Airbnb, the embattled sharing economy warhorse with a rather provocative new logo, visited the White House earlier today to unveil twin partnerships with the cities of San Francisco and Portland, Ore. that will better enable users of the peer-to-peer lodging platform-turned-lifestyle brand to secure — and offer — short-term housing in the event of major disasters.
Essentially, Airbnb now wants to not only be the place that you turn to when planning your Paris — or Palm Springs — getaway but also the place that you turn to when the going gets rough.
The San Francisco-based website first positioned itself as a disaster housing resource a little over a year ago with the launch of a Disaster Response Tool that was inspired by the big-hearted actions of Airbnb hosts in New York and New Jersey who opened their homes and freed up their spare bedrooms during the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy.
I wrote last June:
Developed with the assistance of IDEO, the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management, and other organizations, the Airbnb Disater Response Tool includes several key features including an email alert that is sent out to a city/region’s host community in the aftermath of a disaster asking if they’d be willing to help; waived booking fees; a feature that allows local residents that aren’t already registered as hosts to provide lodging; and a dynamic landing page that makes it ‘easy for guests to browse listings and request to stay with a host during their time of need.’ As with normal bookings, all bookings made through the Disaster Response Tool are covered by Airbnb’s Host Guarantee.
To date, Airbnb has launched the tool in Southern California during the major wildfires that struck San Diego this past May; in both Atlanta and Toronto following this winter's debilitating ice storms; in the Philippines following Typhoon Haiyan; and in numerous areas across the globe, England and Colorado among them, in reponse to catastrophic flooding.
Announced as part of White House Innovation for Disaster Response and Recovery Initiative Demo Day, the independent partnerships with the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management and the Portland Bureau of Emergency Management will enable the company to bolster its existing disaster housing initiatives and make it easier for the Airbnb community in these two cities to connect with displaced folks in need of free or discounted short-term accommodations. Airbnb made if "official" by signing Memorandums of Understanding with the two city agencies.
A press announcement released earlier today outlines a few key objectives of the partnerships:
- Pre-identify and activate Airbnb hosts who will commit to opening their doors to displaced persons and disaster service workers when an emergency occurs.
- Provide disaster and emergency preparedness educational materials to Airbnb hosts to help them become the most prepared residents on the block.
- Use Airbnb mobile and web technology to notify hosts and guests about significant hazardous incidents.
- Facilitate community emergency response trainings to cultivate Airbnb hosts as trained leaders within their neighborhoods.
Carmen Merlo, director of the Portland Bureau of Emergency Management, proclaims: "This partnership applies an innovative approach to increase Portland’s ability to provide shelter following a disaster. We appreciate Airbnb’s willingness to work with us to make help make Portland a more resilient community." Adds Portland Mayor Charlie Hales: "Residents looking after residents. Neighbors taking care of neighbors. This is such a 'Portland' thing. This project matches the city's spirit perfectly."
While Hales may be correct in his assessment, it is somewhat hard to imagine what type of catastrophic disaster could possible befall the City of Roses [insert your own snarky suggestion here]. Whatever the case, it’s certainly good to know that if/when disaster does strike that the Airbnb community will be a feasible option for displaced Portlanders.
News of Airbnb’s emergency housing partnerships in Portland and San Francisco couldn’t come at a better time for the six-year-old hospitality website as it tends to a heap of unflattering attention involving stubborn squatters, entreprising prostitutes, pesky New York State Attorney Generals, and the aforementioned name-that-body-part logo that was unveiled, to many a raised eyebrow, as part of a greater rebranding — a "brand evolution, if you will" — earlier this month. The company, which currently boasts more than 800,000 listings in 190 countries worldwide, also recently unveiled a new initiative that it hopes will better attract business travelers.
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Flat-pack disaster housing that goes up — and down — in less than 2 minutes