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In a recent interview with Velma Corcoran, the regional lead for Middle East Africa at Airbnb, we gained insight into the significant impact Airbnb has had on the South African economy. The report she discussed highlights Airbnb’s contribution, which amounts to a substantial R23.5 billion, along with the creation of 50,000 jobs. This achievement is particularly impressive, considering the challenging period during the pandemic, where travel virtually came to a standstill.
What makes this contribution even more remarkable is that it has largely been driven by domestic tourism. South Africans are increasingly turning to Airbnb as an accessible and cost-effective option to explore their own country, venturing into lesser-known destinations that might have otherwise remained undiscovered. In fact, seven out of the ten fastest-growing Airbnb destinations are hidden gems that even locals like Velma and the interviewer hadn’t heard of before, such as Nala in the Northern Cape.
Airbnb’s growth isn’t limited to the typical tourist hotspots like Cape Town or the Kruger National Park. Instead, it’s spreading to more remote and underexplored corners of the country. This diversification of tourism benefits South Africa’s economy by creating opportunities for the local population in these lesser-known areas.
Moreover, when guests travel to these off-the-beaten-path destinations, they end up spending substantial amounts—up to R3,000 per day—on non-accommodation expenses. This money goes directly into local economies, boosting businesses like coffee shops, restaurants, and grocery stores. This redistribution of tourism income throughout the country is creating a more inclusive and equitable growth pattern.
Interestingly, many South Africans have turned to hosting on Airbnb as a way to cope with rising living costs, inflation, and interest rates. Velma noted that 50% of Airbnb hosts use the platform as an economic lifeline to supplement their income. A typical host can earn around R32,000 per year, which may not be a substantial sum for a full-time business, but it provides a welcome financial boost for everyday South Africans, whether it’s paying school fees or clearing a loan.
While there are hosts with multiple properties, the majority of Airbnb hosts are individuals renting out a single room or a garden cottage. This highlights the platform’s accessibility for small-scale operators and supports the spread of economic benefits.
Airbnb’s success in South Africa isn’t limited to domestic travelers. The brand’s global recognition has attracted international guests as well. Over the past three years, there has been a notable 33% increase in domestic travel on Airbnb. This shift from an international-focused platform to a more balanced mix of domestic and international travelers has been beneficial for both hosts and travelers.
In conclusion, Airbnb’s impact on the South African economy is undeniably positive. Not only is it creating jobs and contributing significantly to the GDP, but it is also fostering a culture of domestic tourism that reaches far beyond the conventional tourist destinations. This trend, coupled with the platform’s affordability and accessibility, has allowed South Africans to explore their own country while providing economic opportunities to those who open their homes to travelers.
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