On May 25th, Rohan Gilkes would document an unpleasant experience of trying to book a trip with AirBnB. The 40-year old entrepreneur, who splits his time between Tampa and DC would attempt to book a vacation trip to Idaho, from July 1st-5th, which would result in an experience known as #AirBnbWhileBlack. His booking requests would be denied; the owner of the AirBnB initially telling him the dates were no longer available. Gilkes suggested different dates in an earlier month and ran into the same problem. The owner denied his trip immediately. “Can I just book some dates in June,” he would send in another message. “I messaged them again, but they never responded.” But this wasn’t the final straw. He had just learned about #AirBnbWhileBlack and decided to have one of his white friends attempt to book the same space. You can pretty much guess what happened. “They were approved immediately,” he said. The July dates he was just told were booked would magically become available for his friend. Gilkes would chronicle this whole story online here. After the post went viral, he would receive tons of messages from people who shared similar experiences. In just 2 ½ weeks, this would lead to the launch of an African American focused booking service that over the last 24 hours has received a lot of praise on social media.
Gilkes is launching Noirebnb, his response to the unpleasant experience while attempting to book a room to stay in Idaho during 4th of July weekend. After that post, he says, “ I started getting a lot of emails from people telling me similar stories. From all backgrounds: minorities based on race, trans people, disabilities, etc.” With a background in tech startups and entrepreneurship, he would create NoireBnB. The name has a distinct ring that lets users know that it has African Americans in mind. “My inspiration right away was, Travel Noire.” Originally, from Barbados, Gilkes moved to the states as a teenager. “I graduated from Slippery Rock University in Pittsburgh with a degree in business as an accountant and somehow ended up in the startup world.” A 2014 source found on Black Business reported that African Americans spend approximately $40 billion dollars a year on travel and tourism. Yet, our communities see little to no return on these investments. Gilkes plans to alleviate some of these challenges by focusing on making sure our travel dollars are being spent with the right people.
NoireBnB adds to the list of African American focused brands that have emerged over the past few years. Although some were launched before, I call it, the post Ferguson effect. We’ve seen the launch of Travel Noire, NoireBnB, CRWN Mag, Black Girl In Om and the growth of popular media outlets, Blavity, For Harriet and Very Smart Brothas. Gilkes has had an overwhelming response over the last 24 hours. At the time of this interview yesterday evening, he’d been receiving emails at a rate of about 15 messages/minute amassing over 22,000 people who have signed up in just 12 hours. By now, I can only imagine that this number has nearly doubled. “If you’re an African American, this is a safe space.” NoireBnB plans to integrate diversity right away and credits this at the core to what will make business different. The platform also plans to use algorithms and transaction history, among other things as a way to trace challenges on discrimination. “It’s one thing to build a business and to go back and try to incorporate diversity, but it’s another thing to build a business where diversity is at the core.” But this idea has caught on, and after news surfaced of NoireBnB, we learned of another similar startup with the same concept named very similar, titled NoirBnB, noted without the e. I asked him of the current relationship with this company. “We have talked everyday for the last four days. From the time they knew we existed, we got on the telephone in about 15 minutes. Things like this take time. We have to assess synergy, equity etc. Only time will tell if there would be any mergers. ” Regardless of the outcome, there is definitely a demand for this service.
NoireBnB plans to launch within the next 6-8 weeks. Gilkes says the company plans to focus initially on key African American markets such as DC, Chicago, New York and Atlanta. Other cities will most likely launch at the same time, but with limited offerings in their particular market. “Right now we’re working on the tech side. We have to deal with building volume on both ends of the market.” You can find out more information about NoireBnB and be the first to hear about it’s official launch date by signing up here.