A visiting Hong Kong family with no symptoms of the coronavirus have received a refund from Airbnb over claims their rental owner cancelled because he feared they might be infectious.

Hong Kong visitors are free to travel in New Zealand and Airbnb said it had reminded all hosts not to discriminate against guests as a result of the coronavirus.

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Christina Tam says the owner of the $350 per night Paihia beach house that she booked cancelled on her on Thursday as she drove north to check-in.


He said he would no longer let her stay because he was due to use the house the week after Tam and had to protect his own family, Tam said.

Having booked the rental 10 days earlier, the cancellation left her and her two young sons and parents aged in their 70s with nowhere to stay.

It also felt discriminatory, she said.

"I have never had this experience - I felt really bad," she said.

"You can't say all Hong Kong people have the coronavirus, especially when the New Zealand Government hasn't got a quarantine on Hong Kong travellers."

With coronavirus threatening to upend the global travel industry, hotel and tourism executives across New Zealand have faced sensitive questions about how to protect guests and staff.

Currently, foreigners who have visited mainland China and Iran are not allowed to enter New Zealand as a result of a high number of coronavirus cases in those countries, Ministry of Health guidelines state.

Foreigners who have visited northern Italy or South Korea are allowed to enter New Zealand but are expected to self-isolate for 14 days.


Hong Kong is considered a category 2 country, with visitors to New Zealand expected to keep a watch for symptoms of the virus but otherwise face no restrictions.

Tam said she would respect a travel ban if it was in place but given no restrictions had been placed on Hong Kong visitors, they should be treated the same as everyone else.

The Airbnb cancellation had forced her to ask a friend if her family could stay on their sail boat Thursday night, and on Friday she booked a smaller house further away from the water because there were fewer options to choose from.

The Paihia landlord had offered to instead let her stay at another Airbnb rental he owned, but planned on charging the same price for an inferior house, Tam said.

She expected either he or Airbnb to not only pay a refund but a penalty fee.

The Ministry of Health considers Hong Kong a category 2 country with visitors allowed to freely travel New Zealand but expected to keep an eye on their health. Photo / AP
The Ministry of Health considers Hong Kong a category 2 country with visitors allowed to freely travel New Zealand but expected to keep an eye on their health. Photo / AP

"This is no reason he can cancel my booking on the day of arrival without giving any penalty. He should pay for his ridiculous and discriminating decision," she said.


"Business is business, if I had of cancelled at the last minute, I would have had to pay a fee."

The rental owner did not reply to a Herald request for comment.

Tam said she had lost trust in Airbnb for failing to stand up for her rights.

A message sent to Tam by Airbnb's support team said "hosts also have the option to cancel reservations they are not comfortable with".

However, an Airbnb spokesman told the Herald the company investigated all reports of discrimination and took action where appropriate.

"Our policies regarding the coronavirus outbreak specifically remind hosts to adhere to our non-discrimination policy," the spokesman said.


"It appears the host failed to follow our internal policies and we have followed up with the host."

The Human Rights Commission said while there were legitimate public health concerns at present, anxiety and fear about covid-19 should never be a reason to discriminate against people based on their race, ethnicity or national origin.

Bindi Norwell, chief executive of the Real Estate Institute, and Chris Roberts, chief executive of Tourism Industry Aotearoa, also reminded landlords and tourism operators not to discriminate against visitors.

"We must not discriminate against visitors who do not pose a health risk, and we must leave the determination of those risks to the experts," Roberts said.