(CNN) — Since Airbnb launched in 2008, it has taken the travel industry by storm. Sharing a home or renting an apartment has become a fashionable, and often more affordable, alternative to booking a hotel room.
Bongalo has listings in 12 cities across 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 relocated to Rwanda, pivoting to its current model. It has more than 1,000 properties listed in total across both countries and over 5,000 users, says Minuifuong, but he expects demand to rise as Africans are able to travel more freely around the continent with the lifting of Covid restrictions.
Domestic tourism across the continent has bounced back quickly since the outbreak of Covid-19, says Christele Chokossa, consultant at market research company Euromonitor International, thanks in part to less stringent travel requirements within Africa and the tourism industry focusing on local travelers, she says.
Bongalo’s listings typically cost around $40 per night, says Minuifuong. The properties, which are verified before being listed, can be booked via the company’s website and will soon be available on an app. 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,” says Chokossa. “In countries like Cameroon, improved internet and social media penetration gave room to affordable hotel apartment rentals options, since it allowed owners to promote their services easily.”
Paying over the phone
“The solution has penetrated so much on the African continent, and everyone trusts it because of its simplicity and its security. People prefer using it to cards,” he says.
Bongalo also accepts credit and debit cards, which appeals to international tourists or the African diaspora, says Minuifuong — although he adds that the majority of guests live on the continent and around half of them usually travel within 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 wider travel package.
In 2022, Minuifuong wants to expand Bongalo’s operations to Ivory Coast, Senegal and Kenya. Long-term, he hopes it will be available in all African countries.
Nghombombong Minuifuong (third from the 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 towards local consumers, “might intensify competition in the future, especially if they receive support from international investors.”
Even if Airbnb started to accept mobile money payments, Minuifuong is confident there is still space for his business.
“Competing with Airbnb is very possible because we understand how the market operates,” he says. “It’s about people being more local centric and using local-made solutions.”