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Synta Keeling (under-represented host series)

Hosting Your Home - Airbnb host stories

Release Date: 07/05/2021

Synta Keeling (under-represented host series) show art Synta Keeling (under-represented host series)

Hosting Your Home - Airbnb host stories

Debi Hertert of Hosting Your Home podcast interviews Synta Keeling, Washington DC superhost. Synta deals with issues of racial bias as part of her hosting and shares her insights with Debi. This interview took place two days after the Capitol building insurrection. Synta has previously been interviewed by the NPR Hidden Brain podcast discussing bias as it exists within Airbnb travel, for guests and hosts.

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Hosting Your Home - Airbnb host stories

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Hosting Your Home - Airbnb host stories

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Hosting Your Home - Airbnb host stories

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Synta Keeling is an Airbnb superhost and lawyer living in Washington DC. Debi interviewed her two days after the January 6, 2021 assault on the US Capitol.  Synta was previously interviewed in 2016 by the NPR podcast "Hidden Brain" for an #AirbnbWhileBlack episode that dealt with bias with Airbnb hosts and guests. Synta lives in the Capitol View neighborhood which is almost completely African-American. She is a black Filipino woman herself and has a lot of insight into fear that many people feel.

Synta explains that she bought her house and was facing a stigma of living on the poor side of the Anacostia river in  Washington, DC.  She couldn't find a roommate.  Some friends recommended Airbnb, with guests being from out of town who didn’t have the built in stigma about her neighborhood.

 Synta describes DC as majority-minority.  People would tell her that no tourists would want to be in her neighborhood because of its location. When Airbnb started to grow, hosts began to make a lot of money and more hosts wanted to join.  She sometimes hosted foreign guests who arrived with bias.  Most were wonderful, kind, and polite, but sometimes there were unfortunate incidents.

One of Synta's guests was a young man from Europe.  He was headed to somewhere in the south for a semester.  He was very opinionated about Americans, just off the get go, complaining and asking about American flags, guns, etc. Synta is a lawyer, so she is able to have educated discussions on an academic basis.  Her guest didn’t like her answer, a long discussion about the complicated cultural aspects of the US.  She always suggests that her guests take the Metro because it's faster than the bus, but this particular guest took the bus instead.  When he got home he looked like a ghost.  He said at one point the last of the white passengers had left the bus and it was all black except for him.  He was scared and alarmed that he might get hurt. He slowly realized they are just sitting there, they are not going to hurt me. By the time he got back to Synta's place he was clearly struggling with these feelings.

As a host of color, encounters like this are inevitable.  She emphasized that it’s no one’s job to teach us about bias and what to do, but she says if you take advantage of teachable moments, it can last a lifetime.  It comes up all the time when you’re hosting.  For some people it’s crushing to realize that they could fit into a racist mold.

Synta's Facebook group often addresses racist reviews and she often helps hosts deal with them.  One those Facebook friends got a review that  complained about a guy hanging around the yard.  It turns out that the guy "hanging around" was the host's husband, doing landscaping in their yard. The guest just hadn't met him yet.  

Another host had a couple of young women guests from France.  Synta says its normally hard to get police to come out to their area, but the cops will do all kinds of things for Airbnb guests.  The two women were trying to get directions to the hosts’ address and asked a cop.  He said "you do not want to be in that area at all".  The cop gave them a ride there.  And then the host had to deal with the guests feelings, being there at night, hearing what the cop said.  It turned out ok but the host offered to refund their money. The guests stayed but it was a rocky start.

The difference between hosting and a hotel, Synta explains, is that your home is very personal. You need to step back and think about what might impact the guest.  She makes sure people know where she lives, no restaurants nearby, all the potential problems so guests can make accurate decisions.  Debi added  that some hosts state on their listings what a guest will and won’t like about their listings.  Synta also uses Airbnb as a guest traveler.  She hates to read dense listings and suggests if you look at some hotel listings, they are less dense.  Use captions on the images!

 Synta said 3-4 years ago the US government liberalized rules for Chinese nationals.  All of the sudden, there was a giant tourism boom.  Coming from a part of the world that is homogeneous compared with the US, it's made more difficult that their exposure to black people is just from movies, mostly bad.  When guests arrive and see the host is black, there are cultural issues or opportunities.  And that’s what hosting allows us to address.

Debi and Synta discussed the Capitol insurrection, which happened on January 6, 2021, just two days before their interview.  She said that it’s been crazy.  She’s been to the Capitol building a lot says  and said the Capitol police do not play around.  She found it terrifying when there were three people in the line of succession in the building and for hours no one knew their status.  Synta hadn’t been hosting because of Covid, but also there was a lot of back and forth in the host community about not hosting because this particular rally was going to happen.  There was a lot of traffic about hotels not taking reservations, so they made Airbnb reservations. Debi added that Airbnb cancelled a lot of reservations. Synta said that because DC isn’t a state, you can’t bring the national guard, you have to wait for the federal government to act.  She lives 2 miles from the Armory, which was mobilizing. 

Debi asked  Synta about #AirbnbWhileBlack, and her interview with the NPR podcast Hidden Brain.   They began by messaging her about discrimination against guests, but Synta brought up  discrimination against hosts.   They picked up on this and came to her kitchen for an interview.  Synta told the story about a young woman Quirtina Crittenden  who wanted to travel on Airbnb but was getting rejected.  At her friends' suggestions, she changed her picture (she’s black) and shortened her name to her nickname Tina, and suffered no more rejections.  She tweeted out this experience with the hashtag  #AirbnbWhileBlack that went viral.  

 Synta told Debi about her own picture on her profile, and then about her brother’s.  He’s a host too, but appears more African American.  Synta is part Philipino.  She had a photo taken with the two of them together, like a family photo, to reduce the unfortunate reality of adverse impact to his bookings.  

At the end of their interview, Debi asked how she could be a better host, to be more aware of things I could do better.  Synta advised her: "when you get a booking, and you have a feeling, a gut reaction to decline, particularly if they are under-represented, ask yourself objective questions, whether you would react the same way if the guest is white.  And if you screen your guests, be sure to ask everyone the same questions."


Synta Keeling's Airbnb listing

Synta on Twitter and Instagram is @myneckofDC

NPR Hidden Brain podcast on bias, with Synta Keeling

Other interviews in the Hosting Your Home Under-represented host series:

K Rhea

C L Reed

Anthony Gannt

I want to give a shout-out to Feedspot, for inclusion  in their article titled: Top 15 Airbnb Podcasts

Thank you to Carla Chicarro of Lodgify for mentioning me in the post,  29 Women Who Are Making Waves in The Vacation Rental Industry

Thank you all so much for the recognition and the attention!  It makes me feel like I’m doing something worthwhile with this podcast, and with Host2Host.