Airbnb guests contributed billions to SA economy in 2020

Sibahle Malinga
By Sibahle Malinga, ITWeb senior news journalist.
Johannesburg, 16 Sept 2021

While 2020 was a ‘crisis year’ for South Africa’s tourism industry, travel on Airbnb contributed more than R8 billion to the economy and supported around 22 000 jobs.

This is one of the key findings of a new report compiled by independent consultancy Genesis Analytics, commissioned by Airbnb.

The research was commissioned by Airbnb to understand the company’s contribution to tourism growth in SA over the past 12 months and identify opportunities for the future.

During SA’s lockdown last year, Airbnb calledfor inclusion after it was forced to temporarily halt its operations when government incrementally opened the travel and tourism industry during advanced level three lockdown.

The company lamented the decision to exclude its local Airbnbhosts, warning this would have far-reaching consequences that will hurt many across SA, including the families and small businesses that rely most on the additional income they earn from Airbnb.

However, the new report shows the online platform still made a significant contribution to the country’s economy and created thousands of job opportunities, although the R8 billion contributed to SA’s economy over the past year is R2 billion less than in 2018.

Across SA, new hosts on Airbnb, who welcomed their first guests in the first six months of 2021 and have only one listing, have collectively made over R1.8 billion hosting on Airbnb.

In addition, half of new listings that were both activated and booked in early 2021 got a reservation request within seven days, with the average annual earnings per host who had welcomed at least one guest being R55 800.

Domestic travel on the platform grew almost six-fold from 2016 to 2019, while South African Tourism estimates domestic tourism fell by 9% over the same period when looking at the industry as a whole. The fastest growth on the platform was seen outside the typical tourist destinations in the North-West, where guest travel grew by 130% annually between 2016 and 2019.

Velma Corcoran, regional lead for Middle East and Africa at Airbnb.
Velma Corcoran, regional lead for Middle East and Africa at Airbnb.

According to the Tourism 2020 report released by Statistics South Africa in April, the overall number of travellers (arrivals and departures) decreased by 71% between 2019 and 2020.

The overall number of travellers decreased by 50.7% over a 15-year period, from nearly 24.6 million recorded in 2006, to 12.1 million travellers recorded in 2020, notes the report.

“Tourism has immense potential for inclusive growth, and this new report shows the rise in domestic tourism on Airbnb is helping to drive inclusive economic recovery in SA,” says Velma Corcoran, regional lead, Middle East and Africa at Airbnb.

“We are at an early and pivotal stage in SA’s recovery following the pandemic, where intentional effort and collaboration is needed from all parties to further support a diverse, sustainable and inclusive tourism economy. It is why, as part of Airbnb’s vision for tourism, we set out our support for clear and sensible rules in SA.”

Airbnb SA has been urging government to introduce a nationwide registration system and detail its support for nationwide regulation of short-term rentals, noting that progressive rules will help rebuild a sustainable future for tourism in a post-pandemic SA.

The online national registration system, according to the company, would provide government with valuable data to enforce proportionate regulation, offering transparency to communities, and empowering local tourism entrepreneurs to grow their businesses.

Airbnb has established numerous community-led initiatives, includingthe Airbnb Entrepreneurship Academy, which has helped train more than 300 hosts on the platform.

According to Genesis Analytics, analysis of Airbnb data and evidence from the townships of Soweto and Tembisa show that before 2019, there were more visits from international tourists than domestic tourists. However, by 2019, the pattern had reversed, as townships became a popular domestic tourism destination. These areas are also seeing positive growth in the number of hosts on Airbnb, with figures in Soweto more than doubling from 2016 to 2019, albeit off a low base.

“The research supports the view that Airbnb is creating inclusive growth; in other words, growing the tourism sector in a way that spreads benefits more widely. The biggest beneficiaries of this inclusion are non-traditional tourism provinces, smaller towns and female entrepreneurs, while the growth in township hosting is also encouraging.”