Challenges of female Airbnb hosts — UWI study

...some are more and more complaining of harassment from especially young male guests

Business reporter

Friday, July 19, 2019

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“With the numerous controversies emerging from the Airbnb industry, a new and more recent phenomenon in need of redress are the challenges that female hosts are currently experiencing in the sector.”

That was the observation made by Johnnel Smith, University of the West Indies lecturer and PhD candidate and also an emerging scholar in tourism education in a study she is undertaking, which showed that globally women make up 55 per cent of Airbnb hosts.

“In the Jamaican context women represent over 59 per cent of Airbnb hosts in 2018 and 51 per cent in 2017. On other platforms such as Homestay, women hosts accounted for 73 per cent.

“Within the tourism sector, there is always the need for safety concerns for both guests and hosts.

“In recent times some Airbnb hosts, predominantly women, have been clamouring for more safety measures due to frequent cases of harassment,” Smith revealed.

Smith in pointing out selected findings from her body of work purports that female hosts who are friendly attract more attention than wanted, as some male guests often want to “sample the Black Girl Magic”.

These female hosts, Smith offered, were then in fear of reporting such cases of harassment to Airbnb as they don't want to get negative reviews and backlash or jeopardise their 'super host' status on the platform.

“Lately, I've noticed a disturbing trend by young male guests who don't respect my space (and yes, the shared and non-shared living spaces are itemised on my listing) but even worse some guests feel comfortable asking me questions like who lives here and what is my marital status? I know, I have the right to tell Airbnb that I'm uncomfortable and cancel the reservation but I am a 'super host' and I know speaking up carries the risk of negative reviews and backlash by Airbnb,” one of these female hosts was quoted as saying in Smith's study.

Other harassment stories shared by Smith to her attentive audience spoke of cases where the host as a measure of safety and dodging harassers reasoned that they have to resist the urge to hide in their rooms and chose to put on a bravado, so that they can tend to their other guests.

According to the Smith study, other than these physical challenges, some women also experience emotional blackmail and envy from other host operators for being successful in the trade.

Smith noted that this renders some of them to feel guilty for enjoying financial success as they fear criticism from neighbours, friends and even family members. Some even complained of being reported to strata managers more frequently than their male counterparts.

Smith in a post conference interview noted that the challenges faced by some of these women also include lack of access to funding based on status.

“Loans are not readily available to small women of lower class with small properties vis--vis those with larger properties in upscale communities, such as Jack's Hill, are the ones with greater access to the loans”, she divulged.

Smith made the findings from her ongoing study (which is a part of a larger regional study on “Peer-to-Peer” accommodation in the Caribbean — Cuba, The Bahamas, Cayman Islands and Jamaica) when she presented at the recently held fourth staging of the Mona School of Business and Management Conference. The conference was staged under the theme 'Delivering on the Promise of Entrepreneurship'.

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