Borrowing can be better than buying. Access can be more important than ownership. The rapidly rising number of global converts to the “sharing economy” suggests that temporary hires, peer-to-peer rentals, and other forms of “collaborative consumption” are the wave of the future.
The sharing economy helps would-be buyers save money on items that are too pricey to purchase, helps those with underused goods to share make money, and helps to conserve the planet’s resources. While this may have always been true in limited settings such as for car rentals or staying at a bed-and-breakfast, today’s technology has changed the game by making transaction costs cheaper and available to more people in a larger worldwide marketplace.
Europe and the United States have been eager early participants in the sharing economy, followed by Latin America. These are the biggest markets for online community Airbnb, which offers accommodations in 192 countries, according to Airbnb’s co-founder Brian Chesky. Yes, while you might expect that Paris, New York, or other heavily visited cities might be the largest travel regions, Bangkok and Southeast Asia is the second-largest travel region in the world—and the fastest-growing one as well.
Recognizing this trend, Chesky told Robert MacPherson for AFP that Airbnb’s service started this year to ratchet up its presence in East and Southeast Asia, opening an office in Singapore: “Asia is still pretty new, except for Australia,” said Chesky. “We are focused on Tokyo and Seoul and Southeast Asia. It’s one of our fastest-growing markets.”
In MacPherson’s article, Chesky added that there were some “cultural hurdles to overcome in Asia in getting homeowners to warm to the idea of renting out their unused spaces to strangers.” But, Chesky explained, “What I’ve been surprised by is not how different people are, but how similar they are. There are certain types of ‘Airbnb people,’ and they are in every city in the world — it’s just that in some cultures, there is more of a generational divide.”
So what will it take to bring Asia more fully into the sharing economy? As a region known for its many micro-entrepreneurs — from street vendors, tour guides, and tuk tuk drivers to small farmers and hand craftsmen — it seems that the sharing economy holds great potential.
Sharing resources offers travelers the ability to experience Southeast Asia’s unique culture. Withlocals, for example, can empower hosts to enrich their own lives while helping others. As hosts use their own knowledge and skills to build their businesses and create a better livelihood for themselves, they, at the same time, provide personal and authentic travel experiences to visitors. The sharing economy does away with the middlemen, passing on the savings to travelers and giving hosts in Asia the ability to sell directly to tourists. For all of these reasons, the sharing economy can help those who most need it in these regions.
Although Chesky pointed out certain cultural hurdles that may serve as barriers to the quick adoption of the sharing economy in Asia, there are other cultural suggestions that Asia is ripe to get swept up in the movement. It’s a family-oriented culture that takes care of its own be they family, friends, or neighbors and cares for its elders rather than turning first to nursing homes.
So is Asia ready for a sharing economy? While the jury is still out, cultural signs like these suggest that embracing a more global family may not be far off for the region—especially if doing so benefits one’s own.