Airbnb has taken strides to make its platform more inclusive and to increase workplace diversity. However, the home-sharing service has made some ugly headlines in recent years due to instances of host discrimination against minorities, usually on grounds of race, sexual orientation, and gender identity. While the Internet’s favorite home-renting hub works to become more inclusive, here are four entrepreneurial startups aiming to rewrite the standards of the sharing economy.
Stefan Grant got the idea for Noirbnb after a surprise run-in with cops in Atlanta. He and some friends were in town for a music festival in October 2015 when police came knocking on the door of their Airbnb rental. The neighbors had called 911, assuming the men—who were black—were robbing the place. Grant explained that they were house guests, the officers relaxed, and everyone took a selfie. The image was retweeted more than 4,000 times. The incident even caught the attention of Airbnb, and the company invited Grant to San Francisco to discuss how the home-sharing service could better serve the African American community. Alas, nothing substantial came of the meeting, so Grant launched his own platform. Founded in June 2016, Noirbnb’s mission is to provide “safe and welcoming spaces” for black travelers—and anyone else who wants to stay with equality-minded hosts. Like Airbnb, the service allows users to book private home accommodations as well as experiences. Noirbnb is still in private beta and does not have a set launch date, but Grant is hoping to get the platform live next month.
Like Grant, Rohan Gilkes had a negative Airbnb experience that inspired him to start his own service. Gilkes was trying to book a cabin getaway in Boise, Idaho, but was told by the host that the dates he wanted were unavailable. He said no worries, his dates were flexible, and tried to rebook; the host cancelled Gilkes’s new reservation request and then proceeded to block him. Gilkes, who is black, then asked a white friend to try booking the same cabin on the same dates; the white friend’s request was accepted immediately. When Gilkes posted about the episode on social media, notes of empathy—and tales of similar experiences—poured in. He knew then that something had to change. Gilkes launched Innclusive (formerly named Noirebnb—although no relation to Noirbnb) in 2016 and has recruited hosts in more than 130 countries. The digital interface parrots Airbnb, with a full detailing of amenities such as air-conditioning, hot tubs, and smoke detectors. The site is still buggy and most hosts don’t have reviews yet, but properties are bookable.
Frenchman Matthieu Jost and his partner were excited about the homestay they’d booked through Airbnb in Barcelona—until they arrived and realized their host was uncomfortable with having a gay couple stay in her apartment. She even asked if they were going to share the same bed. The couple left the following morning, but the damage was already done. Jost wasted no time building a platform that would circumvent this sort of homophobia—and better ensure the safety of already vulnerable LGBTQIA travelers. Today, misterb&b has 80,000 listings in 130 countries. Roughly 90 percent of its users are gay men, but anyone can book. Some of the hosts’ descriptions have Tinder-ish undertones, but many are just open-minded individuals, couples, and families looking to make new friends and act as allies. Some even put together gay city guides with recommendations for local bars, clubs, shopping districts, and more.
Where some travelers are discriminated against because of their sexual orientation or the color of their skin, people with disabilities are often treated as if they were invisible. Sebastien Archambeaud started Handiscover after trying to plan a family holiday with his wheelchair-using son. Finding suitable accommodations at boutique properties was nearly impossible, and those that were available often didn’t account for the fact that not all travelers with mobility issues face the same logistical challenges. Handiscover’s listings include both hotel rooms and private homes and can be filtered based on a traveler’s mobility—for instance, if he or she can walk up one flight of stairs, can handle only a few steps, or requires a maximum threshold of one inch or lower for a wheelchair to cross. Additional information details the accomodation’s distance from a handicap-accessible parking space, whether bathrooms have roll-in showers with fixed chairs and/or grab rails near toilets, if properties have lift or ramp access, and the exact dimensions of door frames that need to be passed. As with Innclusive, Handiscover’s website bears a striking resemblance to the Airbnb interface. Most listings are in European countries at the moment, but the search works well and the website’s interface is clean and easy to navigate.