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Tea Leaves

Pandemic hits 'couchsurfing' travel bug

Decline of social hospitality platforms takes spontaneity out of tourism in developing Asia

The author, second from right, and photographer wife Kit Yeng Chan, right, enjoy a pasta meal they prepared for their Couchsurfing hosts in Guwahati, Assam, India, in 2018. (Photo by Kit Yeng Chan)

In a world of COVID-19 travel bans, border closures and lockdowns it is hard to imagine a return to free movement between countries and recovery for the vast world of travel and vacation websites. When the Singapore-based online booking portal Agoda slashed 1,500 jobs in Asia in May, cutting its workforce by 25%, nobody was surprised.

Beyond big business, though, the pandemic has also changed something I would not have thought possible in an interconnected world: the future of social hospitality travel platforms like Couchsurfing.

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