Hospitality, Home and Life in the Sharing Economy of Tourism

 

“Sharing Economy” platforms such as Airbnb, BeWelcome, and Couchsurfing facilitate the exchange of hospitality between individuals in residential accommodation. They operate largely outside the commercial tourism sector and enable people to lend/rent out homes and rooms in exchange for money or reciprocity. These platforms advocate a new approach to travel culture and the tourism economy. Supposedly, they have given way to the production and consumption of more “intimate” and “authentic” travel experiences in and of places around the world. By 2017, these platforms comprise of millions of hosts and guests, providing residential accommodation in tens of thousands of cities and villages in 192 countries worldwide. Scholars in various disciplines have engaged with the development of these platforms and address the economical, social and cultural implications of these developments.

My research intends to contribute to the existing body of critical scholarly work on the sharing economies of tourism. It investigates the spatialities that emerge from the quantification and qualification of bodily performances of hospitality in/through the Airbnb economy. It does so by analysing some of the key technologies and calculative rationalities that drive the platform such as its review and rating system, as well as drawing on (auto) ethnographic work, which first took place in Sofia (Bulgaria) over a period of three months. I then worked as an Airbnb host myself for a period of two years in the Netherlands. By using biopolitics and performance theory as analytical frameworks, my research seeks to contribute to a critical understanding of the contemporary geographies of the sharing economies of tourism – one that elicits the emergence of new forms of power that aim to order, control and reshape everyday life and living.

This research project draws on Sofia (Bulgaria) as a case study, where tourism has been a driver and generator of foreign exchange in both the socialist and post-socialist era. For many hosts in Bulgaria, the sharing economy offer an important and new opportunity to generate income and/or to create non-monetary values beyond the usual governmental institutions and entrepreneurial activities.

This research project has been at the centre of my PhD studies, which was generously funded through a scholarship that I received from the Faculty of Environmental, Regional and Educational Sciences (URBI) at the University of Graz, Austria. I am thankful for the generous support and supervision from Prof. Dr. Ulrich Ermann and Prof. René van der Duim who have guided me throughout my PhD trajectory.