With COVID-19 vaccines now in play, it appears there’s light at the end of the coronavirus tunnel. In the world of short-term rentals, some hosts, who may receive any number of guests within a week or a month, are viewing their role in the short-term rental community as an opportunity to encourage vaccination. Other hosts, however, disagree.
“How do I offer a 50 percent discount to vaccinated guests?” Thomas David Keho, an Airbnb Superhost of five years, asked the Facebook Group “Airbnb Host Community – Vent, Recommend, Discuss.” The forum is a private group for Airbnb hosts to “ask questions, share stories, get tips and advice.”
Although Keho told The Daily Beast he thought the question was an “innocuous” one, it soon spiraled into what he described as “a shitstorm,” generating more than 1,000 comments from all corners of the internet.
Some group members were excited by the suggestion, like one host who said, “I love the idea! Anything to incentivize people who believe in science and take every available precaution to protect one another.”
Others were far from enthused. One host claimed the suggestion was a case of “unbelievable discrimination,” while another asserted it was “a fair-housing violation” as well as a “violation of HIPA [sic].”
However, according to public health experts and Airbnb’s own policies, there doesn’t appear to be any applicable violation for offering such a discount.
“It is not a violation of HIPAA,” Lawrence Gostin, a professor at Georgetown University Law School who specializes in public health law, told The Daily Beast. “It is certainly lawful to ask if a person has been vaccinated. Businesses can require vaccination as a condition of service. Not only is it lawful to ask, it is ethical. No one has the right to place another person at risk.”
Airbnb hosts set their own house rules, booking price and discounts that must be in line with the company’s policies, which includes a non-discrimination policy. In a blog post the company published in March, Airbnb advised hosts to send a series of questions to all guests before confirming a booking, which include questions about recent travel, recent contact with COVID-19-positive individuals, or recent COVID-19 symptoms.
In March, the company also launched its “Frontline Stays” program, an initiative that Airbnb hosts can opt to join, whereby they offer free or deeply discounted stays to healthcare staff and first responders, who may be in need of housing isolated from their own family members while they continue to work in high-risk locations, or while on duty in a different city.
In general, the company has continued to update its COVID-19 protocols in relation to best health practices, best cleaning practices and flexible cancellation policies throughout the pandemic in an effort to reassure guests and hosts on the platform.
Addressing the accusation of discrimination toward guests who might not be vaccinated, one host in Keho’s Facebook thread said, “This is not discrimination. Both vaccinated and unvaccinated people can still reserve an Airbnb. It’s just a discount, the same you would offer to a veteran.”
The post was met with a quick retort.
“How dare you compare veterans to people who think that they’re smart having been vaccinated,” another host replied.
Some in the Facebook group also speculated that Keho was potentially trying to evade Airbnb’s COVID-19 cleaning policies by offering such a discount to vaccinated guests. “Less cleaning = cheaper rate,” one host wrote.
Airbnb’s COVID-19 Safety Practices include mask-wearing, social distancing, and that hosts follow an “enhanced” five-step cleaning process.
Keho, however, told The Daily Beast that he has “no intention” of skimping on cleaning policies, but instead has been keeping an especially strict cleaning regimen to help ensure everyone’s safety during the pandemic.
So, if vaccine-eager hosts want to offer discounts to vaccinated guests, they should feel free to do so, while continuing to follow all other necessary COVID-related safety practices. The move may even have the peripheral consequence of attracting like-minded guests.
“Last spring, we partnered with leading experts in health and hospitality hygiene to implement the first overarching standardized guidelines for cleaning and sanitization in the home sharing industry,” an Airbnb spokesman told Inman in an email response to a request for comment. “Since then, we have continued to prioritize health and safety, from educating our community on our five-step cleaning process to keeping them informed of local travel restrictions and advisories. We’ll continue to look to the public health experts for guidance on how to best support our hosts, guests and communities.”