Rural women in India and elderly people in Japan open their homes to Airbnb travelers

MUMBAI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Mobile apps that help women in rural India and small Japanese villages open their homes to visitors from around the world are generating income, revitalizing remote communities and helping to curb migration to cities.

Guests at a homestay in the Indian state of Gujarat, where a partnership between Airbnb and local women’s organization SEWA opens rural homes to guests from around the world. Photo for distribution courtesy of the Association of Self-Employed Women

A women’s organization in the western Indian state of Gujarat has partnered with Airbnb, the short-term home rental service, to train rural women to become hosts and list their houses on its site.

A year later, the number of women earning shared accommodation has doubled, according to the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), which has around 2 million members, mostly in villages.

“At first, we didn’t know how the women would fare and whether people would accept homestays in these areas,” said Reema Nanavaty, director of SEWA.

“But once they started having guests, the women invested in renovating their homes and started using Google Translate to communicate with guests. It became a major source of income for them,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Guests at the colorful houses are treated to homemade Gujarati food and can participate in kite flying and garba dancing with sticks in traditional dress, she said.

The partnership will expand to 14 more states, with the goal of increasing women’s incomes in rural areas and helping to boost tourism in otherwise neglected areas, she said.

Cheap smartphones are also helping those looking for work, with job search sites helping even illiterate job seekers from rural Cambodia to India find employers without intermediaries who could dupe them.

Airbnb also has partnerships in South Korea, Japan and Taiwan for rural tourism.

In Japan, the Yoshino Cedar House, a collaboration with Tokyo architect Go Hasegawa and the local community, was born in response to the dwindling rural population in this rapidly aging country.

He was inspired by a host whose listing helped rejuvenate his village, said Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia.

Hundreds of villages and towns “will disappear over the next decade if we don’t find ways to create regenerative and adaptive systems,” he said by email.

Cedar House is run by a cooperative of about two dozen community members who take turns as host.

Most profits stay in the community, with a percentage of profits reinvested in local projects, Gebbia said.

“If we can get community-driven empowerment in Japan, we can find ways to adapt it to other countries,” he said.

In India, the 50 rural houses listed on Airbnb attract guests from the United States and Europe, Nanavaty said.

“Some villages weren’t even on Google Maps. For women, it’s a new way to earn money, to be independent,” she said.

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