Vacation rental service Vrbo is telling unit owners not to downplay the coronavirus threat in dealing with travelers trying to cancel reservations, threatening to ban those who don’t comply.
The warning comes after two Arizona news organizations, Phoenix New Times and ABC15, reported on travelers who said they were given misinformation from the unit owners about the danger of coronavirus when they tried to cancel trips and get refunds.
Vrbo, which connects travelers to owners and property managers offering short-term rentals, included this statement in a COVID-19 Emergency Policy on its website: “Any intimidation of travelers (such as suggesting that travel is safer for them than staying home or dismissing the severity of the crisis) will result in permanent removal from Vrbo and Expedia Group.” Expedia Group owns Vrbo.
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In a letter on the Vrbo website signed by president Jeff Hurst, the service acknowledges the size of the crisis: “In Vrbo’s nearly 25 years, we’ve been through a lot, but nothing comes close to the current challenges facing our travelers, partners, and team members around the world.”
In the News Times story, a prospective traveler who tried to cancel an Arizona reservation because of increasing concern about safety said the rental company that refused her refund request insisted on Monday that Arizona is “one of the least affected states.” Another who denied a refund touted a visit to the state as “a wonderful retreat to ‘normal.'”
One Arizona rental owner said coronavirus concerns were “being pushed by the media,” while another reportedly denied a cancellation, explaining that “my beliefs are contrary to what the public and media see it as.”
Both Vrbo and Airbnb, another rental service, have been the subject of complaints regarding their cancellation policies in the wake of the rising coronavirus threat. Travelers have criticized Vrbo for a refund policy they consider too weak, while hosts complain that Airbnb’s full-refund policy comes entirely out of the pockets of rental owners.
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