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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 September 2018

Airbnb snaps up Accomable 'to make travel accessible for everyone'

UK-based tech start-up styles itself as ‘Airbnb for people with disabilities’

Accomable was founded in 2015 by Srin Madipalli (pictured in Porto Valley) and Martyn Sibley – two friends with Spinal Muscular Atrophy who have travelled all over the world. Photo courtesy of Accomable.
Accomable was founded in 2015 by Srin Madipalli (pictured in Porto Valley) and Martyn Sibley – two friends with Spinal Muscular Atrophy who have travelled all over the world. Photo courtesy of Accomable.

More than 100 million people worldwide opt for Airbnb when they go on holiday, but that number could increase following an acquisition.

On Thursday, the San Francisco-based online giant - whose service allows people to rent out homes and holiday flats - announced that it has acquired Accomable, a UK-based tech start-up which styles itself as "Airbnb for people with disabilities".

Set up in 2015 by lawyer-turned-entrepreneur Srin Madipalli, Accomable is an online booking service which offers more than 1,100 properties in more than 60 countries worldwide, all of which have step-free access and other disabled-friendly features.

Mr Madipalli, 31, has spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), a condition which means he has little movement in his arms and legs and is confined to a wheelchair. Frustrated with the difficulty of finding suitable accommodation on his travels, he co-founded Accomable with a childhood friend, Martyn Sibley, who also has SMA.

Accomable has amassed a loyal following among the disabled community in its two years. And, as Mr Madipalli said, the potential for growth is enormous.

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“The disabled market is arguably the largest untapped consumer market on the planet,” he said. “With more than one billion disabled people in the world, serving this population in tourism is not only the right thing to do – it also makes huge commercial sense.”

No wonder, then, that Airbnb was so keen to snap up his company.

“We are happy to announce that we have acquired Accomable and will be welcoming them into the Airbnb family,” the company said in a blog post on Thursday.

The financial details of the deal were not disclosed. However, Airbnb said the Accomable site will be wound down over the coming months, with its listings included on Airbnb’s platform.

Mr Madipalli will move to San Francisco to join the Airbnb team and “lead our efforts to make travel accessible for everyone”, the company said.

Airbnb will be hoping this acquisition will help it move past some of the controversies that have dogged it in recent months.

In June, a Rutgers University report - based on more than 3,800 Airbnb requests sent by the researchers - suggested hosts using the site regularly refuse guests with disabilities, sometimes even when they have advertised their houses as “wheelchair accessible”.

The study followed the #AirbnbWhileBlack scandal last year, which suggested African American guests were rejected at higher rates than others.

The company has since instituted a non-discrimination policy and taken steps to better handle complaints of bias. But in its blog post on Thursday, it acknowledged: “It’s clear that we can do more to effectively serve people with disabilities.”

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It added that new features on the Airbnb website will help hosts provide more information about their homes’ accessibility, and ensure guests get the information they need to find the right homes, from step-free entry to hallways that are wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair.

“We’re confident that [the new features] will make our community more accessible for everyone and we’re going to work to make them even stronger in the future,” it said.

Mr Madipalli, for his part, sought to reassure the Accomable community that their needs would not be compromised once the company is part of Airbnb.

“I am very sensitive to the fact that some in our community may be concerned that accessibility will again become an afterthought that is drowned out within a larger platform,” he said.

“I very much empathise with any nervousness you may have,” he said. But he insisted that from spending time with Airbnb, he has no doubt that the two companies share the same mission – to “create a world where anyone can truly belong anywhere”.

He added that his company, founded “in my bedroom over a caffeine-fuelled three weeks”, had sometimes struggled because of a lack of resources, but that joining Airbnb would allow it to drive forward new efforts to accommodate users with as wide a variety of disabilities as possible.

“Accomable started less as a company or a product but more as a mission and a dream,” he said. “A mission to open up travel and adventure to hundreds of millions of disabled people; and a dream that one day, I, as a disabled person could travel the world just like everybody else.”

“We are convinced that joining Airbnb provides the best opportunity to take our dream and mission to a global level, using the current reach of Airbnb’s community of four million hosts and 100 million guests to work together and make the world more accessible.”

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