SleepOut.com is Africa’s largest social accommodation marketplace connecting travelers looking for cool and unique places to stay with hosts and their empty beds.
In 2011 while still working at the UN in Nairobi, SleepOut founder Johann Jenson spent a lot of time visiting Lamu Island wherehe fell in love with the barefoot bohemian chic lifestyle and eccentric charm of the place. After visitingand haphazardly photographing many of these stunning villas, his girlfriend and he started a small business called Lamu.org to act as a tourism hub for the island. The foreign villa owners who were rarely on the island quickly took to this idea of sharing their dream holiday homes with visitors coming from all over the world as did many of the local Swahili owners who were keen to welcome guests into their own homes. Using the positive experience from working closely with local and foreign hosts in Lamu, Johann decided to launch SleepOut across Kenya in 2012 and has since expanded and evolved into a social accommodation marketplace now live in 25 countries and counting throughout Africa and 70+ countries around the world
Our South Africa curator, Lauren Wallett chatted to him to get the inside scoop: Why is the time right for SleepOut.com to take off now in South Africa?
Travel in Africa remains overpriced and booking travel to Africa is often cumbersome and complicated by at times arcane visa procedures. Many African governments however are starting to adapt with more efficient processes and a greater openness to collaborating with marketplaces such as SleepOut to ease the burden on tourists and ultimately promote these truly world-class destinations.
With the arrival of low cost airlines such as fastjet, Kulula and FlyAfrica and more reliable ground transport via services like Uber one side of the equation is being solved. By offering travelers a wide selection of accommodation choices at any price point in places like Nairobi, Zanzibar, Harare or Cape Town, SleepOut ultimately is making the region more accessible to both local and foreign travelers.
SleepOut.com seems to resonate well with international visitors coming to Africa looking for a verified selection of reputable hosts to stay with. That being said, we’re actually seeing greater uptake from domestic travelers for whom credit card use is not nearly as common as it is in more developed parts of the world. Our integration with mobile money payment systems and being the first in the world to offer payment on arrival for peer-to-peer accommodation makes for a much smoother booking experience.
With the success of our East Africa expansion last year we are now planning to launch in several new markets across the continent with guest and host support teams on the ground. The biggest challenge to overcome is… Trust. Getting people in Africa comfortable with sharing and paying for intangible products online is a significant challenge and it could take up to 5 years before this trend really starts to develop in a meaningful way. The middle-class in our target countries is growing quickly with now what are considered to be over 120 million stable middle class Africans. What gets us really excited— besides seeing all of the connections happening between SleepOut hosts and guests— is knowing that we’re contributing to a burgeoning culture of e-commerce in Africa. With e-commerce penetration rates at only 2% we’re only scratching the surface of what is possible for Africa’s sharing economy.
What’s an example of Collaborative Consumption that you admire? I really like what the team at OurHood here in Cape Town is doing. (See Lauren’s interview with Bruce Good of OurHood here) By creating private social networks for neighbourhoods they aim to promote safer and more connected communities. Users of the app can share information, report criminal activity and get access to local deals. The user experience is good, the functionality is straightforward and it offers a truly useful set of tools to bring communities closer together.
I’m also a huge fan of Uber and car sharing services like WapiGo in Kenya. Uber’s recent launch across Africa has definitely helped ease the anxiety travelers feel when moving around Africa’s biggest cities.
What has SleepOut achieved this year?
Since our launch in November 2013, SleepOut now offers 9,000 accommodation options in 70+ countries. We’re particularly proud that increasingly a greater share of users living on the continent are using our service whether it be expats, locals or travelers from neighbouring countries.
Because we work in quite a number of low-income countries, ensuring SleepOut guests feel completely safe is of course a huge priority. Since we launched our global marketplace last year, we have been pleasantly surprised that the issue of insecurity has not really been an issue. There are a few reasons for this. In most African countries, holiday homes (like hotels) have dedicated staff so we actually have not had any serious incidents. If a conflict arises, it is quickly dealt with by the staff on location. To prevent fraud, we also offer SleepOut guests the option of securely prepaying their stay with us. Upon check-in, if everything is in order, we then settle the funds with the SleepOut host. Additionally and more relevant to the emerging market context many of our hosts do accept full payment on arrival without requiring a credit card to guarantee the booking. This certainly minimizes risk but it also allows the 95% of Africans without credit cards to access SleepOut accommodation.
What separates SleepOut from AirBnB?
SleepOut is a made in Africa solution for travelers seeking a safe, comfortable and unique place to stay on the continent. Having spent the past 2 years working in East Africa our product is very much tailored for use by the 95% of Africans without credit cards or by the international visitor looking for a more unique, better value and potentially local experience. Besides working with informal accommodation hosts, SleepOut also includes the option to book commercial guest houses, hotels, resorts and safari lodges.
Additionally, in every destination we have local partners who are able to provide support for both guests and hosts, which improves the quality of our accommodation offering and the accuracy of the information on SleepOut. Having this local support also provides our guests with additional peace of mind when booking with SleepOut. There are also no booking fees charged to our guests, you can share contact details between hosts and guests on our message board, you can watch video profiles of hosts and guests and all sorts of discounts including resident pricing can be applied.
Tell me something that I couldn’t find on the internet about you?
My Canadian family has for generations worked in hospitality so I grew up in hotels. My father was a stockbroker turned hotelier with a particular interest in alternative approaches to Western culture, with a penchant for meditation, mysticism and environmentalism. So I grew up vegetarian with 4 brothers in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. I recall spending a lot of time learning about the hospitality industry and surrounded by new age meditation experts!
Article originally published at http://www.collaborativeconsumption.com/2015/04/22/pioneer-interview-with-johann-jenson-of-sleepout-com-africa/