Coronavirus versus Airbnb: How To Win

Click here for the video version of “Airbnb versus Coronavirus: How To Win“.


Key Points

  • Focus on attracting as many reservations as possible rather than punishing guests who may want to book your space
  • Approach the next 3-6 months as slow season no matter where you are in the world
  • Increase the flexibility of your listing to increase the pool of FPGs
  • Send a message to existing guest’s proactively to inform them of the facts, to calm their fears, and to let them know what you’re doing to ensure their safety
  • Take this opportunity to make updates to your home at discount rates

Eenie, Meenie, Miney, Moe.


Watch out! It’s the Corona Virus!


It’s also the media hot topic of the day.


The good news: It’s being blown out of proportion and it’ll pass, just like everything else.


The bad news: It is causing real adverse effects on the vacation rental industry and it may last until 2021.


But first, what is the dreaded Coronavirus?


The official name is SARS-CoV-2 and the disease it causes is named Covid-19. It is a new virus originally detected in Wuhan, China in December 2019. It is a novel strain of Coronavirus – a pathogen that attacks the respiratory system that looks like a crown under a microscope – hence the name “Coronavirus”. And, it was predicted 40 years ago.


Now, how can we mitigate the impact of Coronavirus on our Airbnb rentals? This is our mission.


MISSION: Understand Covid-19 strengths and weaknesses and the psychology of FPGs (future potential guests) in times of a global viral crisis.


For the next 3-6 months, no matter where you are, no matter what season you’re in, you must treat it like the slow season.


If you have read my slow season strategies, then you’ll know it needs to be planned for at least 3 months in advance.


[bctt tweet=”Coronavirus equals slow season for your Airbnb no matter where you are in the world.” username=”OptimizeAirbnb”]


What that means is that in the short-term you’re out of luck. There’s very little you can do to get a booking for the next few weeks. You must now switch your mindset and start planning for the next few months. We’re going to try to attract some bonus bookings 1-3 months out, just as you would if you were planning for the slow season.


In this article, I’m going to discuss your options in accomplishing the above, discuss how you can protect your rental and guests from the virus, list ways to boost bookings and explain how to manage possible future cancellations.


OBJECTIVE: Create a plan of action best suited for your needs in order to best navigate the current situation to your benefit.


Coronavirus versus Airbnb - How To Win 23

DEFENSIVE: Decrease Your Nightly Rate

Whether you’re connected to a smart pricing tool or not, you need to lower your nightly rate. Lowering your price on Airbnb is the single biggest thing you can do to influence your search rank in the short term.


If you are connected to a smart pricing tool, your prices are probably especially high because your occupancy might look okay, but you have to assume a higher-than-normal future cancellation rate.


That means, if you are normally aiming for an occupancy rate of 50% in the next 30 days and 30% in the next 90 days, you want to increase that by a factor of at least 50%.


In other words, you are now aiming for:

  • 75% occupancy within 30 days (50% * 1.5)
  • 45% occupancy within 90 days (30% * 1.5)


Below, you’ll see a screenshot from my Pricelabs account:

Pricelabs occupancy settings


OFFENSIVE: Proactively Inform Your Guests

The airline industry, like the vacation rental industry, is also feeling the hurt of Coronavirus. I received an email from Avianca Airlines related to a future trip I’m going to take. They’re telling me about my options and what they’re doing to make sure I am safe during my travels.

Avianca - Coronavirus Important information!


I love this idea.


If your future guest is getting their information solely from the scare tactics used by the large media organizations, you can understand they think the world is about to end.


Proactively message your guest and inform them what you’re doing to keep your home Coronavirus free and what they can do to stay healthy. To help calm their nerves, you can briefly educate them on the true seriousness of the situation and how unlikely they are to get affected (hint: I’m still more scared of air pollution or McDonald’s killing me than Coronavirus). Those at risk of death or serious illness are only the very young, very old, and already ailing.


