By opening her home to more than 400 guests as an Airbnb host, this single mother rewrote her life
From the terrace of her two-bedroom house on the tenth floor in Mumbai Central, you can get a good glimpse of the city. The view is great, the interiors are warm and inviting. That “you’ll feel at home” in these surroundings is a given. For, Soraya Postel is a “super” Airbnb host who has opened her doors to more than 400 guests from all over the world.
A single mother and a French teacher who turned 60 this month, Soraya was raised in Chennai but has lived in Mumbai since 1983. She became a host on the world’s largest hospitality portal in 2011 when a close friend signed her up on Airbnb as a gift.
Fabia (extreme left) and her mother Soraya Postel (third from left) with guests.
That Soraya is passionate about “hosting” people is evident from the way she describes what she does. Not only that, she also wants other women to take this up as a career option as it changed her own perspective of life and people.
Hospitality with Airbnb
Soraya got a divorce when she was 47 and with a young daughter who was still studying, she was insecure about letting strangers into her house, and unsure about how much time to invest in them and how much space to offer them.
“When the first guest came in, I was rather taken aback because I didn’t know how the whole system worked. It was something so new but I think I have it in me to be a very welcoming person because my parents always opened the door with a smile,” says Soraya.
Soon the transition became smooth and it was as if she had been hosting people all her life.
Soraya has hosted people from countries like China, Japan, Russia, France, Israel, and others. From tourists, students, entrepreneurs to medical tourists - she has a long list of people who have stayed with her, including a documentary filmmaker.
Her expertise in French, Hindi, Tamil and English has also helped her bond with the people she hosts. But more than that, she says, it has changed the way she sees the world.
Soraya’s story is also the story of many women who have found a way to be economically independent by becoming Airbnb hosts. The company's data shows that almost 55 percent of Airbnb Home and 50 percent of “experience hosts” worldwide are women; earning nearly $32 billion through Airbnb since they launched.
I felt it changed my whole vision about life. It made me understand that there is no nationality, no colour, or no age barrier to become a host. This is just a world in which all of us need to open our doors and welcome people believing that tomorrow all of us can be friends with people we met yesterday as strangers. For me, there are no walls in this world.
In the Indian context, Airbnb has seen a whopping 32.53 percent increase in women hosts between 2018 and 2019 with Goa, Mumbai and Bengaluru leading with more women hosts.
Initially, Soraya used to juggle between her school work and hosting. “My school was far away so it meant rushing back and after a hot cup of tea, getting stuff done. I would spend approximately four hours a day as a host.”
Her daughter, Fabia has joined as a co-host and split the work between them. Besides food and laundry, they also offer a small walk in the vicinity and help out if guests need a SIM card, train bus or flights tickets for travel outside Mumbai.
They have started offering guests tickets to interesting events happening in Mumbai, and short trips to sweet shops and nearby landmarks.
The financial stability has made a world of difference for Soraya.
Before Airbnb, I had to restrict myself when it came to certain comforts. Being a single mother is not easy. Once I started hosting so many doors opened.
Not only did she get to travel across the world to meet and stay with people from her hosting experience, but she also got the opportunity to invest back in her house from the money she started making as a host.
Airbnb data shows that each female host in the country earns near about $1,323 (approximately Rs 93,800), leading to an estimated total income of approximately $10 million (Rs 74 crore) in 2018.
Soraya has gone and reinvested some of her earrings back into her home to improve the experience she provides.
Soraya Postel with her daughter Fabia
“I managed to get so many new things that enhanced the beauty of the house. I redecorated the room, got a car, and I managed to get extra help. Hosting has given me a lot of hope for tomorrow. When this income started coming in, ‘I was like I was like no I don’t need to fear anything.’ So I became fearless.”
After her retirement, she is using more of her time to make sure her guests have a memorable stay. “Now that I am not bogged down with school stuff, I have a lot more energy. I can do so much more.”
How women can benefit from being a host
Soraya believes more women can take up hosting as a career option. “If you are compassionate and feel good about inviting other people into your home, then hosting is for you. While you give them incredible experience, you also receive a lot in return,” she says.
You can become financially independent without much investment. But make sure good hygiene and cleanliness tops your list. Also communication is key to building good relationships with your guests, she adds.