By now you’ve heard the stories: Black traveler looks for a vacation rental on Airbnb, White host declines, but accepts same exact booking from a White traveler’s profile. This is exactly what happened to 40-year-old Rohan Gilkes a few weeks ago when he tried to book a house in Idaho and was denied, but his white friend was approved. Gilkes chronicled the event in a Medium.com post, and since then many travelers of color have come forward to tell their own tales using the viral hashtag #AirbnbWhileBlack.
Instead of being content with sharing his story and inspiring others to do the same, Gilkes decided to do something about it. The serial tech entrepreneur enlisted the help of his co-founder and strategist, Zakiyyah Myers, 40, and in just a few short weeks Innclusive was born.
With over 21,000 people signed up on the website ahead of its launch, scheduled to happen in a few weeks, and initial service coverage secured in Atlanta, Chicago and New York, EBONY.com caught up with Meyers, to find out more about Innclusive, competition with Airbnb, and why it’s important for African-Americans to create platforms for us, and by us.
EBONY.com: What is Innclusive and what do you want users of the site to experience?
Zakiyyah Myers: Innclusive is a site for short-term rental lodging that will start out focusing on the east coast of the United States and then expanding across the country. After reading all the stories that came from #AirbnbWhileBlack, we want users of Innclusive to feel comfortable with who they are and not run the risk of being discriminated against. The goal is a safe place where everyone can feel welcomed and be able to travel and see the world with dignity.
EBONY.com: Though it has been happening for a while, there has been a rise in racial incidents concerning Airbnb, why do you think it’s getting attention from the media now?
Myers: Because folks are getting fed up and are turning to social media to voice their concerns. It’s becoming overwhelming, and with each incident people are growing in confidence to speak up and share their story. The media, recognizing this flaw in the sharing economy, and the overwhelming evidence, has finally picked up on a story that has been growing underground for some time now.
EBONY.com: How do you plan to set Innclusive apart from the competition?
Myers: We’re pursuing tech solutions that will mitigate the chances of users being discriminated against. We think that with good tech ideas around cancellation/declines/availability and with a solid collection and use of data, we can provide a solid product with a safe and dignified experience for marginalized groups.
EBONY.com: Though Innclusive is meant to address the concerns of Black travelers, will Innclusive be inclusive? Do you anticipate any reverse discrimination?
Myers: We plan to build a platform that is completely inclusive and that welcomes people of all races and backgrounds. We would hope that users would not use Innclusive to dish out unfair treatment, especially knowing firsthand how it feels.
EBONY.com: Airbnb users sometimes complain about safety concerns with hosts, how are you planning to vet users?
Myers: All hosts will go through a vigorous screening process that we are detailing and laying out now.
EBONY: Obviously your name is similar to Airbnb, are you anticipating any pushback?
Myers: It is possible and we will determine what the landscape looks like very soon, but so far things have been quiet.
EBONY.com: How important is it for people of color to create businesses/services like Innclusive that cater specifically to their needs and concerns?
Myers: It’s very important! People want to be able to do business with dignity, and in spaces where it is difficult or there are structural reasons in place that prevents that, folks will start looking for other alternatives. Instead of just complaining and waiting for someone, who is most likely part of the problem, to come up with a solution, we need to come together and use our collective experiences and talents to create the change we want to see.
EBONY.com: What have been the challenges of starting Innclusive so far? What have you learned?
Initially we had a different name and there was a site with a similar name, and that was a challenge in terms of making the distinction between us with customers. We were in talks with them to see if we can work something out, but in the end we decided to completely differentiate ourselves. Our focus has been 100% on Innclusive, our customers and the realization that many people want this service, and are very excited to look at other options. It’s long overdue.
EBONY.com: Where do you see Innclusive in 5 years? Any plans for an app?
Myers: Rohan and I see Innclusive all over the globe! We’re not limiting ourselves to just the U.S. market, and as tech heads, there will absolutely be an app!
EBONY.com: If you could describe Innclusive in 3 words, what would they be?
Myers: Open, Welcoming, Happiness
Danielle T. Pointdujour is a Brooklynite living the passport life to the fullest. With over 70 countries under her belt, you can always find Danielle traveling the globe in search of new experiences and the hottest luxury hotels. You can follow her writing, musings and global adventures on her blog Hotel Whisperer and on Twitter and Instagram.