Airbnb’s big promise to fix racism: If guests are discriminated against, it’ll find them somewhere else to stay

“Discrimination is the opposite of belonging.”
“Discrimination is the opposite of belonging.”
Image: Reuters/Dado Ruvic
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Airbnb is doubling down on its message of ”belong anywhere.”

The home-sharing company today (Sept. 8) released a 32-page report describing its efforts to curb discrimination on its platform. “Discrimination is the opposite of belonging, and its existence on our platform jeopardizes this core mission,” Airbnb cofounder and CEO Brian Chesky wrote in a note to hosts and guests. ”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.”

The report is authored by Laura Murphy, a former director at the American Civil Liberties Union who Airbnb brought on in early June to help lead its anti-discrimination efforts. In it, Murphy outlines eight product and policy changes that Airbnb is making to weed out discrimination from the platform. They include:

  • Asking anyone using Airbnb as of this November to agree to the Airbnb Community Compact, a document that now includes specific language describing when hosts can and cannot deny lodging to guests
  • Increasing the number of “instant book” listings, accommodations that travelers can book immediately without being vetted by the host
  • Decreasing the prominence of photos in guest profiles and emphasizing other information such as reviews from past stays
  • Making anti-bias training available to all hosts as of Nov. 1
  • Appointing a full-time team of engineers to work on matters of diversity and bias
  • Hiring more women and minorities at Airbnb, especially in senior-level positions

But the biggest promise Airbnb is making is this: “if a guest is not able to book a listing because they have been discriminated against, Airbnb will ensure the guest finds a place to stay.”

Airbnb has dubbed this new policy “Open Doors.” The company says in its report that guests who are denied accommodations for discriminatory reasons will receive “timely, 24/7, personalized, hands-on support from a specially trained Airbnb employee who will help the guest and a place to stay on Airbnb.”

Here’s the real kicker, though: “If there is not a similar Airbnb listing in the market, Airbnb will identify an alternative accommodation option.” In other words, if Airbnb truly fails to accommodate guests of all backgrounds, the company will pay the price by helping that customer find lodging somewhere else—even if that means at a hotel. Nick Papas, a spokesman for Airbnb, said the company would consider putting up users in hotels “in rare cases” but that “we don’t expect that to be the case”

“These changes are merely a first step,” Murphy writes. ”Airbnb understands that no one company can eliminate racism and discrimination. Fighting bias is an ongoing task that requires constant vigilance from all of us. And there is no question that we will continue to see examples of bias and discrimination in society, the sharing economy, and Airbnb in the future.”

Airbnb’s efforts to understand and address discrimination should underscore just how existential the problem is. Airbnb has branded itself a global, open, progressive platform. It distinguishes itself from hotels and other traditional hospitality providers largely by selling a feel-good message of belonging and inclusivity. Discrimination sullies every value that Airbnb claims to uphold. For Airbnb, fixing discrimination isn’t just a matter of ideals—it’s inseparable from the success of the business.