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Airbnb Tweaks Instant Book Requirements to Reduce Rejection of Black Guests and Newbies

Airbnb took steps to reduce the rejection of reservations from people perceived to be Black and also others new to the platform who don't have a track record with hosts. Airbnb
Airbnb took steps to reduce the rejection of reservations from people perceived to be Black and also others new to the platform who don't have a track record with hosts. Airbnb

People perceived to be African American or Black still see their prospective Airbnb reservations rejected by hosts at higher rates than any other racial group, but the company made changes to Instant Book last month to attempt to ease the injustice.

Airbnb stated Tuesday in a six-year update on its anti-discrimination efforts that starting in November it updated the Instant Book setting option recommendations for hosts. That allows them to choose to let guests take advantage of this automated reservation feature even if no hosts have previously submitted reviews of them and their stays. After an Airbnb stay, both guests and hosts can review one another.

Previously, Airbnb recommended that hosts enable Instant Book — which has no host intervention — for guests who had a least one review from a host after a stay, and all of these reviews were positive.

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“However, our analysis also found that guests perceived to be Black are eligible for, and access Instant Book at lower rates than other perceived racial groups measured,” the Airbnb report said. “This is, in part, because a large percentage of guests perceived to be Black often do not meet Host-selected criteria to use Instant Book because they do not yet have a history of reviews and/or because they are first-time users of Airbnb.”

Black people using Airbnb — or trying to — have for years protested the perils of traveling with “Airbnb while Black,” and that became an oft-used hashtag on social media.

There are two ways to make a reservation on Airbnb: Instant Book and Request to Book, and the majority are done through Instant Book. Instant Book has no host intervention and the guest receives an immediate confirmation; in Request to Book the host has 24 hours to accept the booking, and some racist hosts have rejected guests because their names sounded Black, Latino/Hispanic or Asian. Airbnb doesn’t display guest profile photos until after the booking in a bid to diminish racism on the platform.

In the report released Tuesday, Airbnb used a random sample of 750,000 reservation requests in 2021, and found that prospective guests who are perceived to be Black had the highest booking rejection rate from hosts compared with other racial groups.

“The widest disparity exists between guests perceived to be Black and guests perceived to be white,” the report said. “Our 2021 data shows that guests perceived to be Black were able to successfully book the stay of their choice 91.4 percent of the time, versus 94.1 percent for guests perceived to be white.”

People perceived to be Asian and those believed to be Latino/Hispanic each had a 93.4 percent success rate, according to the report. Bookings from people thought to be white achieved the highest success rate.

Airbnb estimated that five million additional guests will be able to take advantage of Instant Book because of the changes it made last month.

The overall booking success rate is somewhat misleading, however, because it combines Instant Book reservations with Request to Book data. Since there is no host involvement on the front end with Instant Book, the success rate would undoubtably skew lower when measuring the Request to Book success rate because that’s when hosts have the discretion to turn away guests.

One caveat in making prospective guests eligible for Instant Book — even if no hosts have reviewed them — is there identity must be verified, and they can have a track record of throwing house parties during Airbnb stays, or otherwise breaking Airbnb and host rules.

Airbnb conducted a civil rights audit of the platform in 2016, and issued its first report in 2019 on its activities to combat racism and foster inclusion on Airbnb. In 2020, in partnership with Color of Change.

Airbnb launched what it called Project Lighthouse to spread head anti-discrimination efforts on Airbnb. The report issued Tuesday was an update on those efforts.

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