Airbnb has been criticized for allowing hosts to discriminate based on race, gender and disability.

By Jessica Plautz
September 08, 2016
Airbnb is fighting discrimination on its platform.
Credit: Busà Photography/Getty Images

Airbnb announced new steps to combat discrimination by its hosts on Thursday. The move comes after the company faced accusations that it made it too easy for hosts to screen guests—whether by race, gender, or disability.

The changes include a more detailed nondiscrimination policy that users must agree to, a promise to find alternative accommodations for guests who feel discriminated against, an expansion of “Instant Booking” options (which do not require a host to approve a guest), anti-bias training, and a promise to continue to do more. There will also be a dedicated team at the company that will focus on identifying how discrimination happens on the platform.

“Bias and discrimination have no place on Airbnb, and we have zero tolerance for them,” Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky wrote Thursday, in an email to those who use the service. “Unfortunately, we have been slow to address these problems, and for this I am sorry.”

Some of the problems guests reported included being denied by a host if their profile photo showed them to be a person of color and being openly turned away by hosts if they identified themselves as transgender.

The criticism peaked on social media, where many used the hashtag #AirbnbWhileBlack. Black travelers, in particular, spoke out about racist experiences with the service, and the backlash resulted in the creation of at least two short-term rental startups: Noirbnb and Innclusive.

Chesky announced the release of a 32-page report that outlines the changes, which will be implemented in coming months.

“In June, we asked Laura Murphy, the former head of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington D.C. Legislative Office, to review every aspect of the Airbnb platform, and to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to fight bias and discrimination,” Chesky wrote.

The effort includes a “Airbnb Community Commitment,” a detailed nondiscrimination policy to be implemented November 1, which all users will be required to sign: “By joining this community, you commit to treat all fellow members of this community, regardless of race, religion, national origin, disability, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or age, with respect, and without judgment or bias.”

October 1, Airbnb will implement the “Open Doors” policy: “If a Guest anywhere in the world feels like they have been discriminated against in violation of our policy—in trying to book a listing, having a booking canceled, or in any other interaction with a host—we will find that Guest a similar place to stay if one is available on Airbnb, or if not, we will find them an alternative accommodation elsewhere.”

Looking further into the future, the company is promising to have 1 million listings that offer “Instant Book,” which does not require hosts to approve guests (and potentially make a conscious or subconscious decision based on their profile).

The last step outlined is offering anti-bias training to hosts and guests, and then publicly acknowledging—in an as-yet-undetermined way—the users who complete it.

“These steps are just the beginning, not the end, of our efforts to combat bias and discrimination,” Chesky wrote.