Updated: September 13, 2016 Exclusive response from Innclusive representative regarding Airbnb’s recent diversity changes
Airbnb and it’s “belong anywhere” concept has been such a wonderful addition to the travel community. It provides the space to meet locals, get a more authentic and home-like feel to a rental, and offers alternatives to pricey hotel stays. Airbnb highlights one of the best things about travel; new and different experiences. Well imagine being discriminated against for being just that- different. Sadly, it’s been the reality for several Black travelers in America. Over the past few months Airbnb has been in the hot seat over the company ignoring complaints of racism or passively addressing them. Complaints ranged from Black users being denied by hosts simply because of their photos or neighbors calling police on Black guests assuming they were intruders. In fact, a study by researchers from the Harvard Business School found that African-American guests were less likely to be approved for Airbnb bookings than white guests.
In this new age of social media, however, the urban travel collective banned together under the hashtag #AirbnbWhileBlack to discuss their experiences. But, experiences didn’t just stop at online discussions. in the midst of this discrimination, Innclusive Founder and serial entrepreneur, Rohan Gilkes has created an authentic and inspiring platform that encompasses inclusion and tolerance for all people when utilizing short-term rentals. Black Travelista had the pleasure to sitting down and chatting with Co-Founder, Zakiyyah Myers, to learn more about Innclusive, its fast-rising notoriety, and the shady tactics of a similar-named brand that led to their name change. She opens up about the Innclusive team, their invitation to the White House, and fills us in on her own travelista lifestyle.
Black Travelista: Can you tell me how Innclusive came to life?
Zakiyyah Myers: Rohan was planning on traveling to Idaho over the 4th of July weekend. Initially his Airbnb request was accepted, then later denied. When he inquired about the booking, the host told him they decided to stay in the house over the weekend. He offered to book other dates and was ignored. So, he had a white friend go in and request the same dates he originally chose, they were accepted immediately. Airbnb never responded to his complaint until it went viral. After that they just offered him a small credit. Rohan and I have been friends for a long time. He is a serial entrepreneur who has launched several other successful businesses. So, when he came up with this idea, he reached out to me because of my travel experience. It just made sense for us to collab on this. He even once said if Airbnb hadn’t ignored his complaint, he’d be doing something else with his time.
BT: Before Innclusive became Innclusive, you were named Noirebnb. Can you tell us what prompted the name change?
ZM: There was another group named Noirbnb, which we didn’t know about prior to forming Noirebnb. We had initially decided to team up and create one company since we had similar ideals. However, without any warning I received a call from my lawyer stating that we couldn’t trademark our name Noirebnb because Noirbnb [the other company] had gone ahead and filed an intent to trademark it!
BT: Wow! And you guys had no warning that the other company had changed their minds about collaborating?
ZM: No. Even up to the day before we had still been in talks and making plans. It was truly out of no where; we were caught off guard. So at that point, we were disappointed but decided just to focus on rebranding.
BT: I think this is my absolute favorite part about Innclusive, the transparency. I saw how you guys were so transparent about the process. And how you reached out to your friends, your fellow travelers, and your future consumers for their input. Tell us about that.
ZM: After we decided to rebrand, we had our Facebook and Twitter followers submit potential names. We then had people vote on the names suggested. Innclusive won with 41% of the votes. The second choice name had only gotten 7%, so it was an overwhelming win. We couldn’t think of anyone better to get help from then the travelers and hosts that will be using our site.
“We spend so much money in the travel community, we should be treated with integrity and respect” – Zakiyyah Myers
ZM: We plan on doing several things differently. For starters, we plan on addressing and validating concerns swiftly. And anyone who enters the site must sign an agreement saying that they are tolerant of all. We anticipate that racists won’t even find our kind of site attractive.
We also have some tech tools implemented. Hosts can’t see photos of the travelers until after they accept their reservation. If they choose to cancel after, they will not be allowed to rebook their space during that same time to anyone else. We also plan on using data and numbers to monitor our hosts. If we can see a trend of intolerance, they will be permanently removed from our site.
BT: What’s been the most exciting thing to happen since starting Innclusive?
ZM: Outside of our amazing team and all the support we’re receiving, I would have to say the most exciting thing to happen was when President Obama’s Senior Staff member sent us an email saying how proud they are of our work and requesting our presence at The White House! That’s huge and honestly, it’s still surreal. The White House is a “fan” of our business. Woah. I’m thinking the President needs a home to reside in after he leaves The White House and that’s why we have an invite…but I could be wrong!
BT: Now, how about you give us some background about yourself. How did you become the travelista you are today?
ZM: Wow, I’m not used to talking about myself. Travel has always been apart of my life. I worked in the government field for 21 years. I was able to retire at age 39. I traveled extensively for work and have lived abroad for a total of 11 years between Japan, Italy, and Bahrain.
I’m also a single mother of 2 and decided that I never wanted to work again in the traditional sense. That’s why this experience has been so wonderful. It’s completely different when you work for yourself.
BT: Can you tell us what you’ve learned thus far as an entrepreneur?
ZM: When you’re an entrepreneur, you’re meeting a demand. You have to work much harder than in the business world. You don’t get excited when you’re off of work because you’re never really off. I’ve learned that it’s important to take breaks and to take care of yourself in the process. I also learned that as an entrepreneur you’ll rarely know what day of the week it is. There is noooo difference between a Saturday and a Monday.
BT: What advice can you give to inspire other travelistas in their journey to live authentically?
ZM: You have to really rely on your network, on your family and your friends. I’ve met and have some amazing people in my network, especially since I worked for the government, but I never used them. Now I’m able to reach out and ask for help. It really matters how you treat people and how you carry yourself. When you treat people with respect and help them, they will in turn open their hearts to you. This is what happens everyday while working with Innclusive. And it’s a beautiful thing.
To learn more about Innclusive you can find them here:
Interested in following Zakiyyah:
Innclusive is preparing to launch very soon. In the meantime, you can sign up to become a host on their site and read their blog Here for a behind the scenes look!