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SA’s Airbnb partner Alimama Spaces withstands COVID-19 pressure

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Robert Manson, founder of Alimama Spaces.
Robert Manson, founder of Alimama Spaces.

While the hospitality sector suffered a knock during the COVID-19 pandemic, South African-based Airbnb partner Alimama Spaces says it has seen growth.

Former Microsoft SA and Oracle SA executive Robert Manson leveraged online platforms like Airbnb, Bookings.com and Trivago to start his own company – Alimama Spaces – in 2015.

According to Manson, Alimama Spaces is a business that uses the platforms to provide short-term spaces for individuals as well as corporates, be it for business purposes or leisure.

In an e-mail interview with ITWeb, he says there is no doubt about the negative impact the lockdown has had on the hospitality industry, with many hotels shutting down.

“Alimama Spaces is a lot more than that,” says Manson. “We provide spaces on-demand. There was a lot of demand for our spaces to host frontline workers, as well as international travellers who were stuck at our apartments for a long time.

“Yes, we were impacted, but 50% of our spaces were generating revenue that helped a lot in getting the business to withstand the pressure that COVID placed on many businesses. Having said that, the challenges brought so many opportunities when it comes to real estate, as it became a buyers’ market, and Alimama Spaces capitalised on that and acquired a number of good properties during this time.”

Alimama Spaces relies on 50% of its bookings from Airbnb, and 10% from other platforms, like Bookings.com and Trivago.

During the lockdown, with Airbnb heavily impacted, Manson says Alimama Spaces developed its own portal so that guests can book directly.

He explains that the relationship with Airbnb “is a normal relationship just like any other partner, but l decided to make it very strategic by not listing my properties on Airbnb but also invested quite a chunk of money when it listed as an IPO [initial public offering].

“We have seen that platform picking up nicely, bringing about 30% to 40% of bookings over the last year or so. We expect this platform to increase its bookings to almost 50% by the end of the year. It’s worth stating that Airbnb will continue being a key strategic platform in bringing bookings to Alimama Spaces.”

According to Manson, Alimama Spaces has invested R45 million since its inception in 2015, acquiring 38 apartments across the country.

He points out there was financial support given to hosts like Alimama to compensate for the booking cancellations that happened due to COVID-19.

Since then, he adds, Airbnb has assisted in managing cancellations caused by the pandemic in such a way that it doesn’t have a detrimental impact.

“My plans are to grow this business to 250 listings over the next three years. I have also founded another start-up called Alimama Capital. This will be the vehicle that l will use for diversification. It will invest seed funding to tech start-ups in the African region, as l see there is potential to solve interesting problems.”

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