Skift Take

Vrbo risks a host backlash but is doing the right thing for guests. As opposed to the articulated policies, how this all works out in practice is another matter.

Expedia Group’s vacation rental brand Vrbo for the first time reversed its traditional guest refund policy, and is mandating that hosts refund guests in Maui.

At the beginning of the pandemic, Vrbo stoked guest ire when it urged hosts to issue full or partial refunds, but ultimately left guest refunds subject to host cancellation policies. Airbnb, on the other hand, triggered a huge host backlash at that time when it unilaterally pushed through guest refunds, leaving many hosts at risk of failing to pay their mortgages and closing up shop. Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky eventually apologized to hosts.

“We are applying an extenuating circumstances exception for eligible Vrbo reservations in Maui where travelers will be able to get a full refund,” an Expedia Group spokesperson said. “If a traveler had to cancel their trip due to damage to the property or local government guidance advising against travel to the region, we expect that the host will provide full reimbursement or an alternative resolution for the stay they were unable to complete. We will continue to work with Vrbo hosts who have upcoming bookings in impacted areas to make sure all of our travelers are treated fairly.”

The Expedia Group spokesperson acknowledged that mandating Vrbo hosts to refund guests in this situation — or to resolve the situation in another manner — was a first for Expedia’s vacation rental brand.

“This policy only applies for limited unforeseen situations,” the Expedia Group spokesperson said, referring to Vrbo’s current policy in Maui following the wildfire disaster that took well over 100 lives. How we handle other natural disaster occurrences will not change at this time.”

For convention lodging — namely hotels — booked through Expedia Group, the company is waiving cancellation policies through August 31, and is asking non-essential travelers to follow Maui authorities advice regarding travel to parts of Maui that weren’t destroyed by the wildfires.

Airbnb’s Response on Cancellation Policies Comes Under Fire

Meanwhile, an NBC News story charged that Airbnb was delivering a “muddled response” to hosts and guests about the details and timing of its cancellation policies in Maui.

“The duration of Airbnb’s policy is not as clear,” the NBC News story stated. “One guest shared correspondence from Airbnb showing the company’s policy initially only covered from Aug. 9 to Aug. 11, but then extended it to Aug. 10-Aug. 17.”

It turns out that Airbnb’s extenuating circumstances policy is in place for all of Maui through August 29.

Airbnb guests with eligible stays in impacted areas are entitled to full refunds, and hosts can cancel without incurring any fees or other consequences.

The non-profit and its hosts are providing free and temporary stays for up to 1,000 people forced to flee their homes because of the Maui wildfires.

To support Maui residents, Expedia Group is donating an unspecified amount to Hawai’i Community Foundation’s Maui Strong Fund and World Central Kitchen. It is also matching employee donations to verified charities supporting relief efforts.

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Tags: airbnb, cancellations, expedia, future of lodging, guests, hawaii, hosts, maui, refunds, tourism, vacation rentals, vrbo

Photo credit: A vacation rental that was listed in Maui in 2012. Source: Ryan Lackey/

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