With non-essential travel banned throughout B.C., tourists are being asked to stay out of the West Coast but at least one Airbnb host is offering conflicting messaging.
A Victoria woman told the Westerly News on Sunday that she had recently tried to cancel an Airbnb reservation in Tofino and was both surprised and disappointed when the host encouraged her to travel to the community and declined to offer a refund.
“They were urging me to come out even though Premier [John] Horgan had made it very, very clear that this is not the time to be going to Tofino,” the woman, who identified herself as Elizabeth and declined to give her last name out of privacy concerns, said. “Companies like Airbnb are still encouraging tourism and travel in a time where it’s really not recommended, especially for these isolated communities that have such little resources.”
She said she had planned to travel to Tofino on Nov. 19 and booked the Airbnb on Oct. 14.
When she saw Premier John Horgan and Dr. Bonnie Henry speak against non-essential travel in the days leading up to her vacation however, she reached out to her Airbnb host to cancel.
“Dr. Bonnie Henry made it really clear specifically not to go to Tofino due to the fact that we risk increased transmission and we risk outbreaks in these small communities,” she said. “I enjoy the beaches and of course I enjoy playing in the water and surfing, but now is absolutely not the time to come out there and I appreciate that.”
She said the host encouraged her to travel anyway and assured her the suite was contained.
“She said the only way I would get a refund is if she would be able to rebook the suite for that weekend… I probably won’t get my money back and I get it, it’s a business, but it very much bothered me that she was still rebooking the suite despite the fact that the province made these announcements and it’s just a very depressing thing to me because I felt like I’m kind of being punished for trying to do the right thing,” she said. “I did tell her that I was very disappointed that someone living in the community would be attracting tourism right now.”
She said she reached out to Airbnb and was told refunds are up to the host.
“I hope everyone is putting a lot more thought and consciousness into travelling in these uncertain times,” she said. “At the end of the day, I think a bit of peer pressure and public awareness is almost the route we need to go because, unfortunately, some people are not taking government and public health statements very seriously.”
Tofino’s acting mayor Britt Chalmers said the district is urging all accommodation providers to abide by the province’s travel restrictions.
“We realize that cancellations are tough on accommodation providers, especially for the vacation rental owners who lost revenue earlier this year when travel to the West Coast was curtailed at the beginning of the pandemic. Even though the major booking systems like Airbnb may hold back fees as a fraction of the booking amount, we believe that it’s the right thing to do to cancel all reservations until Dec. 8,” Chalmers said.
“A hotel has one decision for many rooms, we now have many rooms with many different people making the decisions. I strongly believe that the vast majority are doing the right thing, but even as you have illegal vacation rentals, there are going to be people that don’t…It is the individual’s choice and the district is trying very strongly to get the message out to everybody in the community to encourage rescheduling, cancellations and to not travel out of the community. It’s just strong encouragement across the community on all fronts because we all have to do our part.”
She said that while travel is being discouraged, locals are being encouraged to support their own town’s economy.
“The recommendations are to stay local, so let’s support local,” she said.