Airbnb has halted all bookings on its platform in the UK unless they are for key workers after facing criticism from a government minister over hosts marketing their properties as coronavirus “isolation retreats”.
Owners were found to have promoted their properties on the short-term rental website as having been deep-cleaned with “virus-killing chemicals” and being “perfect for isolating with family”, despite government orders to stay at home to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
Hosts will not be allowed to take new bookings until at least 18 April with exceptions made for NHS staff and other key workers. The ban is expected to be extended if the government extends the lockdown that has seen shops offices, restaurants and gyms close.
Hotels remain closed, unless they are providing accommodation for key workers.
An investigation by the BBC revealed this week that hundreds of properties were being offered via Airbnb for short-term lets over the bank holiday with no checks being carried out as to whether the customer was a key worker.
Tourism minister Nigel Huddleston said owners who marketed their properties as suitable for guests to use for self-isolation were “incredibly irresponsible”.
When the listings emerged earlier this week, Mr Huddleston said: “Our advice is clear. Essential travel does not include holidays, leisure travel and visits to second homes, and people must remain in their primary residence.
“It is incredibly irresponsible and dangerous for some property owners to be marketing themselves as ‘isolation retreats’. We are writing to companies today to remind them of their responsibilities at this time.”
The clampdown comes as Britain prepares for what is forecast to be a sunny Easter weekend, prompting fears that people may break strict lockdown conditions.
Airbnb director of public policy Patrick Robinson said on Thursday: “Hosts across the UK are playing a vital role in housing NHS and other medical staff as they continue their critical work.
“We’ve also heard from hosts who want to help others follow the rules and keep people safe during these unprecedented times.
“Restricting bookings on Airbnb to key workers and other essential stays will allow hosts to continue supporting front-line workers while following government guidance.”