Massive complaints on social media spurred startups to compete againnst the lodging platform
Complaints of racial discrimination, posted on Twitter and other social media platforms, are leading two new startups to compete against temporary lodging services giant Airbnb. Whether they can survive against the industry leader is uncertain– but the rise of the new companies shows the power of social media to bring about change.
Noirbnb and Noirebnb are launching to cater to African-American travelers. The startups are separate initiatives although they have similar names.
USA Today reported that Rohan Gilkes, a 40-year-old tech entrepreneur who lives in Tampa, Fla., and Washington, D.C., began working on Noirebnb about three weeks ago after being told a vacation home advertised on Airbnb was unavailable. Then a white friend was able to book the house for the same dates.
After telling his story on social media, Gilkes began hearing from other travelers who also felt they were discriminated against on Airbnb. Many said they were denied because of race, while others cited sexual orientation or physical disabilities.
Two other entrepreneurs, Ronnia Cherry, 30, from Miami and Stefan Grant, 27, from Washington, D.C., have announced plans to launch Noirbnb. They say they were also inspired to compete against Airbnb after a bad rental experience using the service.
Airbnb has been the subject of scores of discrimination complaints, with many of the stories being shared on Twitter under the hashtag #AirbnbWhileBlack.
My assistant told me that she sometimes books me for air bnb and the person cancels us then puts the house back online #AirbnbWhileBlack
— Boyce Watkins (@drboycewatkins1) June 4, 2016
— Paul Perry (@pauldavidperry) May 27, 2016
— Pablo Díaz Luque (@pdiazluque) May 26, 2016
Pressure from social media is forcing Airbnb to take a strong stance against discrimination. It’s a tough spot for Airbnb. Private owners list their properties for rent on Airbnb, which serves only as a booking agent.
However, when discrimination occurs, Airbnb is hit with criticism. USA Today reported that a Harvard Business School study showed rampant discrimination by Airbnb hosts against guests with black-sounding names or with pictures on their profiles that clearly showed guests’ races and ethnicities.