Upon leaving the Hotel du Nord cafe last Friday night in Paris’ trendy Canal St. Martin district, dozens of police cars were streaming into the area two blocks away to cordon off the area around the terrorist attacks at Le Carillon and Le Petit Cambodge restaurants.
Bystanders were fleeing the scene, crying or yelling into their phones, as riot police and medical workers showed up, seemingly not yet fully understanding the scope of what had just happened.
I was in town for the annual Airbnb Open 2015 conference with 5,000 Airbnb hosts visiting to learn about the latest product and service developments at the room sharing company.
Sirens filled the streets of Paris continually for the next hour that it took to walk back to my Airbnb apartment off St. Denis. I passed by police with guns drawn in Place de la Republique as they made their way toward Canal St. Martin, while cafes were locking their doors with patrons still inside.
At times like that in a foreign country, your natural inclination is to reach out to other people for support. As I walked home I was trying to read news updates on my phone and watch televisions through the windows of cafes showing the local news. I was communicating with the Skift crew on our internal Slack network and texting/emailing friends back in the U.S.
It wasn’t long before emails and texts started arriving from Airbnb representatives in Paris asking for everyone to check in. I wasn’t expecting that. Up until that moment I’d never really thought about Airbnb as a community. I had always just looked at the platform as a website to find an affordable place to stay in large cities.
In fact, the Airbnb user experience is really a growing social network.
Leading up to Airbnb Open last week, Airbnb launched a bunch of new tools and programs including an updated online Community Center, where hosts can engage with other hosts and guests from around the world. This is in addition to the already established Airbnb Groups community platform accessible only for hosts.
The new Community Center serves as both a learning forum for hosts to develop new hospitality and business skills, and it provides a platform for conversation around specific events such as Airbnb Open. For example, one host used the Community Center to post news updates from Airbnb Open.
To drive exposure around the launch of the new Community Center, Airbnb is hosting a contest for Airbnb Open participants to submit stories that emphasize the spirit of community among Airbnb members. The contest runs through December 1.
Following the attacks, over 300 hosts in Paris posted offers to host stranded guests for free on both the Community Center and Disaster Response pages. Although, it would help if the two pages were better integrated with each other. The Community Center is also not accessible from the Airbnb homepage presently.
One host from England named Peter wrote this in the Community Center on Saturday:
“The hosts attending the Open were really touched that people from the company went out of their way to check that everyone attending was safely out of harm’s way in Paris. The local hosts are clearly shocked at what has happened and what it will mean to their lives. The small gestures of concern and support from Airbnb seem genuinely appreciated.”