airbnb AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File

A couple of years ago, I intended to book an Airbnb in Surf City, North Carolina. The home was a cute cottage-like beach house that looked perfect for a mini-vacation. The dates I wanted were available, so I filled out the reservation under my name and booked the house. I then quickly received a message from the host saying the dates I booked it for were unavailable.

Hmm, I thought. Something was off. 

I then asked my husband to try and book the house under his name, since the dates still showed as being available in the app. Sure enough, when he booked it, his reservation was accepted without question. The only difference between his reservation and mine was that I have a Latino name, and he does not. 

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This type of discrimination happens more often than not—and Airbnb is working on rectifying this. 

For the past six years, Airbnb has conducted an audit to fight against discrimination and build inclusion. The analysis — part of the company’s “Project Lighthouse” initiative — was a follow-up to its 2016 civil rights audit to help combat discrimination. A 2019 follow-up was also conducted. 

Their latest new report found that guests perceived to be Black were able to book their stay successfully 91.4 percent of the time, and Latinos were able to book 93.4 percent of the time, compared to 94.1 percent of guests perceived to be white. 

Furthermore, Airbnb said that as of 2018, it prevented hosts from seeing a guest’s profile picture until after they accepted their reservation. The company said this change closed about one-fifth of the disparity.

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“Airbnb led the way for the tech industry in undertaking its civil rights audit in 2016,” former Attorney General Eric Holder, whom Airbnb requested to advise on developing its anti-discrimination policy, said in a statement. “In the years since, I have continued to be impressed by the company’s sustained work and holistic approach to acknowledging and addressing discrimination.”

“Instant Book” is one of the ways that effectively helped people of color have better success rates. Because reservations made with Instant Book don’t require a review by the host before approval, bookings are more objective. 

While Instant Book effectively reduces racial disparities in the booking success rate, there was another gap in the ability of guests from different perceived races to access Instant Book. 

For example, the analysis found that a large percentage of guests perceived to be Black or Latino/Hispanic are first-time users of the platform and often do not meet Host-selected criteria to use Instant Book because they do not yet have a history of reviews.

While Airbnb has much more work to do regarding discrimination, the tech company has been praised by the League of United Latin American Citizens and the NAACP. 

“Airbnb has committed to walk with us and others to unpack their journey to achieving diversity, equity, and inclusion as an organization. Over the last six years, the company has set and maintained the blueprint for how companies should tackle this critical work: in a transparent, public-facing, and introspective way,” NAACP President Derrick Johnson said. 

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