While most users will attest to Airbnb’s utility as an accommodation booking marketplace, the company has been grappling with a fairly core problem as of late. Essentially, one person may have a harder time booking a place to stay than another for no other reason than race. Airbnb has a bigotry problem on their hands.
The rumblings started late in 2015 when researchers at Harvard University conducted a study that found renters with African sounding names had a harder time booking accommodations than people with exactly the same profiles but different names. Since then, users have taken to Twitter to share personal experiences of discrimination under the hashtag #AirbnbWhileBlack.
But the company announced they’re now taking steps to fight back against discrimination and racism in the booking process. Some changes include making the user’s profile photo less prominent, blocking out availability if a host claims a space is booked and it isn’t, and encouraging more use of Instant Book where hosts automatically approve all booking requests. And they’ve also outlined a plan to increase diversity inside their own offices.
“Discrimination is the opposite of belonging, and its existence on our platform jeopardizes this core mission,” said Airbnb 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.”
Airbnb has been working with Laura Murphy, former head of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington D.C. office, since June to draft the changes. And she’s created a 32-page report detailing Airbnb’s full plan to implement change and mitigate discrimination. Still, she calls the move “merely a first step” and concedes no one company can completely eliminate discrimination rooted in society.
But some question whether Airbnb went far enough in dealing with this problem. And this is where the company had to find a balance between some of the changes and their core mission. Chesky has likened Airbnb to a “community” where people share services in a spirit of trust. They don’t run their operation like any hotel. For that reason, the service still wants to give hosts the power to have ultimate say over who they accept into their homes. And it’s the reason why user photos aren’t going away altogether.
Time will tell if Airbnb’s policy changes will make real headway against discrimination among its hosts. At least for the victims of discrimination, Murphy pointed out in her report that most wanted to come back to Airbnb if it just implemented some reforms. The recent policy changes might not be revolutionary but they do show the company is at least trying to move in the right direction.