A tech tool that allows many to save money while traveling has brought others frustration and rejection. When social media user Quirtina Crittenden attempted to book a room on popular home sharing site Airbnb she was repeatedly declined. After voicing her frustrations on twitter using the hashtag #AirbnbWhileBlack she discovered her experience was not unique as consumers from around the globe used her hashtag to share stories of discrimination faced while using home-sharing services.
Home-sharing, the process of leasing or renting a room or an entire house from a resident rather than booking a hotel, has grown in popularity with millennials and budget-savvy travelers. Since Airbnb launched in 2008, it has become one of the worlds most popular home-sharing companies. But like many modern-day innovations, people of color have experienced barriers to access. Studies have shown that Airbnb profiles with African-American sounding names and profile pictures that feature Black users were less likely to be accepted by hosts, and that Black hosts tend to make less income on the site.
Seeking a change
Janaye Ingram, director of national partnerships with Airbnb, says the company has been working hard to combat discrimination. Recent changes include adding an “instant book” feature so that users can secure listings without being approved by a host and redesigning the website in ways that deprioritizes profile pictures.
Since joining Airbnb a little under a year ago, Ingram has spearheaded a partnership with the NAACP that she hopes will ease fears and empower the Black community to take advantage of the economic benefits of home sharing. Under the partnership, Airbnb and the NAACP will conduct targeted outreach efforts in communities of color to introduce residents to the concept of home-sharing. A percentage of the money Airbnb makes through these outreach efforts will be given back to the NAACP.
“This groundbreaking partnership with Airbnb will help bring new jobs and economic opportunities to our communities,” said Derrick Johnson, CEO of the NAACP, in a statement.
Ingram, who used Airbnb for the first time while visiting LA and often uses the service while traveling internationally, previously worked as the executive director of Al Sharpton’s civil rights advocacy group the National Action Network. She often has conversations with friends and colleges regarding the reasons Blacks are hesitant to embrace home sharing.
“I have this conversation with friends from the civil rights (community), and they have said ‘Black people, we don’t always like strangers all up in our business.’ There was a fear and hesitancy (due to) times in days past where we didn’t let people from outside of our community into our home. It’s something that is somewhat true, but if you look at our history, we have been home sharing for almost as long as we have been here. It’s (also) a part of our history,” said Ingram.
Impact in Indy
There has never been a better time for Hoosiers to try home-sharing. Benjamin Breit, Airbnb’s Midwest representative, says Indy is the fastest growing major city for Airbnb in the entire country.
“Business is booming, downtown is booming, and the city is really doing well to the point where hotels are full. Airbnb hosts, and there are around 1,100 of them in Indianapolis, are filling that void,” said Breit.
One local host is 35-year-old Kelli Jones, who says she first used Airbnb in 2011. Though she is aware of stories of discrimination, she was never personally apprehensive about using the site.
“I was traveling a lot for work and got tired of staying in hotels. They are expensive and impersonal. I learned about Airbnb from a colleague and used it while I was on tour. I love the idea of having a homier atmosphere when traveling, with a kitchen and laundry. I found (Airbnb) easy to use and high in value,” said Jones.
“Whether temporarily renting my space when traveling or renting other people’s spaces, I don’t see any reason why people should feel apprehensive.”
Breit added that every zip code in Indianapolis already has at least one host, and many neighborhoods have dozens. The 46205 area code, for example, has 90 active host and 6716 guest in 2017. These hosts made a combined total of $714,857. The two hosts in the 46218 area had 129 guests throughout the year and made $15,462.
“(Airbnb) introduces people to neighborhoods outside of downtown and allows them to experience these areas, and we are seeing (this benefit) neighborhoods that have never really economically benefited from tourism. People are staying in neighborhoods that they otherwise would not have known about. It’s great for small business that never benefited from the foot traffic,” said Breit.
Ingram hopes the popularity of home sharing will give the world a realistic look into urban communities.
“There is something to allowing people from other countries and walks of life into our home,” said Ingram. “We are able to show them the stereotypes they had about us are wrong, and show them parts of our culture that they are interested to see and learn. It allows people to see the Black community beyond what they see on the news or on the screen. (We have) a beautiful culture that has so much to offer the world, and we should be open to sharing that.”
Janaye Ingram, director of national partnerships with Airbnb