Could Airbnb take over Rwanda’s housing market?

Source: The New Times

There is a chance that if you have traveled in the past for a vacation or even work, at some point you have rented, or considered renting an Airbnb, or someone has recommended it.

That is what Airbnb, an American company operating an online marketplace for short- and long-term homestays and experiences, has done to the housing market everywhere across the world.

The presence of Airbnb across countries has disrupted the housing market to the extent that its growing popularity can visibly be felt across Rwanda, driven in part by demand for affordable rentals.

Unlike the traditional hotel model, Airbnb allows ordinary people to rent out extra space in their homes to visitors and tourists. Booked online, the properties on offer are usually way cheaper compared to apartments and hotels.

The platform is widely enjoyed for its access to holiday lets ranging from single rooms to entire properties, varying in quality and affordability, and offering a markedly different experience to that found in a hotel.

Honorine Umutoni, a Kigali resident who has put up one of her three rooms for rent on the platform, said being single, many of her rooms are unoccupied and it only made sense to venture into this form of income-generating business.

“I live alone and sometimes I may have a relative or friend stay over, but this does not happen very often. I decided to list one room on Airbnb and generate some money to help with my expenses,” she said, adding that she is careful with the person she hosts not only in terms of their experience but her safety as well.

As Rwanda positions itself as a travel destination for the Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, and Events(MICE) industry, Airbnb has increasingly offered alternative accommodation services, allowing diversification for cash flow into the economy.

Growing business for locals

Eric Mutabazi, owner of Murugo Apartments, said that he registered his rental space on Airbnb last year. At a peak month in December last year alone, he generated around $1,500.

He anticipates making much more during summertime from the seven rooms he listed on the platform. This has created visibility for his rentals which mostly attract foreigners who travel or visit Rwanda for short or long-term.

Paul Rwigamba, Director of Projects and Property Management, Century Real Estate, said there has been a remarkable growth of the Airbnb market in Rwanda over the past five years, mainly propelled by its affordability for clients and ease to venture into for almost anyone interested.

As the country pushes for domestic tourism, he said, we continue to see several Airbnb-listed homes in touristic areas like Musanze and Gisenyi which are affordable for the average Rwandan, but also group visitors from the region or internationals.

On the concerns of unfair competition raised in the past by a section of hotel owners, Rwigamba doesn’t believe Airbnb creates unfair competition since its target market is different from that of hotel establishments.

Rather, he added that Airbnb hosts should endeavor to give standard services and adhere to safety and security measures for their clients to further improve this type of business and make meaningful contribution to the economy.

The reflection on security is important given the incident that occurred in 2022, when a guest was assaulted by an American Airbnb host in Musanze District. The case was handled by the Rwanda Investigation Bureau and the Airbnb company would later follow it up.

Rwanda Development Board (RDB) announced, in 2016, plans to standardize and regulate the Airbnb business in the country.

The New Times understands that RDB is currently conducting a mapping exercise that will inform the regulation decision.

It is being conducted in collaboration with Centre for Financial Regulation and Inclusion (Cenfri) – a South African non-profit think-tank for the financial sector development.

Besides Rwanda, Airbnb has a presence in more than 220 countries across the world. The American firm has grown to more than 5 million hosts with over 7.7 million active listings around the world, according to the company’s 2023 financial report.

In 2023 alone, hosts earned more than $57 billion.

In March 2024, Airbnb announced a ban on indoor cameras for properties listed on the site, scheduled to take effect on April 30. The changes also involve a requirement for hosts to disclose the use of noise-decibel monitoring equipment.

THE AUTHOR: Alice Kagina,, The New Times Rwanda

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