Lebanon, a country that has been in economic turmoil for months, was hit by one of the biggest tragedies of the modern world when a devastating explosion at the Port of Beirut killed over 150 people and wounded thousands of residents last Tuesday. The explosion was caused by 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate at the port, which was confiscated by the Lebanese government almost six years ago and was stored there without proper safety measures.
The explosion has reportedly caused USD 10–15 billion in damages and has left about 300,000 people homeless.
Since the explosion occurred, many Lebanese who were fortunate enough to not be displaced have opened their doors to offer stays to Beirut residents whose homes are too damaged for continued stays within. They’ve turned to Facebook, Twitter, other social media platforms, and even offline mediums to offer their properties to those in need.
Chafic Dakroub, a Dubai-based Lebanese entrepreneur who currently serves as the chief product officer of Bayzat, has called for Airbnb to waive its service fee in Lebanon so that hosts can offer their properties for free. “We’re doing this today offline but your platform will help create some structure and help with the verification process,” noted Chafic in a LinkedIn post.
The post was published on Thursday and has received close to 20,000 reactions and hundreds of comments, at the time of this article’s writing.
Amir Farha, the co-founder and former managing partner of Beco Capital, also made a similar appeal to Airbnb on Twitter.
Airbnb charges 6–12%, or even more, of the total cost of a stay from the guest, and 3% fee from hosts. Under that arrangement, it is impossible for hosts to offer their properties for free.
The company has in the past waived its service fee in areas affected by natural disasters and other calamities. Earlier this year, it also introduced a program enabling hosts to offer free stays to healthcare workers involved in work related to treating patients with COVID-19.
Its tool, Open Homes, allows hosts to offer free, temporary housing to people in case of a disaster or an emergency, but it hasn’t been activated in Lebanon.
After multiple people from Airbnb were tagged on Chafic’s post, the company responded with a statement under his appeal, explaining that it is not activating Open Homes in Lebanon for now.
“We are devastated by the tragedy in Beirut, and our thoughts are with all those affected by this terrible disaster. The safety of our community is a top priority. Our immediate focus is on offering support to the Lebanese government, NGOs on the ground and hosts and guests in the region. While we are not activating our host community through Open Homes at this time due to concerns about structural safety, we are continuing to closely monitor the situation as it develops and considering all options,” said the statement.
The statement also noted that Airbnb is providing funding support to its NGO partners for accommodation, as those organizations are on the ground and are best placed to determine safe and appropriate locations at this time.
The company said that it has reached out to the Lebanese government to offer its support. Airbnb said that it will match all the donations made by its employees to Lebanese NGOs, “We have recommended NGO emergency appeals for employee donations, including the Lebanese Red Cross, Lebanese Food Bank, Save the Children, and British Red Cross, and have committed to matching all donations made.”
Chafic has questioned the company’s decision to not activate Open Homes when regular bookings on the platform are still active in Lebanon. A quick search by MENAbytes on the platform for a stay in Beirut returned over 300 properties available to be rented.
He also suggested that the company could consider supporting hosts outside the blast zone if it is concerned about structural safety. The Lebanese entrepreneur also requested Airbnb not to collaborate with the local government as “it is the root cause of the problem.”
According to the information available on Airbnb’s website, it offers reimbursements for property damage to Open Homes hosts. “Though accidental damage is rare, we understand you may need protection. The Host Guarantee will reimburse every host for property damages up to USD 1,000,000,” notes Airbnb on the website.
Airbnb does not have a physical presence in Beirut. For now, it may not activate Open Homes in Lebanon, as the company may not be willing to commit to offering reimbursement in case properties suffer further damage or personal injuries. Activating Open Homes in the country would likely require an adjustment to its policy that covers financial damages.
This article first appeared in MENAbytes.