airbnb, humanitarian supply chains

AirBnb’s Open Homes new initiative: Responding to humanitarian aid with good Operations

Through “Airbnb Open Homes“, Airbnb — the travel startup that lets individuals rent out private homes or rooms to people as an alternative to hotels — is leveraging its online community of hosts to offer temporary housing to tens of thousands of people displaced by natural disasters or conflict. So far, this program has been successfully implemented in Rome, and several cities in the US donating 17,000 nights. This week, Open Homes is currently in use in Athens, Greece to provide shelter to victims from the recent catastrophic wildfires.

Despair is most often the offspring of ill-preparedness. Airbnb is also piloting a new version of the program to let people register as hosts on “standby” lists in advance of a disaster, and willingly put up people in emergencies. For the first time, the company collaborated with the city of San Jose, CA earlier this summer to train citizens handle disasters faster, more efficiently and more effectively. Similarly, Airbnb partnered with SolidarityNow and other organizations to support the victims of the devastating wildfires of last week in Athens.

Although such initiatives are intended for the “greater good of the society”, I’d like to point out that there might be unintended consequences. At the most basic level, this strategy can be seen by many as a very effective marketing strategy to boost Airbnb’s pool of hosts. Partnering with academics and many non-profit organizations and the government would definitely help the society view such initiatives as a “team’s effort to help” rather than an aggressive marketing trick. Also, local hosts and disaster victims would have to register their profiles to reduce miscommunication issues and to provide insurance coverage in case of damaged property and lost items (which have been reported in the past in similar situations). Such a formal registration process is indeed in place by Airbnb’s Open Homes initiative.

As an Operations person, I view Airbnb’s total available capacity of registered homes and properties as a resource allocation decision under a very tight time constraint. There is a lot of room of improvement towards more efficiently utilize this available capacity to do business, and to also help our fellow citizens when in need. A well-coordinated collaboration between businesses, humanitarian organizations, governments and experts from academia can create resilient supply chains to respond to today’s complex operations of managing humanitarian aid logistics.

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