How Airbnb Is Failing Its Marginalized Market

June 9, 2016

4:00 pm

Airbnb is leading the charge when it comes to the emerging sharing economy and vacation rental markets. However, the company’s latest public controversies have raised the question on whether or not it’s properly handling diversity within the markets it operates in. When it comes to raising awareness and creating a safe environment for all users to engage in, how can Airbnb and the rest of the industry better serve marginalized users?

The Issues At Hand

In the last few weeks, Airbnb has been under fire for incidents of discrimination and racism, particularly at Black and trans renters. One Black renter has actually sued the rental company on the basis of racial discrimination, claiming that the Title II housing rights were violated. In a separate case, the company took a year to ban a host that turned away a transgender woman from her rental.

Clearly, discrimination is an issue in this market.

And while the responses from users have reaches a variety of awareness solutions – from the #AirbnbWhileBlack Twitter chats to the creation of alternative housing rental sites like Noirebnb and Noirbnb – there’s still a slow response on the hands of Airbnb itself. Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky used the company’s OpenAir conference to state that the company takes these issues seriously, and that solutions are coming, but will that be enough for marginalized users to feel safe on the platform?

Solving Discrimination Beyond Awareness

Solving the issue of discrimination involves more than just bringing awareness – it’s about involving tangible solutions that involve all facets of the system. Airbnb’s plans to make their platform more open and inclusive for users involve tech-centered solutions. However, the industry as a whole needs to follow suit in order for these solutions to have the most impact.

Research has also been conducted to explore just how far the discrimination fares. In a Harvard Business School 2014 study, it was found that “African-American sounding names were roughly 16 percent less likely to be accepted than their white-sounding counterparts”. In addition, non-Black hosts were found to have an increased pricejump of “approximately 12 percent” compared to Black hosts with similar rentals.

The discrimination that Airbnb and the housing rental industry at large are facing isn’t new; however, it’s an age-old problem that requires new solutions. To solve this issue, we must be able to approach solutions in a way that best gives support to those who are being oppressed. By uplifting and incorporating their concerns into the solution framework, we begin the important work of undoing the roadblocks that separate us, and allow for everyone – including marginalized users – to have an diverse and positive experience.

Image Credit to Open Grid Scheduler / Grid Engine / Flickr.

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Cameron is a tech and culture journalist, comic book enthusiast, and lives near New York City. A graduate of Stockton University, she's using her words to shift the world of online journalism, one byline at a time. When she's not writing, she can be found reading sci-fi novels, collecting succulents, and planning her next obnoxious hair color. Cameron is an editorial fellow at Tech.Co. Send your tips to or tweet @BlkGirlManifest.

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