Nevertheless, you can still take measures to keep you and those around you safe. Here’s what the WHO says:

  • Washing your hands with soap and water regularly, and using hand sanitizer
  • Covering your nose and mouth when sneezing with a tissue
  • Avoiding contact with people who are unwell
  • Not touching face, nose, and mouth when hands are not clean
  • Minimizing physical contacts such as handshakes and hugs
  • Opening windows to allow air circulation
  • Disinfect frequently used items such as cellphones and laptops



OFFENSIVE: Provide Safety-Promoting Surprise + Delight Features

What a great opportunity to provide some review-boosting Surprise + Delight features!


With the informational message you’ll send your guest, add that you will be:

  • providing a few N-95 filtration masks for them upon arrival
  • adding special hand soap in the unit
  • leaving an antibacterial hand sanitizer
  • purchasing an air filter


Lodgify has created a precaution checklist for your guests that you can place in your rental property:

lodgify coronavirus airbnb cleaning checklist


OFFENSIVE: Increase The Flexibility Of Your Listing

As hosts, we actually have a lot of flexibility with our listings. During the slow season, you might apply a few of these flexibilities in order to increase your occupancy. Here is a list of all the things we can do to make our listings more flexible which means we’re increasing the pool of guests who can book our space:

  • Decrease the minimum number of nights
  • Select less restrictive cancellation policy (Flexible or Moderate)
  • Add or increase weekly or monthly discounts
  • Allow pets
  • Allow events
  • Allow smoking (you can select allow smoking and specify only outdoors with windows closed)
  • Increase the maximum number of nights


OFFENSIVE: Attract More Local or Domestic Travelers

Domestic travel is less affected than foreign travel. If you haven’t already reached out to the local hospital, university, religious organization, language school, military base, etc. to offer your Airbnb, do so now. Usually, these places have programs and preferred housing for incoming, short-term visitors.


You might also consider supplemental marketing efforts if nearby areas come to your city for weekend trips. This doesn’t work for everyone, but let’s say you have a home in Tahoe City, California. A lot of your bookings are coming from travelers in the San Francisco bay area so maybe you run an advertisement in this area.


You might also consider an additional, local booking channel. These are various from gay-friendly to nurse-friendly to marijuana-friendly booking platforms. Additionally, below are the most popular large platforms you should consider based on where you are in the world:

  • Airbnb – North America, South America, Asia, Europe, Australia
  • HomeAway/VRBO – North America
  • Expedia – North America
  • Booking.com – Europe
  • Agoda – Asia


Coronavirus versus Airbnb - How To Win 2

DEFENSIVE: Change Your Cancellation Policy

Airbnb has three main cancellation policies:

  • Flexible: Guest can cancel up to 24 hours before check-in for a full refund minus Airbnb fee’s
  • Moderate: Guest can cancel up to 5 days before check-in for a full refund minus Airbnb fee’s
  • For flexible and moderate, the guest will receive all funds including Airbnb’s fee if canceled more than 14 days before check-in
  • Strict: Guest can cancel up to 7 days before check-in for a 50% refund minus Airbnb fee’s
  • In all cases, the guest can cancel 48 hours after booking as long as the check-in date is more than 14 days in advance


You could change your cancelation policy to strict and encourage guests to buy traveler’s insurance. That way the burden will be on the travel insurance provider and not you as the host.


Any change you make to your cancelation policy will only affect future reservations. But remember, this makes your listing more restrictive. It’s the opposite goal we want, especially now.


Even if you change your cancelation policy to strict, Airbnb has, understandably, been quite flexible with cancellations related to Coronavirus.


Airbnb has said that their Extenuating Circumstances Policy applies to any reservation where the host or guest had to cancel the booking in order to comply with restrictions implemented by the government or health authorities. This includes bookings in mainland China, South Korea and parts of northern Italy.


