Could a Discriminatory Rejection of a Booking on AirBnB have given birth to it’s greatest competition?

black owned travel guide“There will be a day sometime in the near future when this guide will not have to be published. That is when we as a race will have equal opportunities and privileges in the United States. It will be a great day for us to suspend this publication for then we can go wherever we please, and without embarrassment.” (Negro Motorist Green Book – 1948)

This statement served as a hopeful and prophetic ending the introductory section of their 1948 edition of the highly treasured publication. The Greenbook served to give black people that set out to travel a tool to indicate what service stations,  stores, taverns, barber shops,  restaurants, inns and hotels that were known to be safe for black travelers.  In a Jim Crow  America,  this book’s motto;“Carry your Green Book with you—You may need it,” indicated both it’s purpose and an alert for black people that set out to travel.  In those days, for black people, going to eat at the wrong restaurant or attempting to book a room at the wrong hotel not only could mean a rejection of service; but also, a threat on your life.

The Jim Crow laws were officially abolished on July 2, 1964 when President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  This act was significant in that it outlawed discrimination in public accommodations.  Ironically, fifty years later black people in America are still facing discrimination when they try to travel and book accommodations.

In the summer of 2016 Rohan Gilkes, a black man, was planning a trip to Boise Idaho to go visit a friend who lived in the area.  Excited to spend time with a friend and to undertake a new adventure in Idaho, Rohan took to the super popular travel site Airbnb to book his stay in a huge beautiful cabin that was actually only 2 miles from his friends home.  Rohan went through all the proper protocols and tried to make his Airbnb host comfortable when all of a sudden he was notified that the dates he reserved are no longer available.  Undaunted Rohan re-books for different dates, all of a sudden; CANCELLED.  His new booking was canceled without explanation or further reply from the Cabin hosts.  At this point, Rohan began to suspect that his experience was most likely not due to conflicting dates, but something much more sinister and dark.  Rohan then had a white friend contact Airbnb to book the same cabin with the same hosts and; INSTANTLY, his reservation was approved.

black travel movement 2

Rohan took to social media to share his experience only to find that the hashtag #AirBnbwhileblack was already going viral as thousands of people of color from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds were experiencing discrimination from the popular travel site.   The stories came to Rohan by the thousands.  #Airbnbwhileblack was growing by the day as story after the story began to surface.  Some black travelers even proved their claims of discrimination by creating white profiles to book the same rooms on the same dates to show full proof that whites were being approved and blacks were being rejected.

#Airbnbwhileblack became the platform for black travelers to air their grievances and to share information with other weary African American travelers experiencing bias from Airbnb and their hosts.  Interestingly, Airbnb asks users to identify themselves with their real legal names and a picture, making it very easy for some hosts to exploit this policy by using this data to avoid renting to African-Americans and other minorities.  One report says that their study showed that any booking request made with an African American or Muslim sounding name carried a much higher rate of booking rejection or mysterious cancellation.  In fact,  a recent Harvard University study found that Airbnb hosts are 16% less likely to book users with “distinctively African-American names.”

Fortunately, Rohan was a seasoned entrepreneur with an abundance of tech-savvy.  Rohan was able to respond to this widespread discrimination in a profound way.  He decided to solve the problem for millions of black travelers around the world by building a “new platform where people of all backgrounds can travel and stay with respect, dignity, and love… and was born. ” ( – Our Story) 

Now, what stood out to me about was that the platform was not only built by black people for people of all races and ethnicities to have somewhere to turn to as an alternative to Airbnb, but that it has created genuine solutions to prevent similar discrimination from happening on their platform. has built fail-safes into the platform that “If a host denies a request for a date range, then it will not be available for that date range for anyone,” Gilkes said.   In other words, the system is designed so that “If one person can’t book during a given date, no one can,” Gilkes reported to The Root.

We don’t “Sit In” we respond with our entrepreneurial power in protest.  Our generation will not march, but we will LAUNCH.  We will not beg for a seat at the table, we’ll buy our own tables.

Rohan has been fastidious about making sure that his each and every one of his users has a welcoming experience.  I believe that this type of response to racism and discrimination is fast becoming sort of our generation’s version of a march or a rally.  We don’t “Sit In” we respond with our entrepreneurial power in protest.  Our generation will not march, but we will LAUNCH.  We will not beg for a seat at the table, we’ll buy our own tables.

We will be following with great enthusiasm and high expectation.

Coach Lee – Editor/Founder BlackOwned Magazine & BlackOwned.World

August 5th, 2018


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