Airbnb Is Changing The Way Tourists Get To Know Africa
When Godwin Ndosi first heard the word "Airbnb," he said, "Airbnb? Is that the name of a person?
Now it's the way he makes his living.
His introduction to the accommodations rental website came a year ago. Ndosi, a 23-year-old from Arusha, Tanzania, runs a safari business. A client had nowhere to stay after his hotel plans fell apart, so Ndosi invited him to spend the night at his pad.
When the client saw the place — a four-bedroom bungalow surrounded by palm trees, with a hammock swaying in a lush garden out back — he turned to Ndosi and said: "This is beautiful. You could turn your house into a business. You know Airbnb?"
Ndosi did not know Airbnb, but "when he left, I researched it and registered myself on the app," he says.
Since then, Ndosi has achieved "superhost" status — nearly 200 guests from countries including the Philippines, Malaysia, the U.S. and the U.K. have stayed with him and his parents, the "Fun and Lovely Tanzanian Family." His listing has a five-star rating on the site along with rave reviews that mention middle-of-the-night airport pickups and fresh milk from his cows with breakfast.
Across Africa, people like Ndosi are earning money by renting out their homes on Airbnb, and in the process, they're encouraging global tourists to connect directly to the local economy.
Ndosi says that when he was growing up, folks in Arusha had a negative view of the tourists who came to explore Serengeti National Park or Mount Kilimanjaro. They brought little to the community because a handful of hotels had a monopoly on the industry, he says.
These accommodations push guests to eat at their restaurants, book their safari trips and shop at their souvenir stores. They may sell locally made handicrafts and clothing — but at a steep markup. A $5 shirt bought wholesale from a craftsman, for example, could be priced at $20 at the hotel shop.
"These people were coming and didn't buy anything from us. They just stayed in the lodges and took pictures of us," Ndosi says.
But, he says, "We're in a different age now."
Airbnb has upended the system. When the site launched in 2008, Africa was a minor part. That has changed, and now that more than 44,000 homes in Africa have been listed, the continent has become one of the company's fastest-growing regions. (South Africa, Morocco and Kenya top the continent's markets.)
Nicola D'Elia, Airbnb's first general manager for Africa and the Middle East, was hired from Facebook, where he helped with expansion in these regions. He says the goal is to have homes for rent absolutely everywhere.
"We want to bring tourists to parts of the continent that aren't covered by traditional accommodations — only places where you could stay in other people's homes," D'Elia says.
Making that vision a reality, says D'Elia, will "help create a new generation of micro-entrepreneurs from local hosts to local businesses."
Ndosi is proof that it's happening. When he registered for Airbnb, he had just graduated from college with a degree in wildlife tourism. He was applying for government jobs and graduate school and pursuing his passion of organizing small safari trips, but he worried about making an income. A tradition in his Maasai culture required him — the youngest in the family — to provide for his parents and look after their property, the bungalow.
The house has turned out to be the ideal business for him. His parents take up one room, and he rents out the other three. When all of the rooms are filled — he laughs as he shares this tidbit — he sleeps in a tent outside the house, in the garden.
Ndosi says his "super friendly" mom and dad, who help entertain the guests and answer questions about Tanzanian customs and culture, are key to his success. So is his pricing strategy: a stay with him costs just $15 a night, which includes Airbnb's 3 percent hosting fee.
"Everybody had a $20 price on Airbnb, and some even had $50 or $100," he says. "But I never wanted to charge too much for a traveler to experience the local way of living."
His low price and guest-first ethos seem to have paid off.
"Because of my reviews, people cry to stay with me — or tell me they'll pay double or triple to stay with me just for five days," he says.
Business was slow initially, because it's tough to snag Airbnb guests before anyone has put up a review. But after four months of waiting, Ndosi got his first guests: a trio of tourists from Malaysia, who'd decided to pick a place based on the host profile. They liked Ndosi's simple and short description on his page, so they went with him.
They meant to stay for one day but stuck around for 10. Later, they told Ndosi that after they came to Arusha and stayed with him and his parents, they "found their family."
His guests tend to create lasting bonds during their visits.
Ndosi shares a story of two of his Airbnb guests who visited Ambureni, a village outside Arusha where Ndosi's family is from. The Swiss couple was shocked by what they saw: poverty and a lack of infrastructure. They decided to help raise funds for the orphanage and a new hospital.
Ndosi says amazing people have stayed at his bungalow in the past year, but there's one odd thing he has noticed. He has never hosted a fellow Tanzanian.
"Locals don't want to stay with locals because they're already locals," Ndosi says.
Airbnb is on the case, D'Elia says. This year, it's working to get more people living in African countries to use Airbnb when they travel domestically, starting with one of Airbnb's biggest markets: South Africa. And it's looking at Africa-friendly payment solutions, like M-Pesa, a mobile payment app widely used across the continent.
Maybe that will make business even busier for Ndosi, who has earned enough cash through Airbnb to fund his entire graduate school education, which he hopes to start soon. The publicity has helped him gain more clients for his safari company. And he's investing in more rooms and accommodations across Arusha to expand his Airbnb business — something he now wants to do full time.
Last October, he finally heard back from one of the government jobs he applied for. He got the gig.
How did he respond?
"I had the guts to say no, I don't need your job," he says. "I'm happy."