AirBnb has nowadays grown from a fringe choice for holiday accommodation to the default option for many tourists. The boom in popularity of network hospitality- the umbrella term for platforms like Airbnb, which facilitate tourists connecting digitally with hosts to rent accommodation and form social networks- is no less true in South East Asia. Indeed, women were reported to make up 53% of AirBnb’s host community in Thailand in 2018. In light of this, new research conducted by Bouchon and Lim in The International Journal of Tourism Cities (Volume 7, Issue 1) assesses the potential opportunities that women’s expansion into network hospitality could have for advancing gender equality in South East Asia.
The research focusses specifically on the experiences of female hosts who use Airbnb to rent out accommodation to tourists in Kuala Lumpar. Traditional Malaysian gender roles see women remain at home, carrying out domestic chores and tasks. Tensions can arise when they choose to venture outside of this realm, in the pursuit of a career. Overarching, the research demonstrates that what is unique about Airbnb is that it carves out a liminal space between the private and public spheres for Malaysian woman, blending the two in a way which holds the potential to advance their rights.
For example: when renting out one property or room, the women interviewed frequently remarked that they considered their hosting duties to provide extra income, but not comprise a job in its own right. Such smaller-scale hosts may have a single room in their house which they advertise to tourists. Women in the interviews remarked that it was common to expand renting out from one to several, as income gained was accumulated and re-invested into purchasing further properties. Upon owning more than one property, women began to refer to themselves as entrepreneurs.
Importantly, building a portfolio of rentals through AirBnb supplies Malaysian women a route to a career in entrepreneurship that would ordinarily be inaccessible. The expansion of their rental portfolio also allowed them employ other women in domestic labour roles, who could take responsibility for managing and housekeeping particular properties. In this way, female empowerment breeds more female empowerment within network hospitality in Malaysia.
In all, the way that AirBnb renegotiates the boundaries between the private and public realms may hold the key to its empowering potential for female hosts in Malaysia. By offering women the chance to monetise space that has traditionally been uncommercial may allows them to become financially and socially independent from within the comfort of their own home.
Bouchon, F. and Lim, S. E. Y. The effects of network hospitality on women empowerment. International Journal of Tourism Cities. 7(1). 1-14. DOI: 10.1108/IJTC-07-2019-0112