Airbnb is an international shared economy start-up that has built its presence in Africa without a lot of hoopla. At the end of last year, it released a progress report on where it had got to so far and set itself some ambitious targets for working with townships and rural communities. Russell Southwood spoke to its Regional Marketing Consultant (Southern Africa) Velma Corcoran about where it's headed.
Velma Corcoran is Airbnb's Regional Marketing Consultant (Southern Africa). She started her career in advertising before spending five years heading up the marketing department at Cape Tourism.
According to its report, Overview of the Airbnb Community in Africa - which came out late last year - it has 100,000 listings in Africa. But I asked Corcoran, how does that break down?: "There are 44,000 listings in South Africa and the next biggest after that is Morocco with just over 20,000. Then there's a big gap and you get Kenya with 6,000. We're seeing the business become more and more significant and I'm excited by the opportunity Africa presents. We want a world where anyone can belong anywhere."
The report says that: "The typical Africa host on Airbnb earns $1,500 yearly and the typical listing on Airbnb is shared for 18 nights per year. The average age of hosts in Africa is 43 and the host community is evenly split at 51 percent women and 49 percent men".
"In Nigeria, one of the newest Airbnb communities in Africa with 730 active listings, the typical host earns $1,000 and the typical listing on Airbnb is shared for 13 nights per year". As Corcoran told me: "In some markets, the key to building trust is the quality of the listings and the quality in Lagos and Nairobi has improved considerably over the past year. The other thing that builds trust is the review system which is relevant across the platform."
Also when it launched Airbnb Experiences, which is a set of pay-for events run by locals, in 2016 in 10 cities, two of these cities - Cape Town and Nairobi - were in Africa: "The events are aligned to a passion. If you're going to a place and you're into say music and the arts and you want to connect to a local who is passionate about the same things, this is a way to do it. You find things you wouldn't be able to find on your own. For example, if you're a foodie, you might get to meet with chefs or wine-makers."
Airbnb's pitch is that 97 percent of what's charged for accommodation stays with the listing owner and 42% of guest spend is in the local neighborhood. Over the last five years, there have been over 2 million visitors and hosts have earned US$139 million.
On competitors, Corcoran argues that it has its own niche: "We're investing and experimenting to carve out this unique space. 40% of guests in South Africa would not have come to Africa without Airbnb".
It has launched a US$1 million initiative over 2 years to develop tourism in Africa and it wants to see the "democratization of travel". The sharp end of these nice words has been a pilot programme run in 2017 - together with local partners - to support training in hospitality and technology for residents from townships across the Western Cape. It is expanding this programme to 15 more townships across South Africa and will scale the programme to other African countries in 2019.
"We worked with people in the townships or rural communities with a room or small B & B business. We gave them the skills to host and the tech skills to use the platform to participate in the sharing economy."
And what about overall expansion plans?:"From the local team point of view, the focus is going to be on inclusive tourism. That's the only real way to grow sustainably. We're focused on long-term growth and I like to think of South Africa as an incubator for other (African) markets."