‘You Ensure Your Own Safety’: Gender, Fear and Tourism Labour in the Gig Economy in Turkiye


Fiona Bakas (Lusofona University, Portugal) and Duygu Salman (Bogazici University, Turkiye) introduce their research article into women in the tourism gig economy. 

Welcome to the age of the gig economy, a revolutionary way of working that’s reshaping the tourism industry, with more flexible job opportunities. But it’s not without its challenges, especially for women. 

Our article analyses interviews conducted in 2020, to explore the complex relationship of gender roles and tourism gig economy work. More specifically, it looks at offering tourism experiences, like local tours or cooking classes, through platforms. The findings reveal a double-edged sword: the potential for both empowerment and vulnerability. 

Navigating Inequality & Safety Risks in the Tourism Gig Economy

The research dives into the heart of Istanbul, the Turkish capital, where urban tourism is rapidly evolving. But the city is still struggling with persistent conservative gender norms. Our results show that platform workers are considered as informal micro-entrepreneurs, with female tourism platforms workers in particular navigating a world of unequal power and insufficient protection against gender-based violence. 

To stay safe, they often restrict their work to safer locations and times, for example only offering daytime activities. This echoes the findings of feminist geographers who speak of ‘fear-induced gendered immobility’—a significant barrier to women’s freedom and success.

We also find female platform workers normalise fear and accept their precarious, unprotected jobs as ‘meaningful work’. Tourism platforms promote this work ideology through workplaces characterised by invisible clients, dependence on client rankings, and limited organisational employee protection against gender-based violence. 

In this new, semi-unregulated environment “you ensure your own safety,” as Melike, one of the women we interviewed, says. 

The Emergence of the Tourism Platform Worker

As lines between formal and informal employment blur, we see the emergence of a type of ‘hybrid informal/formal’ tourism worker: the tourism platform worker. 

This new type of worker is effectively an informal micro-entrepreneur with a multinational ‘face’, due to advertising their services through these global companies, such as Airbnb and Withlocals. But the laws to which they must abide remain unclear. 

A very interesting finding, which deserves future research, is that tourism platforms are creating a new space of tourist-host relations. In this space, the work-client relationship is informal and ambiguous – something between ‘a friendly local’ and a ‘professional tour guide’ – with potential safety implications.

As tourism platforms evolve, we need to better understand the gender dynamics that exist within them. These are often invisible and can potentially leave women tourism platform workers vulnerable to gendered violence in various forms. Robust policies by these platforms are crucial to safeguard their workers. 

While the gig economy offers potential, the experiences of women highlight that progress requires more than just technology. There’s also a need to dismantle entrenched social attitudes and structures that continue to hinder women’s full participation.

About the authors

Fiona Eva Bakas, PhD, Tourism is a critical tourism researcher and lecturer with international teaching experience. She has 20 years of varied work experience (corporate and academic), and is currently a tourism lecturer at Lusófona University, and IGOT, University of Lisbon, Portugal. She’s also an Equality in Tourism Associate

With a PhD in Organisation Studies and more than 15 years of academic experience, Duygu Salman is currently a full-time assistant professor in the Tourism Management Department of Boğaziçi University, Faculty of Managerial Sciences. She is also the founder of a non-profit named Inclusion Lab&Network. The organisation aims to advance and apply social scientific insights to help public and private organisations achieve inclusion.

Read the full article on gender, fear and tourism labour in the gig economy – there are 50 free e-copies available now. 

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