As I sat to down to write this article I received an email from Airbnb confirming a short stay in the centre of Dublin at the end of the month. Having been both a previous host and a frequent Airbnb guest in various countries, I can fortunately say that I have had nothing but good experiences with the travelling site. However, some have not been so fortunate.
When Gregory Selden requested to book a room in Philadelphia, his request was denied with the appropriate excuse. But after seeing that the dates continued to show as available, he requested the same under two separate white skinned profiles. After having been accepted on both, Selden immediately reported the incident to the site. Surprisingly, Seldon only heard back from Airbnb once the hashtag #AirbnbWhileBlack caused his story go viral.
But Selden’s case wasn’t an isolated incident. According to a recent Harvard study of racial discrimination in today’s sharing economy, African-American guests on the platform are 16% less likely to have their booking requests confirmed than white users. The study confirmed that whilst companies may be aware of these problems, and have made efforts to reduce prejudices, Airbnb’s acceptance system “facilitates discrimination”.
African-American guests on the platform are 16% less likely to have their booking requests confirmed than white users
Following both Selden’s experience and the damning study, Airbnb launched an investigation into racial discrimination on the platform, headed by the American Civil Liberties Union’s Legislative Officer, Laura Murphy. The investigation concluded with a new non-discrimination policy for Airbnb, and improved staff training, focusing particularly on the successful identification and preventing of racial discrimination. Their new policy clearly states that Airbnb fundamentally rests on the inclusion and respect of all races, colours, ethnicities, religions, genders, disabilities and alike – but is this enough?
Their new policy clearly states that Airbnb fundamentally rests on the inclusion and respect of all races, colours, ethnicities, religions, genders, disabilities and alike
A similar situation arose when friends, Malika and John, tried to book a trip on the site. The pair had never even contemplated that Airbnb hosts may be racially biased and discriminative. Yet, due to her skin colour, Malika was regularly being turned down for selected dates that were allegedly unavailable, but yet remained available on the site for other people to book. Despite an apology from Airbnb’s CEO and a condemnation of these unacceptable experiences, victims like Malika felt the company’s efforts were futile and deemed the problem of racism one that is much bigger than one platform.
While the company claim that they addressed Selden’s case as soon as it was brought to their attention, it is hard to see how they can continue to promote “a world where you can belong anywhere”, when his legal case was completely dismissed by a legality. Small print at the time of booking prevented Selden from pursuing legal action, as he had unknowingly agreed to their mandatory arbitration term. Although the company community policy listed on their website states clearly that “the Airbnb community can promote empathy and understanding across all cultures” and that they will not permit “unlawful bias, discrimination, and intolerance”, these recent events have made many users leave the site for other alternatives.
To aptly quote Mark Twain: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness”, and for those seeking a platform free from these all too common fatalities you might be better off heading to one of the alternatives born from the AirbnbWhileBlack hashtag- Innclusive or NoAirbnb that have commited to a discrimination free sharing zone.