• Airbnb users are sharing their experiences of racial discrimination (Follow Me Away)Source: Follow Me Away
A Harvard study found people with distinctly African-American names were 16 per cent less likely to have their rental requests accepted than people with distinctly white names.
Bianca Soldani

16 May 2016 - 2:33 PM  UPDATED 20 May 2016 - 10:40 AM

Securing a holiday rental on Airbnb seems relatively simple; find a property you like, check the available dates and make sure to keep a stellar review record for you best shot at a "yes".

But some people are finding their requests are getting turned back time and time again, and for no concrete reason.

A Harvard Business School study published at the beginning of the year uses Airbnb as a case study for the sharing economy and found racial discrimination is rampant.

"We find that requests from guests with distinctively African-American names are roughly 16 per cent less likely to be accepted than identical guests with distinctively White names," the paper states.

It goes on to say this figure is the same regardless of the patron's own race or gender, or whether they are sharing the property with the guest.

The hashtag "AirbnbWhileBlack" has been circulating since July last year but has been gaining traction on Twitter of late as people who feel they have been racially discriminated against share their stories.

To minimise racial profiling, some users say they alter their usernames or replace a profile picture of themselves with a more ambiguous scene like a cityscape.

One person says they use an image of themselves in an academic gown and cap to look more trustworthy while another poses in his military uniform in a hope to have his requests more widely accepted.

Although transparency is crucial to trust-building, the Harvard study points to the ever decreasing level of anonymity online as a means of facilitating discrimination.

It also finds that patrons guilty of racial discrimination end up financially worse off for it as they "are able to find a replacement guest only 35% of the time".

One interracial couple who have been travelling for three months and using Airbnb as their primary source of accommodation found a dramatic increase in the number of rejections they received after changing their account's profile picture.   

Documenting their experience on their blog Follow Me Away, they explain that they were often told that the property was no longer available despite it still appearing so on the homepage.

"Out of every 8-10 places we reach out to that are in our budget, at least 60% turn us down with the same exact excuse," they say.

"The first few cities, we were annoyed but thought nothing more. Then it started constantly happening, across cities and countries all over Europe causing a consistent stream of stress and confusion."

In a statement, Airbnb says they are taking the claims "incredibly seriously" and that are removing hosts who are found to discriminate.

"Racial discrimination is unacceptable and it flies in the face of our mission to bring people together," the statement reads.

"Going forward, we are taking a series of steps to build on our current policies and help achieve our goals. Some of this work includes; Unconscious bias training, a bigger spotlight on reviews, strengthened customer service and fighting bias with technology."