Last year when Hurricane Sandy hit New York, hosts at Airbnb opened up their homes to help those affected by the storm and offered them free shelter. The startup, so moved by the behavior, jumped on the trend and ultimately helped users gain access to 1,400 free or discounted places to stay via a quick hack to its website.
Today, the company made that feature an institutionalized part of their website — allowing users caught in the midst of disaster to look in the nearby area and stay for free, and for people with extra space to quickly list their shelter for those in need.
The tool itself can be activated in less than 30 minutes, and has the following additional features, according to the company’s blog:
- Make all Airbnb bookings in areas affected by a natural disaster fee-free.
- Email hosts in the affected area, asking them if they are able to help.
- Connect guests to hosts that have space to offer in the affected area via a dynamic landing page.
- Provide Airbnb’s 24/7 customer support, Trust & Safety tools, Host Guarantee and other services regularly available to Airbnb hosts.
- Provide general disaster response information to guests and hosts.
It’s a small step, but Airbnb has created an incredible tool for people seeking shelter in a disaster. There really is no efficient way to alert a community that there’s extra space to help a person (or even a family) in crises — and it’s a problem that sparked Airbnb owners to turn to the service in the first place. And it’s good business: By making this feature a longstanding part of its services, Airbnb is creating an entirely new use case for the product and creating a resource for crisis organization. It’s no small feat, and one that has the potential to make a palpable change in the way communities react to disaster.
That said, the feature is only as good as the number of people who participate in it. In order for something like this to really be put to good use, Airbnb should do extra legwork to ensure that when a crisis comes, victims know that they can use the tool for aid. Working with local governments and other non-profits to educate the public would be a smart way to take those steps, since it practically requires people who don’t use Airbnb regularly to use the service when they have space to put towards disaster relief. Still, almost any tool in a crisis can help.
Good job, Airbnb. Here’s to hoping that it will help those seeking shelter find a place a little more comfortable.