The coronavirus outbreak has taken a toll on the global economy and one of the industries hit the hardest is the travel industry. While major chains and brands like Marriott or JetBlue have extended detailed refund and rebooking policies, travel sites that are operated by listing through independent contractors have fewer resources to accommodate those changes.
Popular travel sites like Booking.com have over 6 million listings for what is described as “alternative accommodation,” which includes apartments and vacation homes owned by individuals. “The world has changed, and we have to adjust,” Glenn Fogel, Booking.com’s chief executive, told The New York Times, adding that his company had also pulled back on advertising. Expedia Group, which owns VRBO, Hotels.com, and a dozen other travel sites, recently laid off 12% of its workforce and plans to take a $30 million hit to its operating profit in the first quarter.
One of the hardest hit has been Airbnb. The platform where hosts list their properties for short-term rentals has faced a new set of complications due to the coronavirus outbreak. The San Francisco-based company—valued at $31 billion by private investors—was scheduled to go public later this year but that has been delayed due to recent stock market volatility.
Airbnb’s CEO, Brian Chesky, sent an email with the company’s response to all of its employees regarding the virus. “Airbnb was born during a global crisis,” Chesky wrote in an email referring to the 2008 recession. “It didn’t stop us then, and it won’t stop us now.”
The company is also dealing with the fallout of a sharp decline in revenue and bookings because travelers are canceling stays with their hosts. It recently unveiled its new program called More Flexible Reservations, which will allow hosts to more easily offer refunds to guests. Service fees on trips booked now through June 1 that do not fall under the company’s extenuating-circumstances policy will also be refundable with redeemable travel coupons.
In his memo to employees, Chesky tried to stay optimistic.
“Travel always bounces back,” he wrote. “It is one of the most resilient industries in the world.”