“I earn more through Airbnb than if I would rent out the property,” says a host about his single bedroom beach-front property in Karachi.

“I rent it for about Rs5,000 per night and have an average occupancy rate of 20-22 days a month — this nets me roughly Rs100,000-150,000.” His assertion is supported by Zameen.com that offers Sea View one-bedroom apartments for rent of about Rs50,000 a month.

Managing about 10-12 properties, he owns five of them and manages the remaining on behalf of his investors with whom he has a percentage-sharing deal.

Airbnb is a relatively little known company in Pakistan that operates an online marketplace for lodging. Depending on the budget, a family can book a room or a bungalow with a pool across more than 300 listings situated in the country’s major cities as well as the Northern Areas. For example, it is possible for a family of six to stay for around 10,00-15,000 per night in a three-bedroom house in an upscale area in Islamabad with access to all paid-for amenities such as Netflix, air-conditioning and free parking. Some hosts also provide board games, table tennis, foosball, billiards etc to make their offerings more competitive.

The Pakistan-based organic traffic to Airbnb is about a volume of 47,000 a month with a generally upward trend since last year, according to Semrush analytics

Despite its many advantages for travellers looking for a pocket-friendly option, Airbnb’s popularity is limited. The Pakistan-based organic traffic to Airbnb is about a volume of 47,000 a month with a generally upward trend since last year, according to Semrush analytics. Surprisingly, the top keywords searches were Malam Jabba and Nathia Gali at a volume of 22,200 and 14,800 respectively.

However, Airbnb lags far behind Bookings.com that averages around a volume of 300,000 search traffic a month and Agoda.com that has about search traffic of about 150,000.

Another host from Karachi has a job in the aviation sector and owns five properties listed on Airbnb. “If you have extra space, you should list it on Airbnb too,” he urges laughing, speaking of his positive experience. “Not only do I earn more from Airbnb than I would from rent, but my properties are also safer,” he says adding that Airbnb provides insurance.

Long-term renters may damage the house, even in small ways like drilling holes. Letting out his houses for short-term stays allows him to inspect his house every few days. It also affords flexibility given that he can entertain guests even while he is travelling, he explains.

About 80 per cent of the guests are overseas Pakistanis visiting for family gatherings weddings or business trips, agree the various hosts contacted. It is more comfortable than staying with family members as it affords more privacy.

Mehreen Hashmi, an internationally acclaimed visual artist and curator became a host in September 2019 and has hosted roughly 200 guests since then. “I love travelling and always stay at Airbnb and had many amazing experiences. I wanted to bring that to Pakistan and share my living style as an artist in a studio with people here. Also, there are not any female hosts. My place is a comfort zone for girls mostly. They feel safe staying with me,” she emails, sharing her experiences.

An MBA narrates how it is worth his time to manage about 12 listings in Karachi. “I wanted to shift out of my hostel so I started managing an Airbnb for a friend as a free place to stay. It takes about an hour or an hour and a half most days to manage and I can do my day job side by side,” he says adding that his listings are at 95pc occupancy since its peak season in Karachi owing to the weather.

“We started with a single apartment two to three years back. The experience was so positive that we increased our listings and formalised it as a company. We manage them for people who do not have the time or expertise for it,” says Mariam Hassan of Zaha Vacation Homes, a mother of four who manages the business with her husband. Their listings are in Karachi, Lahore and Bhurban. However, she adds, there is a lot more potential in Northern Areas where there are few super hosts that are well-reviewed.

Security and trust were named as the top requirements by the hosts contacted. Creating a safe environment for families and providing honest information about the listing was key to good reviews that influenced the Airbnb search results. All agreed that the clientele that approached from Airbnb was generally genteel and respectful since they were from abroad and familiar with the concept.

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, October 25th, 2021

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