Airbnb questions exclusion from level three lockdown changes

Sibahle Malinga
By Sibahle Malinga, ITWeb senior news journalist.
Johannesburg, 25 Jun 2020
Velma Corcoran, regional lead for Middle East and Africa at Airbnb.
Velma Corcoran, regional lead for Middle East and Africa at Airbnb.

As many hoteliers and travel businesses across SA welcomed the announcement by president Cyril Ramaphosa last week to incrementally open travel during advanced level three lockdown, Airbnb has raised questions as to why it was excluded from these plans.

The local tourism sector, which has been warning of massive job losses if travel does not re-open widely, was given a lifeline by government’s announcement last week to unban essential international and domestic travel under strict conditions.

This means many accredited travel businesses across SA will now operate, as the industry opens up incrementally, with the exception of Airbnb.

Velma Corcoran, country manager for Sub-Saharan Africa at Airbnb, says the home-sharing platform has worked more closely with governments during this pandemic than at any point in its history, and she does not understand why its homeowners have been excluded from plans to resume their operations.

“The decision to exclude local hosts on Airbnb will have far-reaching consequences that will hurt many across SA, including a disproportionate impact on many families and small businesses, who rely most on the additional income they earn from hosting. Half of hosts across the world say they rely on this additional income to afford their homes, for example, and two-thirds of hosts in SA are women,” explains Corcoran.

The home-sharing company says it is requesting the presidency to reconsider its approach and allow South African hosts to open their homes to help rebuild their livelihoods, communities and the economy.

While the coronavirus pandemic has been the greatest crisis for all sectors, the tourism sector has been among those most affected as global demand for travel stalled under the strict lockdown regulations introduced by governments worldwide.

Before the pandemic emerged, growth in travel and tourism had outpaced growth in the global economy for nine years straight. In 2019, the industry made up more than 10% of global GDP and created one in every four new jobs, according to Corcoran.

“The many everyday South Africans who host on Airbnb, who were singled-out as being excluded from this announcement, have viewed the statement as a missed opportunity that leaves them confused and left behind,” continues Corcoran.

“Many might find the decision to re-open hotels and hostels − with their crowded public areas − hard to reconcile with public health considerations. Especially when elsewhere in the world, others have said that private accommodation, such as that provided on Airbnb, will be ‘at the front of the queue’ when travel re-opens to ‘safely house holidaymakers’ due to its ‘lower risk’.

Airbnb says it has made a significant contribution to SA’s economy and communities, and many of its supporters were “disappointed to only hear reference to the re-opening of ‘accredited and licensed accommodation”.

According to Airbnb, more than two million guests have stayed in homes listed on its platform in SA since 2008.

According to a report released by the home-sharing company, from June 2017 to May 2018, Airbnb generated an estimated R8.7 billion for SA’s economy, while from September 2016 to September 2017, it generated roughly R3.6 billion.

Airbnb says in its efforts to prioritise public health, it recently launched enhanced cleaning protocol − the first overarching standardised guidelines for cleaning and sanitisation in the home-sharing industry, developed in partnership with leading experts in hospitality and medical hygiene.

“We are working with the Western Cape government’s Maskathon and Afrika Tikkun to make and supply masks to communities in need − and 10 000 have already been delivered. Airbnb’s approach is always to view policymakers as partners − not adversaries − and we are working with governments across the world to support the safe re-opening of travel while prioritising public health,” concludesCorcoran.