Skift Take

Airbnb bookings in Ukraine are very well-intentioned and much of it may be going to hard-hit individual hosts. However, Airbnb doesn’t expressly identify professional hosts so a chunk of the funds may be unwittingly going to big property managers that aren’t even based in Ukraine.

Many people have expressed solidarity with Ukraine by booking stays on Airbnb that they think are with individual hosts, but often they are sending money to large professional hosts who may not even be located in the war-torn country.

That’s because Airbnb listings don’t identify whether the host is a professional or an individual just trying to make a living. In 2018, the European Commission and European Union consumer officials said several Airbnb practices violate competition laws, and recommended Airbnb “clearly identify if the offer is made by a private host or a professional, as the consumer protection rules differ.”

Airbnb, however, still in the vast majority of cases isn’t transparent up-front about the nature of the host’s enterprise.

Consider an Instagram user, @downhomedoodle, who posted an Airbnb reservation at Predslavynska Street 53 in Kiev, Ukraine for March 4-7. 

“I just booked a night for every night this month in Kiev on @airbnb,” @downhomedoodle wrote. “I did make sure that it was owned by an independent person that lives in Kiev. After booking I messaged the host to let them know that we aren’t coming but we are praying for their safety. Most nights are under $60!. Down Home Family, let’s all go book one night and let these people feel some love!”

Many guests merely view the initial Airbnb page giving the first name of the host. However, if you click further on the host’s photo you’ll see the host of the Predslavynska Street property has 39 listings. So this professional host or property manager is hardly “an independent person that lives in Kiev.”

In fact this professional host may not be headquartered in Ukraine at all and could be a corporation in Russia or practically anywhere.

It’s a similar story for Christopher Cartwright, a Twitter user who reserved a two-bedroom apartment on Leontovycha Street in Kiev. He used the hashtag #StandWithUkraine and suggested “you can also send money to the army to buy weapons. I did that too. F.K. Russia.”

But if Cartwright thought he was helping a Ukrainian individual or family with little income, he might be way off the mark. Cartwright’s host is a superhost with 13 listings. Not too many Ukrainian citizens have the means to own or rent 13 properties.

It was a similar deal for Twitter user @reptiletoes, who said of her Ukraine booking, “I picked host/rooms that were less than $30 US. With single rentals. Verified and established.”

However, the serviced apartment that she booked in Kharkiv Oblast, Ukraine, is hosted by superhost Marina, who has 26 listings. The listing said Marina lives in Ukraine, which may be true. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the company Marina is involved with is Ukraine-based. Property managers often select a co-host to manage properties at the local level.

To its credit, Airbnb has waived host and guest fees in Ukraine to show its solidarity with Ukraine, and CEO Brian Chesky wrote on Twitter two days ago: “In 48 hours, 61,406 nights have been booked in Ukraine. That’s $1.9M going to Hosts in need.”

Airbnb didn’t directly respond to questions about people being confused about whether they were booking with an individual host or a pro, and the fact that Airbnb doesn’t identify property managers as such on its platform.

In response, an Airbnb spokesperson said: “We are so humbled by the inspiring generosity of our community during this moment of crisis. Airbnb is temporarily waiving guest and Host fees on bookings in Ukraine at this time. We also encourage anyone interested in getting involved with Airbnb.org to go to airbnb.org/help-ukraine, and support Airbnb.org’s initiative to provide housing to refugees fleeing Ukraine, by becoming a Host or donating. To date, we have seen an overwhelming response to this effort, with nearly 1.2 million visitors to this page.”

The spokesperson also suggested that bookers read the reviews about hosts to see how long they’ve been hosting and to find out additional information.

While bookers may be transferring money may to small-time hosts under duress and small businesses in Ukraine, a chunk of those well-meant bookings is going to big property managers who might not even be located in Ukraine. Bloomberg reported that nearly 75 percent of these bookings come from people in North America and the UK.

It’s well-known, for example, that Russian companies have substantial investments in Ukraine, including in the property management sector, so some of this well-intentioned bookers may be sending money to Russian investors, and not under-duress Ukrainian citizens.

TV channel London Live tweeted that Simon Calder of Calder Travel said during an Instagram Live feed that “using Airbnb as a way to donate to Ukraine could inadvertently help Russia.” 

The idea for booking Ukraine stays as acts of solidarity for guests who never intend to visit the war zone came from an Instagram account, Quentin Quarantino, who wrote: “I shared an idea to support Ukraine by booking rooms for rent on Airbnb. 24 hours later, 100’s of people are booking Airbnbs in Ukraine as a way to send immediate monetary assistance to people in hard-hit areas. The messages in response from the hosts are so moving.”

Airbnb, which has waived fees in Ukraine, endorsed the idea. Airbnb’s Chesky wrote on Twitter: “Such a cool idea from our community. Thank you.”

Some Twitter users have questioned the effort, arguing that some of the money may not be going to the intended people, and that support might be more effective if directed to the Red Cross or other aid organizations on the ground.

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