Holidaymakers affected by Covid lockdowns and state border closures might not be eligible for refunds from bookings company Airbnb, which no longer considers pandemic cancellations to be “unforeseen”.
The change to Airbnb’s cancellations and refunds policy, introduced in October last year, means Covid is no longer considered an extenuating circumstance.
Guests affected by pandemic-related transportation disruptions and border closures will be at the mercy of individual hosts’ cancellation policies.
“After the declaration of Covid-19 as a global pandemic by the World Health Organization, the extenuating circumstances policy no longer applies because Covid-19 and its consequences are no longer unforeseen or unexpected,” Airbnb says on its website.
To Elizabeth Packett, who was planning to come to Sydney to see the popular theatre production Hamilton, it meant she was completely dependent on her host.
“It’s the luck of the draw whether you get a host who’s compassionate about that kind of thing or not. It would be great if Airbnb would back that up and you’d have that security, but also I guess that means you really have to read the fine print,” Packett said.
“In a way I kind of get their point, in that every time we make travel plans now, we have to be prepared that it might fall apart.”
Packett said the safety net provided by a more supportive Airbnb policy would encourage more people to book using the platform.
“It would be really helpful. I sort of equate it to when you want to return something you’ve bought online, they should make that process as easy as possible.”
“I just think in general people are going to book more if they have that certainty, that should something like this come up at the last minute, they’re not going to be messed around.”
Packett luckily had an understanding host, and was able to exchange dates to November, but she never got a firm answer on if she could have gotten a refund.
“We would have liked a refund, we were just over it and didn’t want to risk coming again. But we’ve just rebooked everything for November, it was easier than getting a refund.”
Derek Nolan, Airbnb’s head of public policy for Australia and New Zealand, said most hosts do offer flexible cancellation policies.
“For our guest community, hosts recognise that they are seeking flexibility at these uncertain times, and now almost two-thirds of active listings offer a moderate or flexible cancellation policy.”
“And with our flexible cancellation policy search filter, guests search for listings that offer free cancellation until 24 hours before check-in, avoiding any strict cancellation policy listings from their search results entirely. Guests can view their host’s cancellation policy prior to booking.
“We want to thank our community for continuing to do their part to combat Covid-19. Our message has been consistent and clear: everyone must closely follow government advice and strictly adhere to the rules.”
Jodi Bird, a travel expert at consumer advocacy group Choice, said the change in policy was within the company’s “rights”.
“It would be a positive development for the travel industry if a high-profile booking site like Airbnb set a higher standard for refunds, but Airbnb are within their rights not to extend their extenuating circumstances policy to unforeseeable travel bans.
“When people are booking travel on Airbnb, we recommend they check the ‘Only show stays that offer free cancellation’ filter.”
Packett is not certain her reorganised trip for November will go ahead, but says she is hopeful things will have stabilised by then.
“We’re not confident it will happen, we’re hoping more people will be vaccinated, so we’ve just got to be hopeful.”