The Sharing Economy
As we’ve made technological advancements in the last couple of years, one of the key industries to have risen is the “sharing economy.” This refers to the democratization of the marketplace by anchoring it around peer to peer transactions. One of the most pertinent examples of this is Airbnb – a home sharing service headquartered in San Francisco. The service involves members arranging lodging as they embark on trips. In its own words, Airbnb provides “a trusted community marketplace for people to list, discover, and book unique accommodations around the world.” Basically Airbnb users rent out their homes for a brief period of time to other users in other to provide a home away from home experience at less extravagant costs.
In 2018 the company experienced remarkable growth, hitting major milestones including its recording over 400 million guest arrivals to date. In a statement on Airbnb Press Room Greg Greeley, president of homes at Airbnb, announced that history was made on the 11th of August, 2018 which was the largest single night that saw 3.5 million guest arrivals taking place.
Airbnb takes Africa
The service has spread its tentacles to the African continent, garnering more than 3.5 million customers across the continent. More than half of the customers joined the service in 2017. In Nigeria particularly, it has witnessed tremendous growth since it began operations in 2014. According to a senior official with the home sharing service, Nigeria is among three of the top eight fastest growing countries globally. July 2018 saw Nigeria recording a 213 percent growth in guest arrivals as stated in a report by Reuters Africa. However, with all the success and growth being enjoyed by the company, its presence in Nigeria has largely gone under the radar unlike their counterparts in the transportation aggregate sector, Uber and Taxify who have managed to embed themselves in public consciousness. Only a handful of Nigerians are aware of the company’s existence and its availability in Nigeria. This could be as a result of the lack of effort on marketing front. The early days for Uber and Taxify in Nigeria saw the utilization of brand ambassadors and heavily sponsor events which incentivized use. Considering the unique nature of the product, Airbnb has attempted to employ the same model but continues to struggle to make the requisite impact.
Customer service and relations between clients and executors in Nigeria has a long way to go and a system like Airbnb’s success is tied to those ideas. Think about host hospitality, the attitude of the guest, and a lot of trust from both parties. On hearing about Airbnb, the number one question for many Nigerians is “How safe is it?”. Taking safety into consideration, the service uses a series of features to help limit risks. Secure payment platforms and identity verification avenues are employed. Users are also required to provide verified means of identification (valid drivers license, passport, national identity card), and messaging. The biggest risk for hosts is the possibility of their property being damaged or stolen. In those situations, Airbnb has them covered as they run a Host Guarantee Programme. According to the Airbnb website, the Host Guarantee Programme “provides protection for up to $1million (in local currency) in damages to covered property in the rare event of guest damage”. The Host Guarantee Programme is eligible to every Airbnb host in the world. The review feature on the website and app helps ensure accountability from the guest and host as both parties get to review each other at the end of the transaction. The review comes in two forms- private and public. The private review is only visible to the company while the public review is open to all Airbnb users. Airbnb proves to be quite beneficial to its users. For the guests the cost of using Airbnb is relatively less than lodging at a hotel. It also allows hosts make a little more money. But with the pros, come a number of risks and cons especially in a climate such as Nigeria.
The Nigerian Factor
With all the provisions made by the company to curb risks and increase visibility, there still lies the “Nigerian factor”. Given the level of insecurity in the country relating to fraud and corruption, potential users have proven to be quite sceptical of the service. This could also be a factor contributing to the low level of awareness the company currently has in the country. Speaking to a number of Nigerians about Airbnb, a common sentiment expressed centered around the fear of online transactions and safety. Even after an explanation on the measures put in place to ensure safety, they proved unrelenting. On whether or not he would be using Airbnb in place of a hotel anytime soon, Ola Adeyemi, a UX Developer, adds “What if something happens? You know how useless Nigerian police are. Better safe than sorry”. In the same vein, Lade Bankole, a student of the University of Ibadan adds “What happens when the house isn’t what was advertised?”.
Nevertheless, the service seems to keep enjoy a lot of growth in the country with new users signing up. Speaking with a few Nigerians who have made use of the service, the experiences seemed to fall on two sides of the spectrum. Amaka Yvonne expressed her lack of concern about the security saying “It’s like Uber. My reasoning for both of these apps is the host (or driver’s) legal documents are with the company. In the event of any mishaps, they can be found. The places I’ve stayed at also seemed reasonably secure.” When asked on how frequently she uses the service “I think I’ve stayed at an airbnb twice actually. Once in Oniru and once in 1004. The last time was particularly traumatic for me though. I’m convinced the host was a fraudster.” Recounting her experience with her host she continues “there were maintenance problems in the apartment, but I figured staying was better than finding another place last minute. Long story short: maybe three or so days after checking out, I get a message from airbnb; turns out the guy is requesting £40 for a damaged coffee table and £200 for a cigarette burned rug. I went ballistic. Did a whole bunch of back and forth and Airbnb eventually awarded him the £40 because he had evidence. His evidence was pictures of some stains on the coffee table. Obviously – I didn’t smoke. My friend didn’t. He either made those up or like he said ‘they were from the people who rented before us, but their booking had passed’. It was one big mess and I was really upset. Pretty horrifying experience. Airbnb gave me some nonsense about the sort of booking it was being a guarantee. I didn’t give him a review because that would’ve given him the opportunity to give me a review. I wasn’t willing to play a game of he said she said any further. ”
When asked about the steps Airbnb took to handle the situation she states “Reported this to Airbnb after all of the commotion, but they refused to tell me what steps they took. Wouldn’t be surprised if he’s still on the platform.”
Mary Job on her blog, Moji Speaks shares her experience using the service as well “I started using airbnb actively this Jan 2018 in Lagos of course. So when I had to be in Abuja, I told myself Airbnb was the way to go. Guess what, my stay though short at this apartment turned out to be the best experience I have had so far.” On her experience with her hosts “The host’s sister designated to assist was all shades of polite and awesome! The apartment was beautiful, neat and cozy. There was an apple waiting to welcome me, after such a long day on the road, there was hot water running to calm the nerves on my body. There was tea, my favourite- Lipton Flavoured Green Tea.” An impressed Moji continues “That’s not all, the whole checking in process was automated and descriptive from start to finish, plus i got a ride to town from the sister, matter of fact, she dropped me off at my destination absolutely free on her route to work”
Another Airbnb user who opted to retain their anonymity shared her experience saying “I had security concerns in Lagos but I was with somebody so it wasn’t that bad. After looking at the places that looked nothing like what I thought they would, I booked one of the boutique hotels on there. It was quite nice and overall a pleasant experience”
With the mixed experiences from users and the reluctance of a majority of Nigerians to make use of the service, it is not quite clear what the future might hold for Airbnb in Nigeria. Low level of trust has found itself as an issue majority of Nigerians deal with and it doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. Older internet based companies in Nigeria, such as e commerce giants Jumia and Konga are battling this issue. For now, continuous observation of its growth and operations in the country will persist as it’s plans to take over the Nigerian hospitality sector unfold