This LGBTQ-Friendly Alternative to Airbnb Helps Gay Travelers Feel Safe
One of the big fundamental problems with Airbnb (alongside its catastrophic tendency to inflate housing prices) is that a lot of people who open their home to travelers don’t actually want their home open to all of them.
The site is well-known for it’s rampant discrimination problem -- people with traditionally black names are disproportionately rejected when trying to book; queer couples have been kicked out by hosts who were expecting a straight couple -- and while the company has updated its anti-discrimination policies over the years, it’s remained difficult for people of marginalized identities to feel confident they’ll be safe, welcome, or wanted in Airbnb-listed homes. For LGBTQ travelers, there’s an alternative: misterb&b.
Having grown into the largest gay hospitality service in the world since being founded in 2013, the website lists exclusively gay-friendly hosts, numbering at more than 300,000, spread across 100-plus countries. Though Airbnb is expanding its own business model to also include hotels, misterb&b has always included gay-owned (or gay-friendly) hotels in its listings, along with LGBTQ-friendly city guides, and a blog highlighting gay travel news.
Robert Veith, a 29-year-old graphic designer in Philadelphia who identifies as a gay man, was planning a trip to San Francisco and browsing Airbnbs when he started getting targeted Facebook ads for misterb&b. “It was my first time traveling alone, and I wanted to make sure I was in a place that was comfortable with LGBTQ people,” Veith said. “I wanted to be in a safe environment, and y’know, San Francisco is known for its gay culture. I was hoping I could meet some people who would maybe show me the ropes, show me around, and give me a better look at the city.”
He found a group of three roommates who had an extra room they rented out on misterb&b regularly. His first night in town, he went out on his own and did some sightseeing, exploring the city in the same sort of superficial way most people do when they’re alone in some place new.
“It was nice, but it was a little lonely,” Veith said. “But then the next day I was just kind of hanging out, and [one of the hosts] was hanging out. He asked what I was up to and said that he was meeting his group of friends at one of the local clubs, if I wanted to join. I decided to go along with it because I had nothing else really planned. I ended up hanging out with them the remainder of the trip.”
While misterb&b was founded by a gay man and does cater predominately toward gay cisgender men, as of 2018 it’s open to hosts and guests of all genders and sexual orientations. The company did not respond to requests for comment from Thrillist, but has stated it’s aiming to become more inclusive to the broader queer community.
“It’s definitely geared, as are most things in the LGBTQ spectrum, toward cisgender gay men,” said Ben Chung, a 22-year-old linguistics student at Lund University in Sweden who identifies as a gay man. “Definitely a smaller fraction of the hosts are women. But friends who aren’t gay men have stayed with me on double bookings have enjoyed it too.”
Chung has used misterb&b in Athens, Rome, Bologna, Valencia, and Barcelona, and is about to use it on a trip to Lisbon. He’s found the service to be responsive in terms of customer support, and a useful tool to have regardless of where he’s headed. “It’s supposed to be someone’s home, right?” Chung said about feeling welcomed as a gay traveler. “So now, there aren’t gonna be any awkward conversations. I don’t have to tone anything down.”
He’s experienced a few minor hiccups, and in Barcelona was once hosted by a self-described history-enthusiast who turned out to have a Spanish-language copy of Mein Kampf in the guest room, but says his overall experience has been positive. Chung mentioned the Barcelona incident to misterb&b in his outgoing host feedback, and said that while he did have to follow up, the company did eventually contact the host and reviewed the listing.
Airbnb is undeniably successful from a business standpoint, so much so that hotel chains are starting to emulate it. But failures of Airbnb stand out as especially stark, and even moreso as people make travel plans for Pride month. Some of the raddest Pride celebrations are in Red states, as are some of the most historic, like the one in Salt Lake City. And for queer travelers especially, connecting with friendly and receptive locals is a key part of not just feeling safe, but actually enjoying the trip. The group of gay men Veith met showed him around Mission Dolores Park and some local clubs, along with Chinese New Year celebrations.
“They’re guys that I haven’t really been in touch with since, but I’d definitely reach out to if I ever went back,” Veith said. “I definitely feel like I made some friends.”