The travel website’s included guide is a modern-day “green book”
The user-generated review website rates businesses across the country based on their hospitality.
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Ohen Crystal Egli was learning to hunt, she felt anxious and scared. Her lessons were mostly in rural areas and she wasn’t sure if she, as a black woman, was welcome.
When she expressed her fears of carrying a gun in public spaces to her white male mentors, they were skeptical, even asking her to back up her concerns with data. They simply did not understand the reality of living as someone who regularly experiences discrimination.
“She wanted to know what spaces other people of color had safely visited,” Parker McMullen Bushman, Egli’s friend and business partner, told AFAR. “That’s when Crystal came up with the idea for this kind of revitalization green book.”
Published from 1936 to 1966, The green book was an annual guide written for black road-trippers. It provided motorists with a list of places and services — from restaurants and hotels to mechanic shops and pharmacies — that were friendly to black travellers. At a time when Jim Crow laws meant people of color frequently faced prejudice or even danger, they were meant to help black people travel without fear. Although it ceased publication shortly after the Civil Rights Act was passed, Egli felt that something similar could still provide useful service nearly 60 years later – it just needed to be modernized.
Egli brought the idea for what would become McMullen Bushman’s Inclusive Guide in 2019. The original concept was more of a blog format – Egli listed places she had been and felt comfortable. Eventually, they decided that the project would benefit from incorporating other people’s ideas.
“Your experience can be greatly affected depending on what is going on in your life, so we decided that if we really wanted to understand what a place is like and what it is for multiple people, we needed to find a way to allow lots of people to give their thoughts on particular places,” McMullen Bushman said. “We put those ideas together and moved forward with a user review website.”
Much like the Yelp user review site, Inclusive Guide allows users to rate businesses. However, each company’s scores are generated with a focus on making customers feel safe, welcomed and celebrated.
However The green book served as inspiration, Inclusive Guide differs in one major way: it does not focus solely on the Black experience; this includes anyone who may face discrimination or feel unsafe in certain situations, ranging from other people of color to those in the LBGTQ community to people with disabilities.
“Systems that affect black people are often mirrored in other forms of oppression, so we thought it was important for everyone to be able to use it,” McMullen Bushman said.
Users rate companies on a scale of one to five (five being the best). The exam questions ask if they felt safe (physically, emotionally and mentally), if they were treated with dignity and respect, if they felt better after being there and if they saw themselves represented in the advertising and products.
It also notes things like compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and gender-neutral bathrooms. Reviewers are also asked to provide information about their race, gender identity, sexuality, accessibility needs, and appearance (such as body modifications – piercings, tattoos, etc. – or scars). Anything that might affect how they are treated.
The goal, beyond helping users find businesses with welcoming environments — and a community, by extension — is to provide businesses with a data-driven economic incentive to be more inclusive.
“We want to pull the levers that affect long-term change in our country and our economy,” McMullen Bushman said. “If we can ensure that the Inclusive Guide is used regularly, it will provide a resource for people who experience discrimination to be mindful of spending their money on inclusive businesses.”
Once a business receives reviews, the inclusive guide aggregates the data and shares it with the business, noting who feels unwelcome or has difficulty accessing the space. It also provides companies with suggestions on how they could change to be more equitable.
“Money talks,” McMullen Bushman said, adding that companies with poor scores are less likely to have discriminated consumers buying from them. On the other hand, being recognized as a beacon of hospitality helps generate dollars.
The included guide began in Denver, where Egli and McMullen Bushman are based, in late 2021. This year, on June 16, the federal holiday commemorating the emancipation of enslaved black people, the included guide launched nationwide .
Going forward, the founders hope to get reviews, good and bad, from as many types of people as possible, including those who experience discrimination and their allies who don’t. The latter helps provide a baseline for their reports. This helps to better identify companies that serve certain populations but do not include others.
“This is how we will move the economy towards a more inclusive economy,” McMullen Bushman said.
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