As Tourism Craters, Airbnb and Hotels Offer Shelter to Coronavirus Responders

The short-term rental service seeks 100,000 hosts to set space aside for those working to fight the pandemic.


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.

NEXT: We Need Every Doctor and Researcher We Can Get Right Now. It's Time to Cut H-1B Visa Red Tape.

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  1. “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.”

    This doesn’t matter. Does AirBNB check? They supervise? How do they know? Are they cleaning experts? Are the hosts? Of course not! Are the hosts required to test?

    From the Journal of Hospital Infection:
    “Human coronaviruses can remain infectious on inanimate surfaces at room temperature for up to 9 days. At a temperature of 30°C [86°F] or more, the duration of persistence is shorter. Veterinary coronaviruses have been shown to persist even longer for 28 d[ays].”

    So a doctor can stay, get infected, give it to everyone at work, and oh well, I guess.

    When your company is already under the radar the last thing you want to do is give the buzzards a reason to swoop down and wipe you out. If hotels are closed then you should fucking be closed too. If AirBNB can do this why can’t a hotel that was forced to close? They have an empty room in each location.

    1. But they have good intentions..

    2. Angry people should calm down enough to RTFA before responding.

      “Hotels are getting in on the act as well”

    3. It should be very low-risk if we’re talking about an an individual healthcare worker or first responder moving into a place that only one person will stay.

      There won’t have been many people in there within the prior 9 days: the host and potentially a prior guest. An NIH study found coronavirus detectable for 2-3 days on metal and plastic surfaces, and less on cardboard (24 hours). It’s also half-life type decay where it’s not really clear that the lowest level of “detectable” means “contagious”.

      I agree that there should be some hesitation at turning these into high turnover locations where a steady stream of healthcare workers and first responders stay sequentially: that would increase the risk of infection from the prior resident.

      Hotels also present some challenges for mass housing of healthcare workers and first responders. These people are more likely to get COVID-19 because they’re dealing with patients. If we’re mixing people who are unknowing carriers (asymptomatic) with the healthy, we could end up making a lot of the healthy ones sick also. I think it’s at least possible that coronavirus could infect people through a central air system. (Though good enough filters would prevent that.) Also run into the reality that the people at these hotels are all touching lots of the same surfaces: doors to the building, elevator buttons, etc.

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  3. Probably get some local traffic on this; Mission Bay med biz is nearby, and the local ABNB units (formerly long term rentals; thanks rent control) have been empty for a couple of weeks.
    Once any long-term rental gets emptied, any smart owner converts to ABNB. Again, thanks, rent control.

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