Virtual travel from Airbnb | CNN Travel | Instant News

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(CNN) – When coronavirus spread throughout the world, many were looking for news to find out what would happen. From its headquarters in the East Village, New York City, however, Turkish-American Uluç Ülgen offers another way to peek into the future.

Ülgen, host Turkish Coffee Therapy, Is a worshiper of ancient Turkish traditions reading the future in the coffee fields.

“When you reach the bottom of the coffee cup, you turn the cup over,” Ülgen said. “When you turn it upside down, there are all the decorative symbols, numbers, and pictures that you read to see someone’s future prospects.”

Usually, guests visit Ülgen in New York. Now, he is taking a guided coffee preparation session and reading fortune, one of them Online Experience which Airbnb launched today.
Virtual version of Airbnb experience pairing travelers with local hosts, Online Experience has hosts from more than 30 countries and ranges in price from $ 1 to $ 40. Hosts that offer virtual sessions have the opportunity to recover some of the lost revenue from coronavirus; for customers, experience is an opportunity to connect with foreign cultures.

Try guided meditation with sleepy sheep at Loch Lomand, England

Courtesy of Airbnb

“Human relations are at the core of what we do,” Airbnb Experience Chief Catherine Powell wrote in a press release. “With so many people who need to stay indoors to protect their health, we want to provide an opportunity for our hosts to connect with our global guest community in the only possible way online, at the moment.”

Some are offered by hosts with name recognition; customers can register for virtual bicycle tour led by Olympic triathlon athlete Alistair Brownlee, or take a K-Beauty tutorial from professional broadcasters based in Seoul.

The chaotic coronavirus of Airbnb

The launch of the virtual experience comes after a month of disruption to Airbnb, which has confused frustrated customers and angry hosts.

When the Covid-19 crisis took place, some travelers who canceled trips for fear of infection found they could not get a full refund for their bookings. Initially, Airbnb only extended its Rising State Policy to China, South Korea and parts of Italy.

“In order for me to get a full refund, they said that the true state of Texas had to file an emergency,” Tommy Mariani said on March 8. When the Austin-based SXSW festival was canceled because of a coronavirus, Mariani was left with an Airbnb bill of more than $ 1,000.

Reacting to customer complaints, the company expanded its coronavirus response on March 13, allowing more travelers to qualify for penalty-free bookings.

Furthermore, Airbnb hosts who complained, were upset that the company had changed the cancellation policy, which made them lose income.

“Extending refunds to almost everyone until April 1, will be very devastating for the host,” wrote the organization of short-term vacation rental rental group Host GPO in an open letter to the company. (The coronavirus cancellation policy has been extended until the end of May.)

In an effort to calm and support angry hosts, on March 30, Airbnb launched a $ 250 million in Host Aid Funds, plus a $ 10 million Superhost Relief Fund that offers grants of up to $ 5,000 to eligible hosts.

Airbnb also gets help. On Monday, the company announced a $ 1 billion investment from the private equity firm Silver Lake and investment company Sixth Street Partners.

This deal, which includes an additional $ 5 million allotment to Superhost Support Fund, comes when some hosts pay attention to the limitations of the help package.

The $ 250 million Host Relief Fund will return some hosts for some cancellations, but the money only covers a small portion of their losses. Because refunds are limited to 25 percent of the amount that will be received by the host from a normal cancellation, even those who have a strict cancellation policy will return only 12.5 percent of the total order.

And the Superhost Relief Fund comes with limitations too.

The host cannot apply for a grant directly. Instead, the selected host will be invited to register. The qualifications determine that the host must show that Airbnb is a vital source of their income, and that they have lost “a significant percentage of their income due to COVID-19.” (Some hosts wonder on Twitter how Airbnb will identify hosts for invitations without access to their revenue details.)

Do travelers really want to be virtual?

Virtual yoga class from Airbnb hosts. But does it feel like traveling?

Virtual yoga class from Airbnb hosts. But does it feel like traveling?

Courtesy of Airbnb

Airbnb is not the only travel company that brings firsthand experience to cyberspace. The new Online Experience joins the many virtual travel experiences available from destinations destroyed by the fall of tourism due to Covid-19.

Now, instead of traveling to the Caribbean, travelers can listen to a virtual tour of Saint Lucia through Instagram.
Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens offer every day Facebook Live sessions with zookeepers and animals; in partnership with the Google Cultural Institute, the British Museum owns a online portal to explore the exhibition.

They are an effort to reach potential travelers based on coronavirus. But it remains to be seen whether virtual travel gets traction, especially during online meetings and long distance work contributing to a very large amount of screen time for many people.

But Ülgen, Airbnb host based in New York, hopes that virtual connections will have lasting benefits. “This reading is intended to be a positive expression, encouragement and hope,” he said.

“When people really want to make connections,” Ülgen said, “online experiences are truly valuable.”

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