Photo by Ketut Subiyanto:
A Harvard study in 2015 revealed that Airbnb guests were less likely to host people with names sounding African American, which caused a lot of backlash. The company faced a lawsuit in 2016 that accused it of discriminatory housing practices, although a judge blocked it. In 2019, Airbnb settled a lawsuit with a group of Oregon women who alleged that the company discriminated against them based on race.
Because of these ongoing issues, the company launched an extensive effort to eliminate race-based discrimination on its platform. Let’s discuss what the report revealed and the steps the company planned to address racial inequality.
Understanding the Booking Success Rate
Airbnb measured the booking success rates of different racial groups on its platform based on a sample of 750,000 reservations and found that it was more than 90% for everyone. However, there was a wide disparity between white and black people, with 91.4% of Black people booking their reservation successfully, while the number of white people was 94.1%.
Here’s a complete breakdown of the booking success rate for different ethnicities:
- Asians: 93.4%
- Black: 91.4%
- Latino/Hispanic: 94.4%
- White: 94.1%
- Other/Unknown: 93.2%
Project Lighthouse was launched in 2020 in collaboration with Colors of Change, the nation’s largest online racial justice organization, NAACP, and Asian Americans Advancing Justice.
After the findings came to the fore, Airbnb vowed to fix these issues and make the booking process more equitable with the following plan that addresses racial inequality:
1. Enhanced Profiles
In 2018, Airbnb made some small changes to the profiles of people looking for accommodation, by showing their profile pictures only after the host accepted the reservation. It made a difference of around 0.5% to the racial gap but didn’t impact the difference between other perceived races that much. The company intends to make more profile changes to increase the trust between hosts and guests and reduce bias.
2. Allowing More People to Use Instant Book
Instant Book is a handy feature that can help reduce bias and discrimination on the Airbnb platform. It allows users to book a listing without requiring the host to approve their reservation request.
Some changes to the platform in November 2022 made it easier for Black guests to use Instant Book. As a result, approximately 5 million people will be added to the Instant Book.
3. More Reviews from Guests
Having more or fewer reviews can impact the chances of a guest securing future bookings. Since Black and Hispanic guests often don’t receive reviews, they have even more difficulty securing a place for themselves in the future. Airbnb has changed the review structure, making it easier for every guest to receive reviews, improving the experience for Black & Hispanic guests.
4. Understanding Rejections
Sometimes there is a legitimate reason behind the rejection of bookings, such as changes in the calendar mismatch between the requirements of guests and the host – such as early check-in or bringing pets. Airbnb has made efforts to understand rejections in a better way to improve products and tackle discrimination.
The silver lining in this situation is that Airbnb is serious about tackling the issue of discrimination on its platform, which is evident from statistics. 2.5 million have lost access to the platform for not agreeing to its community commitments since 2016. 4,000 accounts were suspended in 2021 for violating its Nondiscrimination Policy. Given the efforts by the company, one can hope it minimizes racial discrimination at work and provides equitable access to everyone on its platform. Airbnb and Racial Inequity