Sure, it may seem like Airbnb is everywhere in the world. For the most part that is true, but sometimes it pays to go local. That’s why you need to know about the African version of the sharing economy website for Africa and the Indian Ocean islands.
SleepOut.com started as a photography hobby on Lamu, a small Indian Ocean island of 20,000 inhabitants and 4,000 donkeys. The island is a haven for celebrities and European aristocrats, many of whom have built their dream homes there. Because these architectural masterpieces would sit empty most of the year, K enyan digital entrepreneur Mikul Shah and Canadian digital marketer Johann Jenson worked closely with both the foreign and local owners to showcase and rent them out. From there, they started opening SleepOut to other popular destinations around Kenya. By November 2013 they had launched their multinational platform focused on the whole of Africa and the Indian Ocean islands.
SleepOut.com has thousands of great deals on places to stay across Africa. (Photo: SleepOut)
The company was initially based in Kenya but relocated to Port Louis, Mauritius, after receiving seed funding from Netherlands-based AMVF ( amvf.nl ) and added Zimbabwean software engineer Paul Schwarz to its founding team in June 2013.
We first met Mikul Shah, who is also the founder and CEO of EatOut, the region’s largest restaurant portal, at a fabulous dinner party for Nairobi’s best and brightest entrepreneurs at the bustling Tribe Hotel. While there we got to pick his brain about what makes SleepOut a great option for finding accommodations in Africa.
Snuggle up in a treehouse built for two! (Photo: SleepOut)
Yahoo Travel: How many properties does SleepOut offer?
Mikul Shah: SleepOut works with roughly 8,000 hotels, guesthouses, holiday homes, and apartments throughout East, North, and Southern Africa.
Where can you get them?
SleepOut hosts are located across 62 countries, but at the moment we are mainly concentrated on the experience in East Africa, with destinations such as Nairobi, Naivasha, Lamu, Maasai Mara, Diani, and Zanzibar. We are also very busy opening SleepOut in many Southern African countries such as Zimbabwe and Namibia at the moment.
This stunning underwater room at the Manta Resort on Pemba Island is one of the most sought-after accommodations on SleepOut. (Photo: SleepOut)
What is the craziest property it offers?
SleepOut definitely has quite a few out-of-this-world properties, including a home shaped like a shoe, train cars, African igloos, and mud huts, but our craziest property would have to be an 8,000-square-foot Omani castle located on an 18km stretch of pristine beach. For a selection of some of our most spectacular properties, you can browse SleepOut wish lists.
What are the price ranges?
Prices are set by our hosts, but we do encourage a wide range of accommodation on SleepOut to cater to every price point. Generally, in most destinations you will find dorm beds, rooms, cottages, and villas from as little as $7 a night all the way to $10,000 a night.
Chic tents like this one at Kicheche Mara Camp offer comfortable lodging and the safari experience with plenty of wildlife-watching opportunities. (Photo: SleepOut)
How can people make sure the properties are safe?
As we work in quite a number of low-income countries, ensuring SleepOut guests feel entirely safe is of course a huge priority. Since we launched our global platform last year, we have been pleasantly surprised that it has not really been an issue. There are a few reasons for this. In most of Africa, holiday homes (like hotels) have dedicated staff so we actually have not had any serious incidents. When a conflict arises, it is quickly dealt with by the staff on location.
To prevent fraud, we 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, as an alternative many of our hosts do accept full payment on arrival, which minimizes risk.
Charming beachfront bandas in Kenya rent for as little as $39 a night. (Photo: SleepOut)
Because quality standards can range widely from destination to destination, we do rely on our ever-growing community of SleepOut ”nomads” to verify properties in person, and this is of course complemented by guests reviewing their stays, which provides future guests with a good indication of what to expect. Getting the first reviews for a property is the hardest part, but after that we notice a sharp increase in bookings for those hosts. For this reason we typically recommend that hosts keep their prices low until they’ve built up their reputation on SleepOut.