Airbnb Disaster Response: Paving the Way for the Vacation Rental Industry

When it comes to lending a hand during world disasters, there is one well-known company who always seems to be at the forefront.


In recent years, in the wake of any catastrophic events, the home-sharing giant, Airbnb, has worked hard to help the affected communities. They offer vacation rental hosts the opportunity to open up their home for free to provide shelter for stranded residents, travelers and support workers.

What is Airbnb Disaster Response?

The Airbnb Disaster Response Tool came to fruition in 2012, after the devastating effects of Superstorm Sandy left the company wanting to help stranded families find shelter. Before this, the plaftorm was wholly incapable of waiving fees or listing properties for free.

“Making emergency housing available at no cost to Sandy victims required the Airbnb team to fundamentally redesign its booking and payment systems to accept no-cost, fee-free listing for a defined period of time in a defined geographic region”, explained founder and CTO Nathan Blecharczyk in the company press release.

Since the inception of the Disaster Response program, Airbnb has helped 3,100 hosts to donate 3,590 nights to those in need, in 65 different circumstances. Helping those displaced in these difficult times has become such a vital part of the Airbnb brand that in 2015, Kellie Bentz was hired as the company’s first Head of Global Disaster Response and Relief.

How Airbnb Disaster Response works

When an alert is raised in an affected area, Airbnb is quick to update the Open Homes page with details of where accommodation is most urgently required.

Once the user clicks onto an affected area, they are taken to another landing page which generally displays the following:

  • Map of the area
  • Estimate of how long accommodation is needed for
  • Who accommodation is required for.

airbnb disaster response

From these pages, the button navigation makes it very easy: both for hosts to sign up their own home and for those in need of finding shelter.

In recent months alone, Airbnb has helped rehome thousands of displaced people, in many different circumstances. In August 2017 alone:

  • Hurricane Irma forced the evacuation of around 650,000 people, and hosts in certain neighboring regions were able to offer their homes for free from 7-29 September.
  • Hurricane Harvey destroyed thousands of homes across Texas, causing dozens of deaths, and displacing over 30,000 residents. Airbnb hosts were able to open their homes for an extended period due to extensive damage, from August 24 to September 26.
  • A terrorist attack in Barcelona injured hundreds and resulted in 16 deaths. Airbnb allowed hosts to welcome displaced residents, tourists and relief workers for a 10-day period from 18-28 August.

How vacation rental owners can sign up to Airbnb Disaster Response

  1. Hosts need to create a verified Airbnb account (or log in to any existing account).
  2. They sign up their home on the Airbnb Welcome page (or choose from an existing listing).
  3. They offer their accommodation to help those in need. Listing(s) will be made available for free to agency partners and verified account holders, who will request to stay for a specified time.

A proactive solution to help those in need

As Airbnb continues to grow exponentially, its founders have come to realize something very important – they could help even more people in desperate situations, “simply by shifting from being reactive to being proactive”. Host generosity shouldn’t – and isn’t – limited to one-time crises.

Figures from the UN Refugee Agency show that over 65 million were displaced by the end of 2015. This shocking figure, which equates to 24 people per minute, is one of the driving forces behind Airbnb’s wider Open Homes project.

Airbnb recently launched the aforementioned program with the goal of helping 100,000 displaced people find temporary housing in the next five years. Airbnb Open Homes works by allowing relief organizations to contact directly with voluntary Airbnb hosts to find suitable accommodation quickly.

Opening your accommodation in this way not only helps the displaced person to feel safe and secure, but also provides them with a feeling of acceptance from the local community and a real “sense of belonging”.

No matter where you are located, you can do your bit to help in the local community. Any eligible host can open their home to displaced people or refugees via the Airbnb Open Homes program.

What are your thoughts on the Airbnb Disaster Response Tool? We’d love to hear your opinion in the comments.

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