Shortly after India began its nationwide lockdown on 25 March, a Bengaluru-based Airbnb host received a booking request on the homestay platform. A Kenyan couple needed accommodation for 15 days. The request was rejected. The issue wasn’t their nationality, the host insists. Instead, it was the fear that anybody could be a carrier of the novel coronavirus. The pandemic has already killed nearly 600 people in India and over 170,000 worldwide. “I can’t risk the lives of my housekeepers.”

As uncertainty around the pandemic continues to loom, this host has since paused his listings on Airbnb altogether. He won’t take any bookings till the situation improves despite Airbnb being his primary source of income.

Several other homeowners on Airbnb are following suit. Anuj Dutta, a host in Mumbai, runs two homestays—one in Jhansi, Uttar Pradesh, the other in Pune, Maharashtra. With Maharashtra already accounting for close to a quarter of all positive Covid-19 cases in India,  Dutta is taking no chances with his Pune property. Bookings are on hold.

As the pandemic spreads and governments impose severe travel restrictions, Airbnb is battling a storm of cancellations and refunds worldwide. It has already committed $250 million to help hosts with cancellations due to Covid-19. The company also rushed to raise $1 billion in debt from private equity funds Silver Lake and Sixth Street to give itself a longer runway. Reports Reports Financial Times Airbnb is set to raise another $1 billion in debt Read more  suggest it is on the road to raise another $1 billion of debt from a clutch of investors.

Airbnb, of course, isn’t alone. Travel worldwide stands crippled. In India alone, the tourism sector is estimated to lose around Rs 5,00,000 crore ($65.02 billion) because of the fallout from the virus, according to industry body CII (Confederation of Indian Industry). But even as India’s travel space reels, Airbnb may be hurt worse than most.

Already, the company has struggled to evangelise the homestay concept in the country. In 2019, we wrote wrote The Ken The sluggish presence of Airbnb in India Read more that the company had just 40,000 listings across India after six years of operations in the country. Today, it has close to 80,000 listings in the country—barely 1.1 % of Airbnb’s more than 7 million listings worldwide. For perspective, the Australian state of New South Wales had nearly 60,000 listings in 2019.

With the pandemic, its Indian journey only gets harder. Trust—a critical factor for the homestay platform—has dipped like never before.



Vandana is based in Delhi. She covers vertically focussed startups in consumer internet space and also writes on travel tech and smartphones for The Ken. She has spent 13 years in journalism covering a wide range of subjects- equity markets, mutual funds to education and skilling, working at organisations such as Business Standard, CNBC TV18 and The Week in the past.

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