Transgender traveler rejected with message: ‘I have a 13 year old boy going through puberty. I don’t want him to feel any discomforts in his own home’
Airbnb is one of the most successful tech start-ups of recent years. Since its launch in 2008, the San Francisco-based company has spiraled into an estimated $30billion-worth business with over 2million accommodation listings in over 191 countries.
However, its growth has not been without problems.
A recent Harvard University study found that Airbnb ‘requests from guests with distinctively African-American names are roughly 16% less likely to be accepted than identical guests with distinctively White names.’
A twitter hashtag, #AirbnbWhileBlack, has also highlighted the experiences of some guest who had poor service or been rejected for accommodation.
In June, a transgender woman reported being turned down for accommodation after revealing to her host that she was trans.
— Shadi Petosky (@shadipetosky) June 5, 2016
‘Bias and discrimination have no place on Airbnb, and we have zero tolerance for them’
In response to these complaints, the company has issued a statement pledging to do better.
It has issued a report, authored by Laura W. Murphy, of the American Civil Liberties Union, on how it can better fight discrimination and build inclusion. The report has been highlighted to all hosts with a message from co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky.
‘Bias and discrimination have no place on Airbnb, and we have zero tolerance for them. Unfortunately, we have been slow to address these problems, and for this I am sorry. I take responsibility for any pain or frustration this has caused members of our community. We will not only make this right; we will work to set an example that other companies can follow.
‘Beginning November 1, everyone who uses Airbnb must agree to a stronger, more detailed nondiscrimination policy.
‘We aren’t just asking you to check a box associated with a long legal document. We’re asking everyone to agree to something we’re calling the Airbnb Community Commitment, which says: We believe that no matter who you are, where you are from, or where you travel, you should be able to belong in the Airbnb community.
‘By joining this community, you commit to treat all fellow members of this community, regardless of race, religion, national origin, disability, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or age, with respect, and without judgment or bias.
Pledges to help guests find accommodation if they’ve been discriminated against
He goes on to say that, ‘If a Guest anywhere in the world feels like they have been discriminated against in violation of our policy – in trying to book a listing, having a booking canceled, or in any other interaction with a host – we will find that Guest a similar place to stay if one is available on Airbnb, or if not, we will find them an alternative accommodation elsewhere.’
He also said that the company is looking to make, ‘anti-bias training available to our community,’ and will increase the availability of ‘Instant Book’ lettings: these allow guest to book rooms without being subject to host approval.
The report also says that it will do more to boost economic opportunities for minority-owned business in its supplier chain.
‘Currently, one percent of Airbnb’s total procurement spend goes to suppliers owned by underrepresented minorities, women, veterans, members of the LGBTQ community, and businesses in Historically Underutilized Business Zones. Airbnb will work to increase this figure to 10 percent of total procurement spend by 2019.’
Earlier this summer, at a Fortune Brainstorm Tech conference in Aspen, Colorado, Chesky told an audience that he was worried about discrimination on Airbnb.
‘When we designed the platform — three white guys — there were a lot of things we didn’t think about,’ said Chesky. ‘There are racists in the world and we need to have zero tolerance.’
‘Technology can bring us together and technology shouldn’t ask us to hide who we are’
Although the diversity and inclusion report has been broadly welcomed, some say Airbnb could go further and remove users photos to further address bias. This solution was discussed but dismissed by the author of Airbnb’s report.
‘Airbnb believes profile photos are an important feature that help build relationships and allow host and guests to get to know one another before a booking begins,’ said Laura W. Murphy.
‘After thoroughly analyzing this issue, I came to believe that Airbnb guests should not be asked or required to hide behind curtains of anonymity when trying to find a place to stay.
‘Technology can bring us together and technology shouldn’t ask us to hide who we are. Instead, we should be implementing new, creative solutions to fight discrimination and promote understanding.’
The discrimination experienced by some guests while booking through Airbnb has partly inspired the creation of rival online accommodation marketplaces – such as noirbandb and misterb&b (tagline: ‘stay like a gay local’).
Helen Belcher, a spokesperson for the UK-based Trans Media Watch told GSN that she welcomed the Airbnb statement but hoped the company would continue to monitor users’ concerns over photo use: ‘As someone who uses Airbnb, I welcome the commitment to equality. However, when community members say that something is problematic, we can’t simply ignore that because of some long-term ideals.’