Some Airbnb (NASDAQ: ABNB) hosts are apparently offering discounts to guests who have been vaccinated against the coronavirus -- up to 50% off, too.
Talk of the discounts blew up an Airbnb host Facebook (NASDAQ: FB) group last week, with hosts on both sides of the spectrum weighing in. Some cited fair housing issues and discrimination, while others applauded the effort for enabling safer properties and encouraging a quicker end to the pandemic.
If you're an Airbnb host, the idea likely gets your wheels turning: Is it a policy you should consider enacting? What factors should you take into account before deciding? Let's look at it from all angles.
Fair housing laws
Fair housing laws, which prohibit discriminatory practices in the housing industry, are likely the prime concern for rental investors considering this approach. Under these provisions, a landlord, host, real estate agent, or any other housing professional can't use race, gender, religion, or other personal factors to afford or deny someone housing.
Considering a discount isn't denying an unvaccinated guest housing -- just making them pay full price for it -- it's probably not a fair housing violation. (Though you may want to speak to an attorney, just to be sure!)
Airbnb also has a nondiscrimination policy in place you'll want to think about, too. Under the policy, hosts can't decline a booking based on ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, and other identifying factors. Again, offering a vaccination discount isn't denying the booking; just altering the price, so there's probably no violation there.
That's not where Airbnb's policy stops, though. Hosts also can't "impose different terms or conditions" or "post any listing or make any statement that discourages or indicates a preference for" a certain class of guests. Obviously, "COVID-19 vaccinated" isn't one of the classes listed in the official wording, but it's not too far a stretch to think the policy extends to those guests. So the real question is: Are discounts "different terms or conditions"? Do they "discourage" unvaccinated guests"? They very well might be, so talking to an Airbnb representative or an attorney might be your safest option.
To be fair, Airbnb has encouraged hosts to ask potential guests about their COVID-19 experiences. Earlier last year, the company posted a blog suggesting hosts ask things like: "In the last two weeks, have you or anyone you live with traveled to any areas that have been impacted by COVID-19?" and "Do you currently have any travel restrictions in your area due to COVID-19?" It's clear the company wants hosts to put health and safety first. But is a discount protected under that umbrella? That part's a little hazy.
There are two parts to this one: Your health concerns and the health concerns of your guests.
First, if your short-term rental is a home you actively use, or even your own personal residence, allowing only infection-free, healthy, and cautious guests is probably your top goal. Obviously, offering a discount to those who are vaccinated is one way to further that.
You also have to consider the health concerns of guests, particularly if you're in a hotspot for COVID infections. Would knowing your property is largely used by vaccinated guests who take the pandemic seriously instill more confidence? Could it inspire potential guests to pull that trigger and finalize their booking? There's definitely a chance.
The bottom line
Clearly, there's a lot to think about if you're considering a vaccination discount on your short-term rental. Make sure you study up on your platform's policies, talk to a company representative, and consider consulting an attorney, too. You'll want to be extra sure you're not discriminating before moving forward.