A report released by Airbnb last September found that the guest activity on the platform in South Africa supported more than 22 000 new jobs and generated an economic impact of $678 million (R9.9 billion) over one year.
These are substantial numbers by anyone’s calculation, but perhaps the most important is the way in which the platform is driving both tourism as well as one of South Africa’s most important areas for economic growth: the rise of small business entrepreneurs, particularly in the face of increasing unemployment and volatile inflation rates, as locals pay ever more for everyday amenities.
Country Manager for Sub-Saharan Africa at Airbnb, Velma Corcoran, said the impact of Airbnb was best measured on the ground. “Hosts tell us that their ability to welcome guests into their homes or host experiences on the Airbnb platform has made a huge difference in their lives.
“It’s also interesting to note that of the 35 000 hosts in South Africa that list their home on the Airbnb platform, the majority – 65 percent of them – are women.”
One such host is Fayruza Abrahams, who made the tough decision to leave her high-powered and stressful corporate job when her health started to suffer from the thyroid condition Graves Disease.
She required long-term medical treatment.
As a single parent to a young daughter, she turned to hosting Airbnb food and cooking experiences from her BoKaap home in Cape Town to bring in a much-needed income, and to give her small family a better quality of life than the corporate world could ever do.
“A family member introduced me to the Airbnb concept late in 2017, when the company was just launching its Experiences offering, and I’ve never looked back. Airbnb has given me back my independence; I can take care of my daughter, my mother and my house. I still have to go to the hospital every three months. This disease is going to be a lifelong journey. But now, I’m in control of my own future,” said Abrahams.
A passionate home cook from an early age, introducing Malay food and the Muslim way of life to her guests has become much more than just a livelihood for Abrahams: “I’m contributing to my community by educating guests about the culture in our neighbourhood, and in my home.”
Having once travelled extensively for work, having guests from around the world in her home is also giving her back what she considers important exposure to other cultures: “It feels like I’m still travelling without leaving home.”
For Michelle Dancer and her husband, the decision to open their Forest Town home in Johannesburg to Airbnb guests was originally made for financial reasons: “It gave us an income from which we could maintain our home and pay for unexpected costs.”
However, while the income is much appreciated, Dancer said the accommodation her home provided filled a gap in the current accommodation market.
“A lot of people who stay with us would not necessarily travel for work if they didn’t have to, and sometimes can’t afford the cost of staying in a hotel.
We’ve had university students, families immigrating from overseas who need a home for a bit while they find a place to live, and people coming to see loved ones in hospital. We’re so lucky to be able to be in a situation where we can be that place for those people,” said Dancer.
Apart from the economic value to the country, the 2018 Airbnb report also notes the importance of empowering a more diverse range of people and places.
Busi Msimango opened her large Soweto, Johannesburg, home to Airbnb guests a year ago, after leaving a marketing and sponsorship position in the corporate world. Identifying that her house could become her income, and her love of mountain biking could become an Experience she could share, she has since realised it’s become so much more in building social bridges.
“Besides allowing me to be an entrepreneur, something like this gives us social diversification, particularly in the townships. At the end of the day, we all have the same blood and want the same things: we want comfort, we want love, and it’s just nice to be able to give that to someone and they treat you back at face value,” said Msimango.
Building these bridges has always been part of the Airbnb ethos: its 2018 Africa Travel Summit, which 200 delegates from across the globe attended, was held last year at the Guga S’thebe Arts & Culture Centre in the middle of Langa – a township in Cape Town.
Speaking about the location summit at the time, Global Head of Public Policy and Public Affairs for Airbnb, Chris Lehane, noted that it was a unique opportunity that enabled delegates to connect while seeing community-driven tourism come to life – a factor of enormous importance to South African Tourism.