AirBnB has a plan to empower local tourism entrepreneurs
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THE South African tourism industry has been one of the hardest hit industries by the pandemic.
Today, Airbnb is announcing a new three-year commitment in South Africa to address barriers to becoming a tourism entrepreneur, and to help rebuild a more inclusive and resilient domestic tourism economy. The commitment, focused on infrastructure, training and investment, builds on Airbnb’s 2017 USD $1 million commitment in Africa to boost community-led tourism projects, and the Africa Academy, which has trained more than 300 hosts who earned more than R2.8 million in 18 months.
Building a stronger and more sustainable tourism industry in South Africa will take collaboration from all stakeholders, including Airbnb, and will require balanced and evidence-based regulation. In June, Airbnb set out its support for a simple, online and proportionate national registration system in South Africa as part of a five-point plan to re-boost tourism in the wake of the pandemic, and promote an inclusive and sustainable future for tourism.
Three new commitments will widen and support inclusion in the tourism economy by supporting existing tourism entrepreneurs, helping remove barriers to entry, and enabling a new generation of South Africans to benefit from the tourism economy, as travel returns following the pandemic.
Infrastructure – Tackling digital and financial accessibility
With less than half of South Africa's rural population connected to the internet, digital exclusion poses a significant barrier to entry for many potential tourism entrepreneurs.
To tackle the digital divide, Airbnb has partnered with Ikeja, a company focused on providing fast, affordable wifi to townships. Over the next two years AirBnB will work together with Ikeja to provide at least 100 Airbnb Academy Hosts and their communities with free wifi. Each of these 100 Hosts will become a wifi hotspot within their community, giving 100s of others access, resulting in a powerful network effect.
Training – Empowering a new Generation of Tourism Entrepreneurs
Since Airbnb launched the Africa Academy in 2017 it has trained more than 300 entrepreneurs in townships and rural areas, who earned more than R2.8 million in 18 months. Today Airbnb is partnering with the University of Johannesburg School of Tourism and Hospitality (STH) to expand the Airbnb Academy programme to at least 1000 students over the next three years. In addition, the tech and hospitality giant will work with partners to take the academy to more communities in South Africa, including working with the Public Private Growth Initiative and the Waterberg municipality to run the academy in the District Development Model pilot.
Investment – boosting the Africa Academy Fund
While Covid-19 devastated the entire travel industry, entrepreneurs from township and rural communities are particularly at risk.
Building on our work in 2020 where we invested R1 million to launch an Africa Academy Fund, AirBnB is announcing an additional contribution of R1.5 million to support Africa Academy graduates from township and rural communities who have been hardest hit.
Chris Lehane, senior vice-president of global policy and communications at Airbnb, said, “Travel has fundamentally changed as a result of the pandemic. Together with government and stakeholders, we need to rebalance travel to be truly sustainable, domestic, diverse and inclusive, and reimagine it for what it can be – a travel economy for all.
“The Airbnb platform is helping to lead the global travel recovery by enabling anyone to become a tourism entrepreneur. To advance this vision of inclusive tourism, we are supercharging the Africa Academy by investing in infrastructure that will allow people to connect to our global network, creating our first-ever entrepreneurial education programme and re-investing in the next generation of tourism entrepreneurs.”
This commitment follows an independent report commissioned by Airbnb to better understand the platform’s contribution to inclusive tourism growth in South Africa, and how the platform can work to further reduce barriers to entry going forward.
It highlighted digital access as a significant barrier for would-be tourism entrepreneurs, concluded that people in townships and rural communities were likely to be most affected by the lack of international tourism, and pointed to initiatives like the Africa Academy as a meaningful way to empower new entrepreneurs and promote inclusivity.
According to Genesis Analytics’ analysis of Airbnb data, in 2020, a “crisis year” for tourism in South Africa, travel on Airbnb contributed more than R8 billion to the economy, equal to around 22 000 jobs. The analysis also showed a trending increase in domestic travel on the platform, growing almost six-fold from 2016 to 2019, with township and rural areas seeing positive year-on-year growth in both local visitors and hosts. In both Soweto and Tembisa, the number of hosts on Airbnb grew by more than 200% from 2016 to 2019.
Matthew Symonds, co-founder of ikeja, said: “By the Airbnb Entrepreneurship Academy partnering with ikeja as their chosen connectivity provider, hosts will now have unlimited internet for their guests, as well as providing hotspot coverage in their areas – empowering them beyond their walls. ikeja prides itself in creating opportunity and being part of the fabric of the communities it operates in – from hiring, to leasing, to partnering with local stakeholders like these hosts on Airbnb. We look forward to this partnership further empowering Ekasi.”
Professor Diane Abrahams, director of the School of Tourism and Hospitality Management at the University of Johannesburg, said: “We are excited to be collaborating with Airbnb to expand the Airbnb Academy as this presents wonderful opportunities for our students in the entrepreneurial space and broadens their exposure to tourism and hospitality. We value our partnerships with industry and look forward to working together with Airbnb to educate our future entrepreneurs.”
Preciousstone Raputsoa, municipal manager for the Waterberg District, said, with respect to Airbnb’s involvement in the District Development Model: “We’re excited to bring on board Airbnb to run the academy in the Waterberg district. Airbnb’s efforts will contribute to a district based pilot that brings together business, government and communities to entrench our focus on an inclusive, transformational and job creating approach to development. We believe that Airbnb has an important role to play in equipping people in our communities (especially women and youth) to benefit directly from our district’s incredible tourism offerings. We’re particularly excited that Airbnb’s model lowers the barriers to entry and allows the informal sector to flourish.”
The pandemic almost killed AirBnB and no one knows this better than its CEO, Brian Chesky. He also knows that the coronavirus may have saved Airbnb from itself. At the height of the pandemic, Chesky looked to Apple for inspiration. “They were 90 days from bankruptcy in 1997,” he said once. “Jobs took 15 product lines and got it down to four. He went from a business-unit organisation to a functional organisation.”
Airbnb, Chesky realised, had been doing too many things at the same time. “When the crisis happened, we became functional. We became focused and lean and mean and more efficient.” Or, as a source close to Chesky puts it: “He got religion.”
In an interview with Fast Company Chesky described the company’s restructuring as an educated bet that travel as we know it isn’t coming back – at least not anytime soon.
Traditional business travel is dead, he proclaimed; in the future, remote workers will book medium-length stays in regional hubs to get face time with their teams. Townships seem be part of that strategy going forward.