Albertans send cash to Ukraine by renting Airbnb room without staying

By Stephanie Thomas || CTV News Calgary Video Journalist

Airbnb says more than 430,000 bookings have been made in Ukraine out of a community driven effort to send cash directly to Ukrainian residents, without actually spending the night.

The initiative has raised $37 million and continues to climb since it began about two weeks ago, according to an Airbnb spokesperson.

“We’re waiving all service fees in Ukraine for all of these initiatives. So any funds that go towards helping Ukraine actually goes to help Ukraine. So the funds are being used to primarily provide the space,” said Matt McNama, from Toronto on Wednesday.

Victoria Collins-Hood booked a weekend stay in Kyiv via Airbnb but is not leaving her home in Edmonton to experience it.

She wanted to send funds directly to people in Ukraine.

“I sent a message to the host and told them we were supporting him in Canada.”

She thought it would be more immediate than donating to a charity organization.

“Who knows when they’ll get the money, who knows where the money will go? How much of the money would go to them? But this way, I’m helping an actual individual who needs help right now,” said Collins-Hood.

Non-profit researchers say it’s a good way to help those in the middle of the crisis.

“Generally speaking, Ukrainians don’t want your stuff they want, they want cash. They want the ability to flexibly apply those dollars for their needs on the ground,” said James Stauch, the director of the Institute for Community Prosperity at Mount Royal University.

He then added, “We don’t know what their actual needs are so let’s not assume that we do by sending stuff that just becomes a burden in most cases.”


However a drawback Stauch said was worth considering is that many who are most-in-need will not have a place to offer on Airbnb.

“You’re not supporting seniors directly, likely, you’re not supporting children directly, and you’re probably not supporting other members of marginalized groups who don’t have the luxury of being able to rent out Airbnb space.”

He added that donating to charitable organizations as well, such as the Red Cross, will ensure that the vulnerable also receive support.

Amanda Gushue also made bookings on Airbnb and donated to the Red Cross.

“I do know that support like that does take a little longer and I don’t know whose hands its directly going into, whereas this way is kind of almost one-on-one, right in their hands, right in their pockets. And it’s quick, which is the type of support I felt that (Ukrainians) could benefit from the most right now,” said Gushue, who spent $500 CAD for a week long accommodation in the Ukrainian city of Odessa, with no plans to stay there.

Paying it forward

For other “support bookings” she’s made, Gushue has requested the host consider paying it forward if they are not financially struggling amid the Russian invasion.

“Some people do not need the financial assistance, but they’re also finding a way to help others with this assistance that’s given to them,” said Gushue.

Canadian Accommodations

As for opening up accommodations in Canada, Calgary resettlement experts say it will still take some preparation before spaces through rental and room-share websites can be offered in Canada for Ukrainians fleeing war.

“Knowing that this is going to be a vulnerable population, the children, and they will be a traumatized a group of people. So we need to do some preparation,” said Fariborz Birjandian, CEO of the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society (CCIS).

Birjandian says Airbnb has offered $500,000 for a program to find temporary lodging in Canada for Afghan refugees and he suspects there will be a similar program for Ukraine in the near future, pending global and federal decisions on Ukraine.

Airbnb is also opening up 100,000 bookings for Ukrainians who need a place to stay for free yet most are being used in Europe.

Airbnb executives have also announced they will match donations up to $10 million to subsidize stays for Ukrainians fleeing conflict.

The Canadian government is also conducting a donation-match program for the Red Cross to a maximum of $30 million until March 18.

A statement from another room-share app called Vrbo says:

“Vrbo has waived the traveller service fee for bookings of properties in Ukraine and several neighboring countries. We are carefully monitoring the conflict unfolding in Ukraine and the wider situation and extend our deepest sympathy to those impacted,” said Mary Zajac, public relations manager for Expedia Brands, Canada.


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