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Airbnb to house up to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees, CEO says

Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky joins Yahoo Finance Live to talk about funding housing for Ukrainian refugees amid the Russian invasion, limited Russian exposure following sanctions, and expected chilling effects on European travel.

Video Transcript

KARINA MITCHELL: All right, we'll switch gears now. Airbnb is one of many companies stepping in to help aid Ukraine amid the ongoing Russian invasion. Yahoo Finance's Akiko Fujita spoke with Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky to discuss, and she joins us now. Akiko.

AKIKO FUJITA: Hi there, Karina. Well, the UN estimates that more than 600,000 refugees have already crossed from Ukraine into neighboring countries. And CEO Brian Chesky tells me that he has been in touch with 14 different European governments over the last several days coordinating with refugee agencies to try to make Airbnb's vision a reality, with the goal to offer free temporary housing to 100,000 refugees.

BRIAN CHESKY: Well, the idea is really rooted in something that started 10 years ago. 10 years ago, Hurricane Sandy, as you know, being in New York, occurred in 2012 in New York. There were displaced people. One of our hosts reached out to us saying, I'd like to host people for free.

From that moment, we started providing housing for people for free that were displaced by disasters. Five years ago, in partnership with what is now Airbnb.org, we started providing housing for refugees. Over the last handful of years, we've housed 54,000 refugees. When the humanitarian crisis broke out in Afghanistan, as you know, tens of thousands of refugees fled the country.

We have, to date, housed 21,300 refugees in Afghanistan. And we increased our goal to house now 40,000 Afghan refugees. So all of this came about because we have a 10-year history of providing housing for people in need. So what happened was Thursday, Friday when this crisis became-- when it became evident that there would be hundreds of thousands of displaced people, the first question we asked is, well, how can we help with this crisis?

And obviously, the best way we can help this crisis is provide housing for refugees. So we had a team work 24/7 around the clock to be able to get to yesterday's commitment that we will work in a partnership with Airbnb.org and our hosts to house up to 100,000 refugees. And it's going to be totally free to them.

And we can only do this with the partnership of our hosts. So we're trying to get as many people in Poland, and Germany, and Hungary, and Romania, and countries even west of those countries to be able to open up their homes for free or at discount. And Airbnb and Airbnb.org donors, we're also going to be obviously contributing a significant amount of money to be able to pay for these operations.

AKIKO FUJITA: We've seen over the last few days, a number of Western companies who have announced they are, in fact, withdrawing from Russia, some companies who are divesting investments that they have in place there. Airbnb has still a lot of listings-- I just went on the platform before I talked to you-- several hundred listings in places like Moscow as well as St. Petersburg. Does the company plan to continue operating there?

BRIAN CHESKY: We are looking at this actively. Let me just say a couple of things. Number one, we've had our hands very full the last few days. This has been all hands on deck to figure out how to be able to house 100,000 refugees. So I told our team, this is priority number one. How can we help?

Number one way we can help is to be a part of this humanitarian crisis. Number two, we are absolutely supportive of whatever sanction the United States imposes on Russia. Number three, as a practical matter, a lot of the sanctions that have already been imposed have been imposed on Russian banks, which have prevented many people from paying or getting paid.

So as a practical matter, our business is much more limited right now because of the sanctions. But all things are on the table and we are actively looking into this.

AKIKO FUJITA: Yeah. What's going to go into that thinking? I mean, to your point, with the sanctions already in place, especially these banks being blocked from the SWIFT banking system, that automatically kind of forces your hand that you're not able to do a lot of these transactions. But in terms of the company saying, we just need to take a stand here and no longer operate-- what's going to go into that thinking?

BRIAN CHESKY: Well, I want to make sure that any decision we make, we consider all of our stakeholders, the impact we have on our guests, our hosts, and communities all over the world. And so we try to have a very thorough process for these decisions. And it's just a matter of-- this is like a triage situation, trying to be able to provide housing for 100,000 refugees. But we are absolutely discussing these matters.

AKIKO FUJITA: Brian, I know the last time we spoke, you were talking about the real pickup that you're seeing in travel, especially for the summer season.

BRIAN CHESKY: Right.

AKIKO FUJITA: I know you've got a big presence in Europe. And the hope here really was for these, you know, cross-border travel to pick up. What kind of impact do you think this is going to have on that? I realize we're talking about Eastern Europe, specifically Ukraine and Russia, but we've seen a number of governments move in blocking airspace to Russian planes and whatnot. Do you get the sense that this could have a bit of a chilling effect on some travelers who say maybe this is not the right time to do it?

BRIAN CHESKY: I mean, there's no question that in parts of Central and Eastern Europe for the immediate near-term, there's going to be some limits on the types of travel people have. But I think it's really important for people to understand our business-- we have nearly every type of space in nearly every type of community at nearly every price point in 100,000 cities all over the world.

What the last two years have shown, I think, our results have shown is however the world changes, our business can adapt. We're a highly adaptable model. So where there's less cross-border travel, we typically see a growth in domestic travel. That's what we saw in the United States.

So I think that-- you know, I'm sure there will be some disruption in some countries. We'll have to see how wide this crisis gets. But our model is very adaptable and we'll be prepared for however travel changes.

AKIKO FUJITA: And as Brian Chesky said, Airbnb has shown over this last year, some would argue two years, that they can, in fact, adapt to any disruptions in travel. They are, of course, coming off of a record revenue year. As for the European market, this still does remain the largest market for Airbnb outside of the US-- about 35% of nights and experiences booked on the platform came from the EMEA region according to the company.

So they're going to be watching this one very closely. But for now, Chesky saying that they are focused on being able to house those refugees that continue to come across the Ukrainian border. Karina.

KARINA MITCHELL: Yeah, it makes such a tremendous difference there. OK, Akiko Fujita, thank you so much for that interview.