Airbnb asking hosts to take in residents, relief staff

  • This image provided by the U.S. Geological Survey shows lava spattering Wednesday in Puna. Airbnb has instituted its Disaster Response Program, asking Big Island hosts to open their doors to victims of the disaster as well as relief workers.

KAILUA-KONA — Airbnb is recruiting hosts throughout Hawaii County willing to open their doors to residents impacted by the latest Kilauea eruption as well as to disaster relief workers on island lending a hand.

The company activated its Disaster Response Program on Friday morning, which offers an easy-to-use platform for hosts who want to assist in the relief effort and those searching for shelter during a trying and uncertain time.

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Hosts and those in need of shelter can access the program at www.airbnb.com/welcome/evacuees/bigisland.

“Through our program, those in need of temporary accommodations are able to connect with Airbnb hosts in the areas of Hawaii County who are opening their homes free of charge through May 31, 2018,” wrote Kellie Bentz, Airbnb’s chief of global disaster response and relief, in an email.

“We encourage hosts in these areas to aid in this effort by listing their available rooms or homes on the platform to help those who have been impacted and to relief workers offering their assistance on the ground,” she continued.

Airbnb introduced its disaster response concept in 2012 after Hurricane Sandy, which slammed the Eastern seaboard and caused tens of billions of dollars in damage.

Since then, the company has used its reach into local communities to help provide aid via temporary housing in the wake of natural disasters throughout the country.

Shawn Pila, who lists a two-bedroom unit in downtown Hilo on Airbnb, received an email from the company this morning imploring him to help.

But Pila already beat them to it.

“I’ve got a lot of friends in the Leilani area and just kind of offered it up to them first because they’re kind of like family to us,” he said. “I’ve got a friend that’s leaving today and some actual guests checking in tonight.”

Pila owns a home next door to the unit, in which he’s also housed some of those forced to flee their homes in Puna. He said to date, he’s housed seven people on and off.

It hasn’t been much of a work-around either, Pila explained.

“Since the eruption, I’ve probably gotten a cancellation every other day,” he said. “People are kind of calling a few days prior and canceling.”

Kona Councilwoman Karen Eoff and her husband own a small vacation rental at the Islander Inn in Kailua-Kona. Eoff doesn’t advertise or manage the unit, and said it isn’t listed on Airbnb. But she still put it to use.

“I do have a friend who was living right near the Puna Geothermal Venture plant, and he’s had to evacuate and has been in touch with us,” Eoff said. “We’ve offered our condo to him already.”

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Shane Peters, president of Peters Communications, which handles public relations for Airbnb throughout Hawaii, said the May 31 program end date isn’t necessarily set in stone. Airbnb might extend the program into June or even beyond, depending on need and participation.

Email Max Dible at mdible@westhawaiitoday.com.