Airbnb activated their Disaster Response system for Hurricane Harvey a few weeks ago. This tool enables hosts to provide free lodging for those in need in affected parts of Texas and Louisiana. After the 2012 Hurricane Sandy disaster in New York, Airbnb built the disaster response feature into it’s platform. During disaster response events Airbnb waves their fees but still offers their Host Guarantee protection and other support services.

Airbnb activates this service by creating a disaster event. Hosts in the area affected receive an email from Airbnb telling them how to opt in to help with the disaster. They can take bookings for $0 directly. Hosts can also opt to make their home only visible to organizations finding temporary housing for people in need. 

Overall this is a good use of a peer to peer platform to facilitate people sharing resources with those affected by disasters. I’m sure many of these hosts were opening their homes to friends and relatives. But Airbnb is helping people reach a broader group of folks in need.

Today, September 6, when I look at the Airbnb Disaster Response page I am surprised to find only Hurricane Harvey listed. I assume we will soon see Hurricane Irma activated on that page for residents in Florida and possibly elsewhere. But there is currently a catastrophe in South Asia where more than 1,000 people have died in flooding in Bangladesh, India and Nepal. And there’s no sign of this event on Airbnb’s disaster response page.

I’ve seen pictures of the flooding in Mumbai, India so I checked Airbnb to see if they have listings in that city. I found over 300 listings. For some reason Airbnb doesn’t display more than 306 listings for any query so I get the same number of listings in Houston when I run the same search. To be fair there might be a minimum number of hosts required in an area to activate disaster response. Perhaps Mumbai doesn’t hit the threshold but Houston does. I can’t say because Airbnb doesn’t publish criteria for activating disaster response.

Mumbai flooding August 30, 2017

I have no idea how the relative impact of the flooding in Mumbai compares to Houston. But the pictures sure look similar. Other cities fared even worse, like Karachi, Pakistan. But there I find only a handful of hosts so the impact of a disaster response by Airbnb might be significantly less.

While I really like the disaster response feature, I’d like to see more transparency into how Airbnb identifies a disaster deserving of response. And it would be great if this criteria didn’t focus on events in the United States.