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People worldwide are booking nights at Airbnbs in Ukraine that they have no intention of using. It's meant to help get money to locals. But is it helping?
Dubbed the “pay, don’t stay” movement, people worldwide are booking Airbnbs in Ukraine as a way to get funds into the hands of locals. But it can be challenging to figure out who is getting the money.
Sarah Brown knew she wanted to do something for the people of Ukraine after Russia invaded the country on February 24, but she wasn’t sure what. She considered the various avenues available to provide aid—organizations like UNICEF and World Help—and ultimately decided it was important to her to do something that felt closer to home.
Brown runs a business managing 30 Airbnb properties in Park City, Utah. She decided that the fastest way that she knew how to help was to book Airbnb stays in Ukraine. She had no intention of staying in the rentals, of course—it was simply a quick way to get much-needed dollars into the hands of the hosts. In her booking note, she said she wouldn’t be coming in person and “just wanted to send some love your way.”
Soon after, one of the Ukrainian hosts wrote back to express her gratitude, adding that the gesture “does help us to survive these hardest days.”
Brown isn’t alone. As a show of support for the Ukrainian people, myriad well-wishers worldwide have been booking Airbnb overnights across Ukraine through a grassroots effort that’s been dubbed the “pay, don’t stay” movement. On March 8, more than 61,000 nights had been booked in Ukraine, according to Airbnb, which translated to more than $2 million in what are essentially grassroots donations (as of March 10, Airbnb did not have updated figures).
In the days since, stories of Ukrainian Airbnb hosts receiving the funds and using them to pay their staff, to allow other Ukrainians to stay for free (in the event the home is in a safe and secure location), to purchase gear and food for soldiers, and beyond have blossomed across the internet. Although Airbnb isn’t directly involved with the effort, the vacation rental company has since waived all fees, meaning every dollar spent goes directly to the hosts (and is within their account within 24 hours of the “check-in,” according to Airbnb).
While the charitable bookings are well-intentioned, social media has long been a breeding ground for nefarious activities and, sadly, this is no exception. As the movement has become more well-known, it seems some scammers are trying to cash in on the generosity by creating fake listings. So how do you make sure your money is going to those who need it?
Prebooking, there isn’t a lot of transparency about the hosts on the Airbnb website. They could just as easily be a local trying to get by or a fraudster who has created a bogus account—figuring out which it is can be a challenge.
When asked how the website was curbing potential swindlers, Airbnb communications manager Haven Thorn said, “Airbnb is actively evaluating listing activity in Ukraine, on top of our robust measures in place to detect and deter fraudulent activity.”
One fail-safe, Thorn noted, is to book with an Airbnb owner who has multiple reviews that date back to before 2022—listings that have been around since before there were even rumblings of a potential war. It should weed out phonies, though as a side effect, it could also mean that some legitimate hosts who don’t yet have reviews are overlooked.
Brown said she’d heard concerns about making sure the funds get into the hands of individuals instead of corporations. The worry is that there’s no way to determine whether the business is based in Ukraine or elsewhere. It’s even possible that the money is inadvertently being sent to Russia if the corporation that established the listing is based there.
While she can understand the apprehension, it’s not stopping her from donating when larger businesses are involved.
“We’ve personally worked with two property management companies, and they said they’re using the money to continue to pay their staff and support people in their community,” Brown said. She added that she often sends a message asking whether the would-be recipient is genuinely a Ukrainian in need. It’s not foolproof, but she hopes they’re honest in their response.
However, if you’d prefer to donate to a single person, she recommended looking for a shared room or a room in someone’s home (which is unlikely to be managed by a company), as opposed to an entire apartment or house.
Beyond booking stays, some Airbnb users have been scheduling experiences like walking tours and winetastings. The process is similar to booking a room and reaches additional Ukrainians. However, the same precautions apply. If you go this route, try to at least make sure it was an experience that was established well before the conflict.
On February 28, Airbnb and its charitable arm, Airbnb.org, announced that it was working with its hosts to house up to 100,000 refugees fleeing Ukraine. The stays are free for refugees and are funded by Airbnb, donations from hosts, and donors to Airbnb.org—so contributing to this cause is another way to help in the event that booking with an individual host has some concerned. According to Liz DeBold Fusco, a communications lead at Airbnb, the rental company is “partnering with nonprofits on the ground who are working directly with refugees to provide housing support.” As of March 10, Airbnb’s partners include the International Organization for Migration and the German Federal Ministry of the Interior and Homeland.
According to Airbnb, more than 30,000 hosts have signed up to provide refugees with homes, mainly in Poland, Moldova, Romania, Hungary, and Slovakia.
Currently, the brand is committing to two weeks per rental (though it’s hard to say how many refugees would use one rental—it could be an individual or a family). A brand spokesperson said they’ll consider adding stays as the situation evolves.
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