Airbnb country manager talks tourism, regulations, and how the platform plans to spread across Africa

This is how Airbnb has performed in Africa so far and how it plans to expand across the continent.

Velma Corcoran, South Africa Country Manager, Airbnb

With more than 100,000 homes listed on Airbnb in Africa in 2017, all-time global guest arrivals using Airbnb increased by 2 million helping spread tourism benefits beyond hotels and tourist hotspots to the places local residents call home.

"Airbnb is very committed to Africa and we are focusing on African markets that show good growth potential and an increase in tourism visitors," Airbnb South Africa country manager, Velma Corcoran, tells me. Because of the compactness of the Africa team, Airbnb has had to focus on very strategic markets, in this case South Africa. And this reflects in the ratio of Airbnb users in South Africa compared to the rest of Africa.

According to a report released in September 2017, there have been two million Airbnb guests arrivals in Africa in the last 10 years. Half of that number arrived between 2016 and 2017. That’s a 100% growth rate within a year.

Out of the 2 million total, 830,000 of them have been in South Africa, 340,000 in Morocco, and 50,000 in Kenya, making them the top Airbnb destinations in Africa.

The presence of Airbnb on the continent has slowly changed the way people think about tourism. Where it was once associated to certain landmarks, hotels, cultures, and festivals, tourism is now more inclusive of the idea of people and their homes. Where tourists used to lodge in motels and hotels, they now have access to people’s homes, giving them a more personable, more intimate experience.

For the Airbnb hosts, the platform is a good way of making a side income. Velma tells me that in South Africa, for example, the typical host income per annum is $2,000. Converted to local currency, that’s over 30,000 rand. In Morocco, the average is $1,000, that is over 9,400 Moroccan dirham. In Kenya, hosts earn under $1,000 on the average. This could range from 80,000 to 90,000 shilling per annum.

Airbnb is present in 65,000 cities in 191 countries around the world. Each of those cities and countries, Velma says, has different regulations and the company has to navigate them somehow. However, because most tourism regulations predate Airbnb, they very rarely affect how the company and the users on its platform do business.

Rules and regulations that apply to a hotel chain that hosts 20,000 people cannot possibly be applied on homeowners who choose to host 2 or 3 people through Airbnb. If there were to be specific regulations for Airbnb, Velma tells me that she’d prefer them to be simple and straightforward.

Velma says that the next step now, for Airbnb, is to spread across Africa while driving sustainable growth in tourism. It plans to do this in a couple of ways.

One of them is through its first ever African Travel Summit coming up from the 11th to 13th of September, 2018. “This is a key step that we hope will be a catalyst for a conversation about how we can use technology to boost sustainable tourism growth in Africa,” Velma says. A portion of the summit will be dedicated to discussing ways platforms like Airbnb can help unlock tourism potential in places where people normally wouldn’t look on the continent.

Another way Airbnb is scaling in Africa is through the Airbnb Africa Academy, which has piloted in South Africa. The initiative is aimed at empowering hosts in townships and rural communities with tools they can use to build Airbnb in their locality. Velma tells me that the goal is to scale this programme from South Africa to Kenya, then to two more African countries by the end of 2019.

When I ask Velma what the biggest hurdles Airbnb has faced in Africa are, she tells me that perception (of Africa by foreigners) is one of them. “It is important for us to help people understand that Africa is a continent and not a country, and for them to grasp the breadth and depth of what the continent has to offer.”

Also from Business Insider Sub-Sahara Africa:


Eyewitness? Submit your stories now via social or: