Tourists seeking the Kasi life: Soweto has what you are looking for

Tourists seeking the Kasi life: Soweto has what you are looking for

A booming tourist market is growing for people seeking an opportunity to live in the neighbourhood of South African Nobel laureates, Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu and locals have increasingly started making use of online line applications to both advertise and seek out accommodation in townships like Soweto

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Tourists visiting South Africa, can now choose to live in townships and experience first-hand the historical area where stalwarts and Nobel prizewinners once lived during the time that South Africa was still struggling on its journey towards democracy. understands that mobile phone technology and ways of using it creatively like the accommodation app Airbnb, mean locals with an entrepreneurial knack can make their homes a source of income by opening them up for visitors wanting a taste of Township, Kasi life.

One such business is the one Nelson Tiko Mashele, a 33-year-old born and bred Sowetan, founded. He opened Vilakazi Backpackers on the famous Orlando West street with his father. Vilakazi is a mere five minutes from the historical homes of Mandela and Tutu, and 10 minutes from the Hector Pieterson memorial.

Mashele, who is one of the youngest Airbnb hosts in Soweto with the newest establishment in the area says 70% of his guests are locals and the rest come from around the globe.

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Business is looking good for those who have taken this opportunity to make money from home this way, Mashele owns a well appointed seven-bedroom house and charges R299 ($25) a night.

He says his guests consider his prices a bargain for a night of local life. He says those who visit are mostly from America, Germany, Brazil and France, want to experience township life for themselves.

Airbnb’s business model is based on the belief that guests choose to live like locals, something Mashele says he has also noticed. “They would rather walk to tourist destinations and buy local food from the outlets on the famous Vilakazi Street,” he says.

Mashele’s long-time friend and partners is Kgomotso Pooe who owns Soweto Outdoor Adventures. The pair collaborate to offer his guests activities and treats including quad-bike tours, paddling and boating rides, trips to Orlando Towers and opportunities to indulge in local cuisine such as magwenyas (deep-fried dough balls) with atchar and white liver andkota (half loaf of bread filled with curry), ending the day with a shisanyama (meat cooked over an open fire).

On the other side of Soweto there is TDJ’s BnB, a home-owned business catering for local and international visitors in Orlando East, which has been in operation for over 16 years. They hope to use Airbnb to help increase their profits this year. “We are looking forward to getting new guests from all over the world,” says the manager Nomthandazo Ntshingila.

She says joining Airbnb gives the business an edge by increasing the number of visitors each year higher than their existing average of 30 visitors per month. A room at TDJ’s costs R454 ($38) a night.

Another hotspot popular with international guests is Sakhumzi, a Sowetan shisanyama restaurant and bar, where tourists can taste African beer brewed at the guesthouse.

“One of the requirements to host with Airbnb is to offer Wi-Fi services to potential clients. We then got Wi-Fi before listing on the app,” says Ntshingila who previously, unlike Mashele didn’t have access to wifi which precluded her from keeping connected on social media and offering the venue on Airbnb.

Hosts are expected to be constantly connected to an online platform and keep the most updated information on their availability and business.

The accommodation hosting platform says it is working on refining their offerings and making “regular updates to ensure people get exactly what they are looking for”.

For the app to take off in townships like Soweto, homeowners need to be empowered with technology, so Airbnb plans to invest $1 million over the next two years to promote and support community-led tourism projects in Africa.

The project aims to support training in hospitality and technology for township residents with such investments also help upskill those living in less-developed areas within Soweto such as Kliptown and Pimville.

The end result should see a reduction in the barriers to entry into the market for entrepreneurs wishing to rent out their homes and bring in precious tourism dollars.

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