Q & A with INNCLUSIVE Founder Zakiyyah Myers: Your Alternative to discriminatory Airbnb
By: Adeola Naomi
You may have come across a horrendous video of an AirBnB host pushing a black woman down the stairs in Amsterdam. The stories of #Airbnbwhileblack are not pretty but neither is the reality of being black in the world. We sat down to have a chat with the inspiring founder of the POC-friendly version of home sharing, Zakiyyah Myers. Innclusive formerly known as Noirebnb when they started is a solution for all POC traveler to be themselves on their trips after the harassment Rohan her co-Founder experienced on Airbnb.
: Can you tell us a bit about how Innclusive came to be?
Zakiyyah: I am a mother of two, road traveller and a retired military.
I was so sick of the discriminatory acts that happened to Rohan, my co-founder. So many people came out and shared their experiences with discrimination with Airbnb and we didn’t realise the magnitude of the problem. We started Innclusive because I think people of colour should have great travels experiences without discrimination, especially queer POC, people with ethnic names that are used to being dealt with in a certain way, just because we don’t fit the status quo. We started Innclusive so that all travellers can have great memories, without the harassment. It is a shame that we have to do that, it really is a shame in this day and age but it was necessary.
: Did you ever have a similar experience with Airbnb before Innclusive?
Z : No because I don’t use them. I have learned my lesson through friends who had experiences with them, so I was never interested in using them.
However, I am couch surfer. I host people for free and I have stayed in people’s home for free around the world and I definitely have experienced that same racism in Couchsurfing spaces. Which is crazy to me, because you have to have a certain sort of personality to invite strangers into your home for free?
I always thought there will be more open-minded people but they were not. I would host so many people every month and then when it was my turn to go overseas and look for a host I would have to email and message at least 50 people in the hope that two will respond favourably. I realise I should probably change my name from Zakiyyah to Zi, I did that but I also left my pictures and that didn’t help me at all.
It was blatant if you ask me, people will be like ‘I am not hosting you, I know I said I was available theses dates but that has changed’. It was very difficult for me to find a host but never difficult for me to host. This is probably because I lived in Las Vegas in a huge home, so people were begging to stay at my home but when the tables were turned and I was to go into their home, it was a whole other story.
I had wonderful reviews in an incredible home but my reviews didn’t help me at all in securing property to stay in. I don’t know if they never read them or they just didn’t care. I was a black woman and that is all they saw.
: How did you create your massive team?
Z : Rohan and I were really good friends when he was discriminated against on Airbnb. I am a huge traveller and I have been to about 52 countries now and I have been travelling over 20 years. So when it happened to him, he asked me to talk about it in my travel groups to see how people will react and I was sharing screenshots with him of so many people that shared the same story. We were both wowed by it because Airbnb clearly did not believe they had discriminatory issues. They thought saying to you ‘we will give you a free night stay’ was good enough and we realised how often this was happening.
He called me one day and said, “someone mentioned we should start our own company for people of colour and I think I want to do it.” He said, “let’s start our own company,” and in a matter of two weeks we have a company.
Rohan is a serial entrepreneur. The beautiful thing and the reason why we were able to get it going so quickly is that he already a wonderful group of members from team to team of his projects, It was very easy to say, I have a graphic arts, I have a programmer, I have this and that. His team that he brought on from his other company along with all the media that we received because of the post that was written about these experiences went viral.
It created a lot of hype and a lot of people shared our story and that helped it all to manifest quickly and it really propelled us.
: Do you have a policy in place for when a host declines a guest at the last minute? To understand why and if it was a discriminatory act?
Z : We don’t have a policy where a host cannot decline. It is people’s home, we cannot say to them or to anyone ‘you have to accept these people in your home’ but what we did is set up several tech tools that will help eliminate that. For instance, if you decide to stay in my home for two weeks or two months and I accept your offer. First, when you book with me I won’t see your name or picture; I will only be able to read your reviews. Once I accept your offer and see all that, if I saw ‘Oh no her skin is so dark, I don’t want her in my home’ like they do us. I have a right as the homeowner to do that, it is my home unfortunately. As Innclusive we have a right to say ‘okay, we see that you cancelled on this person, we see that your home is no longer available for the two weeks or months that they wanted to stay, so now no one can stay with you for that period’. This happens automatically, but the homeowner can come back to us and say ‘hey that’s not fair I mentioned in my rules that no pets were allowed and they clearly said they had a dog, that’s why I cancelled’ then we go back and make sure they have other guests. If there is no real reason, we are not going to seeking out and ask the homeowner, we automatically shut it down for them. They can come to us and tell us why and we reopen it for them. That is our huge tool to stop hosts cancelling at the last minute with no real reason.
I like to believe most people aren’t racists, it sounds very naive, I am not I believe some people are too caught up in their biases. We removed the photos for those types of biases. You have to read the reviews if those are good to you accept or decline.
: What happens with new users with no reviews at all?
