City strikes deal with Airbnb

Some of the spectacular views from Elsies Peak in Fish Hoek that can be enjoyed by visitors of the far south.

The idea of persuading a stranger to sleep in your house on a blow-up mattress and pay you for it sounds preposterous but for three young men from San Francisco, the idea turned into a multi-billion dollar business and the establishment of Airbnb as we know it today.

The idea quickly blew over to South Africa and according to statistics from the City of Cape Town, in the past year, Airbnb hosts in Cape Town welcomed close to 290 000 visitors.

There are currently 17 600 active listings in Cape Town on the Airbnb website and on average, hosts can earn an additional R43 400 by sharing their home for 32 nights a year.

And earnings could be further enhanced following a collaboration agreement between the City and Airbnb last week.

According to the agreement Airbnb has committed to invest $1 million (R13 million) in community-led tourism projects in Africa, which includes Cape Town, over the next three years.

The City and Airbnb will also work together to promote the benefits of people-to-people tourism for Cape Town residents and their communities by promoting Cape Town as a unique travel destination, allowing hosts to be ambassadors of the city.

The Echo spoke to two Airbnb hosts in the far south about what the agreement will mean for their businesses.

Noordhoek resident, Madelein Slabbert, is the Airbnb host for Beehive B&B.

She lives in a three-bedroom cottage and rents out two of the bedrooms.

She has only been a host for the past month but previously hosted a B&B in Kalk Bay for several years until February. She says Airbnb is ideal for the budget traveller and to date, that has been a challenge as she finds when her tariffs are higher during peak seasons, booking are less compared to bookings during off-peak season.

Ms Slabbert says she loves being an Airbnb host as she has met many interesting guests from across the world and Airbnb presents the opportunity for hosts to interact with visitors.

“You definitely have a more intimate relationship with your visitors versus in a hotel or bed and breakfast but as a host you should also have the ability to sense when your visitors are open to communication and when they are not,” she said.

She says the agreement between the City and Airbnb can only have a positive impact as many foreign travellers see South Africa as a country with a history of crime and hopefully, due to the collaboration, their perception they have of South Africa will change.

She says in the future more people will be enabled to travel as it is now possible to work online versus being office bound and should travellers hear positive feedback about South Africa, they will visit, bringing more foreign currency into the country.

In the process of promoting Cape Town as a unique travel destination the City intends to work with Airbnb to empower hosting networks in lower-income communities which will include Airbnb scaling its technology and hospitality information partnerships to reach more women and youth. Community meet-ups will also be held for Airbnb hosts to share information and updates about Cape Town’s unique offerings and activities including raising awareness on how to save water

Ms Slabbert says the support to communities will enable members of the communities to feel proud of their neighbourhoods, their culture and who they are. They will present their communities to visitors with pride and change the self image of the community.

Simon’s Town resident Lynda Matthews Bonner Loubser is a host of two Airbnbs, Harbour Heights Villa and Rooms with Views. She says currently the biggest challenges for Cape Town Airbnbs are the water crisis and crime, and it should be addressed with each guest.

“You don’t want to tell clients about crime but it’s irresponsible not to, so unfortunately when guests come to the far south we have to inform them not to walk alone on our beautiful mountains. I just wish it was safe everywhere,” she said.

She said the collaboration can only benefit all Capetonians as it will put Cape Town on the international map.

“I am looking forward to being part of this growing industry and allowing people the opportunity to make some money. I think as an owner you’re always a little concerned about safety but I think Airbnb has a number of safety nets should something go wrong,” she said.

She agrees that Airbnb has made travel more personal and said she also loves being an Airbnb host as they have had “fabulous people” staying with them.

From December she will be letting out her entire home through Airbnb as they are relocating to the Wilderness.

“Airbnb have enabled us to have this option of not selling our house and making an income from our investment. For this we will be making use of a Airbnb host, who will look after our home and ensure that it is cleaned between visits,” she said.

“When I offer to do something for my visitors, I’m not expecting payment for it and I do it because I want to do it,” she said.

Airbnb global head of public policy and public affairs, Chris Lehane, said people-to-people travel using Airbnb is bringing tourism benefits to local families and communities, and generates new revenue streams that stays in Cape Town.

“I’m delighted to be working with Cape Town on this pioneering collaboration to help promote the best of this beautiful city and its people to the world. Airbnb has so far partnered with more than 300 governments across the world and while this is our first city collaboration in Africa, we want to work together with everyone to use technology to help spread more benefits across Africa,” he added.