reconsider.
"To prevent hosts from losing their livelihoods, it is important to make sure that hosts survive the unprecedented onslaught of cancellations."
Vrbo's policies remain unchanged
Cancellations due to the coronavirus is an exception not every travel company is offering. The vacation rental property Vrbo has not offered any coronavirus-related exceptions to its cancellation policy.
Vrbo president Jeff Hurst recommended that travelers reach out to homeowners to request a penalty-free cancellation through March 14 letter.
Hurst addressed homeowners in a letter on March 12 and suggested that they remain open to such requests.
"In the spirit of good hospitality," he wrote, "we strongly encourage you to offer a full refund."