Using Airbnb During a Natural Disaster

There have been a lot of natural disasters devastating areas across the world, from the recent wildfires in California and Hurricane Maria across the Caribbean. There’s no doubt this won’t be the last of them.

Although Airbnb has infiltrated nearly every corner of the globe, the recent hurricanes have been particularly noteworthy – at least, from a hospitality perspective – because they struck areas popular with vacationers at generally pleasant times of the year. The sudden appearance of storms and earthquakes can make cancelling a trip a necessity for safety or a choice as a matter of comfort.

When you’re using Airbnb during a natural disaster or have a reservation for one when one is predicted, assuming your life isn’t in any immediate danger you probably have some concerns regarding your plans, your money, and your continued safety.

 

Prior to Departure

If you booked an Airbnb in Florida before one of the hurricanes was announced, you technically qualify for a full refund under the Extenuating Circumstances clause of the cancellation policy:

“Significant natural disasters or severe weather incidents impacting the location of destination or location of departure.”

The procedure, however, may not be readily apparent unless you read everything thoroughly. If you made a reservation and then discover a hurricane, earthquake, or other natural disaster is scheduled to hit or has already occurred in the same area (not necessarily the property itself), you’re supposed to cancel immediately, regardless of whether the host has a strict cancellation listed. Inform your host via the Airbnb messaging system that the natural disaster is the sole reason you are cancelling. Then, as long as you file a claim with Airbnb within two weeks, you might be entitled to a full refund.

“Might” is the term Airbnb uses on their own website, and with good reason; even following these exact guidelines, we at Airbnb Hell have heard of Airbnb not honoring a cancellation refund for a Puerto Rico property in Hurricane Irma’s path:

“Both of these reasons [for cancellation] were valid in this case. I was told by Airbnb that this did not meet the definition and they suggested that I rebook with the host or try to work it out with her. It amazes me that this was their response and that they provided no assistance whatsoever. It is disturbing to know that both the host and Airbnb are willing to risk the wellbeing of their guests to make money. The current state of Puerto Rico is still a disaster area and the money I lost is small to what they are suffering. I do wish I could have that money back to spend time with my family but it would have been even better to be able to donate it to my family still in Puerto Rico.”

 

During a Natural Disaster

Everything aforementioned might seem just like small potatoes when you consider guests are safe and sound outside the disaster area – not that hundreds or thousands of dollars should be wasted. However, what should you do if you’re currently staying at an Airbnb and a natural disaster is supposed to strike? This situation may apply to those in Bali facing a volcanic eruption.

The same Extenuating Circumstances should apply whether you’re cancelling prior to a trip or already staying in the Airbnb, though naturally a refund would only be issued for the nights you didn’t stay. However, neither of these situations takes into account whether a host decides to cancel due to the natural disaster.

There could be a variety of reasons for this. Some hosts use their primary residence on Airbnb and may wish to return to remove any valuables and secure windows, etc. Others may take a nobler angle and simply not wish to risk the lives of any guests, regardless of whether they’re willing to complete their scheduled stay.

In any case, this reason for cancellation is just as likely to be honored by Airbnb on the host’s side as it is on the guest’s, particularly because hosts may cancel due to “severe property damage or unforeseen maintenance issues that directly impact the ability to host safely.” If this means kicking out paying guests who want or have no choice but to wait out the storm, so be it.

 

What can you do if things don’t go your way?

If you’re unable to get a refund or find yourself homeless with no chance to escape the upcoming emergency, there is always the option of turning to social media. During deadly hurricanes and earthquakes, so many eyes are on social media, including Airbnb’s PR department; the last story they want spreading like wildfire – hopefully, that’s not the disaster you’re escaping – is one of the company stranded or defrauding guests.

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