Since the outbreak of COVID-19, many cities have come to a standstill—closing most restaurants, gyms and other businesses while the virus spread and stressed hospital systems. These closures have been critically necessary to try to contain the infection rate, but have also hurt cities and economies everywhere. As cities continue to see new spikes and outbreaks, it’s now clear that we may not return to normal as early as hoped. In the meantime, Expedia Group has been working to lead recovery and relief efforts across the entire travel ecosystem and the country to help everyone endure this difficult chapter.
In May, Expedia Group announced a $275 million partner recovery program to support furloughed hotel workers and to prepare to rebuild cities’ economies when it’s safe to do so. The program offers a complimentary training and education program called Expedia Group Academy, reinvests a proportion of last year’s earnings into marketing credits for partners, extends payment terms to provide additional financial relief, provides new analytics through a Market Insights tool, and supports a series of global brand campaigns to help travelers discover new cities as they consider a future travel adventure.
Expedia Group has also worked closely with public health officials and other travel leaders to ensure that communities stay safe during this outbreak. We collaborated with other industry groups to issue new cleanliness guidelines, through our vacation rental brand Vrbo, that bring together recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization and Cristal International Standards, and were reviewed by infectious diseases expert Dr. Daniel Lucey. Vrbo customers can filter properties based on specific hygiene measures adopted, as well as flexible fare policies, so they can book with confidence for when they are ready to travel.
Now cities are starting to grapple with how to help their economies recuperate once it’s responsible to do so. Expedia Group has proactively supported mayors and city council members with these decisions and with other issues unrelated to COVID-19.
In San Diego, for instance, Expedia Group worked closely with the mayor and a leading union, Unite Here, to come to a historic agreement in a new memorandum of understanding (MOU) on how best to safely regulate and monitor the city’s short-term rental properties under comprehensive new rules and guidelines. Similarly, in Kauai County in Hawaii, Expedia Group led a year-long effort to work alongside Mayor Kawakami and sign another new MOU that helps facilitate enforcement of non-compliant properties and to promote only compliant properties. These are both historic agreements for the travel industry and the short-term rental community-at-large. Specifically, the MOU signed in Kauai is the first example of an online rental platform and a Hawaiian government entity reaching an agreement of this kind and stature.
Short-term rentals are a vital component of Kauai County, San Diego, and communities across the country. Those who rely on the industry for income and support have continually faced regulatory hurdles that have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The agreements achieved in both jurisdictions should serve as a precedent moving forward to ensure that short-term property owners, their customers, and the residents of each city have clear rules that promote safety and certainty.
Now more than ever, in this environment, it is critical that cities and platforms work together to help local communities—and the travel ecosystem writ large—recover in a responsible, safe and inclusive way. Expedia Group will continue to advocate for and collaborate with communities, local officials, and short-term rental owners on policies that create inclusive, safe, and responsible regulatory environments like those in San Diego and Kauai.
About the Author:
Philip Minardi is the director of policy communications at Expedia Group.