Bongalo: Could this Google-backed startup become the African answer to Airbnb?
(CNN) — Since its launch in 2008, Airbnb has taken the travel industry by storm. Sharing a house or renting an apartment has become a fashionable, and often more affordable, alternative to booking a hotel room.
Bongalo has listings in 12 cities in Cameroon and Rwanda.
“My vision is to build a platform that…enhances travel across Africa by connecting people to affordable places to stay,” he says.
In terms of scale, the startup still pales in comparison to Airbnb. Bongalo launched in Cameroon in 2017 as a real estate company, but in 2019 moved to Rwanda, pivoting to its current model. It has more than 1,000 properties listed in total in the two countries and more than 5,000 users, Minuifuong says, but he expects demand to increase as Africans can travel more freely on the continent with the lifting Covid restrictions.
Domestic tourism across the continent has rebounded rapidly since the Covid-19 outbreak, says Christele Chokossa, consultant for market research firm Euromonitor International, in part thanks to less stringent travel requirements in Africa and the tourism industry that focuses on local travellers, she says. .
Bongalo listings typically cost around $40 a night, Minuifuong says. Properties, which are checked before being listed, can be reserved through the company’s website and will soon be available on an app. The platform is particularly popular with customers between the ages of 25 and 35, he adds.
“The younger generation of tech-savvy travelers has embraced the convenience and affordability of the shared rental economy in recent years,” Chokossa said. “In countries like Cameroon, improved internet and social media penetration has given way to affordable hotel apartment rental options as it has made it easy for landlords to promote their services.”
Payment by phone
“The solution has penetrated the African continent so much, and everyone trusts it because of its simplicity and security. People prefer to use it over cards,” he says.
Bongalo also accepts credit and debit cards, which attracts international tourists or the African diaspora, says Minuifuong, although he adds that the majority of customers live on the mainland and about half of them travel. usually in their own country. For the less tech-savvy who don’t want to book online, the startup has partnered with independent travel agents who can book a property directly for the customer or include it as part of a larger travel package. .
In 2022, Minuifuong wants to expand Bongalo’s operations to Ivory Coast, Senegal and Kenya. In the long term, he hopes it will be available in all African countries.
Nghombombong Minuifuong (third from left) founded Bongalo five years ago.
Competing with Airbnb will be a tall order as it “has become a household name across the continent,” says Chokossa. But she notes that the African market remains underpenetrated and that startups like Bongalo, which tailor services to local consumers, “could intensify competition in the future, especially if they receive support from international investors.”
Even though Airbnb has started accepting mobile money payments, Minuifuong is convinced there is still room for his business.
“Competing with Airbnb is entirely possible because we understand how the market works,” he says. “It’s about people being more locally focused and using local solutions.”