March 9, 2021

Airbnb Is Driving Hosts Elsewhere With Costly Pandemic Policies

In an interview on the day of Airbnb’s initial public offering, Brian Chesky, the chief executive, acknowledged tensions with hosts but said the relationship had improved over the last year.

“We have a lot of work to do, and frankly, they’re still hurting,” he said.

Catherine Powell, Airbnb’s head of hosting, said hosts’ views of their relationship with the company improved 17 percent between January 2020 and last month. “Our relationship with hosts is incredibly important,” she said. “Our hosts are what powers Airbnb.”

Airbnb hosts trace many of their issues with the company to March 14, three days after the World Health Organization declared the pandemic. That was when Airbnb enacted an “extenuating circumstances policy.”

The change angered many rental operators, who had previously chosen their own cancellation policies, including a nonrefundable option. The new policy allowed guests to cancel with a full refund, overriding some hosts’ preferences. Many saw their livelihoods disappear overnight.

Darik Eaton, who managed 50 properties in Seattle, laid off 10 employees after the change and has reconfigured his company to run “leaner,” including dropping some of the properties he managed, he said.

“I watched $77,000 disappear from my bank account in one day,” Mr. Eaton said.

In late March, Mr. Chesky apologized to hosts for how the decision had been communicated. “We have heard from you, and we know we could have been better partners,” he said in a video. The company set up a $250 million fund to cover some of the cancellation costs and a $10 million relief fund.

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