With just 9 hours notice, Auckland went back into Covid Alert Level 3 restrictions on Sunday morning, affecting many New Zealanders' travel plans.
However hosts on a leading accommodation booking website say they are being given an unwelcome choice: ignore Covid-19 alert levels or be hit with fines.
Currently users of Airbnb are charged for 'last minute' cancellations, by hosts or guests. In spite of guests unable to travel to Auckland, these no-fault cancellations result in guests or hosts forfeiting booking fees upwards of $140.
One Airbnb host told the Herald they were due to welcome a guest from Northland today, but could not cancel the reservation without fines. Phoning the website's helpline to get the charges overturned they couldn't find a compromise.
"I was told that I either host them illegally or get penalised a $100USD fee."
The let in Auckland was not able to safely welcome guests under Level 3, due to shared kitchen areas.
Having spoken with the Australia New Zealand call centre, the host said she was asked for proof that Auckland was in lockdown.
Eventually the host was able to resolve the issue independently, contacting the guest directly and promising to refund their booking. This relied on "good will" that she would refund the sum, which she was entitled to keep under Airbnb's late cancellation policy.
"We've been hosts on the platform since 2014," said the host, who wishes to remain unnamed. "We've been burned by the experience. My husband and I have decided to remove our property from the platform."
Late cancellations also affect "superhost" status, which the website uses to promote certain properties on the platform.
The unbending terms and lack of cover for no-fault cancellations were "incentivising bad behaviour", said the host who worried that others may be tempted to continue with illegal bookings.
During the 12 August Auckland Lockdown last year, many guests found themselves out of pocket when Airbnb refused to refund bookings made during Level 1. One Aucklander told RNZ that he was out of pocked by as much as $340, when the host would only offer 50 per cent refund – in spite of it being illegal to leave the city.
"Airbnb is extremely serious about supporting government efforts to combat Covid-19," said Derek Nolan, Airbnb's head of policy for New Zealand and Australia.
In response to claims that hosts were facing pentalties for following Covid guidelines, Nolan said the platform had "contacted our community on a number of occasions to remind them of the critical need to follow government advice and adhere to the rules.
"Our message has been consistent and clear: everyone must closely follow government advice and strictly adhere to the rules."
The US-based company Airbnb issued no-fault refunds for bookings affected by the Coronavirus, following the WHO's declaration of the Covid-19 Pandemic in March last year. Stays and experiences booked before 14 March 2020, were able to be refunded without penalty or affecting the standing of users on the platform.
This was the last time Airbnb has offered blanket no-fault cancellations to users in New Zealand.