In a perfect world, a host would never have to cancel a guest’s reservation. No one wants to ruin someone else’s travel plans. But sometimes the world has other plans, even for the best-prepared hosts.

Nature comes knocking

Airbnb host Maggie had no one to blame but Mother Nature for the only time she ever had to cancel a would-be guest’s reservation. Severe winds ripped chunks of the roof off her New Zealand beachfront property, scattering them throughout the neighborhood. Torrential rain damaged the inside of the home, which was vacant at the time. Fortunately, no one was injured and, except for a neighbor’s clothesline, nothing else was damaged.

In addition to the rigors of having to repair and rebuild, Maggie had guests coming—Europeans who’d booked her listing through Airbnb. “I immediately contacted the guests to let them know what had happened,” she said. “The reservation was 53 days out so I felt confident they would not be without accommodations. I offered to help them in any way I could.”

The damage spawned further damage: It kept Maggie from hosting for 4½ months because of a long wait for the insurance claim to be processed. On the sunnier side, the crisis reinforced the importance of communication with potential Airbnb guests. She even discovered an opportunity among the chaos of catastrophe. “My advice to other hosts in situations where they need to cancel would be to communicate early, often, and effectively,” said Maggie. “And keep in touch with them and tell them you would love to have another opportunity to host them in the future.”

To err is human

Does human error fall into the same category as natural disaster? A simple mistake is harder to explain, and has potential for a disastrous outcome when it comes to welcoming guests—but it can happen to anyone. UK hosts Colin and Karyo, who pride themselves on flawless hospitality, had to exercise some emergency damage control the time they inadvertently booked two separate guests for the same room in their Central Manchester apartment.

The couple gets in touch with guests about their accommodations one week prior to their arrival. “As always, we started to contact them with the fine details of their stays—this is when we realized our mistake,” said Colin. “We felt really terrible and knew we had a responsibility to sort this out.”

Before cancelling one of the guests’ booking, Colin did what every Airbnb host should do should they encounter any extreme circumstances: he reached out to other hosts in the area. “I checked around to see who was available then passed their info on to the guests,” said Colin.

After a few frantic phone calls and “Sorry, no room at the inn” replies, Colin and Karyo managed to reserve a suitable room for the guests they had to cancel on. “We decided that honesty was the best policy so contacted the guests and basically confessed,” said Colin. “I explained that the new accommodations and host were excellent and personally known to us.”

The guests were gracious and understanding, accepted the new place to stay, and even contacted the boys to thank them for their valiant efforts and express how much they still enjoyed their visit. A happy ending for all.

Navigating an unavoidable cancellation

  • Contact your guest immediately, preferably by telephone, to explain your reason for having to cancel, and apologize for the inconvenience. (And when you think you’ve apologized enough, one more time might not hurt.)

  • Make it official. Cancel their reservation online ASAP.

  • Go out of your way—actually way out of your way—to find alternative accommodations. Airbnb Groups is a great tool to track down other hosts in your area who are available.

And to minimize the possibility of cancellations down the road…

  • Check, double-check, and triple-check your calendar to avoid scheduling conflicts.

  • Honor your hosting commitment by accepting a reservation only when you truly know you can.

  • Connect with other local hosts through Airbnb Groups or local meetups to build a network of support in times of need.