Could Barack Obama book an Airbnb?

The rental platform Airbnb has drawn attention as some hosts profile guests by their names.

Martha Pietruszewski

When I was studying abroad in the spring of 2014, you bet I roughed it in the hostels. That was the quintessential study abroad experience, right?
 
I thought so at the time, but now I’m not so sure. Some of my friends who studied abroad didn’t even go near a hostel. They opted instead to take advantage of Airbnb, an online platform where you can rent apartments or houses from people who own them.
 
Airbnb made the news recently for being one of the best places to work — as well for having issues of racial discrimination by hosts. This is a problem for Airbnb as its user base continues to grow and because Airbnb’s community is built on trust. 
 
To state the obvious, discrimination is bad. If we want to move forward as a country, we need to eliminate as many cases of it as possible. We can start with Airbnb, where many hosts will not respond to a user’s request for booking if the user has a black-sounding name. This is really the opposite of trust, something that Airbnb prides itself on. 
 
Although corporate Airbnb is not choosing the people who offer their properties for rent, it still reflects badly on the company. For such an innovative and progressive platform, this brings its image a few steps backward. 
 
How can we solve this? The authors of the study suggested that renters not reveal their names. I think this is a good start, but it’s not the end-all solution. It doesn’t work so well with the culture of trust and transparency that Airbnb has worked so hard to build.
 
I instead suggest that Airbnb require some sort of diversity and discrimination training for its hosts. Right now, there isn’t really anything to becoming a host — you just have to give details about your home and provide some pictures. 
 
But if there were hospitality and diversity training for hosts, it would lead to a more pleasant experience for all involved. 
 
Another way to combat host discrimination would be to have a randomized booking feature. Guests would type in their preferences, including location, number of rooms and any other features they need. Airbnb would just randomly select a host for them, and the accommodation would be booked.
 
It would be easier than looking through the thousands of listings Airbnb has, and it would eliminate some decision-making on the part of the host, thus effectively eliminating profiling by name. 
 
However, I can also understand accidental bias. The service does not require any users to go through a background check, so you don’t really know who is booking your house or apartment. It could even be my brother, who’s planning a spring break vacation 
 
down in Alabama. If I were offering my house for rent, I sure wouldn’t want him as guest.
 
In 2015, discrimination has come under the spotlight with recent protests, such as those staged by the Black Lives Matter movement. To stay on top of the hospitality industry, it’s important for Airbnb to be proactive in this area.