Airbnb’s new animal welfare policy was the conversation starter at “The Business of Doing Good: How Corporate Leaders are Advancing Animal Welfare,” hosted by sf.citi, World Animal Protection US, and Airbnb on January 29. As the tech trade association of San Francisco, we at sf.citi like to explore all kinds of innovation coming out of the tech industry, whether it be the technology itself or progressive corporate policies like that of Airbnb. Similar to other sf.citi events, The Business of Doing Good featured a unique blend of speakers, all focused on ways the tech community can work with other industry leaders to affect positive change.
In October 2019, sf.citi member Airbnb debuted a new category of Airbnb Experiences: Animals. Joining forces with World Animal Protection, a global nonprofit committed to ending animal exploitation, they crafted one of the tourism industry’s most comprehensive animal welfare protection policies. It expressly bans exploitative practices such as elephant riding, marine mammals in captivity, and direct contact with wild animals. At The Business of Doing Good, we learned more about the partnership between Airbnb and World Animal Protection and discussed innovative ways companies can work with nonprofit and legislative leaders to improve their business while championing a more responsible world.
To have a travel leader such as Airbnb commit to making animal welfare a top priority helps educate travelers on the importance of cruelty-free animal tourism. The policy prohibits direct contact with wild animals, using them as selfie props or for entertainment performances, or overworking domesticated animals, among other measures.
— Alesia Soltanpanah, Executive Director, World Animal Protection US
AIRBNB ANIMAL EXPERIENCES IN THE BAY AREA
Over 100 animal lovers, nonprofit employees, and tech do-gooders gathered at Airbnb Headquarters for the event. They snacked on a colorful buffet of plant-based food and toured the booths of four organizations offering unique Airbnb Animal Experiences here in the Bay Area. For many attendees, it was their first time learning about the rescued farm animals of Charlie’s Acres and Sweet Farm, the best kind of yoga — goat yoga — offered at Goatlandia, and the loveable senior dogs of San Francisco-based Muttville.
- Make friends at a farm animal sanctuary (Charlie’s Acres)
- Hike and Lunch with Goats (Goatlandia)
- Pick Veggies & Meet Rescued Farm Animals (Sweet Farm)
- An afternoon in senior dog paradise (Muttville)
BUSINESS IS GOOD FOR MISSION
To begin the speaking portion of the evening, sf.citi Executive Director, Jennifer Stojkovic, sat down with Goatlandia Founder, Deb Blum. Innovative platforms like Airbnb can help mission-driven organizations in two ways, explained Blum. Since partnering with Airbnb Animal Experiences, Goatlandia has become more financially secure — a feat for any nonprofit — as well as expanded its audience.
The Airbnb Experience has been a tremendous boost for getting visitors to our sanctuary.
— Deb Bloom, Founder, Goatlandia
MISSION IS GOOD FOR BUSINESS
We then welcomed onstage three other esteemed panelists representing (in true sf.citi fashion) a unique blend of industries: Mikel Freemon, Airbnb’s Head of Animals, Alesia Soltanpanah, Executive Director of World Animal Protection US, and California Assemblymember Ash Kalra. With sf.citi’s Jennifer Stojkovic to moderate, the four speakers dived deeper into Airbnb’s animal welfare leadership within the tourism industry.
What we’re seeing now are more and more companies taking a proactive approach to social responsibility by partnering with nonprofits. At sf.citi, we think cross-sector partnerships are key to institutionalizing positive social values across both businesses and the communities in which they work.
— Jennifer Stojkovic, Executive Director, sf.citi
While people love seeing animals when they travel, traditional animal tourism is rife with bad practices, said Airbnb’s Mikel Freemon. That’s why the company reached out to World Animal Protection — the go-to thought leader on the topic — before launching a new vertical of Airbnb Experiences focused on animals. “Ironically,” explained Soltanpanah of World Animal Protection US, “People who do animal tourism are often animal lovers who don’t see behind the scenes.” Over the course of several months, World Animal Protection helped Airbnb develop guidelines to promote ethical human-animal interactions during Animal Experiences.
Airbnb Animal Experiences are designed to deepen our appreciation for animals through the eyes of those who work and live alongside them. When we decided to create a dedicated category of these Experiences, we recognized there are many factors in animal tourism that conflict with our values of belonging. That’s why we partnered with World Animal Protection to set a new standard for animal tourism so travelers can connect with animals easily and ethically.
— Mikel Freemon, Head of Animals, Airbnb
California Assemblymember for San Jose, Ash Kalra, has been a longtime champion of animal welfare within the state legislature. He’s helped spearhead legislation on California’s recent fur ban, cruelty-free cosmetic products, and more. During our discussion, he said he’s glad to see the business community stepping forward to be a conduit of positive social change—whether on animal welfare, climate change, or housing.
And it turns out corporate responsibility is good for business. All of the panelists agreed that consumers increasingly want to see the brands they know and love take a stand on issues they care about. Freemon pointed out that the public reaction to Airbnb’s animal welfare policy has been “overwhelmingly positive.”
We are seeing a societal shift, not just on animal welfare, but in terms of what our impact on the world is.
— Ash Kalra, California State Assembly, District 27