The spread of the coronavirus has decimated tourism across the world, shutting down hotels, restaurants, airports, tourism destinations, amusement parks, beaches, cruise ships, and concert halls. Essentially, leisure life is closed for the foreseeable future.
The result is a devastating drop in demand for home-sharing services provided by companies like Airbnb. People aren't staying in hotels, and they're also not renting Airbnb units.
Eventually, tourism and room rentals will recover. But for now, Airbnb is announcing that it is trying to assist with the coronavirus fight by encouraging its hosts to offer their rental units to temporarily house coronavirus responders, such as doctors, nurses, and other health care workers.
According to Airbnb co-founder Brian Chesky on Twitter, the program was piloted in France and Italy, where nearly 6,000 hosts volunteered to allow coronavirus responders to stay in their rentals. Today, the service announced it's expanding this program worldwide and is looking for 100,000 hosts to participate:
"Airbnb is partnering with our hosts to connect 100,000 healthcare providers, relief workers, and first responders with clean, convenient places to stay that allow them to be close to their patients — and safely distanced from their own families. We may be apart, but we'll get through this together."
Airbnb is currently working with the International Rescue Committee, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and the International Medical Corps in order to connect responders and hosts.
In order to offer up your space to host, you have to follow a strict cleaning and disinfecting regimen to prepare the space, and no other people can be present at the listing. You can't just rent a spare bedroom to a nurse or aid worker. Airbnb is also waiving all of its own fees. Unit owners and operators have the option to host for free if they want to "donate" their rental, but it's not necessary in order for them to participate.
On Twitter, Chesky is noting that hosts have been quick to volunteer. As of noon today, he says 1,500 Airbnb hosts have offered up their homes since this morning's announcement. It's not clear how many of these homes or rentals are proximate to locations where health care workers need to be, or what percentage of hosts have reduced their rates. Airbnb has not yet responded to a request from Reason for more information about the program.
While it might be of limited use to health workers already in the community, it can certainly be a boon if these homes are near medical centers for those who are currently dealing with long commutes (especially given the spotty and risky nature of mass transit right now). The program may also prove useful to aid workers who are coming into communities for the purpose of responding to the coronavirus.
Hotels are getting in on the act as well, both in America and other countries. Veronique de Rugy noted that the private sector is working to solve a number of problems the government is too slow to tackle. Hotels and private residences make for better and safer resting places for coronavirus workers than some tent cities that will force these people (who themselves are at constant risk of infection) into regular close proximity.