Coronavirus outbreak leads Airbnb to relax cancellation policy in these areas

On Friday, Airbnb updated its extenuating circumstances policy

As the travel industry continues to take hits from the coronavirus outbreak, Airbnb has updated its cancellation policy for certain locations.

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On Friday, the online vacation rental company posted the updated “Extenuating Circumstances” policies in a press release, saying that the company will let customers cancel their reservations in certain locations without being charged.

Typically, the host can choose one of six cancellation policies, from “Flexible” to “Super Strict 60 Days.”

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The locations included in the updated policy are mainland China, South Korea, Italy and the U.S.

Reservations that were booked on or before March 13 with check-in dates of April 1 or earlier are eligible for free cancellation in the U.S.

The policy also applies to hosts or guests who have to change or cancel their reservations in four circumstances, including complying with disease control restrictions or performing medical or disease control duties related to the COVID-19 outbreak.

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It also applies to people whose transportation was canceled by an airline or ground travel provider because of the outbreak and for people diagnosed with or “suspected of being infected with COVID-19 by a medical or health authority,” the release said.

Travelers from the U.S. can also cancel reservations to the 26 countries in the Schengen Area in Europe. Reservations made on or before March 11 for trips between March 13 and April 13 are eligible, the release said.

“We will continue to assess the situation and will provide further information as matters progress,” Airbnb wrote. “We strongly advise all travelers to carefully review and select appropriate cancellation policies according to personal needs and the outlook on COVID-19.”

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Meanwhile, Airbnb’s competitor VRBO had not formally changed its cancellation policy by Friday afternoon.

Just like Airbnb, VRBO leaves cancellation policies -- and therefore refund policies -- up to hosts.

However, the company’s president, Jeff Hurst, wrote a letter to property managers and homeowners that was published on Thursday, recommending they “review your cancellation policy and consider adopting a flexible or moderate policy for the time being.”

“Because this is an evolving situation, travelers may reach out to cancel or delay travel plans,” Hurst wrote. “In the spirit of good hospitality, we strongly encourage you to offer a full refund.  When you do, Vrbo will also refund our Traveler Service Fee in full. We know this impacts your business and we will waive related cancellations so they don’t affect your ranking metrics.”

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