Airbnb has inked a deal with Fire and Emergency that will see free accommodation offered to New Zealanders hit by a disaster or civil emergency.

The partnership will also see first-responder crews from out-of-town offered free housing.

Airbnb global head of policy Chris Lehane says Airbnb hosts will be asked to volunteer their homes in the event of an emergency.

That makes it seem like a win-win PR jape for Airbnb, which scores a load of positive publicity while its hosts pick up the tab.


However, his company will also pitch in and pay hosts, or subsidise their expenses, if the situation warrants. Airbnb would be most likely to pay a host if accommodation for emergency crews was involved, he said.

The relief accommodation scheme had its genesis when Hurricane Sandy hit the north-east of the US in 2012. Local authorities realised Airbnb could be the fastest way to organise temporary housing, and the hosting service responded.

It has since been used during multiple disasters around the world. And although Airbnb is willing to pay costs in some instances, Lehane says communities usually want to offer support for free.

Airbnb pitched in during the recent wildfires in California.

More pointedly, it also offered free accommodation in and around the US-Mexican border for relatives and legal aid teams during controversy over immigrant children being separated from their families.

In September, in co-operation with a charity run by former US vice president Joe Biden, Airbnb also started offering free accommodation for parents of children undergoing treatment for cancer; a sort of virtual Ronald McDonald House. Lehane says the scheme will likely be expanded from the US to other countries.

Lehane said despite an Auckland Council crackdown requiring Airbnb hosts to pay business rates and insurance, the number of hosts had nearly doubled to around 10,400 over the past year, with average gross earnings around the $4500 mark.