Embracing the Digital: Platform Empowerment and Female Micro-Entrepreneurship in Thailand


How is the rise of digitalisation and social media as a business tool impacting female micro-entrepreneurs in tourism? Equality in Tourism’s Laura Coe summarises research from Thailand by Morakot Ditta-Apichaia, Ulrike Gretzelb and Uraiporn Kattiyapornpong.

As I’m leaving a small curbside restaurant in Thailand, the waitress asks to see my phone. She types in her restaurant on Google and requests (rather insistently) that I leave a Google review there and then. She checks to see that she’s happy with it before letting me leave her restaurant. 

During my travels, I quickly learnt that interactions such as these were becoming all the more common. In a world of online reviews, travel forums and social media platforms, small scale businesses and micro-entrepreneurs are having to compete in an increasingly digital world to keep their tourism businesses thriving.

Mobile phone showing Facebook on the screen next to a laptop keyboard
Photo by Timothy Hales Bennett on Unsplash

The Rise of Digitalisation in Tourism

Digitalisation is bringing unprecedented opportunities for small-scale tourism services across the globe, changing the way that people travel and do business. In the process, it’s reshaping tourism as we know it. 

It’s been widely noted that social media sites add value to tourism micro-entrepreneurship, through features such as advertising and customer service. Yet within this growing field of micro-entrepreneurship, barriers such as ingrained gender inequality and an absence of government support or funding significantly hamper opportunities for women. 

Despite these challenges, women’s tourism entrepreneurship has been identified as integral to meeting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSGDs) of ‘gender equality’ and ‘decent growth and economic growth’.

Investigating Facebook as an Emancipatory Tool

Writing in the Journal of Sustainable Tourism, Morakot Ditta-Apichaia, Ulrike Gretzelb and Uraiporn Kattiyapornpong (2023) explore the potential of digital platforms, more specifically Facebook, as an emancipatory tool for female micro-entrepreneurs in tourism. 

Focusing on female workers in Thailand engaged in small-scale entrepreneurial activities, the research uncovers which aspects of Facebook empower female entrepreneurs. In particular, how the platform helps to enhance business connections and opportunities. Their research reveals interesting insights into how social policy makers can better bridge digital gender divides to engender sustainable tourism development.

Thailand ranks eighth in the world for users on the platform, with a high proportion of female users (Facebook, 2021). The researchers analysed two public Facebook groups: one on making and selling desserts and drinks, another for women interested in selling baked goods. As well as analysing interactions and exchanges between the members, the researchers conducted interviews with group users.

Birds-eye view of woman in hat working on Thai street food stall
Photo by Lisheng Chang via Unsplash

The Impact of Facebook at the Individual and Collective Level

The research found that Thai female micro-entrepreneurs used Facebook groups at various stages across their entrepreneurial journey. Crucially, it revealed dynamic platform empowerment processes and outcomes happening at both the individual and collective level. 

Not only are these groups a channel for women to grow and improve their own businesses, through access to useful resources and information that help them make informed decisions. They’re also spaces to support fellow entrepreneurs as a collective. Group members can share their experience and knowledge, build collaborative networks, and expand their businesses. 

These vibrant, supportive networks enable female micro-entrepreneurs to survive and flourish throughout their entrepreneurial journeys.

Wider Implications: Plugging the Gap in Social Policy

A lack of funding, support and educational opportunities means female entrepreneurs are often left behind, compared to male counterparts. But this study provides a timely reminder that Thai women engaging in tourism micro-entrepreneurship are far from passive subjects to these larger structural societal issues. 

It’s a testimony to the ability of female micro-entrepreneurs to make the most of digital platforms to create vibrant communities, through which they can upskill, build connections and help each other thrive. 

However, Ditta-Apichaia et al. offer a warning. Their work demonstrates that social media platforms can overcome shortcomings and gaps in social policies in the short run. But there are larger structural issues at play in Thailand that leave women working in the tourism industry in precarious positions. 

Female micro-entrepreneurs in tourism need supportive social policies to thrive. Ones that stimulate greater access to finance and investment in public infrastructure relevant to women – vocational courses, for example. 

So, while platform empowerment is an emancipatory tool, it cannot replace the progressive social policies needed to truly achieve sustainable tourism development goals.

Want to help advocate for social policies that transform the lives of women in tourism in a meaningful way? Become an Equality in Tourism impact partner or donate to support our work. 

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