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What Airbnb’s Anti ­Discrimination Policy Means for Travelers

Grace Lower | Nov 22, 2016

Tiny houses near water

For anyone searching for a home-­away-­from-­home, Airbnb is a go-­to housing resource.

As an alternative to a traditional hotel stay, Airbnb allows travelers to rent rooms—and in some cases, entire homes—from local hosts. This makes for a more personalized housing experience that, according to Airbnb, helps travelers “belong anywhere.”

Despite its feel­-good mission, Airbnb has come under fire for what many are calling discriminatory booking practices. According to a study by Harvard Business School, users with “distinctively African American names” are 16% less likely to have their booking requests accepted. This phenomenon also sparked a social media movement, #AirbnbWhileBlack, where travelers shared their experiences with racial bias while booking.

For Airbnb, these factors pointed to a troubling reality: discrimination is alive and well in the so-­called “sharing economy.”

Last week, Airbnb released an updated anti­-discrimination policy to create a smoother, more equitable experience for all guests. Under the guidance of experts and advocates, the company is working to eliminate bias within its online community.

So what does all of this mean for travelers? Here are some of the biggest changes coming to Airbnb.

Clearer Community Guidelines

Starting November 1, Airbnb guests and hosts must agree to the Airbnb Community Commitment. In doing so, they’ll pledge to treat fellow members fairly—regardless of race, sex, nationality, religion, disability, gender identity, age, or sexual orientation. Airbnb employees will do their part, too, by participating in anti­-bias training to ensure responsible practices throughout the organization.

Ultimately, Airbnb’s community guidelines offer an extra measure of security for all users. Travelers can rest assured knowing that their identity and background are welcome across the Airbnb platform—and they can find a place where they can feel at home.

An Updated Platform

While profile pictures are a beloved feature on many social media platforms, Airbnb will be downplaying the use of photos on its website. Over the next few months, Airbnb will introduce changes to its reservation system that highlight guests’ reviews and trip details prior to revealing their photos.

Some critics claim that these changes do not go far enough to address the issue of discrimination. They argue that the fairest solution would be to do away with photos entirely. However, Airbnb maintains that photos are an important security feature that fosters familiarity between guests and hosts.

Aside from revamping its photo system, Airbnb will be expanding a feature called “Instant Book.” This tool allows guests to book rooms without prior approval from the host. While this may seem like a bit of a gamble for hosts, they can still set certain criteria for their guests, like requiring that they have a minimum 4 / 5 star rating to be approved. Airbnb plans to have 1 million listings available via Instant Book by January 1st, 2017.

Greater Accountability for Hosts

For many disgruntled Airbnb guests, their troubles began when they requested a booking online, only to be told that the listing was not available. In some instances, that same listing was made available shortly after for guests of a different race.

Airbnb is now developing a feature to prevent this sort of selective booking. If a host informs a potential guest that their property is not available, Airbnb’s technology will block the host’s booking calendar for that duration—this will prevent the host from offering the dates to different guests.

Airbnb maintains that any host who repeatedly rejects guests from minority groups undermines the travel community as a whole. Such hosts may run the risk of suspension of using Airbnb’s platform if they demonstrate a pattern of bias. 

Support for Guests

In an effort to create greater transparency, Airbnb will be introducing a new policy called “Open Doors” on October 1. If any guest reports discrimination on the platform­­ either within the booking process or while interacting with a host­­ the company will find new Airbnb accommodations for that user. If Airbnb’s network does not have any openings, the company will secure alternative accommodations through other housing providers.

While this program is a large step forward for the company, it also seeks to resolve past cases of discrimination. If any guest has reported unfair bias prior to the “Open Doors” policy, Airbnb will provide booking assistance for their next trip.

New Opportunities

While change doesn’t always come easily, Airbnb is setting a precedent by prioritizing the comfort and safety of travelers from all backgrounds. With a broader, more diverse pool of Airbnb users comes greater opportunity for cultural exchange

In a letter to Airbnb users, CEO Brian Chesky put it this way: “While we do not believe that one company can mandate harmony among all people, we do believe that the Airbnb community can promote empathy and understanding across all cultures.

By positioning diversity as a key community value, Airbnb is helping ensure that all travelers can feel at home­­-- no matter where their adventures take them. 

 

    Guest contributor: Grace Lower

About the Author

Grace Lower has a love for all things writing and travel. When she's not exploring new places, Grace enjoys teaching English as a Second Language, making terrible puns, and running incredibly long distances at incredibly slow speeds.

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