Airbnb is empowering the growth of small business entrepreneurs which is important when tourism is being considered a major economic driver in South Africa. Photo: File

DURBAN - Airbnb is empowering the growth of small business entrepreneurs which is important when tourism is being considered a major economic driver in South Africa 

A report released by Airbnb in September last year found that the guest activity on the platform in South Africa had supported over 22 000 new jobs and generated an economic impact of $678 million 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.

"The impact of Airbnb is 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," said Velma Corcoran,Country Manager for Sub-Saharan Africa at Airbnb.

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.

For Michelle Dancer and her husband, the decision to open their Forest Town home in Johannesburg to Airbnb guests was originally made for financial reasons: Dancer said, "It gave us an income from which we could maintain our home and pay for unexpected costs". 

However, while the income is much appreciated, Michelle notes that the accommodation her home provides fills 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

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. 

Building these bridges has always been part of the Airbnb ethos. Speaking at the 2018 Africa Travel Summit, 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.