BUSHFIRES: ADVICE & OPINIONS ON REFUNDS FOR CANCELLED HOLIDAY ACCOMMODATION


According to today’s Sydney Morning Herald, Prime Minster (and former head of Tourism Australia) Scott Morrison has requested holidaymakers cut tourism operators a break on the issue of refunds: “If you booked accommodation and you’re now seeking a refund, can you cut them a break? These businesses have been hit very hard and their cashflow positions are not going to be in a position where they’re going to be able to meet every request…” In response, holidaymaker Mayeule Graff: “[Sure], if he is willing to pay for it…”

Below and attached is a summary of recent announcements from Australian Short-Term Rental Industry operatives:

ACCOMMODATION ASSOCIATION OF AUSTRALIA:

Cancellation because of a natural disaster or other crisis – frustration of contract

A crisis such as a bush fire or flood will trigger a ‘frustration of contract’ if it is impossible to perform or carry out a contract due to events beyond all parties’ control. This may be when either the accommodation property or a guest cancels pre-booked accommodation, in situations like:

  • the accommodation has been destroyed;

  • access roads have been closed;

  • the authorities have advised that the area is not safe to enter; or

  • in other circumstances in which you or your customers are required to leave an area or are prevented from entering.

Under Australian Consumer Law, when a ‘frustration of contract’ occurs, guests are entitled to a full refund of all prior payments. You are not entitled to charge a penalty but are permitted to withhold reasonable expenses incurred before the reservation was cancelled. A contract is not frustrated if a guest cancels a reservation in other situations. In this case, your normal cancellation policy and penalties apply.

AIRBNB issued a Media Release, which has been picked up and published by news outlets here and overseas: Airbnb offers free emergency housing for people displaced by Australian bushfires. Responses from Airbnb’s 'hosts' in Australia are varied:

“Air Bnb seem to be wanting to profit from the cancellation of trips in Australian bush fire areas, totally inflexible re cancellation of trips, uncaring, unhelpful, arrogant call centre staff. A disgrace with the catastrophe occurring…” And, "I have been reading about holiday-makers that were told not to go to the Coast, but they weren't allowed to cancel their STR with a refund, so many still went. I think this is going to rewrite the STR regulations, especially if a guest dies or gets in the way of the emergency workers." And, "We need to really advocate to AirBNB for some kind in (sic) policy on natural disaster! This should not be up to individual hosts! With all the reforms they are doing then they should address this through their insurance to protect everyone - hosts and guests alike!" And, "The total lack of communications from Air(bnb) is digusting (sic)."

ASTRA – Australian Short Term Rental Accommodation Association:

Just a reminder – with Australia gripped in one of the worst bushfires in history, whilst we trust that you have adequate insurance in place, a tip: walk around your property and either photograph or video each room so that in the untoward event that something should happen you can show your insurers what has been lost. A wardrobe full of clothes and full kitchens are expensive to replace. It’s not just the big ticket items.

NSW FAIR TRADING (recorded message):

Australian consumer law automatically guarantees your rights when you hire lease or buy goods and services from Australian suppliers, importers or manufacturers. This includes your rights to repairs, replacement and refunds. If goods or services fail to meet consumer law guarantees you have rights against the seller, and in some cases the manufacture, to a replacement, refund or repair. For more information visit fairtrading.nsw.gov.au or call 13 32 20.

Fair Trading: Travel affected by bushfires

STAYZ by HomeAway:

Due to ongoing bushfire activity across the country, we are aware that our travellers and homeowners may have to cancel bookings at short notice. Safety is our main priority and we are reaching out to all those who may be affected.

FOR TRAVELLERS: if your booked accommodation is located in a fire zone, please reach out to the owner directly through the My Trips function within your account on our site. Also, please be sure to keep up to date with all information on emergency services websites in your State.

FOR HOMEOWNERS: if you’re needing to cancel any bookings, please be sure to advise the traveller and submit a cancellation through your account. (See attachment for further advice provided.)

One Stayz participant advised: “I just received advice from Stayz that, despite holding the funds until after your stay, they will not refund accommodation costs and do not require property owners to refund costs either.”

Under Australian Consumer Law, clients of Airbnb, Stayz and ASTRA should be entitled to a refund – in line with that offered by accredited accommodation providers.

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