How Tz are making a living by welcoming strangers into their house

03Sep 2017
The Guardian Reporter
Guardian On Sunday
How Tz are making a living by welcoming strangers into their house

SCORES of Tanzanians are now quietly making a lucrative living -- tax free -- by welcoming strangers into their homes.

Airbnb, an online marketplace and hospitality service that enables people to lease or rent short-term lodging including guest rooms in their own houses, is taking Tanzania by storm, by providing a source of income in foreign currency (US dollars) to many people.

For some determined hosts, the service has become so profitable that it has replaced more traditional revenue streams.

This comes as more and more paying guests -- usually foreign tourists -- are now prefering cheap accommodation, a cultural experiene and the comfort of home-cooked meals at people's houses rather than staying at hotels.

Across Tanzania and elsewhere in Africa, thousands of people are earning 'big bucks' by renting out their homes on Airbnb, and in the process, they're encouraging global tourists to connect directly to the local economy.

A 25-year-old Tanzanian tour guide based in the tourist city of Arusha, Godwin Ndosi, who began using the Airbnb just two years ago to host paying guests at his family's home, has now achieved the coveted "superhost" status.

Ndosi has hosted more than 200 guests from countries including the Philippines, Malaysia, the United States and the United Kingdom, who have stayed with him and his parents.

His listing has a five-star rating on the Airbnb site along with rave reviews that mention middle-of-the-night airport pickups and fresh milk from his cows with breakfast.

After signing up for Airbnb, Ndosi waited four months for his first guest. That was back in 2015. He went on to become a 'five-star' host, renting out his family's house for a bargain rate of $15 (around 30,000 shillings) a night to tourists from around the world.

Ndosi has become a shining example of success in Tanzania from the online service that enables people to welcome paying guests into their own houses.

In 2015, he started renting out rooms in his family's house on Airbnb to make an income.

A tradition in his Maasai culture required him — the youngest in the family — to provide for his parents and look after their property, a four-bedroom bungalow surrounded by palm trees and a lush garden out back. And he was stressed out about how to make ends meet.

Renting out the family home turned out to be a great idea. In the first year alone, he hosted more than 200 guests from countries like Germany and the US, using a variety of home rental websites and reaching "superhost" status on Airbnb.

Ndosi dreamed of using the money he made to start graduate school, gain more clients for his safari company and expand his homestay business.

And last November, he started attending graduate school part-time at the Open University of Tanzania to study business administration — just as he planned.

This month, a tourist who stayed at Ndosi's house wrote: "His knowledge and kindness were above and beyond anything we could of [sic] asked — including ... visiting his aunt where we roasted and ground our own coffee — unforgettable!"

Ndosi has used his earnings to grow his home-rental enterprise. On the edges of his backyard, he's built three wooden dwellings with thatched roofs, each with a bedroom, kitchen and bath — more rooms for the guests, he explains. He still charges $15 per single room a night.

More guests mean more customers for his the safari trips he leads to landmarks like Serengeti National Park and Mount Kilimanjaro.

His homestay business has also led to some unexpected surprises.

A few former guests invited Ndosi to visit "whenever," and he took them up on it, traveling to five countries in Europe earlier this year. His former guests connected him to groups of students and photographers interested in traveling to Tanzania, and he spent a week teaching high schoolers in Germany about his culture and what it's like to work as a safari guide.

In his village, he's partnered up with Upendo Face Orphanage. His homestay guests are invited to volunteer at and support the orphanage. So far, his clients have sponsored five children to attend an English boarding school in Tanzania. And he buys fruits, veggies and handicrafts for his guests from local farmers and women vendors, bringing income to small business owners.

His former college roommate Mweta Mtera, who runs his own safari business, says Ndosi has become an inspiration in the village. "People like Godwin, they are very few, maybe one in 50," he says. "The community looks up to him. They ask him for advice, how to get more safari clients, how to run a tour guide business."

As a result of all his accomplishments, his parents decided to give him — in addition to the bungalow — five acres of land in July. In Maasai tradition, the family land is given to the youngest child at the last possible moment, "when the [parents] are very old, sick in bed and dying," Ndosi, who has two sisters and one brother told National Public Radio (NPR) of the US.

But he got his parents' land much earlier than that. "They pass it down to you if you can prove that you will use the land well," he says.

He planted corn and sunflowers on the land and hopes to harvest the crop this month.

Of all the things that have happened to Ndosi this year, he's most excited about the three-bedroom house he's building, with a kitchen, dining room and sitting room, all for himself.

For a boy from a small village, he says, "it's a dream come true."

Tanzania, a late adopter of Airbnb, is slowly climbing up the ladder towards becoming one of the top-ranked countries in Africa in terms of listings and visitors, who mainly come from the United States, Germany, Britain and the Netherlands.

Airbnb expects to maintain its rapid growth in Africa this year and double its customer numbers to 1.5 million, its chief executive Brian Chesky and regional head told Reuters earlier this year.

The number of people using the online room rental service on the continent rose by 143 percent to about 765,000 guests in 2016 from the year before, said Nicola D‘Elia, the firm’s Africa and Middle East chief.

“If you just look at 2017, it’s going to double, you will have 1.5 million people at the end of this year,” added D‘Elia.