Airbnb owners caught ignoring travel ban to let out holiday homes

Accommodation booking sites are being urged to clamp down on holiday-home owners after an Observer investigation found that half of Airbnb owners were willing to host guests for trips this month, including over half-term.

Despite a national lockdown with “stay at home” messages and strict government guidelines allowing people to only book accommodation under exceptional circumstances – such as moving house, for work or fleeing domestic abuse – our research found that 50% of Airbnb hosts we messaged to book a trip outside of these reasons, in locations such as London, Margate, Birmingham and Whitstable, were happy to proceed with the booking.

When asked if it was possible to stay bringing a child over half-term, one Airbnb owner in Birmingham responded: “Yes, you’re very welcome. Three minutes walk away is a lovely boating lake/reservoir. Lots of ducks and wildlife.” Another replied: “Yes, you can stay with your son … Looking forward to being your host.”

When booking, Airbnb asks guests to tick a box confirming they are staying for a valid reason, but our research and reviews on the platform show that guests are flouting these rules and property owners are continuing to host holidaymakers even when they know it is illegal to do so.

Other travel accommodation sites such as Booking.com were also found to be allowing people to book trips on their platforms. While some accommodation owners on Booking.com clearly state that you will need to bring evidence to support your stay, others did not stipulate extra measures and it appeared that a holidaymaker could book a trip without any stringent checks in place.

Karen Buck, the Labour MP for Westminster North, who has spoken out about Airbnb previously, said: “Short-let accommodation platforms need to take their responsibilities very seriously, and make clear to hosts that they will not be permitted to flout the rules.

“It simply can’t be left to hard-pressed local councils or national government to monitor and enforce, while both platforms and hosts benefit from the income. This appears to demonstrate why the ‘sharing economy’ shouldn’t escape regulation entirely.”

One Airbnb host in Margate, who asked not to be named, told the Observer: “‘We were asked if it was possible for a group of four friends to come to our Airbnb, which of course legally and morally we had to decline,” she said. “While we are aware people are desperate for some respite, it is a national lockdown. It’s very frustrating that some think the rules don’t apply to them.”

A spokesperson for Airbnb said: “We take these reports very seriously and are investigating the cases that have been brought to our attention. With lockdowns in place across the UK, stays on Airbnb are only available in limited circumstances, in line with government guidance. The vast majority of hosts follow the rules and our website restricts bookings to guests with legal exemptions.”

A spokesperson for Booking.com said: “During this rapidly evolving time, Booking.com is committed to featuring information across its site reiterating to customers that there are currently travel restrictions to consider in many destinations. We have also set up tools to make it easier for accommodations to provide clear information to guests about what national and local measures mean, and to indicate any conditions that may apply, including requiring proof of essential travel where relevant.”

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