Airbnb’s new partnership aims to bring rural women into the fold of “modern” hospitality, and basically lets you take your next holiday in the home of a Gujarati woman!
Airbnb has partnered with the Self Employed Women’s Association of India (SEWA), and they aim to train SEWA members on “home sharing, hospitality and quality standards as well as responsible hosting practices”. The project has already begun in Gujarat, and if all goes well, will soon be replicated in 13 other states in which SEWA operates. It’s a pretty exciting idea. There’s reason enough to think that this will be fairly popular with foreign tourists looking for an India experience that goes beyond the oft-visited Goa and palaces of Udaipur. And, of course, it’s a great way for women to earn money and get into a kind of entrepreneurship.
To add to the general excitement, many of the homestays that are part of the project are advertised on Airbnb with an exclamation mark, like ‘Valiben’s Homestay!’, ‘Mayaben’s Homestay!’ and ‘Naynaben’s Homestay!’
Of course, Airbnb’s own press release on the project makes it seem like it’s a unilateral boon to rural women. They say that the project’s explicit purpose is to “empower” women, democratise travel and give rural women the opportunity to be exposed to Airbnb’s global community of tourists. They also claim to have launched this in order to promote tourism and digital inclusion in parts of India that have traditionally not benefitted from it, and to “bridge the gap between urban and rural communities by exposing them to the rural way of life through Airbnb hosting”.
All of this sounds exceedingly noble and excellent, but as with any scheme championed by big corporations, like Facebook’s ill-fated Free Basics, it’s important to remember that very few companies will launch projects like this if they don’t stand to gain from them too. So, while it’s nice that Airbnb wants to work with rural women, it is a bit amusing that they’re trying so very hard to package the scheme as something meant purely for the good of the public.