The women of Batukra, a nondescript village in Gujarat’s Patan district, are making their mark as entrepreneurs by leveraging their proximity to the Rann of Kutch and opening up their homes in partnership with aggregator Airbnb to host tourists.

The US-based online marketplace and hospitality service firm, which enables people to lease or rent short-term lodging, has tied up with women from villages like Batukra as part of its plans to make inroads into rural markets.

Shanti Ben, a middle-aged woman from Batukra, is busy these days due to the influx of tourists for the ongoing Rann of Kutch festival. Earlier, she used to design and sell ethnic apparel in nearby towns; now, she decorates and clicks pictures of her house and uploads them on Airbnb.

In the past year, Shanti Ben has hosted five travellers from across the globe. The Rann of Kutch is about 25 km from her homestay, making it ideal for budget travellers. Seeing her success, Shanti Ben’s sister Gauri Ben has also signed up on Airbnb.

Tie-up with SEWA

Airbnb is banking on women like Shanti Ben, who are not very educated but are mobile phone-savvy, to enter rural markets. The company tied up with SEWA, the women’s trade union, last year and conducted a workshop for these women on home sharing.

From just eight women sharing their homes with travellers, the number has grown to around 18. The company now plans to add 10 more women onto their platform.

“These women mean business. They are very sharp and instantly caught on to the idea of hosting homes to complete strangers. With women like this, we are also exploring rural India,” Brent Thomas, Airbnb’s Regional Director of Policy for India, Southeast Asia and ANZ, told BusinessLine . The numbers may seem small, he said, but getting them in was a challenge.

“We are very happy with the numbers, and this initiative is a great example of how we translated our learnings into a global product change,” Thomas said, adding that there are similar examples in markets like Africa. Airbnb also constantly works with these women to help improve their listings and discovery.

Thomas further added that the company would soon start a similar pilot in Maharashtra and then add more States in the coming months, indicating that Airbnb is focussing on rural tourism for now.