Accounts of racial discrimination against Black Airbnb users have dogged the online vacation rental giant.
In fact, the topic was front and center at Airbnb’s annual tech conference last month and at a recent invitation-only meeting convened in D.C. with civil rights leaders. Now one company is taking a proactive stance in solving the issue.
Meet Innclusive (formerly Noirebnb), a new rental booking startup striving for inclusivity. Right now, it’s primarily being used by African Americans but there are plans to expand to other people of color as LGBTQ folks.
Innclusive was created by Rohan Gilkes and Zakiyyah Myers. They have offices on the U Street Corridor.
Gilkes, 40, said the idea to start the company came from his own personal experience on Airbnb. He got rejected by a host and asked a white friend to try to book the same dates. His friend got accepted right away. Based on his experience and all the complaints that were surfacing, Gilkes said he felt that he “had to do something about it.”
The company, which has received early buzz from Refinery29, Fusion and Huffington Post, says that it has collected 25,000 emails in the first seven days of launch and that people have been sharing, retweeting and sending messages with support. People have also been volunteering to help, giving more a sense of a true movement rather than just a mere business.
And Gilkes knows why.
“People are frustrated they have collectively and individually experience the things that are happening on Airbnb and other platforms as well like Nextdoor,” he said. “They have not gotten the type of response that they feel they should get and they do not think they have been treated with respect and dignity and because of that, they are frustrated. Folks have lost all trust in the institution as it is right now and are just waiting for something new. That’s what we represent.”
This is incredibly personal to me and it also reflects my values around how I think people of all backgrounds should be treated, whether that is by race, sexual orientation, gender identity, physical disability or whatever else. Over the next few weeks, you will see some changes in our branding, but our goal is to make sure we build a platform where everyone feels included.
One way the team is focused on inclusivity is through marketing: Innclusive’s website features Black people.
The location of the startup also lends itself to such a fierce mission.
Gilkes said that D.C. is the perfect location for the company because it’s a city “with a lot of young people that are comfortable with homesharing.”
Innclusive is offering all bookings for free right now, as they’re very early stage, but it’s determining its business model right now, Gilkes said. He declined to share numbers on how many bookings Innclusive had done. The company has a team of 19.
Gilkes originally came to D.C. to work for the District of Columbia’s Housing Finance Agency (DCHFA) and Freddie Mac, so one could say that domicile is in his blood. After leaving the corporate world, he founded companies such as subscription box Wet Shave Club and booking service Launch27. Gilkes is self-funding the business with an eye toward additional funding sources in the future. He is originally from Barbados but has been based in the Laurel, Md., for the past several years.
He hopes Innclusive can tackle racism at large.
“For the longest while we have had this weight and fear around prejudice and discrimination around lodging, whether temporary or permanent,” Gilkes emailed Technical.ly, “and our goal is to build a safe space that is finally for everyone where this is not a concern. I hope what comes out of this is that we build something that advances humanity and advances the treatment of people, of all backgrounds all over the world.”