This 48-year-old woman farmer from a Leh village is reinventing herself by becoming an Airbnb SEWA host
Yangzas lives with her husband and three sons in Phyang village in Leh, Ladakh. Just 16 km from Leh airport, Phyan village, like most of the surrounding terrain, is pristine and a hub for eco-tourism. Its main attraction is a 900-year-old monastery known for its ancient wall paintings, collections of old thangkas, and murals of Mahakala. Tourists are especially interested in its elegant architecture and rare artefacts.
Yangzas had been a farmer all her life. However, this primary source of income isn’t enough to sustain families. The village has minimal employment opportunities, with most people engaged in agriculture and farming.
For six months, she grows broccoli, tomatoes, eggplant, and capsicum. Almost every household in Ladakh owns a farm where they grow vegetables and fruits; some also own cattle for their sustenance.
“In 2010, a massive flood destroyed our farms, crops and vegetables. We felt that agriculture could no longer sustain itself on its own,” she recalls.
At 48, Yangzas decided to start a homestay when the SEWA team visited her village, hoping this would become an additional source of income.
It was a well-defined process. “I underwent training in garment making, including weaving on looms and food processing from the SEWA teams. I became a part of their group called Looms of Ladakh. Earlier, I used to be shy, and the training helped me gain confidence. Now, I have been selected as the coordinator by other women in my community/neighbourhood to lead training for them.”
Yangsaz is running a homestay with the help of SEWA's Hum Sab Ek initiative
Learning the ropes
As part of her association with SEWA, Yangzas travelled to Gujarat for an exposure tour and witnessed how women of Gujarat were working and maintaining their livelihoods.
“This inspired me to start my homestay. I am someone who simply enjoys looking after the family and the home but being associated with SEWA gave me more strength and courage to live a full life, as well as motivate others to do so,” she says.
Yangzas set up the homestay with the help of SEWA’s Hum Sab Ek initiative and has already hosted two international guests.
“They stayed with my family for a month, and it was an amazing experience for all of us. I look forward to hosting more and am especially excited to be hosting on Airbnb. We like to make our guests feel invested in their stay, with activities that make them feel cared for and add value to their stay. For instance, we offer to cook their meals, share recipes, and even eat together. We like to make them feel at home; they can visit our kitchen garden and share cultural stories. We even guide them to the places they can visit based on the best of our knowledge,” Yangzas says.
She has often seen that some guests extend their stays - for instance, a guest from Africa extended her stay for three months. Similarly, another guest from England extended his bookings to 10 days along with his friends.
People prefer the mountains
While the pandemic brought the tourism industry to a halt, with the vaccination rollout, Yangsaz is seeing more guests staying for a month at a time. Some book for two weeks, but stay on for more.
“People now prefer to stay longer in the mountains, in a remote, quiet place surrounded by nature, and even work from here,” she adds.
Apart from maintaining a minimum contact policy, Yangsaz ensures an interval between bookings so that they have enough time to sanitise and clean the homestay. Usually, guests are self-aware and take a lot of precautions themselves, with some preferring to do their cooking and housekeeping.
Apart from getting trained on hosting homestays, she is also learning about the cultivation and making of home-grown products like apricot juice, apricot jam, and others.
“The best part is that I am now capable of offering the same training to other women, even at a distance of up to 100 km. Through SEWA’s training, I have also started speaking fluently in Hindi. The team has provided us with a sense of confidence where I can lead meetings and encourage other women in my community who are generally shy and dependent on their husbands,” she says.
Recently, Airbnb and SEWA announced the extension of their partnership to onboard 10 SEWA members from Ladakh as hosts on the Airbnb platform, and Yangzasben is one of them. This partnership will expand livelihood opportunities for women in rural Ladakh like Yangzasben and form part of broader efforts to rebuild tourism in a way that delivers positive outcomes for communities.
Airbnb will train SEWA members on home sharing, hospitality, quality standards, and responsible hosting practices while fostering digital inclusion and enabling these women hosts to connect with a global community of travellers.
Amanpreet Bajaj, General Manager – Airbnb India, Southeast Asia, Hong Kong and Taiwan, says they will continue to help more women in communities across India with the tools and know-how they need to become micro-entrepreneurs, “securing not only their financial independence and that of their families, but bringing valuable tourism spends into their communities and regions”.
“Through our partnership with SEWA, its members are trained in hospitality and responsible hosting practices that can help them succeed, which is a part of our broader effort to help rebuild tourism for the benefit of local communities to promote sustainable and responsible travel and stays that contribute to resilient local economies,” he says.
Yangsaz, meanwhile, is not content just listing her property on Airbnb; she now has plans to open a café in Phyang.
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