Z: That person has to build and explain who they are on their profile in details. Say who they are , what they are doing, and hope that people are open to host them until you get it going and have your first stay. Ask people to write reviews on you and do the same for them. Just like any sharing site.
: What is your agenda for Innclusive for the next 3-5 years?
Z: We want to get more into doing random acts of kindness. We have Innclusive Trips, where we do trips around the world. We stay in our properties, we also stay in hotels. We have Innclusive Grow, which is a place where we help entrepreneurs get started with their business plans and business ideas.
Rohan has a team of members that are so amazing in starting companies, knowing what to look for, how to build websites. We have that as a way to help out the community. There are not a lot of people out there helping people of colour learn how to make money. We also have Innclusive Podcast, which is also a place where we talk a lot about businesses and how to get started. We also have a property management company on the horizon, where we will have homes that we take care of for those who don’t live in their homes. We have a lot of great things on the horizons. We are constantly expanding. The team is full of great ideas, we are putting a lot out there to help out in the community.
: What influences you as a traveller?
Z : As a kid I travelled a lot from coast to coast, I grew up on the west coast, Las Vegas to California. I have been flying by myself since I was 4, I did a lot of travelling stateside. When I turned 18, I joined the military and my first assignment was overseas on this little Island. I did a lot of time in the military and travelled extensively through that. When I got out the military I continued travelling after I was retired. It is a passion for me.
: Are the InnclusiveTrips mainly family oriented?
Z : You could come on any trips that we do if it is a family or not, but we definitely have some specific family oriented ones. We have trips for the LGBTQI+ community, for singles, and for the married people. We do tend to have a theme for a certain demographic on various trips, but that doesn’t excluded anyone outside that demographic.
: Are the people in your team all nomads or are you inclusive to non travellers who have a general interest in the business?
Z : On the top of my head I can think of more than 30 team members and we are all pretty much nomads.
We are all from all over the globe, we did a trip to Cuba last month. I called a team member 3 days to the trip to ask for help with the trip and go to Cuba with us and she just showed up. We are definitely a team full of nomads but we have a few that stay home, they don’t feel the need to travel or work remotely. It is diverse but there are more travellers in the company.
: How will your work at Innclusive dismantle stereotypes around people of colour not travelling?
Z : The reality is we are not as wide reaching especially the black community compared to other communities. We work with POC travel companies. We are joining travel organisations in order to show them that we are here. We will not be ignored or discriminated against and you have to recognise us.
: There other black-owned companies doing similar work, have you or would you ever collaborate or create a partnership?
Z : The other company I am aware of is Noirbnb. We were in talks, Noirbnb and ourselves. We actually had very similar names. Our name was Noirebnb, we didn’t know about each other’s company, it was sheer coincidence.
The name was so similar, the goals were similar, we were like, we should team up. In the middle of talking to see what that will look like we realise they trademark our name. That was the end of our talks. We were in the middle of deciding whether to drop the ‘e’ or keep it when our lawyer called that we need to change our company name since they have gone ahead and done the trademark. We went to social media, had a contest and one of our social media fans came up with Innclusive. So we rebranded quickly and stopped the discussion on coming together. It was very unfortunate. I am a big believer in black-owned companies empowering each other and women empowering women. So much so even now we collaborate a lot with black-owned companies.
: Plans to empower include more people of colour travelling?
Z: We have a few scholarships mapped out for those who typically can’t afford to travel. We will be doing summer programs where we volunteer in inner cities.
We plan to make travel accessible not only for people with certain incomes. We aim to create something for everyone. We also have budget trips, and payment plans. When we went to Cuba, there were a few that it was their first trip. It was amazing to take that journey with them.
: Tell us your most memorable trip?
Z : My trip to Africa, my parents embedded a love for the continent in me as a child. I made it to Africa when I was living in the Middle East. I was able to finally afford the tickets four years ago for the first time. My plan was to visit Johannesburg and Capetown on my first trip.I landed in Joburg, get out of the airport and I felt like I was in New York or LA.
I didn’t feel like I was in South Africa, I was a bit disappointed so I went back to the counter and asked for what other flight is available that evening and next thing you know I was in Zimbabwe.I landed and couch surfed, my host was a white Zimbabwean, and he came to pick me up from the airport with his driver. He told me his son was staying with him last minute, so he can’t host me in his home but he booked me a room for free in his hotel to stay. It was a nice hotel. It was the most amazing thing ever, I couldn’t stop crying.
That journey set me up for a lot of other journeys. I was supposed to just do South Africa, but I end up doing 5 countries in a period of 3 weeks. I ended up going to South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia which I hitchhiked in an 8-hour car ride by a famous cricket player who ended up showing me around the country like a proper tourist. It was the best trip of my life. I was solo, on my own terms, meeting so many amazing people and had crazy experiences. Since then I have been to a total of 8 African countries. I can’t wait to see the rest of the continent.
More trips stories on the Innclusive blog.