(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 cheaper alternative to booking a hotel room.
Bongalo is available in 12 cities in Cameroon and Rwanda.
“My vision is to build a platform that…improves 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 was launched in Cameroon in 2017 as a real estate company, but moved to Rwanda in 2019, switching to the current model. It has a total of more than 1,000 homes in both countries and more than 5,000 users, Minuifuong says, but he expects demand to increase as Africans can travel more freely across the continent with the lifting of Covid restrictions.
Domestic tourism across the continent has returned quickly since the Covid-19 outbreak, Christele Chokossa, a consultant at market research firm Euromonitor International, said, thanks in part to less stringent travel requirements within Africa and the tourism industry targeting local travelers, she says. †
Bongalo’s offerings usually cost about $40 a night, Minuifuong says. The properties, which have been verified before listing, can be booked through the company’s website and will be available on an app shortly. The platform is especially popular with customers between the ages of 25 and 35, he adds.
“The younger generation of tech-savvy travelers has been embracing the convenience and affordability of the shared rental economy in recent years,” said Chokossa. “In countries like Cameroon, improved internet and social media penetration gave way to affordable hotel apartment rentals as it allowed owners to easily promote their services.”
Pay by phone
“The solution has penetrated so deeply on the African continent 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 appeals to international tourists or the African diaspora, Minuifuong says, although he adds that the majority of guests live on the continent and about half of them usually travel within their own country. For the less tech-savvy who don’t want to book online, the startup partners with independent travel agents who can book accommodation directly for the client or include it as part of a wider travel package.
In 2022, Minuifuong wants to expand Bongalo’s activities 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 challenge as it has “become a household name across the continent,” Chokossa says. But she notes that the African market is still under-penetrated, and that startups like Bongalo, which tailor services to local consumers, “could intensify competition in the future, especially if they get support from international investors.”
Even if Airbnb started accepting payments with mobile money, Minuifuong is confident there is still room for his business.
“Competing with Airbnb is very possible because we understand how the market works,” he says. “It’s about people being more local-centric and using local solutions.”