Kenyans who had turned their extra bedrooms or houses into Airbnbs, lodging and homestays for travellers, are experiencing a rebound.
When the Covid-19 pandemic restricted travel, bookings dropped sharply, leaving the Airbnb investors with empty homes.
But now, bookings are rising, running into New Year as some travellers avoid hotels, opting for less-crowded destinations that they can drive rather than fly.
“It was all quiet until July. I almost gave up,” says Eve Mwende, who runs multiple homes listed on the Airbnb site.
Relief came three days after the opening of counties’ borders. She received three inquiries for her two-bedroom house. The first clients were domestic tourists itching to get out of their homes but not yet ready to fly.
The worry over the virus transmission made the family choose a property they could rent out and self-cater, so they could not cross paths with other guests.
She has already had 15 guests since August and was fully booked for November.
Ms Mwende’s first experience with Airbnb came in 2019 when she moved to a two-bedroomed house. A friend advised her to let out the spare bedroom. In just a month, she had generated enough income from the one room to pay her rent and utilities for the month.
“I rented the neighbouring apartment in the same building where I would host more guests.”
From there, Ms Mwende added two more properties and stopped letting out her spare bedroom.
“I have hosted groups, families, business people, and vacationers. I was already thinking about acquiring more apartments when Covid-19 struck,” she says.
The most affected were professional Airbnb hosts like Ms Mwende who lost cash in cancelled bookings and expected income while bills, rent, and maintenance piled up. She got rid of some of their rentals as well as the furniture she had bought to deck out the homes.
While the pandemic battered Airbnb hosts and others abandoned their homes, for Rachel Wachira it was time to dive deep into the industry.
Ms Wachira quit her job during the pandemic, furnished a three-bedroom apartment, and listed it on Airbnb.
Now, two months down the line she has welcomed more than 30 guests in her apartment located in Nyali, Mombasa. She previously worked as a freelance salesperson and was paid on commission. The pandemic affected sales. Her salary could no longer cater to her basic needs and the pressure to bring in sales worsened.
Against the advice from friends and family, she withdrew all her savings and started her Airbnb.
“Nobody understood why I wanted to leave employment in the middle of a pandemic which had cost so many people's jobs and even the business I wanted to venture into wasn’t doing well,” she says.
“I have beat my expectations. Despite the pandemic, I have constantly been receiving guests. Most of the guests are from Kenya. Families and business people are my main guests. I charge from Sh9,000 to Sh12,000 depending on the duration of stay,” she says.
She is hopeful that by this month, she will have furnished another apartment as the business has been picking up well.
Self-catering, says Ms Wachira, is one of the major reasons guests are choosing Airbnb because it is convenient, and has lower risks of Covid-19 transmission, and pocket-friendly as compared to the hotels.
“Some of the guests I have hosted go to an extent of hiring a chef who can cook food to their specific liking. Others opt for my homemade food,” she says, adding that before booking, guests must indicate their reason for travel.
Kenya has more than 8,000 listings with more than 2,000 active listings on the Coast alone.
Another investor Naserian Sitelu, joined Airbnb in December 2017 to supplement her income and later rented more houses as the business grew. Although the drop in bookings forced her to abandon three homes, she is hopeful that the Christmas season will bring good tidings.
“I have two units. I had to cut down from five. But the bookings are back to normal. We are having a constant stream of guests. Initially, I hosted locals attending workshops in Mombasa but now we are also getting international bookings. Most come and stay for more than a week. I already have December bookings,” she says.