Airbnb, Alibaba, and Netflix are Adjusting Their Operations, and Disseminating Information

In terms of physical health, social consequences, and economic impact, the ongoing pandemic of 2019 novel coronavirus or COVID-19 is having various effects on institutions across the globe. Despite experiencing a mixed bag of fortunes, three organisations - Airbnb, Alibaba, and Netflix - have been making their own contributions to the worldwide efforts at COVID-19 crisis management.

Airbnb: Adapting To a New COVID-19 Business Model, and Keeping Hosts and Guests Informed

From a base of more than seven million listings spread across 100,000 cities worldwide, a 2019 valuation of over US$30 billion, and plans to go public in 2020, Airbnb is having to adjust to a new market environment created by COVID-19, in which bookings for the rental industry disruptor have plummeted.

The company is also having to adapt to a new marketing model that’s seeing Airbnb hosts desperate to assure themselves of some kind of regular income during the global pandemic either pulling out of the company’s ecosystem entirely, or proactively offering their homes as “14-day isolation suites” for patients with confirmed COVID-19 symptoms, or as rest havens for stressed out front line workers.

In both of these latter cases, residents of neighbourhoods adjacent to Airbnb rental homes are up in arms over the possibility that short-term renters could spread the coronavirus.

Airbnb has taken a number of steps in response to these dilemmas. According to The Guardian, the company’s updated instructions for cleaning and hygiene recommend that hosts stock their properties with “a few extras” like “antibacterial hand sanitiser, disposable gloves and wipes, hand soap, paper towels, tissues” … and toilet paper. And last week the company instituted a ban on any listings that “reference Covid-19, coronavirus or quarantine” and listings which “incentivise bookings through Covid-19-related discounts, stocks of limited resources, or the highlighting of quarantine-friendly listing attributes”.

To provide some protection for renters, early in April Airbnb introduced a policy allowing all guests who booked prior to March 14th (and who were checking in no later than May 31st) to cancel their existing bookings for free. In Australia, the peak body representing Airbnb and other short-term rental companies has been seeking support for hosts in the form of mortgage payment deferrals and other financial measures.

In the UK, BBC News discovered a number of unvetted listings on the Airbnb website for properties variously advertised as "Covid-19 retreats" and "perfect for isolating with family" in the British countryside. Airbnb has disabled its "instant book" function for whole properties, as a result of these investigations. A statement from the company points out that "Hosts in the UK are also opening their homes to NHS [National Health Service] and other health care providers as part of a global initiative that has seen more than 100,000 places to stay made available so far."

As part of its efforts to maintain oversight and keep the COVID-19 situation under control, Airbnb has also set up an Extenuating Circumstances Policy web site. The portal lays out all the cancellation and refund options available to guests, and provides a hosting dashboard with information and updates for Airbnb rental property owners.

The site also includes a Resource Centre with curated articles outlining events relating to the pandemic, and the latest information on Airbnb’s own COVID-19 response.

Alibaba: Providing COVID-19 Crisis Managers with Prevention and Treatment Consultation, a Digital Platform, and Essential Resources

Our best hope of truly combating the COVID-19 is with a coordinated effort from researchers, suppliers, and front line medical teams around the world. This requires easily accessible databases of relevant information, reliable channels for communication, and tools and platforms to enable them to collaborate with each other.

To this end, the Jack Ma Foundation and Alibaba Foundation, with the support of Alibaba Cloud Intelligence and Alibaba Health have set up the Global MediXchange for Combating COVID-19 (GMCC) programme. The scheme draws on the valuable experience of Chinese doctors and relief workers operating at the origin points and epicentre of the global pandemic, to provide their colleagues in other parts of the world with COVID-19 prevention and treatment consultation from front line doctors. The Global MediXchange for Combating COVID-19 also provides medical scientific research institutions with access to AI, big data, and cloud computing capabilities.

The exchange consists of four centres. The Resources Sharing Centre shares authoritative anti-epidemic information. Medical professionals can exchange real-time clinical experience of the latest epidemic prevention and control methods via an International Medical Expert Communication Centre. The COVID-19 Chinese Consultation Centre provides overseas Chinese compatriots with real-time health consultation and online Q&A. And cutting-edge anti-epidemic technologies are featured in the Fighting COVID-19 Technology Centre.

In other activities, Alibaba Group is offering a cloud-based coronavirus diagnostic tool to Europe’s embattled health systems. Alibaba claims that the software developed at its Damo research centre can diagnose the COVID-19 virus quickly and with 96% accuracy. The company says it has tested the product in China on 5,000 patients.

Netflix: Advice on Coping During the Pandemic, and Adjusting Network Capacity to Cope with COVID-19 Demand

Playing to its strengths, streaming network Netfilx is launching a new series on Instagram with its focus on taking care of yourself and your mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic. Stars from some of Netflix’s top Young Adult shows and movies, like “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,” “The Kissing Booth,” “Stranger Things,” “Cheer”, and “13 Reasons Why” will contribute to the programme.

The stars will talk with trusted mental health experts from partner organisations including the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Mental Health America, The Trevor Project, Crisis Text Line, and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Topics will cover areas such as “how do you stay connected during social distancing?,” “what self-care actually means,” and “how do we manage anxiety?”

With surges in data traffic due to increased demands for collaboration tools, news, communications, and entertainment platforms, Netflix is adjusting its behind the scenes operations to accommodate the new constraints imposed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Netflix's VP of networks, Dave Temkin and his team are preparing for what they describe as a "new normal" by adjusting their approach to where Netflix deploys infrastructure around the world for content delivery, as well as the company's studio and corporate networks, systems, and storage.

As the pandemic worsened earlier this year, this was a bit of a juggling act. For example, when Netflix’s primary server manufacturer in California was forced to close down, the team had to quickly shift some of the manufacturing elsewhere, and call on trusted partners for cross connect provisioning. And to relieve some of the pressure on its network infrastructure, Netflix recently announced it would reduce streaming bit rates across Europe.

Moving forward, one of the main issues Netflix has to resolve is figuring out how to help content producers work from home, as the COVID-19 lockdowns continue.

Organisational responses to COVID-19 will no doubt be a hot topic at ProcureCon EU 2020, which is scheduled to take place from 13 - 15 October, 2020, at the Hyatt Regency Barcelona Tower. In any event, you can download the agenda today, for more information and insights.

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