Coronavirus: Airbnb restricts UK bookings to coronavirus key workers

Home rental firm Airbnb is to temporarily restrict UK bookings to key workers and “essential stays” because of the coronavirus crisis.

The firm said that the measure would last until at least 18 April.

Key workers – such as NHS and social care staff, and transport and food retail employees – can still book through a program called Frontline Stays.

The decision comes after the government criticized opportunistic hosts.

The BBC had reported on Monday that some listings were letting customers use the “instant book” function without requiring them to be vetted.

At the time, some owners were describing their properties as being “COVID-19 retreats” and “perfect for isolating with family” on the site.

Tourism Minister Nigel Huddleston described this as being “irresponsible and dangerous”.

A BBC London investigation subsequently found hundreds of properties – some within shared accommodation – was being marketed in the capital to tourists for the coming Easter bank holiday weekend.

Using a regular account, the BBC questioned some of the landlords to check the bookings were still available.

“Yes, it’s a shared accommodation with me and my two daughters, you can have the room,” one replied.

Another said: “You will have your private room but with a shared bathroom. Toilet and shower are shared with seven other rooms on the same floor.”

Neither property owner asked if the booking was for a key worker.

Airbnb said it would take action in response to the findings.

Essential travel
The Frontline Stays program is designed to provide up to 100,000 healthcare staff and first-responders with accommodation close to their patients and a safe distance away from their own families.

Government rules state that tourism-related accommodation should only be provided to key workers needing to self-isolate during the pandemic.

Airbnb has now disabled its instant-booking function for whole properties. It blocked private room bookings last week.

Last week, the tech firm pledged to give out $250m (£201m) to hosts that had lost income as a result of the pandemic.

In a message to hosts on 31 March, chief executive Brian Chesky said: “When your business suffers, our business suffers.”

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A few days later, it announced that it had raised $1bn from investors to help it through the crisis.

The news site Techcrunch has reported that Airbnb is rejigging its business model to focus on longer-term stays.

It said the company had changed its front page to promote such listings and had contacted hosts about the benefits of longer bookings.

The BBC has asked Airbnb for comment.

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