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Tourism could be SA's savior: What's with the Airbnb regulations?

24 Jun 2019

President Cyril Ramaphosa has just delivered his second State of the Nation address and, while he attempted to instil hope throughout the country, it is safe to say that tough challenges lie ahead.

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.

Economically, South Africa as a country is struggling. Recent data released by StatsSA showed a 3.2% contraction in the economy in the first quarter of 2019 with (official) unemployment sitting at an all-time high of 27.6%. At times like these, creating and encouraging - not hindering - entrepreneurs is perhaps what we as South Africa most need.

An area that perhaps is one of the most exciting to be an entrepreneur in is tourism. President Ramaphosa himself has previously said that this is “a sector that is thriving and that has tremendous potential for further growth and for the creation of jobs”.

In a recent address at the Africa Travel Indaba, President Ramaphosa noted that South Africa needs to grow tourism, while during his State of the Nation address, he noted the need for job creation and the potential for economic gain through increased tourism. One of the ways that this is currently happening is with Airbnb.

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. The home sharing platform has given rise to 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,” says Velma Corcoran,Country Manager for Sub-Saharan Africa at Airbnb.

“This is why we are concerned about the proposed Tourism Amendment Bill. In its current form. We believe that it is not fit for purpose and it actually really does have the potential to threaten the economic lifeblood of many ordinary South Africans wanting to participate in tourism,” Corcoran explains.  

Tourism builds bridges and it has the ability to change lives

Airbnb hosts who use Airbnb as a way to supplement their income in these trying times would suffer the most. 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 Bo-Kaap 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 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 Fayruza: “I’m contributing to my community by educating guests about the culture in our neighbourhood, and in my 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, 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.

“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.”

Tourism builds bridges and it has the ability to change lives. Placing obstacles, such as unfair regulation, in the way of those who genuinely want to be in the field and use tourism as a way to become an entrepreneur only hinders entrepreneurial growth and goes against what President Ramaphosa has previously said and has now re-iterated at the latest SONA - that tourism has the ability to stimulate economic activity across a number of sectors, but that, most importantly, there is great promise in the sector when it comes to the development of small businesses in South Africa.

See Airbnb's response to the draft Tourism Amendment Bill - click here.

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