The Gay-Friendly Version of Airbnb
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because traveling is fabulous, and you deserve to be treated well.
By Zara Stone
Airbnb has become the go-to brand for the sharing economy, but when it comes to the rainbow dollar, new startups are getting competitive. They’re taking advantage of the disposable LGBT income — gay tourism is valued at $68 billion by the Gay European Tourism Association — and celebrating emerging travel destinations that include Cuba (post changes in law) and Ireland, with its LGBT “I do” campaign. Closer to home, there’s a growth in Airbnb clones with a twist: Misterbnb for gloriously gay places to stay and gay culture-connecting app Wimbify.
Founded by Paris-based Matthieu Jost, Misterbnb has been running since 2013. Jost created it after a bad experience with Airbnb, namely, a host expressing prejudice about him and his boyfriend. “She said to me, ‘Are you going to sleep in the same bed?’” Jost tells OZY. He was determined that negative attitudes shouldn’t spoil traveling for gay adventurers and decided to create a way for people to feel welcome. Inspired by Airbnb’s model, his service lets gay men — and women — rent rooms and apartments from guaranteed gay-friendly hosts. An added bonus: Many hosts take on community roles, introducing their guests to the local gay scene. Started in Europe, Misterbnb now covers 130 countries, with around 16,000 listings. In May, the startup raised more than $2 million in seed funding, which will be used to push into new territories. One market Jost is focused on: the U.S., where Misterbnb already has some listings, including 72 in Texas, compared with Airbnb’s 1,000-plus. Just think of all those cowboys …
Wimbify is also looking at the gay globe-trotter, using GPS to connect travelers to locals who will show them their cities.
China, a country notoriously unfriendly to gay people, is also on Jost’s radar. Despite recent advances in gay rights, such as Ireland’s legalization of gay marriage in May, homophobia is still widespread. In April, a gay couple using Airbnb in Texas was reportedly forced to seek alternative accommodation after their host made them uncomfortable. Committed to preventing incidents like this, Jost carefully vets Misterbnb hosts.
Brand-new app Wimbify (which stands for Welcome to My Backyard) is also looking at the gay globe-trotter, using GPS to connect travelers to locals who will show them their cities. Founders Alessio Virgili and Andrea Cosimi explain that it isn’t a gay dating app, but rather a way to engage with the local community. Building niche versions of the Airbnb model is something other entrepreneurs have experimented with, including TravelTHC (Airbnb for weed smokers) and Beds on Board (Airbnb for boat holidays).
However, for these companies to survive, there has to be continued demand. “There’s a lot of interest from travelers and millennials to have a more authentic local experience and to connect to people,” says Douglas Quinby, vice president of research at Phocuswright, a provider of travel, tourism and hospitality market research. But, he warns, they can be tough to scale, and regulations surrounding renting can be challenging for companies — Airbnb has had so many issues that they’ve invested in a large legal team in Europe. Smaller companies are unlikely to have that kind of budget.
But for now, Misterbnb will let you have a gay old time (to quote The Flintstones), and after all, that’s the point of travel, right?