Airbnb Just Updated Its Booking Policies to Address Racial Bias

New data shows travelers perceived to be Black continue to face discrimination when booking Airbnbs.

Airbnb this week released a new report on its Project Lighthouse initiative to combat racial bias on its platform, including major updates it has made to its Instant Book system to face the issue.

According to the report, the lodging marketplace is continuing to observe a notable difference in the booking success rate of travelers using its platform who are perceived to be Black and other travelers. In 2021, travelers perceived to be Black experienced a 91.4 percent booking success rate that was at least two percentage points lower than travelers perceived to be of other racial backgrounds, and almost three percentage points lower than those perceived to be white.

Earlier this year, Airbnb already took steps to address racial bias on the platform by only allowing hosts to see a potential guest's initials instead of their full name before a request is confirmed. The company also said in a report that it booted almost 4,000 accounts globally this year for violating their non-discrimination policy.

The company says it will continue its work on the issue, including by making more users of the platform eligible to use its Instant Book feature.

There are two ways to make a reservation on Airbnb, Instant Book and Request to Book, the first of which is the most popular. Instant Book doesn't directly involve the host but instead relies on reviews.

Typically after every Airbnb stay, both guests and hosts can review one another. This can, however, leave the door open for biased hosts to discriminate against guests of color and impact their ability to book future stays.

The company's newly updated Instant Book settings allow prospective guests to take advantage of the automated reservation feature even if no hosts have previously submitted reviews of them or their stays. Prior to the change, Airbnb recommended that hosts only enable Instant Book for guests who had at least one review from another host after a stay.

The company says that the large number of rejections on the platform are “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.” It estimates that at least 5 million additional guests will be now able to get the most out of Instant Book because of the recent changes.

Other actions Airbnb announced this week include exploring other ways to increase trust between hosts and guests during the reservation process, making it easier for all guests to receive reviews when traveling, expanding their auditing of reservation rejections to better identify bias, and continuing to educate hosts on how to be more inclusive in how they run their Airbnbs.

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Jeremy Porr is a News Writer at Thrillist. Follow Jeremy on Instagram.