Airbnb cancels Washington bookings ahead of Biden inauguration

Airbnb will cancel all bookings in the Washington area during the week of Joe Biden’s inauguration, citing the advice of local and federal officials who have asked people not to travel to the city for the event.

In the wake of last week’s rioting on Capitol Hill, the online rental company said on Wednesday it was taking the drastic step in order to prevent members of hate groups from using its platform.

The ban also includes bookings made through HotelTonight, a service Airbnb owns.

“We are aware of reports emerging yesterday afternoon regarding armed militias and known hate groups that are attempting to travel and disrupt the Inauguration,” Airbnb said in a statement.

The company said it had identified “numerous individuals” who were “associated with known hate groups or otherwise involved in the criminal activity at the Capitol Building”, and banned them from using the platform permanently.

The Washington DC area ban will apply to existing bookings during the dates of Monday to Friday next week, and any attempt to book during that time will be blocked. Airbnb said it would refund guests and reimburse hosts the full amount they would have earned had the booked stays gone ahead.

The ban will not apply to guests with existing long-term bookings that stretch across those dates.

The action taken in Washington is Airbnb’s broadest effort to date to reduce the likelihood of its platform being utilised by hate groups. It previously blocked known individuals ahead of events — a policy that began with 2017’s deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

It comes as Washington mayor Muriel Bowser reiterated her request that people not travel to the city and instead experience the inauguration “virtually”, amid fears of new security threats in the lead-up to Mr Biden’s swearing-in.

“We know that is the right choice and the best way to keep everyone safe,” Ms Bowser said during a press conference on Wednesday.

Representatives from Hilton and Marriott said the hotel chains had no plans to cancel reservations in Washington.

A spokesperson for Hilton said its teams were “very experienced and have a long history of successfully managing through major public events”, and that many “inauguration-related suppliers, government officials, medical professionals, media representatives, military and law enforcement” had booked rooms for the event. It said any guests wanting to cancel bookings could do so without penalty.

A Marriott spokesperson said: “We of course have the safety of our guests and associates top of mind given the recent events. We are monitoring the situation very closely and have operational and security plans in place.”

The Intercontinental Hotel Group did not return a request for comment.

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