Airbnb hosts reeling from a drastic dive in bookings are offering special “self-isolation packages” — with Netflix and food delivery on tap — to try and ride out the coronavirus crisis.
With Airbnb changing its policy to offer guests full refunds for many reservations, many home owners who rely on the rental are feeling the pinch of mass cancellations, and trying to rapidly come up with new ways to adapt.
“It’s hectic – it’s completely turned the travel industry on its head,” says Linton Wood, who manages 150 Melbourne Airbnb properties through his business Beyond A Room.
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“It’s meant that hundreds of bookings were being cancelled. I haven’t even calculated the number of them at the moment, but for example we had a full week of arrivals this week, and now tomorrow there’s no one coming.”
In response, he has decided to offer “COVID-19 Friendly” Airbnb packages in an attempt to help drive bookings for hosts, and keep his own eight staff in work.
“Don’t get caught out staying in a boring hotel for your 14-day isolation period,” reads Beyond A Room’s advertising blurb. “Book with us and get a clean and sanitised home with unlimited WiFi, Netflix, food delivered to your door, a cosy space and if you’re quick, a games console [available to first 20 customers].”
Wood says some of the finer details of the package are still being worked out, but that his company will help guests with whatever they need for an extra fee – whether that’s ordering food, getting in touch with a hospital or having enough entertainment to keep them going for 14 days.
“What we want to be able to do is [make sure] people staying in isolation don’t need to go out in the community. We just want to be that middle person – stay there, tell us what you need, and we’ll do that for you.”
Meanwhile, a growing number of companies are offering services to those stuck in self-isolation, including food delivery companies Deliveroo and Uber Eats, which are both offering customers the option of getting their food left at the front door.
There’s also an increasing number of ways to stay sane at home – including the Social Distancing Festival, which is streaming performing arts online instead of on the stage. Some gyms have begun live-streaming their classes.
Wood has already received a handful of inquiries about his coronavirus-friendly Airbnb package. He says his company is definitely not looking to capitalise on what is an incredibly difficult situation for everyone.
“We want to try and work with both sides to make it [the price] as reasonable as possible.”
And he says his cleaners will up the ante on their processes once a guest leaves, in line with government health regulations.
Even in the tiny Queensland town of Obi Obi, in the Sunshine Coast region, Airbnb cancellations are coming thick and fast for host Ceri Little.
“We’re in a small farming community of about 300 people and we’re in a big valley, so my nearest neighbour is about half a kilometre away,” says Little, who runs two listings.
But even domestic visitors are still cancelling, including a valuable booking over the Easter break. “I reckon I would be losing $8000 within the next month.”
Now she is advertising her main listing, Kanimbia Homestead, as a 20-hectare luxury rural retreat from the coronavirus. “Basically I’ve changed my title to say, ‘Hey I’m isolated – there’s no problem coming to me’.”
Little says while coronavirus was affecting everyone, Airbnb’s decision to change its refund policy meant that only hosts were copping the financial pain. “They’re not within their rights to change it just like that.”
Unfortunately, for now at least, she has also had to lay off her cleaner.
Over the weekend, Airbnb announced a new policy that allows hosts and guests who were planning to check in between March 14 and April 14 – and who’d booked on or before March 14 – to cancel without charge.
In a statement, the company said it understood the announcement would impact hosts around the world, “many of whom depend on the economics they generate on Airbnb”.
“We will be working in the days and weeks ahead to identify tools and initiatives to support our hosts during these very challenging times.”
In Victoria, owner of Ocean Edge Holiday Rentals Rebecca Thompson is offering “coronavirus discounts” on 55 properties she rents out on Airbnb in Geelong, Torquay and the Bellarine Peninsula.
“Some have really gone crazy [with new bookings] which is really good.”
Thompson says the fact so many people are working remotely might boost bookings, as would the prospect of extended school holidays.
Nonetheless she has been inundated with cancellations and expects more after the announcement that the Rip Curl Pro, usually held at Bells Beach over Easter, will be postponed.