7 min read
At a time when female entrepreneurship is still the exception rather than the rule, there is a bright light in the sharing economy where women are flourishing: short-term rentals.
The rise of platforms such as Airbnb, Booking.com and others helped create a $169 billion short-term rental market in 2018 alone, according to SKIFT Research. That market encompasses major female players — a reflection of the fact that when women are unencumbered by traditional hierarchical structures, they thrive.
A global equalizer
Online accommodation-sharing websites, including the ones just mentioned, have acted as “an equalizer in a world where women have to fight for equality every day,” South African telecom executive Liz Hartley told Forbes. I’d agree: New technology in the short-term rental space is providing people a means for making a living managing properties, where they otherwise might not have been able to do that.
What’s more, because the experience of using platforms like Airbnb eliminates income disparity based on gender, short-term rental industry technology opens the door for women around the world to turn what used to be a typical “side hustle” into a full-blown, flourishing career, with no need for initial capital investment.
In fact, anyone can start a new business in the sharing economy. Travelers choosing a short-term stay through an online travel platform choose according to the facilities advertised — and nothing more. What (thankfully) gets ignored are factors like the host’s gender and race. Hosts and property managers succeed based on the quality of their offerings, without somebody’s bias.
And data shows that the short-term rental industry not only creates gender parity, but also creates the perfect opportunity for economic empowerment. But don’t just take my word for it.
Women as short-term rental hosts worldwide
Airbnb noted in a March 2017 report that, looking back over the company’s history, female hosts had made up 55 percent of its global host community, and had hosted at 120 percent the rate of men. The company also estimated that over 50,000 women around the world had used income from Airbnb to support entrepreneurship for themselves or as direct investment capital for launching their own businesses.
The same report showed that globally, 62 percent of Airbnb hosts who are single mothers had used their income from this platform to help them afford their homes.
This short-term rental factor is particularly strong in foreign countries. Case in point: In India, a female Airbnb host can earn enough money to cover 31 percent of her average annual household costs, and in Kenya it’s closer to one third.
Belinda Bowling, a 43-year-old humanitarian aid worker from Cape Town, is an example. Bowling created a micro-business for herself by renting out her home on Airbnb. She then took things a step further, hiring a female business partner to look after the property on a daily basis. She also trained other unemployed women within her community to help her during busy seasons.
So,how can more women participate in the short-term rental sharing economy?
Three tips stand out:
1. Find and understand the opportunities. The rise of short-term rentals, travel as a commodity instead of a luxury, remote work and the desire to “travel like a local” are all current trends. So pinpoint what opportunity fits you best and define where you can add the most value
Your area of strength could be in: operations, marketing and channel distribution, communications with homeowners or site searches for the best locations. Build a business that highlights where you shine most.
2. Understand the commitment. Calculate the time you will need to dedicate to this role and how much you stand to earn. While short-term rentals are attractive, they require serious commitment — from constant guest communication work and marketing to cleaning and check-ins.
3. Plan for growth. As you grow and scale your business, look for software and automation tools that enable you to do so efficiently to ensure you don’t bite off more than you can chew. Guesty, a short-term rental property-management platform, of which I am COO, grew out of the need for technology to help streamline the many tasks that property managers face on a daily basis. Features include task automation and a unified inbox to centralize all guest correspondence, so nothing slips through the cracks.
Guesty of course isn’t the only technology in this space serving property managers and ultimately guests. Other smart home and third-party tech solutions include PointCentral — creating home automation solutions that facilitate keyless entry and staff coordination; Beyond Pricing, an automated dynamic pricing tool that utilizes real-time data to maximize revenue and occupancy; and NoiseAware, a noise-monitoring solution that alerts property managers when volumes in their rentals exceed reasonable levels.
Then there’s Properly, a marketplace of cleaners and service providers paired with resources to train and develop skills based on your needs. All of these companies and more are helping to grow the short-term rental industry while creating more employment opportunities.
In addition to relying on technology to aid in your success, be sure to create a business plan that outlines your projected costs, headcount needs and income as you scale your business. Ultimately, stick to a plan that you feel you can realistically execute.
What this means for travel tech.
The surge of female empowerment that the short-term rental arm of the sharing economy has prompted has also appeared in the travel tech space. The latter term describes those companies that have responded to the need for tech solutions to support the short-rental industry. Here are two reasons why:
1. The tourism workforce is 50 percent or more female, with about half of director-level employees at hotels being women, according to a World Travel and Tourism Council 2017 report. So transitioning into travel tech is an obvious step for women already familiar with the travel space.
In this context, I would go far as to say that women’s involvement in the travel tech and short-term rental segments has made it easier for them to step into the tech scene, a predominantly male ecosystem, and to gain a healthy share of leadership in these fields.
Take Gillian Tans; she’s CEO of Booking.com. Tans has advanced the company’s operations and sales across more than 224 countries and territories, according to a profile in Businesswoman Media. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that my own company, 42 percent of our workforce is female (including over 40 percent of mid-management and top management).
2. If you compare Airbnb’s employee makeup (48.94 percent female in 2018) to that of tech giants like Facebook (36.3 percent female in 2018) and Google (30.9 percent female in 2018), the travel platform segment comes out on top. These and the aforementioned stats are just a few reasons why it’s easier for women to find their place in travel tech, compared to tech in general.
How a career in travel tech can benefit you, too.
The tech solutions and platforms that support the travel and short-term rental ecosystems are catalysts to female financial independence worldwide. They’re enabling women across different cultures to boast successful careers, fund their various passions, support their households and segue into tech.
These trends will only be amplified as travel becomes more of a commonplace than a luxury, resulting in an increase in travelers and simultaneously making it more and more clear how the travel tech industry is opening doors for women as well as being powered by women.