Airbnb hosts in coronavirus epicenter staying open for business
Airbnb.com Inc. asked hosts in parts of China affected by the coronavirus to help guests rearrange accommodation, while stopping short of warning customers about the disease.
The advice comes as hundreds of properties remain available via the room-booking platform in Wuhan, part of China’s central Hubei province, where the deadly virus is believed to have originated.
In one message, Airbnb advised hosts in the region to pay close attention to the development of the epidemic, and be supportive if a guest’s itinerary plans changed suddenly.
“Airbnb has launched a special cancellation policy for housing bookings in Wuhan,” said the Chinese-language message, adding that hosts keep in touch with tenants. Ultimately, Airbnb has left it up to each host whether or not to accept bookings.
“We have activated our extenuating circumstances policy to offer impacted hosts and guests the option of a cancellation of their reservations without charges,” said an Airbnb spokesman in a statement. “We will be continuously evaluating and updating this policy.”
The World Health Organization’s Emergency Committee is meeting on Thursday to consider whether to declare the coronavirus that has killed 170 people worldwide so far a “public health emergency of international concern.” Airlines are curtailing flights to the nation, and several countries have begun evacuating citizens from the most stricken zone around the city of Wuhan, which remains quarantined.
Hundreds of properties in Wuhan were shown as available on Airbnb for as soon as the night of Jan. 30, with discounts of as much as 15% offered as a New Year promotion.
A Bloomberg News reporter was able to successfully complete a booking, with payment taken from a U.K. credit card, without being advised on Airbnb’s app or in confirmation emails of current health and travel guidance.
In a follow-up message, the host said they had kept reservations open to help people unable to return to their hometown find a place to stay. The process is similar for hotels and their relationships with sites like Booking.com. A search for a place to stay in Wuhan on Booking.com using a U.K.-based computer website produces a wide range of hotel options. However, there was confusion over whether hotels were open for business.
Booking.com shows the Hilton Wuhan Riverside as sold out for the night of Jan. 31. On the hotel’s own website, more detail is provided: “As a precautionary measure in line with prevention efforts across China and local government requirements, Hilton Wuhan Riverside will temporarily stop taking bookings from now until 15 February 2020.”
An identical message is given to shoppers attempting to book at another of Hilton’s Wuhan hotels, the Hilton Wuhan Optics Valley.
However, on Thursday afternoon in London, Booking.com’s website said the Hilton Wuhan Riverside had been booked twice in the previous six hours. There was no health warning visible to potential visitors.
A spokeswoman for Hilton WorldWide Holdings Inc. said “we do not control third party sites or how they display their listings,” but added that warnings and health advice is displayed on Hilton’s own websites.
Booking.com did not respond to a request for comment.
Airbnb is one of many technology companies having to tackle the economic impact of the deadly virus. On Tuesday, Apple Inc. issued a wider-than-usual sales forecast to reflect what Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook called “uncertainty” caused by the outbreak. Nvidia Corp., the biggest maker of computer graphics chips, told its workers in China to stay home and any others returning from the country to work from home for two weeks, people with knowledge of the matter said. Travel to China should be postponed, Nvidia told employees. Facebook Inc. has also implemented similar policies.