Airbnb has opened up over 13 000 new accommodation opportunities in South Africa in less than 12 months

It’s pithy but true – the world’s largest content hub, YouTube, doesn’t produce any content of its own and the largest taxi services company, Uber, doesn’t own any vehicles. Airbnb is the next company to make waves – and in the accommodation market, despite not owning any property.

Airbnb officially launched in South Africa in July 2015 and has since seen staggering progress, with more than 13 000 rooms and properties now listed on the site.

This country also accounts for more than a third of all the Airbnb listings in Africa. Nearly 7 500 of those listings are in Cape Town, meaning that the Mother City is fast catching up with Airbnb’s top cities around the world, such as Sydney (12 950), Tokyo (9 345) and Madrid (8 493).

While the company won’t release its total guest numbers by country, they’re happy to say that the number of guests booking accommodation via Airbnb in South Africa has increased by 260% since the local launch. And it’s not just international visitors taking advantage of the opportunity to holiday in unique locations across the country either – local bookings have increased by 183%.

Uber has faced legislative challenges around the world and Airbnb has faced a similar backlash of sorts, being called out by the real estate sector for negatively influencing local housing affordability in the USA and by hotel groups in Australia for not having to meet industry rating and safety standards. ‘For Airbnb to succeed, no one has to lose,’ says Nicola D’Elia, Airbnb’s general manager for Middle East & Africa. ‘We are catering for a different kind of traveller who is looking for a more local and authentic experience by staying in a home. Also, most Airbnbs are located outside of the main hotel districts, giving tourists an opportunity to experience local culture. If anything, we believe we’re making the travel pie bigger, which is good news for everyone,’ he says.

Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa, chief executive of the Federated Hospitality Association of Southern Africa (FEDHASA), has warned in an interview in the Mail & Guardian that running an operation like Airbnb in a country with crime statistics as high as South Africa’s calls for added precautions. ‘If you’re opening your home to someone who’s coming to stay with you, you may never know what’s going to happen. I’m not saying security is the biggest issue, but there is that dynamic.’ D’Elia says that Airbnb has systems in place to ensure that transactions are as safe as possible. ‘There are detailed user profiles, online and offline ID verification, social network integration, reviews of both host and guest, and 24/7 customer service.’

D’Elia says that Airbnb’s growth to date in South Africa has largely been organic, driven by word of mouth, which shows
that there’s a great appetite for the service here. The growth statistics in South Africa are very impressive, particularly against the backdrop of the decline in tourism the country has experienced in light of the onerous changes to visa regulations which put many international visitors off – despite the increasing appeal of spending foreign currency in the rand market. That said, this growth is also a result of a low base price since the official launch of the service in SA last year. Many enterprising South Africans had listed properties on Airbnb before a local presence was announced, but the appeal of the accompanying support, such as the company’s Host Guarantee – which covers homeowners for up to $1 million in the event of theft and damage not settled directly by guests – has encouraged more locals to sign up.

Our vibrant community continues to expand, with international visitors reporting that the quality of the homes and hospitality in South Africa is outstanding,’ says D’Elia. ‘We really look forward to growing our presence in this amazing market in the months to come.’

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