The travel world has seen a phenomenal trend recently in travellers opting for Airbnbs rather than mainstream accommodation offerings. The online marketplace and hospitality service enables people to lease or rent short-term accommodation.

Homestays, however, when travellers choose to stay at a local home, are not realising the rate of growth experienced by Airbnb, possibly because of negative perceptions about townships. Airbnb’s success has also been driven by technological advances, while homestay providers place less emphasis on marketing.

I am making townships the focal point because of a growing rate of urbanisation and growing population concentrations around big cities such as Durban, Johannesburg and Cape Town. My conviction is that homestays offer a great economic opportunity for South African townships that is not adequately explored.

Credit should, however, be given to the South African government, which has aggressively shifted focus to market township tourism. Durban has taken a conscious drive towards it, affording townships opportunities to create streams of income and wealth through tours, such as the Inanda Heritage Route, Umlazi Tourism tours, and Clermont Umlando routes.

There has been a significant shift to both international and domestic tourists visiting townships, but we need to increase overnight stays in townships. This, I believe remains a great opportunity for South African homeowners. Township homeowners should begin to take charge of these opportunities. In a given weekend, visitors take township tours and spend time at local shisanyamas  (barbecue restaurants). Some travel to visit relatives and watch football at local stadiums. Why are these visitors not staying over in townships afterwards?

I believe this is an opportunity that needs exploration and conversion to created jobs and generate income for locals. The local marketing authorities, tour operators, tour guides, local businesses, and other stakeholders can make this opportunity real and sustainable and communities will embrace it.