Published February 22, 2016 in Episode 41
Meet Nguyễn Chiến Thắng, a 43-year-old Hanoian. He rents out 12 bungalow rooms surrounded by lush coconut trees in the coastal city of Phan Thiết in southern Việt Nam. He lists them on Airbnb, a website that helps people across the world list, find, and rent lodging. He’s the share-er in the sharing economy.
“I think it is very important to communicate to make the guest confident. I have one slogan for myself, ‘Be your guest,’ says Thắng. “I will recommend all the best thing that I have experienced nearby our place, or services relating to your trip, like how to travel to our place, where to go, where to eat safely and cheaply and everything related.”
Thắng says he likes Airbnb because of its evaluation system, particularly the two-way reviewing, “from the guest to the host and also from the host to the guest.” He says that system “can build the trust between the host and the guest.”
Evo Terra is a digital nomad. That’s to say he’s among a growing group of individuals that leverage technology in order to work remotely and live an independent and nomadic lifestyle. Raised in Phoenix, Arizona, the 47-year old runs a tourism business in neighbouring Thailand and visits Việt Nam often for business and pleasure. He’s a user in the global sharing economy.
He shares with Loa his love of the sharing economy: “I like to experience what it's like to really live there the way that other people in the area live. Because in most cases, [the lodging] tend to be a more comfortable space, typically designed for a more intimate experience. But typically I'm in a place that’s like what the condo right next door looks exactly like. Different art on the wall but this is the same way people in this building are living.”
So what is the sharing economy, exactly?
“To me the sharing economy is someone has excess capacity, whether that's physical capacity or mental capacity, and is making it available to others,” says Evo Terra. “Something we've done forever, but the sharing economy is that bridge in the middle that connects people who may want to use some of that excess capacity from the people who have the excess capacity.”
The sharing economy has begun to disrupt Việt Nam’s tourism industry, and not just with accommodation listing services such as AirBnb or TravelMob. For travellers looking for tour and activity recommendations, ILikeLocal, WithLocals, and Triip.me all leverage the sharing economy to provide their services. Việt Nam's peer to peer marketplace moved further into the spotlight when Uber, the ride-sharing company looking to disrupt the taxi industry, entered the market in mid-2014.
“Ubers tend to be at least inexpensive if not even less costly than taxis and that makes it that much more attractive,” says Terra.
Besides the competitive prices, Terra says sharing adds intimacy and color to his user experience.
“I prefer to travel with Uber. Cabs are typically not the nicest places to be but when I'm in an Uber, I'm in someone's car, the actual car that they actually do drive in everyday when they're not Uber driver-ing. So once again I’m having that complete experience of what it's like to be with a local person.”
Research done by Lê Bảo Dung at Lahti University of Applied Sciences showed that to Vietnamese locals, the sharing economy’s most appealing characteristics are the ability to make money from one's own assets, and paying less for a product or service. Dung argues that collaborative consumption is a win-win situation to both sides of a transaction and that the novelty will appeal to consumers.
Lê Mai Tùng, CEO of Pinkbike, a Vietnamese startup that focuses on ride-sharing, agrees.
“I think everyone knows about it and everyone likes it. It's a no brainer. Now they talk about "Uber for massage,” "Uber for haircut", or "Uber for delivery" -- whatever. Everyone is aware that sharing economy is the coming wave.”
Tùng is optimistic that Việt Nam is just seeing the beginnings of a flourishing marketplace but requires providers with a keen cultural sensibility. Tùng’s observation corroborates Lê Bảo Dung's research, that trust is a big impediment to the adoption of a sharing mentality.
“The biggest challenge in Việt Nam is trust. Because people aren't so flexible in the mentality,” Tùng notes. “Second thing is, the quality of service, when you provide a service or when you sell something, you have to guarantee maximum satisfaction for the customer.”
And although ripe for disruption, Anh-Minh Đỗ, former editor for Tech in Asia, still thinks the sharing concept is in its super early stages. Đỗ is now a board member of the Việt Nam Angel Network, a group directly connecting investors to startups.
Đỗ observes that “the sharing economy in general in Việt Nam is still very nascent. The fact that Amazon, eBay, and e-commerce guys theoretically, blazed the trail for the sharing economy guys. Then Việt Nam is still in its Amazon phase, so to speak. It's still working out its e-commerce and its trust. That may be a barrier.”
In the United States, Đỗ explains, e-commerce paved the way for the sharing economy to take off in the Western world. In Việt Nam, less than 20 percent of the population have shopped online. Vietnamese shoppers are not yet fully accustomed to doing business online, and that internet-savviness is something the sharing economy heavily relies on.
Tùng, Pinbike’s founder, believes there are additional barriers and hurdles to overcome.
“From a regulation standpoint, government is focused on how to get the taxes out of such service, rather than how to make sure that everyone is doing the right thing with your product.”
Because the concept of this collaborative system is new, governments worldwide have yet to come up with a framework to regulate sharing economy businesses. The same is true in Việt Nam, apart from the efforts to collect taxes Tùng mentions. Besides the taxi, hotel, and tourism industries, the sharing economy has yet to penetrate other areas of business.
Other sharing economy businesses have taken other assets, like personal labor and skills, and put them to use. There is now a growing market for hiring a stranger to complete your household errands or construction tasks. Basically, hiring your own personal assistant.
Đỗ explains: “Task Rabbit is more like a courier [for] random tasks that are needed for the home. They’re more pivoted to domestic needs. Like I would need to buy dog food and stuff. I wouldn't be surprised if it took off in Vietnam just because there is a large population of people who want to be their own boss and they are not very highly skilled and yet there is a large population who need random tasks.”
The opportunities abound. In an age where technology makes the world seem like a bigger more distant place, the sharing economy can bring us closer together.
Thắng, our AirbnB host, sees the beginnings of the sharing economy as an opening into a globalized world he and ordinary citizens can stake a claim in:
“Every family, they have a spare room or free apartment they can use Airbnb for business, generating income for their family. We want to mobilize all the free houses or the free rooms that every family in Hà Noi and some provinces for Airbnb.”