Also, guests traveling from a severely affected area are eligible to cancel their bookings for free.


Also, flight cancellations qualify.


Our focus should be on attracting as many reservations as possible rather than punishing guests who may want to book your space.


[bctt tweet=”Coronavirus and Airbnb: Focus on attracting more bookings with a more flexible listing rather than imposing cancelation penalties.” username=”OptimizeMyBnb”]


DEFENSIVE: Do Not Cancel!

I manage a property for a pair of hosts in California. We received a boking from someone coming from China for a month in the future. I accepted. The host canceled right away citing the guests’ location.


Coronavirus is out. Governments, airlines, airports, everyone is aware of it. Even shopping malls are checking temperatures to ensure you’re not sick. The safest time to fly is probably now.


Don’t overreact and cancel. Trust the measures already in place by governments and health organizations to detect and limit the further spread of the Coronavirus.

OFFENSIVE: Offer A Repeat Guest Discount

I send the following automatic message to all of my Airbnb guests 2 days after checkout:



One last message…I would like to extend a ‘friends + family’ discount to you. If you, or your friends and family, return to %city% then please have them reference your name and I will honor an extra 15% discount for any stays between November and February.


I suggest you do the same. But, I also recommend sending a message to all prior guest’s reminding them of this discount and adding an extra 10%+ discount for them and basically anyone they know.


OFFENSIVE – Re-Optimize Your Airbnb Listing For A Search Rank Boost

An Airbnb re-optimization is only needed when your occupancy rate is dipping. It’s a tool at your disposal and often results in near-immediate bookings.


If it’s been a while since you’ve looked at the back-end of your Airbnb listings, now’s the time.


You have much at your disposal in terms of rank-boosting changes you can make to your Airbnb, for example:


OFFENSIVE – Add A “Coronavirus” Discount In Your Title *UPDATE*

Airbnb is about marketing. People like discounts. We know this. Let’s take advantage of our situation by adding the word “Coronavirus” into our Airbnb title. At the very least, we will get more clicks because of it.

coronavirus airbnb discount in airbnb title


It seems Airbnb no longer allows any reference to Covid-19 in your Airbnb listing. It seems Airbnb is not allowing this. It’s ok. This strategy was one of the lesser important ones.



OFFENSIVE – As Always, Focus On 5-Star Hospitality

You should always be doing this, but now that you have some extra time why not go over all of your Airbnb hosting processes to identify improvements.

  • Is your check-in and check-out process as smooth as it can be?
  • Have you create a digital guidebook for your guest?
  • Do your cleaners need a bit of extra guidance?
  • Do you have a message strategy where you’re communicating with the guest at the right times?
  • Are you providing Surprise + Delight features?


MISSION ACCOMPLISHED: How To Win Against Coronavirus

In this article, I spoke about things you can do to mitigate the impact of Coronavirus on your Airbnb operations. Just as important are what not to do. We all have limited resources and we need to evaluate where to direct those resources for the maximum benefit.


There are two things that will do little to help with the effects of Coronavirus on your Airbnb business.


First, going for direct bookings with a social media or vacation rental website is not a good idea. This is a long-term strategy and implementing this because of Coronavirus is a waste of time. Only certain instances warrant a social media presence or personal booking website for your Airbnb.


Second, listing on multiple vacation rental booking platforms in the hopes of extra reservations will do little for your occupancy. Again, in certain instances, it may make sense to list on a second platform, rarely a third, and never a fourth. I am still in favor of focusing on being the best on one and only adding a second when it really makes sense to do so.


Well done, Sergeant. Carry on.

About Danny Rusteen

Starting in 2012, Danny has been an Airbnb employee, Superhost, and Airbnb property manager. Danny lives in Airbnbs (2,000 nights). As a guest, Danny has traveled to 36 countries and sifted through thousands of Airbnb listings, so he knows what makes a listing stand out and how to offer a world-class experience to your guest. Follow his journey.


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