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Vacation rental platform Bongalo bids to elbow Airbnb out of Africa

By , Freelance Investigative Journalist
Cameroon , 31 May 2023
Nghombombong Minuifuong, Bongalo, founder and CEO.
Nghombombong Minuifuong, Bongalo, founder and CEO.

Google-backed Cameroonian short-stay rental platform Bongalo is scaling up operations across Africa and is positioning itself as an alternative to the popular Airbnb.

Bongalo, a booking platform for vacation and short-stay rentals, says it is ready to elbow the US-founded vacation rental company, Airbnb, out of the African market because of its ‘superior understanding’ of the continent.

The San Francisco-based Airbnb operates an online marketplace for short- and long-term homestays and experiences. Airbnb has more than 150 million worldwide users that have booked over 1 billion stays.

In an interview, Bongalo founder and CEO Nghombombong Minuifuong, tells ITWeb Africa: “Airbnb is strongly designed and suited for the Western market and Africa just happens to consume."

Minuifuong adds: "We want to customise Bongalo and give it that African touch that represents our current reality.”

Africans love to bargain for services, says Minuifuong.

"How can we make our platform cater for people making deals without going out of the platform… ensure security and give people a better experience when they travel?”

“We are inspired by Airbnb and what they’ve done to the global travel market.

"We want to do the same for the African travel market. We want to use our local knowledge and do what Airbnb is unable to do in Africa.”

Founded in 2017, Bongalo has over 5,000 properties listed in 13 African countries and a physical presence in Cameroon and Rwanda.

Minuifuong tells ITWeb his team will bolster the business to ensure a higher repeat customer rate while limiting the churn rate.

Minuifuong believes that together with the availability of cheaper options to stay while traveling on the continent, travel will continue to rise – opening opportunities for Bongalo.

Africa’s tourism sector is now on the rebound after the COVID-19-induced lockdowns and is welcoming travelers from across the continent and the globe.

Africa’s hotel and hospitality sector continues to show signs of resilience and growth, with positive prospects ahead.

According to projections from Statista the sector will grow with an Average Annual Growth Rate of 8.68% over the next five years.

With this in mind, Minuifuong says: “In the long run, we intend to enter more African markets when we achieve our immediate goals. Our dream is to cover all of Africa with our service and ensure we’re satisfying customer needs.”

He says there is huge and unexplored potential across Africa’s travel market space and wants to take advantage of the opportunities.

Bongalo has since its inception processed over 1,000 reservations. The booking platform allows users to pay using credit and debit cards from all over the world, PayPal, and mobile wallets from over 15 countries in Africa.

“We are authentically an African brand. We use mobile wallet payment options for hosts and guests; a technology that has revolutionised the financial sector in Africa,” Minuifuong tells ITWeb Africa, suggesting this is one of the ways Bongalo hopes to outpace Airbnb.

"We pay hosts easily and conveniently via their mobile money wallets as well as guests are allowed to pay for properties using their mobile wallets

“We want to work with governments to ensure compliance on standards by the hosts who own and rent properties. But it’s a long rope to pull.”

On the regulatory environment, Minuifuong adds: “They are little to no standards on rental properties… Markets like Cameroon have no regulations at all.

"And it’s hard for business as customers find it hard trusting the property to be what’s posted on pictures.

"We hope that with our efforts, we can push for these to be looked into and something is done to make the situation better"

On headwinds, Bongalo faces, Minuifuong says the talent crunch is real for small companies like his.

Bongalo has a small team consisting of four product and engineering specialists, two marketers, an operations lead and a strategist.

Minuifuong says finding the right talent is one of the biggest issues facing the startup.

He explains: “Attracting the right talent always seems easy until you’re left to do it. It’s challenging to find and recruit the best talent.

"We are also trying to work with local brands for corporate collaboration that could push for customer growth.

“It becomes difficult to break through as we’re a small brand. For example, closing a partnership with an airline company that aids our customers to enjoy discounts on flights would be a boost.”

Another key issue facing the company is the poor address system in most African countries.

However, Minuifuong says he is confident that Bongalo will succeed.

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