Airbnb, hotels seek US government aid as demand flattens

Airbnb and U.S. hotel companies are requesting federal assistance to deal with what they call an unprecedented fall-off in demand due to the new coronavirus.

In a letter to congressional leaders Tuesday, Airbnb asked for multiple tax breaks for its U.S. hosts, who are experiencing a significant loss of business. Last week, San Francisco-based Airbnb began allowing all guests worldwide to cancel reservations without a penalty.

Airbnb says senior citizens are among its largest cohort of hosts, while 14% are teachers or live with teachers.

Executives from Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt and Disney were also due to meet with President Donald Trump at the White House Tuesday afternoon to discuss aid for the franchisees who own most U.S. hotels.

Since mid-February, U.S. hotels have lost an estimated $1.5 billion in room revenue, according to the American Hotel and Lodging Association, a lobbying group. Those losses are rapidly accelerating, with the industry on pace to lose $1.4 billion per week.

The hotel industry expects 1 million U.S. jobs have already been eliminated or will be in the next few weeks.

Marriott said Tuesday it is reducing workers’ hours and starting to furlough what could eventually become thousands of workers. Workers will retain their health benefits, the company said.

Hilton said it has closed two company-managed hotels in Washington and New York and temporarily suspended workers.

In its letter to congressional leaders, Airbnb said it has 1.1 million active listings in the U.S., and a majority of its hosts depend on Airbnb for their monthly income.

The company is asking Congress to expand the minimal rental use tax exemption. Right now, hosts don’t pay income tax for income from a residence they rent for less than 14 days. The company is asking to expand that to 60 days.

Airbnb is also asking for a tax credit or deduction for income earned by hosts and access to small business disaster loans for hosts. Congress should also give lenders tax incentives for providing low-interest loans to hosts, the company said.

Airbnb didn’t provide an estimate of how much those measures would cost. (AP)