Online home-rental platform Airbnb has taken off globally and has, in start-up terms, “disrupted” the hotel industry. The company allows ordinary home-owners (or “hosts”) to market and rent out lodging to visitors looking for an alternative to the traditional hotel room. Airbnb was launched in 2008, and today has around three million listings in over 65,000 cities worldwide.
In Africa, South Africa is by far the biggest Airbnb market, accounting for almost half the listings on the continent. According to Nicola D’Elia, Airbnb’s general manager for the Middle East and Africa, the number of listings in South Africa has doubled in the last year alone.
“But the demand from travellers, both internationally and domestically, is growing even faster,” he notes. “The number of South Africans staying in an Airbnb when they travel within the country has quadrupled in the last year, for example.”
Cape Town, particularly, has taken off – with some hosts earning double the amount renting their properties out on Airbnb during peak season than they would via a long-term lease. Alongside this, estate agents are reporting an increased interest from buyers to invest in properties that can be marketed on Airbnb.
The company has also partnered with women entrepreneurs in Langa, a suburb in Cape Town, to host tourists looking to experience township life, heritage and culture. The partnership is in line with Airbnb’s focus on offering authentic “experiences” to travellors. In November it launched a new product, Airbnb Trips, which allows entrepreneurs to market excursions (such as guided township tours) or lessons (like traditional dance classes) on Airbnb’s platform.
Beyond South Africa, the rest of the continent has generally been slower to take off – although the company’s management remains confident over its potential. Airbnb’s CEO and co-founder, Brian Chesky, has already made a few trips to the African continent.
“Africa is one of the fastest-growing regions in the world for Airbnb,” says D’Elia. “However, that growth is coming off a relatively small base compared to other continents. Airbnb has over three million homes listed on the platform globally; about 80,000 of those are in Africa.”
Despite South Africa’s dominant market share, only Cape Town and Johannesburg are in the top five African cities by number of listings (in first and third place respectively). Morocco’s Marrakesh and Casablanca come in at second and fifth place, and Kenya’s Nairobi is the company’s third-largest city in Africa.
“These are both business hubs and amazing tourism destinations with rich cultures and stunning natural beauty. Airbnb has grown mostly organically in these destinations that have always been sought-after destinations for a variety of reasons,” explains D’Elia.
“There are many places in Africa that show great potential and I am confident that we will see similar growth all over the region once awareness grows. Many other places come to mind: Lagos as a hub for business travel, for example, [and] Namibia and Mozambique for their natural beauty – just to name a few.”
Both Cape Town and Nairobi were also selected as two of the 12 global launch sites for Airbnb Trips. Travellers to these cities can now participate in experiences such as long-distance running with Kenyan athletes or wine tastings at Cape vineyards.
“People are travelling more than they ever have… But the way people travel is changing too, driven by a new experience economy where people place greater value on experiences over ownership,” notes D’Elia.
“The days of standing in line to take the same photos as everyone else, or staying in exactly the same kind of hotel room no matter what city you’re in, are coming to an end.”