09.04.2020 Europe

Airbnb frees up housing for health workers as Covid-19 guts growth

By Christina Okello with RFI
LISTEN APR 9, 2020

The short-term rental company Airbnb has been opening its doors free of charge to overworked health workers fighting the Covid-19 pandemic in France and Italy. The global health crisis is decimating the online platform's business.

Airbnb said it was prompted to launch its free housing scheme for medical staff fighting the coronavirus to offer comfort to "heroic first responders".

The scheme has so far helped nearly 6,000 healthcare staff across both France and Italy, with an end goal of housing 100,000 first responders and healthcare workers around the world.

As the virus took root in Europe, it pushed hard-pressed healthcare staff to the brink, forcing them to work flat out and often without transport networks.

In Italy, one of the nations worst hit by the global coronavirus pandemic, “doctors and nurses were requested to move from one city to another to support hospitals with exploding intensive care units”, said Airbnb's general manager in Rome, Giacomo Trovato.

The initiative will now allow those responding to the pandemic to stay in safe and convenient places near their work.

Sitting empty

To join, hosts can opt into the programme and have the option of opening their homes for free through Airbnb's Open Homes platform. If hosts are not able to host for free, Airbnb will still waive all fees for the stay. 

Hosts have seen business drop sharply in recent weeks, as the virus decimates tourism, leaving hotels and holiday lets sitting empty.

Many have criticised Airbnb for leaving them bearing most of the financial burden.

To help offset the financial impact from cancellations, Airbnb last week announced a $250 million global fund to help hosts who have lost out.

Steep decline

Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky has promised that the company will bounce back.

In the meantime, the group's net worth has dropped by 16 percent to $26bn down from $31 billion. Bosses blame the steep decline on travel bans and other containment efforts due to the coronavirus. 

The group's economic woes have cast doubt on its plans to go public this year.

On Monday, two private investment firms injected $1 billion to help the rental company weather the downturn.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Airbnb emphasised that the funds would support its future policy on longer-term stays and was a strategic move rather than a bailout in troubled times.

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