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Airbnb Hosts in Coronavirus Epicenter Stay Open for Business

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·4 min read
Airbnb Hosts in Coronavirus Epicenter Stay Open for Business
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(Bloomberg) -- Airbnb 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 the city of Wuhan in central China’s Hubei province, where the deadly virus that’s killed more than 200 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 or 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,” an Airbnb spokesman said in a statement. “We will be continuously evaluating and updating this policy.”

Like other online service companies, Airbnb is grappling with the spread of a sometimes deadly pathogen that shows no signs of abating. The World Health Organization has declared the coronavirus outbreak a public health emergency of international concern, a step that will let public health authorities aid countries with less-robust health systems to stop the spread of the virus. Airlines are curtailing flights to China, and several countries have begun evacuating citizens from the most stricken zone around the city of Wuhan, which remains quarantined.

China Deaths Rise to 213; WHO Declares Emergency: Virus Update

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 Lunar 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 produces a wide range of hotel options. However, there was confusion over whether hotels were open for business.

Sold Out

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 are 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.

(Updates with WHO’s decision in the sixth paragraph)

To contact the reporter on this story: Nate Lanxon in London at nlanxon@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Giles Turner at gturner35@bloomberg.net, Molly Schuetz

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