June 16, 2020

Airbnb has a plan to fight racial discrimination (again)

Four years after #AirbnbWhileBlack, the company is stepping up its anti-racism efforts.

Photo: JOEL SAGET/AFP via Getty Images

Coming off the high of settling its long-running lawsuit with New York City, Airbnb is feeling ambitious. So much so that it’s ready to solve another giant problem that has dogged it since day one. 

In partnership with Color of Change, the company is rolling out an initiative called Project Lighthouse to study racial discrimination on the platform. 

We’ve been here before

Unlike when you book a hotel, Airbnb hosts get to screen you first — and internalized bias has left Black guests out in the cold.

Back in 2016, a guest named Quirtina Crittenden started the hashtag #AirbnbWhileBlack after hosts kept ignoring her booking requests. 

Crittenden put her theory to the test: She shortened her name to “Tina,” and she replaced her profile photo with a photo of a skyline. Sure enough, her problems disappeared.

According to a Harvard study, Black users were 16% less likely to be accepted as guests than their white counterparts.

Airbnb isn’t checked out on these problems

On its own, a study might sound like weak sauce, but Airbnb has put its money where its mouth is before. In the years after #AirbnbWhileBlack, the company: 

  • Sent out a “community commitment” pact that threatened to ban hosts who discriminated based on race, ethnicity, and other factors. 
  • Promoted its “instant book” option to cut down on hosts trying to screen their guests. 
  • Stopped displaying guest profile photos prior to booking.

But as CEO Brian Chesky noted to Axios, customers face discrimination even after they’re approved for a stay. 

Take the check-in or checkout process — guests of color may face more suspicion than their white peers. Moments like that, for Chesky, are ripe for improvement.

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