Airbnb bubble bursts during coronavirus

Hosts turn to long-term rentals, self-isolation units as bookings cancelled en masse

Airbnb hosts across the country are coming to terms with a huge hit to their income as a result of mass cancellations due to the spread of coronavirus.

“Everything is gone. It just fell off the cliff almost overnight,” said Grace de Burca, who rents out an en suite bedroom in her Galway home.

On the Airbnb platform she is described as a super host and has bookings most weekend nights for the months ahead. “My income in March was to be €1,000 and that has been wiped out. My income for April was looking good too and would have come in at €1,200 but that is gone now too.”

She has been an Airbnb host for just over three years and told The Irish Times that the money had been going into the family pot and was spent on college fees for the kids.


“It was great to have it and important to keep the show on the road but I will survive. It will have some impact financially but I will get over it,” she said.

“I feel a lot more concern for the people who have lost their jobs in recent days. Just two weeks ago they had work and income and now suddenly they have nothing. “

Another Galway Airbnb host has decided to open the self contained unit she has been renting to people who need to self isolate as a result of the spread of Covid-19.

Mary Calahan rents out a cottage in Inverin and after all bookings were cancelled for the weeks ahead decided on different course.

“I posted on one of my WhatsApp groups offering the cottage to people who had family coming home who might need to self isolate. I had three people looking to take up the offer almost straight away,” she said.

"I am giving it to the daughter of a friend of mine who has had to cut short her trip to Australia. She can stay in it for for two weeks if she needs to self isolate. That can be hard for people to do in a busy household," she said.

She said she would not be charging for it but said if guests in the weeks ahead could cover heating and electricity costs it would be appreciated.

“There are a lot of Airbnbs out there and they are all vacant so maybe this is something other people could do too?”

She said that she and her husband were retired and were using the Airbnb platform to generate extra income. “But it is not a huge deal for us and we will be fine. We have had a lot of bookings in May and June but don’t know what will happen to them yet.”

A jump in the number of rental properties available in the Republic has been linked to the coronavirus. Property website said it had witnessed a marked increase in the number of rental adverts for properties in March.

Almost all of the increase is concentrated in Dublin with the city accounting for 303 of the 353 additional listings, it said.

It also noted that much of the increase was in what might be termed the most in-demand property type and area for the short-term rental market, namely one- and two-bed properties in Dublin city centre.

“The increase in the number of properties advertised for rent so far in March is likely to be related to the collapse in tourism and thus the fall in demand for short-term rentals,” economist Ronan Lyons said.

The same uncertainty over bookings is being replicated across the world as Airbnb struggles to cope with a huge volume of cancellations in the weeks ahead.

The company has even asked the US Congress to help.

In a letter sent this week to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, the online travel company called for tax relief and loan measures tp specifically benefit its network of hosts.

"We are primarily concerned about the everyday people who depend on travel and tourism for their livelihood," Chris Lehane, Airbnb's senior vice president for policy and communications, said in the letter.

Airbnb, he continued, welcomes “conversation during your work to ensure any economic relief package includes these or other measures to financially support American short-term rental operators and travel industry solo-entrepreneurs and small businesses during this time of crisis and recovery.”

It came after Airbnb allowed many more customers to cancel bookings. A revamped version of its cancellation policy allows guests around the world to cancel reservations with check-in dates between now and April 14th.

Before the changes, Airbnb allowed property managers set their own policies and many had strict terms to discourage last-minute cancellations.

In a statement, Airbnb’s founders said they had changed the rules to promote the health of its guests and the public at large.

"We did not want guests making the decision to put themselves in unsafe situations and creating a public health hazard because of a commitment to their bookings," Brian Chesky, Joe Gebbia, and Nate Blecharczyk said in the statement. "We believe this is the responsible thing to do given the guidance of governments and health experts.

De Burca does look for silver linings. “I never really minded doing Airbnb and I have been doing it for three years but there is a sense of freedom in not doing it. I don’t have to get the room ready and I don’t have to wash sheets and get breakfasts ready so I have had more time to do things for myself even if it is just going for a walk.”