From outside, there is nothing especially hotel-like about these homes. Some are located in very desirable neighbourhoods while others are in downtown Nairobi. Some have beds made from recycled pallets but fancy, others have gone extra with Bohemian interiors while many are just basic Kenyan homes, minimally decorated.
Yet these houses, listed on the home sharing site Airbnb, charging from Sh1,500 for accommodation to Sh7,000 a day, are attracting thousands of foreigner travellers and earning Kenyans extra income.
As the younger generation begins to travel more, they are opting for authentic experiences over the comfort and luxury offered in traditional hotels. They want to live like locals, mingle and share experiences with them in markets where they buy their daily groceries to joining them in churches.
Molly Ogogo is one of the Airbnb entrepreneurs. The teacher by profession rents out extra space in her apartment in Nairobi’s Langata.
She first came across of the home sharing concept when she was doing a random Internet search on cheap places to stay in Singapore. Though banned in Singapore, Airbnb was everywhere on the results page, she says.
She first enrolled as a guest, and later came back to Nairobi and started hosting others for extra income.
Ms Ogogo is among the growing list of Kenyans who are renting out extra rooms or houses on different homestay platforms. From stand-alone houses to apartments and single self-contained rooms, local hosts have listed a variety of properties.
Some hosts rent an apartment, furnish it and then give it out to tourists for short stays. This is the case with David Kiragu and Martin Kinuthia, both IT professionals.
Mr Kiragu has listed a property on Kirinyaga Road in downtown Nairobi while Mr Kinuthia has rented out an apartment in Ruaka, not far from Two Rivers Mall.
“The property is steps away from Two Rivers Mall. I chose the area because it’s better known for expatriates on long-term contracts, middle-class locals and foreigners,” he says.
Mr Kiragu says that proximity to the city centre informed his choice of the Airbnb house.
“I know many people might have doubts [due to insecurity] but the property is close to Globe Roundabout and the security is pretty good, despite the perception most have of downtown Nairobi,” he says.
For years, hotels have dominated the accommodation part of tourism. But the high rates made travelling expensive. Nowadays, low budget hotels, desire to explore the world and affordable Airbnb homes have made it easier for many to travel, even those who do not have a lot of disposable income.
Travellers are also looking for experiences away from the confines of designated tourist areas. Millennials are passionate users of Airbnb and roughly 60 percent of all guests who have ever booked on Airbnb are the young generation.
Kenya, according to Airbnb, ranks third in Africa on listing homes after South Africa and Morocco. In 2018, there were about 132,000 property listed on Airbnb in Africa, and the number is rising.
The homes attract from solo travellers to families and groups.
Families on leisure or business trips favour Ms Ogogo’s house. They stay in her spare bedrooms while sharing the living room.
She adds that her sharing her three-bedroom apartment with strangers is not only about making money. Some who stay for months have become her friends and return guests.
“The concept of hosting strangers is rewarding in itself. I get to learn so much from them because they come from different backgrounds and countries. The guests on their part receive a different kind of experience from luxury hotels,” she says.
For Mr Kinuthia, ensuring tourists have a memorable stay in Nairobi is what excites him.
“Hosting is a great experience because I meet people from all over the world. Because they are well-travelled, some give me tips on how to make my house more comfortable and they recommend it to their friends and families,” he says.
Some of his guests are now like family, he adds.
“I actually take care of their needs as if they were my own, recommending nice hangout joints, my favourites, so they definitely feel like family to me.”
Mr Kiragu gives an example of a couple he hosted months ago and they have been communicating since.
“Most times, a host’s kindness is rewarded with a high rating and constant bookings. And who knows, they might even invite me visit them,” Ms Ogogo says.
Some of the Airbnb entrepreneurs in Kenya also have day jobs. So how do they juggle work and hosting?
The concept of homestay is straightforward; homeowners give out extra space in their houses for travellers and as a host, one is only obligated to give space and not around the clock services as is the case in hotels.
So there is no cooking for the guests or planning their itinerary, unless on request and which attracts extra charges.
This gives hosts time to focus on other things, say full-time employment while using their free time to welcome tourists to their homes or a separately rented apartment.
“Hosting is not really engaging as long as someone is there to usher in the guest and orient them. Most guests have their daily engagements so you get ample time to do you other tasks,” says Ms Ogogo.
The platforms also have features that make it easy for hosts to organise their schedules, only inviting people in their homes when they have the time and their listings are ready.
“The good thing is that running homestay is not as much tasking. The apps have a calendar that helps me plan especially when it comes to check- ins, check outs, cleaning and switching guests. That way, it hardly interrupts my daily schedules,” says Mr Kinuthia.
In some instances, once the host has provided the guidelines and the directions to the house, the host does not need to be physically present.
“Once the house is booked online, I ensure it is clean, when a guest arrives, he can self-check-in or I check them in. I take them through general house rules, which they always get before arrival,” explains Mr Kiragu.
However, Airbnb investment is not all rosy. Not every visitor who checks in is nice and follows the house rules.
“The challenging part is hosting someone who’s going through a crisis or dealing with a personal issue. It can be so draining if you don’t have full information on what exactly someone is going through,” says Ms Ogogo.
It is also not always a quick moneymaking scheme. The first five or so months may be tricky that sometimes one gets no visitors. Others are not as lucky. They rent expensive apartments, paying monthly rates of Sh60,000, yet they have no guests.
“Like any other business, we have good months and bad months,” says Mr Kinuthia, who charges between Sh2,000 and Sh3,200, depending on the season and time of the week.
On his part, Mr Kiragu gives out his room for a minimum of Sh1,800, but during high season, he collects Sh2,000 per day.
Ms Ogogo rents out her extra bedrooms for between Sh1,000 and Sh3,000. She also charges an extra charge of Sh1,500 for weekends and Sh800 for each extra guest. She has a further Sh10,000 as security deposit.
Mr Kiragu explains that hosting can be rewarding when a host experiences no challenges. If all plays out well, an Airbnb entrepreneur can get Sh50,000 to Sh200,000 a month.
Airbnb is growing rapidly in Kenya, especially in cities such as Kisumu, Nairobi and Mombasa. City’s tourism industry could benefit if more apartments to be offered on Airbnb.
According to Airbnb, there are over six million listings around the world.
In Kenya, guest arrivals has risen by 68 percent over the years with a Nairobi home with private gardens called ‘The Constant Gardener House’ and the Brandy Bus in Karen being the most booked.
The most booked experiences include a coffee farm tour in Limuru and Nairobi National Park visit, according to Airbnb.