Why Airbnb may find challenges to Morocco growth

The Villa des Roses, a Marrakech riad available to rent on Airbnb. (Villa des Roses Airbnb)

According to the latest stats from Airbnb, Morocco is the sharing platform's second most popular destination in Africa, with 21,000 active listings and a 68 percent increase in inbound guest growth last year.

With the sharing platform looking to push into the continent, Morocco—an established tourist destination—looks ripe for the picking.

But Airbnb may find that it is competing for price with established businesses. Since September 2012, there have been more than 2 million guest arrivals in Africa using the home-sharing service, and in the past year, 1.2 million guests used Airbnb to visit African destinations—more than double compared to the previous year, with 29 percent of guests African.

Close to 20 percent of guests were traveling as part of a family and close to 60 percent of trips in the past year were booked by millennials.

Across Africa, Airbnb has 100,000 listings—64 percent of which were entire homes—with South Africa leading on 43,400 listings. Morocco came in second, with the sharing platform reporting an average stay of 17 nights and 297,000 inbound guests in the past year. The annual earnings of a typical host were $1,300.

“As tourism in emerging destinations is increasing, our platform helps to ensure this growth is inclusive and community-led by benefiting regular people, communities and local businesses that have sometimes never seen tourism dollars before,” Chris Lehane, global head of public policy & public affairs, Airbnb, said. “Airbnb can be a major engine for economic empowerment throughout Africa.”

“In Africa, my experience of Airbnb has been in South Africa—big markets in the Cape, Durban and to a lesser extent, Johannesburg,” David Harper, head of property services, Hotel Partners Africa, told HOTEL MANAGEMENT. “Where Airbnb has worked in other countries it has tended to be aimed at middle classed Africans, rather than international travelers.

“That said, there are over 300 rental properties available on Airbnb in Morocco and I am sure, in a country like that, which is considered safe, there will be strong demand. The issue they will find when trying to generate demand is that a typical traditional Riad tends to be a similar price, and cultural experience, to an Airbnb, so there is no real ‘advantage’ to using Airbnb. My experience is that a proportion of Airbnb users are doing it to stay with a local family and not for a cheaper option than staying at a hotel—and many times Riads do that automatically.”

As Harper told HOTEL MANAGEMENT earlier this month, the hotel sector in Morocco has learned to self-regulate its supply, only committing to projects when the timing is right and preventing a fall-off in demand by flooding the market. With a new source of rooms rapidly coming into the sector, there may be less restraint shown by the disparate homeowners’ market. But it may also be a true test of why Airbnb guests use the service at all.

Katherine Doggrell is an editor at Hotel Analyst, the U.K.-based news analysis service for hotel investors.