Airbnb May Now Refund Some Travelers’ Coachella Bookings

The booking platform had drawn criticism for being slow to release coronavirus-concerned travelers from their reservations

Many Coachella attendees book their desert accommodations months in advance. With the event’s move to October, those travelers are scrambling to get their money back for Airbnb bookings—if they can. Initially, the platform had offered relatively little in the way of refunds for bookings outside of coronavirus “red zones” like China, Korea and Italy–but as of Wednesday morning, the platform appears to have changed its tune, and Airbnb is now reportedly offering refunds to some customers.

As fears about Riverside’s COVID-19 status grew and rumors about Coachella’s cancelation or postponement spread, a number of users expressed frustration at their inability to get refunds for reservations. The platform was largely leaving refunds up to the individual cancelation policies of hosts, who could choose not to honor the requests.

Following the outcry on social media from concerned travelers, Airbnb updated its “extenuating circumstances policy” language to address travelers canceling reservations when the event they were traveling for gets canceled or postponed due to the outbreak.

“We know that many of our travelers book places to stay on Airbnb for events like Coachella, SXSW, Mobile World Congress, and others. If an event has been canceled and it’s not in an area covered by our extenuating circumstances policy, we’re encouraging guests to check the cancelation policy on their reservation. We’ll be rolling out a tool so hosts can refund reservations like these that aren’t covered under our extenuating circumstances policy,” it now reads.

Now, TMZ reports, Airbnb has now begun issuing those refunds, with Riverside County’s declaration of a local health emergency possibly being cited as a grounds for legitimate cancelation. That would mark a stark change from the policy which had been in place heretofore, which found many distressed SXSW attendees struggling to get their money back.

“Airbnb has been closely monitoring official news and guidance in order to support our community of hosts, guests, and employees around the world—we are prioritizing their safety and well-being,” a statement to media announcing more flexible cancelation policies notes. “Please note that most of our existing reservations are still eligible for a penalty-free cancellation. For severe and unforeseen conditions, the remainder may be eligible for an “extenuating circumstances” cancellation, which provides guests a 100 percent refund.”

Nonetheless, Airbnb still recommends that travelers attempt to work with hosts to simply swap to the October dates if possible, before demanding a refund.

As of now, competing home-stay site VRBO appears to still not be issuing refunds related to Coachella’s postponement. VRBO posted a help doc outlining their coronavirus policy which only addresses areas with active travel restrictions due to the outbreak.

In a statement regarding the policy, the company writes that “Vrbo advises travelers to follow travel advice from the World Health Organization and local authorities. Refunds of payments made for vacation home rentals are based on the homeowner’s cancelation policy. If a homeowner or property manager refunds a booking due to COVID-19 (coronavirus) concerns, Vrbo will automatically refund the traveler service fee.”

In the long run, Airbnb expects to bounce back from coronavirus jitters.

“While it is clear that the Coronavirus will have an impact on the entire travel and tourism industry, we believe travel will recover in the long run,” the company writes. “It is one of the largest and most resilient industries in the world. We are committed to doing everything we can to support all of our stakeholders in this unique business model.”

RELATED: Coachella and Stagecoach Will Be Postponed Until October

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