Inclusion policy pushed on to 2.3+ million people over night

One of the world’s largest digital travel companies extends their commitment to Inclusion and Respect to all their 640,000 hosts and 2.3 million users. With this, Airbnb is maybe having – in terms of sheer numbers – the largest impact on global citizens ever.

San Francisco-based accommodation rental company Airbnb has just informed all their hosts and renters via email that every user on the platform will have to agree with the company’s Non-discrimination Policy, ‘Our Commitment to Inclusion and Respect’, when logging in Nov 1 or afterwards. “This step goes much further than many other commitments we have seen from large companies”, Diversity expert Michael Stuber comments the move. He describes the initiative as exceptionally strong, far-reaching and also remarkably detailed regarding the Diversity content covered.

Potential discrimination on an online platform

Technically speaking, Airbnb is an online marketplace that brings together hosts and renters. As the specific reservation policy is largely determined by the hosts, including their right to cancel in the last minute, a certain hierarchy is embedded in the system. Where hierarchies and humans intersect, discrimination can potentially happen. That it does happen within an online travel platform has been widely reported through the hashtag #AirbnbWhileBlack. On the other hand, it would be a surprise if no cases of (alleged) discrimination or inappropriate behaviour was reported in such a large system where also cultural and other values intersect. However, Airbnb had also been criticized for the prominence of profile pictures in this context as these could potentially lead to discriminatory behaviour.

Clear requirement to agree with the I&R Policy – or leave the community

Airbnb has decided to be very clear in that the company will only continue to allow hosts and renters on their platform who affirmatively agree to a detailed commitment to Inclusion and Respect. This prohibits hosts from refusing guests, imposing conditions or indicating preferences ‘based on race, color, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status’. The message from Airbnb specifies that they will not accept users who do not make their agreement explicit: ‘If you choose to decline, you will not be able to host or book using Airbnb’. In other words, the company will rather not do business with hosts or renters who do not commit to not to discriminate. “This illustrates a higher commitment than we have seen in most other cases”, Stuber points out. But then, Airbnb has a robust business model including dream margins and no direct competitor.

Implementation and outlook

Regarding the implementation of the Inclusion & Respect policy, Airbnb has specified a number of details providing guidance for hosts as to what they can require guests to do (or not do) as well as under which conditions (or based on which criteria) they can reject guests. It comes as no surprise that on some online forums, users complained that smokers, for example, where not included in the policy. Diversity experts know, however, that the choice or habit of smoking does not fall under the same umbrella than race, age or gender. The policy, though, does not specify to the same extend, how renters are expected to observe the agreement. One section of the policy points to potential areas where this would be important: If the host, for example, maintains a kosher kitchen, they may require the renters to respect those restrictions. This might well include to provide quite some information for travelers who might not be aware of some details involved. But then, Airbnb has announced that this policy is only a first step. And certainly a big one.

You may read the full policy here.