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Airbnb meets goal of providing 100,000 places to stay to COVID-19 frontline workers

On April 16, Airbnb announced a new partnership with the City of New Orleans that will offer up to 350 stays for frontline workers in the Big Easy, a cause to which Airbnb has committed $500,000. The Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, the EMS Foundation, and the New Orleans LCMC Health Hospital System are also collaborating in the effort.

“We are glad to be able to provide some financial support to our local New Orleans hosts, who have answered the call to help provide housing for those fighting on the front lines of this crisis,” says Laura Spanjian, Senior Public Policy Director at Airbnb.

A week ago, the hospitality mogul announced a similar partnership with New York State and 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, the US’s largest healthcare union. The program enables members in Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Washington, DC, to book free stays in the cities where they’re providing essential services.

“These heroes are battling an unprecedented crisis and we want to support the incredible leadership of both the State and 1199SEIU who, as critical links in the chain of saving lives, are working around the clock to safeguard their wellbeing,” says Brian Chesky, Airbnb Co-Founder, CEO, and Head of Community.

Airbnb’s Frontline stays program

The partnerships are the latest effort in Airbnb’s Frontline stays program, which first drew attention on March 26, when Airbnb called on its hosts to offer 100,000 places of lodging to workers providing essential services during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On April 3, Airbnb announced the goal had been met.

“Today, we’re proud to announce that Airbnb hosts have offered 100,000 places to stay for those on the front lines of the pandemic,” the company Tweeted.

The Frontline stays program asks hosts to offer their properties at no cost or at a discount. Joe Gebbia, Airbnb’s Co-founder, said it was partly in response to hosts requesting such a program that Airbnb created it.

“We’ve heard from countless hosts around the world who want to provide a comforting home to heroic first responders,” Gebbia said. “We are connecting our nonprofit partners, government agencies and others with our incredible host community to work together in these extraordinary times.”

By waiving its fees and by partnering with the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the International Rescue Committee, International Medical Corps, and other nonprofit organizations that support frontline workers, Airbnb enables these organizations to direct their resources toward medical care and supplies, training and education, mental health services, and more.

Airbnb has worked with nationally recognized epidemiologists to develop cleaning protocols that will protect the hosts and workers alike.

This ain’t Airbnb’s first rodeo

In scope and policy, the company’s relief efforts reflect previous campaigns to provide housing for those displaced by war and natural disasters. An FAQ about what happens if a guest or relief worker contracts COVID-19 during their stay, for example, prioritizes the comfort and safety of the guest or relief worker: “Healthcare workers, relief workers, and first responders are on the front lines of the COVID-19 response, and they put their health at risk every day. If they contract the virus during their stay, we want housing to be the last thing they have to worry about. By signing up for the program, hosts agree to allow guests to finish their reservation and/or stay for the length of time they need to heal or self-isolate (that may mean the guest needs to extend their stay).”

The response is reminiscent of Airbnb’s 2016 Nondiscrimination Policy, which stipulated, in part, that Airbnb hosts could not “decline a guest based on race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status”—a move that was both applauded and questioned. (In April 2019 The Daily Beast published an article titled, “Can Airbnb train hosts not to be racists?”) 

But arguably, Airbnb’s policies have always been more strongly magnetized toward its own values of trust, safety, and diversity than toward outside opinion. As a line from its standards and expectations webpage reads, “The definitions of the standards and expectations themselves aren’t subject to review.”

Cheksey announced on April 17 that Airbnb will pay hosts 25% of their cancellation fees on canceled reservations between March 14 to May 31. Airbnb allowed guests to receive a full refund on lodging they ostensibly could not leave home to reach.

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