Digital meets rural in Gujarat

Updated: Dec 07, 2016, 15:33 IST | Snigdha Hasan |

Airbnb’s recent tie-up with SEWA is a win-win for its members and tourists

Travellers who choose homestays over regular hotels often seek a more holistic, organic experience of the places they visit, even if that means stepping out of their comfort zone. And when it comes to rural India, they would much rather immerse themselves in the village life than come across as DSLR-wielding outsiders capturing exotica.

Keeping this — and a nobler cause — in mind, the online homestay network Airbnb recently signed an MoU with the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), an organisation that works with and promotes the rights of women working in the unorganised sector. With an aim to tap into areas of India that have traditionally not been tourist destinations, the network will work with SEWA members to help them share their homes with international and domestic guests.

“Through the partnership, we aim to promote economic opportunities across diverse communities, and help prevent distress migration to urban areas, particularly among women and the youth,” says Thao Nguyen, Airbnb’s director of policy partnerships, Asia Pacific.

Why Gujarat?
With SEWA’s wide reach and its roots in Gujarat, the state seemed like the obvious place to concretise the tie-up in. To begin with, five vilages each in three districts of Gujarat will be hosting travellers soon. The Kutch district already being a popular tourist destination will be included after some of the lesser-known places have been covered.

While the network’s format provides bed and breakfast to guests, Heena Dave, SEWA’s coordinator for Surendranagar district, informs us that as many of the member women are engaged in weaving or bandhani work, they will be happy to give tourists a glimpse of their craft.

Digital meets rural
Given the digital platform of the homestay network, the initiative also hopes to create tech-enabled livelihood. “The young members would benefit from this new age economy via digital inclusion. Through the partnership, we will help our members become micro-entrepreneurs and promote sustainable tourism,” said Reema Nanavaty, SEWA’s Director.

Gud-rotla for breakfast, bandhani sarees for souvenirs and helping a household become independent — now, this sounds like the perfect rural sojourn.

The way forward
SEWA has two million members across 14 states of India. The first three districts covered in the tie-up are Surendranagar, Patan and Mehsana. It aims to expand to the rest of rural Gujarat and other states with SEWA’s presence.

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