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Expedia’s Vrbo hit with backlash for not following Airbnb’s lead and canceling D.C. reservations

(Vrbo homepage image)

Vrbo, the vacation rental platform run by Seattle-based Expedia Group, is getting some blowback online for not following the lead of competitor Airbnb, which announced this week that it was blocking and canceling reservations in the Washington, D.C., area during the upcoming Inauguration week.

Following the violent storming of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, officials in D.C., including the city’s mayor and Metro Police, urged people not to travel from outside the area for the Inauguration of President Elect Joe Biden.

In a blog post on Wednesday, Airbnb said it was “aware of reports … regarding armed militias and known hate groups that are attempting to travel and disrupt the Inauguration.” It said guests whose reservations are canceled will be refunded in full.

Expedia and Vrbo both put out statements on Friday. Vrbo said the safety of its guests and hosts is of the utmost importance and anyone planning to to travel to D.C. next week was encouraged to follow local governmental regulations and check the latest news for updates.

“If you mistreat people, there’s no space for you on Vrbo. We reserve the right to remove anyone from our marketplace who violates these principles, and we are encouraging hosts to cancel bookings during this time if they believe a guest intends to violate these policies,” the blog post stated.

Expedia said in a tweeted statement that it was carefully evaluating bookings, activated crisis response teams and launched “extraordinary emergency procedures.”

Sarah Gavin, VP of global communications for Expedia, told GeekWire Saturday that Vrbo has legitimate customers booked next week and it does not want to cancel on them.

“We are working to ensure that those people who a traveling and staying at a Vrbo are in D.C. for legitimate travel reasons,” Gavin said. “And we’re implementing extraordinary emergency procedures to assess all risks for existing and any new bookings in the D.C. area. And we’re working very closely with a number of different law enforcement agencies.”

With the steps Expedia has taken, Gavin added, “We feel like we’re doing the right thing.”

Buzzfeed News wrote about the rental saga on Friday, and interviewed a man who was planning to travel from California to the nation’s capital because he wanted to see the Biden swearing in. The man booked three nights in an apartment on Vrbo for a total of $900, but when he had second thoughts and reached out to Vrbo for a refund, he was reportedly denied.

Steve Schmidt, one of the founders of the anti-Trump group Project Lincoln, was among those calling out Expedia and Vrbo on Twitter on Saturday, urging the company to “be responsible” and “do good” and warning that the company’s CEO, board and senior management “don’t have what it takes” for a fight with Project Lincoln.

Gavin told GeekWire that she was attempting to get in touch with Schmidt and Project Lincoln to explain Expedia’s case on Saturday.

With the overall travel industry, and Expedia’s business, hammered by the COVID-19 pandemic for the past year, rental platforms have been one of the few spots to rebound. Expedia announced in July that gross bookings on Vrbo “increased significantly” in May and June compared to last year as “drive-to destinations” were one of the first segments of travel to recover from the global health crisis.

Expedia retired the HomeAway brand and brought its entire vacation rental portfolio under the Vrbo name last summer. Expedia paid $3.9 billion in 2015 to acquire HomeAway, which bought Vrbo in 2005.

Vrbo competes with Airbnb and is live in 15 countries.

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