Opening Homes in Times of Crisis

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Spotlight on AirBNB

In the U.S. and worldwide, Airbnb’s priorities are connection, community and belonging

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the 2012 superstorm that rained ruin and destruction on 24 states, a Brooklyn Airbnb host named Shell realized that the impact on some people was especially devastating. As the waters rose, thousands were forced from their homes, unable to return for days, if at all. “A sinking feeling hit my stomach,” Shell recalls.  “I thought, people are really getting stuck.”

But she had an idea. With thousands made temporarily homeless in the Greater New York area, why not open her doors to evacuees, free of charge?

Airbnb not only bought into the idea, they built on it, quickly enlisting over 400 hosts to open up their own homes for free, offering not only a place to sleep, but a warm connection during an anxious time.

At Carpenter Group, we note that Airbnb hosts throughout the world are guided by the same principle time and again, whether opening their homes to vacationers, weekenders, flood victims or healthcare workers—that in good and hard times alike, the values that matter most are connection, community and belonging.

“On the surface, what people come to Airbnb for is a new way to travel,” founders Brian Chesky, Joe Gebbia and Nathan Blecharczyk wrote in a public letter earlier this year. “But below the surface, what they find on Airbnb is connection. They experience a deeper connection to the communities they visit and the people who live there.

After Sandy, the company realized that it wasn’t set up to efficiently support free emergency housing. “So we worked to make the necessary changes to help our host community support people in need,” says Blecharczyk.” Airbnb subsequently developed the tools and infrastructure that enable hosts around the world to quickly deliver housing to relief workers, volunteers and those displaced by storms, wildfires, earthquakes, disease and humanitarian crises. In 2017, when a presidential executive order barred refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S., Airbnb helped shelter those left stranded by the ban.

Much of Airbnb’s philanthropic work takes place in concert with nonprofits and NGOs in the U.S. and abroad. In past years, the company has partnered with the nonprofit Mercy Corps and the International Rescue Committee to house relief workers on the front lines of the Syrian refugee crisis. In 2016, following the Pulse nightclub mass shooting in Florida, Airbnb joined forces with Uber and JetBlue to provide housing, flights, and ground transportation for families flying in for funerals or visiting loved ones in the hospital.

In the early days of the pandemic, the company heard from countless hosts around the world who wanted to open their homes to first responders and frontline workers. Their generosity led to the creation of Frontline Stays – a global initiative that connects those responding to the pandemic with free and subsidized stays. To date, Airbnb  hosts have offered relief workers and volunteers more than 225,000 places to stay under the program.

Not surprisingly, as the pandemic gained traction, the company’s business declined sharply, forcing some hard choices, including the postponement of a long-planned IPO. “We knew we couldn’t pursue everything that we used to,” the founders wrote. “So we chose to focus on what is most unique about Airbnb — our core business of hosting. We got back to our roots and back to what is truly special about Airbnb — the everyday people who host their homes.”

In Shell’s case, she didn’t stop with hosting hurricane evacuees. She also led a food drive for the community out of her kitchen. “Sometimes people don’t connect that much in New York, and you can feel isolated,” she says. “Inviting guests in during Hurricane Sandy brought a sense of community right into my home.”

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About Brand Acts of Kindness® 

Brand Acts of Kindness® is a series from Carpenter Group that spotlights companies across industries that are living their brand values in addressing the unprecedented challenges facing the world today.

The series initially headlined companies assisting healthcare workers and first responders, as well as communities, businesses and families impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. We also highlight brands taking the lead in supporting social and racial justice, LGBTQ rights, sustainability and the environment. Their stories show how innovation, resolve and action, built on a solid value proposition, can both strengthen a brand and help create a better world.

About Carpenter Group

Carpenter Group is an independent, woman-owned strategic branding, messaging and marketing communications firm that has delivered results-driven solutions to financial, professional services and technology firms for 30+ years.

Our broad cross-discipline experience enables us to craft brand messaging and carry it through to the channels that most effectively connect with our clients’ target audience, from editorial content to advertising to event marketing and more.