Namibia wants to regulate hotel disruptor Airbnb

Heading to Namibia?
Heading to Namibia?
Image: AP Photo/Jerome Delay
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Airbnb may be growing in Africa, but not without scrutiny. Namibia has become the latest country that requires Airbnb hosts to register with the country’s tourism authority.

The country has just over 550 Airbnb hosts, and has welcomed 15,000 guests via Airbnb in the past year, Airbnb said. Hosts earn about $1,200 annually.

Namibia hopes the measure will help it stand out. As a long-haul destination, Namibia has stiff competition in southern Africa with the popular tourist destination South Africa and top safari-destination Botswana as neighbors. The country wants to position itself as a “boutique destination,” offering unique experiences in its sprawling desert and unspoiled coastline.

“We have no problem with Airbnb,” Digu Noabeb, CEO of the Namibian tourism board, tells Quartz. Namibia, the country of sprawling desserts that roll into the Atlantic Ocean, has worked hard to market itself to international tourists, even jumping on Trump’s Nambia gaffe.

“When we are marketing and pitching Namibia, we are reassuring international travelers that it’s a safe destination because there is an impression that Africa is unsafe,” says Noabeb.

According to Namibian law, anyone who provides accommodation in a minimum of two bedrooms to guests and collects a fee for it must register with the tourism board, said Noabeb. Hosts that fail to register face a two-year jail term, a fine of 23,000 Namibian dollars ($1,674) or both. It’s a law that existed before Airbnb entered the country, he adds.

“We are no different because it is done in the western world,” said Noabeb, using Germany as a precedent.

In Namibia’s former colonial power which still influences the country, Berlin authorities passed laws preventing the “illegal repurposing of residential housing”. The regulation is meant to help long-term renters who would lose out to the more lucrative short-term rentals that platforms like Airbnb offer.

Paris, Airbnb’s most popular city, has passed similar regulations to register Airbnb hosts with city hall. Airbnb’s most popular African destination, Cape Town has also seen its rental market disrupted by Airbnb, with renters complaining that Airbnb has made the city center even more unaffordable.

The city is trying to strengthen zoning regulations to make sure that any homes that rent out three rooms to guests should be registered as bed and breakfasts. As it did in Paris, Airbnb has gone to some lengths to maintain a cordial relationship with Cape Town, launching a program to encourage rentals in low-incoming neighborhoods. The city will also host Airbnb’s first Africa Travel Summit next year.

“We want home sharing to be regulated and we want to work with the Namibian government, like we have in countless countries around the world, on clear and proportionate rules,” Airbnb said in an email to Quartz, adding that all hosts must meet follow the local rules before listing on Airbnb.