A Taiwanese student claims she was discriminated against after her Airbnb accommodation was cancelled at the last minute due to a host’s fears over coronavirus.
Louise Hsin-Yuan Peng landed in the UK earlier this month, ahead of a three-month research project, and contacted the owners of her pre-booked accommodation to let them know she was on her way.
But on the train from the airport, she received a message from her hosts telling her they had cancelled her booking with “deep regret”, as they had to “err on the side of caution” following World Health Organisation (WHO) warnings about the spread of the deadly virus.
“I had not visited China, or been anywhere near Hubei province [where the virus originated],” the 31-year-old Yale student told HuffPost UK.
“In fact I have been living in the USA and spending a lot of time in Tokyo in the last year. I only visited Taiwan very briefly to renew my US visa.
“Taiwan has had a very small number of cases compared to other countries, so why would they think I posed a risk to them?
“I had nowhere else to go, no access to phone data and had to jump on a random train to access WiFi, so I could try to get in touch with friends who might be able to help me.”
As of February 9, Taiwan has reported just 18 cases of coronavirus, with no fatalities, and is not flagged as an area to avoid by the Foreign Office.
“I ended up sleeping on a friend’s floor for my first night in the country,” Louise said.
“I contacted Airbnb and told them I felt I had been racially discriminated against, and the person I spoke to acknowledged this and said he was very sorry it had happened.
“Since then, they have agreed to refund me and reimburse me for all the expenses incurred due to the cancellation, including an Uber, hotel and a second Airbnb reservation I had to make.
“They also offered a $500 coupon for future use. I think this makes sense and I do appreciate the gesture to compensate for my loss.”
After posting an emergency call for help on Facebook, Louise, a media and film studies student, has since managed to find somewhere to stay until later this month.
She added: “If I hadn’t been able to find a friend who was able to help me, I would have been in a dangerous situation, in a strange country, with no access to the internet or phone data, and completely homeless.
“I’ve since heard of other Taiwanese people who have had their accommodation cancelled for similar reasons, although not quite as last minute as this.
“But it is clearly happening to other people and it is completely unfair.”
There have been eight confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK, and all people affected were “closely connected”, the Department of Health said.
An Airbnb spokesperson said: “We take cancellation issues seriously and rigorously enforce a non-discrimination policy. We investigate all reports of discrimination and take appropriate action when necessary, including up to removal of users from the platform.
“Cancellations related to the novel coronavirus outbreak need to observe our internal policies, local and international official guidelines and recommendations.”
It is understood the company has since “educated” the host concerned on its “coronavirus extenuating circumstances cancellation policies”, which are being kept updated in line with health advice and are not based on national or ethnic identity.