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Airbnb lays off 25% of workforce as virus lockdowns weigh

Airbnb has confirmed that it is laying off 25% of its workforce as the short-term lets platform joins a slew of firms that are reducing costs and revamping operations as a prolonged nationwide lockdown to curb the coronavirus has kept people indoors.

In a letter to employees, chief executive Brian Chesky said the company is letting 1,900 of its 7,500 workers go and cutting businesses that do not directly support home-sharing, such as its investments in hotels and movie production.

“We are collectively living through the most harrowing crisis of our lifetime,” Chesky wrote

The short lets sector has been adversely affected by the Coronavirus crisis. 

Data collected by Inside Airbnb, a campaign organisation, found that there were around 88,100 listings in London, for instance, in March 2020, almost five times higher than the number in April 2015. But this number has since dropped sharply. 

To help those operating in the sector survive, the UK Short Term Accommodation Association (STAA) believes that, despite the very welcome support the travel and hospitality industries have received from initiatives such as the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme and Bounce Back Loan Scheme, the short-term accommodation sector urgently needs additional targeted interventions to remain viable. 

The STAA has provided the governmment with a five-point plan to support short-term rental sector’s recovery from the COVID-19 crisis: 

1) Recognising short-term accommodation providers as a stand-alone category to be included in current and future support schemes for the hospitality industry such as business rates holidays and grants, to avoid complications in claiming for relief

2) Amending domestic legislation to allow the provision of refunds and price reductions as vouchers and credit notes instead of cash.

3 Enabling more companies to participate in the Future Fund by lowering the investment threshold for eligibility.

4) Ensuring that the matching structure of the Future Fund caters to EIS/SEIS-compliant private investment, as many companies in the short-term rental sector have private investors rather than venture capital investment.

5) Minimising limits placed on international visitors by ensuring that travellers who have to self-isolate, during this period, have the option to book a home and that any limits are in place for as short a period as possible. 

Merilee Karr, chair of the STAA and CEO of UnderTheDoormat, commented, “As an industry we support and appreciate the swift and meaningful actions already taken by the government, as well as the dialogue that it has maintained with our industry. 

“But it’s imperative that more is done if we are not to see a complete collapse of many companies in a sector that provides so many jobs, has valuable supply chains and provides vital options for consumers in the UK’s tourist accommodation sector. 

“Our five-point plan addresses the main challenges facing companies operating in this sector such as cashflow, avoiding forced redundancies and creating better access to loan and grant funding. 

“For those short-letting their home, and the companies that operate in the sector, the loss of both present and future income can be devastating and countless small entrepreneurs face going out of business, removing money from local economies.

“With international visitors to the UK expected to be far lower than normal over the summer months, the industry is likely to operating at around 25% of the usual demand. 

“Research published earlier this week from Statista shows that, after a visit to the hairdresser, a holiday is next on the list of things that the UK public is most likely to want to do as lockdown eases. Whilst this is encouraging news to know that there will be a demand for accommodation as travel restrictions lift, it’s imperative that the industry gets the support it needs now to be in good shape to cater for people’s holiday needs and therefore be able to make a good if not full recovery later this year.”

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