Two men pose next to their bikes in South Africa.

Hosts from across South Africa Take Center Stage in Airbnb Exhibition

Featuring stunning portraits, sound recordings and quotes from twelve inspiring South African hosts, Airbnb’s ‘Faces of Tourism’ exhibition has launched today at Constitution Hill in Johannesburg. The exhibition, which is open to the public from October 31st to November 15th, shines a spotlight on local hosts who are using the Airbnb platform to participate in the tourism economy.

Photographer Thom Pierce traveled across South Africa to take photos of hosts based in places like Soweto, Kayamandi and Khayelitsha as well as in more far-flung areas such as Kassiesbaai, which is not close to a city centre or the usual tourist hotspots. The exhibition tells a powerful story of the great potential for South Africa to reach its ambitious tourism goal of 21 million tourist arrivals by 2030*.

Faces of Tourism highlights how opening a person’s home to travellers, or showing them a part of local community life as an Experience, can open the door to an economy these hosts never imagined they could be part of. Visitors to the exhibition will dive into the unique life stories of the hosts and will learn about how each one found a different way into tourism.

For this particular project, it was lovely to be able to travel around the country and meet people who were excited about their venture, keen to show off their accommodation and proud of what they had achieved. I like that I am able to showcase people who are being facilitated in taking control of their businesses and their futures in partnership with a large organisation. It’s a twist on the usual narrative of my work, which has previously focused on human rights violations.

Photographer Thom Pierce

All the hosts featured in the exhibition have participated in the Airbnb Africa Academy, a programme that was developed to support a new generation of tourism entrepreneurs across the continent. By partnering with community-based and grassroots organisations, the Academy provides tools and resources to support mainly women and youth to share their homes or host unique experiences on Airbnb’s platform, further expanding the role of local, healthy and inclusive opportunities in African tourism. Through these initiatives, Airbnb continues to promote travel that is local, diverse and inclusive in South Africa. 

There are now over 35 000 hosts in the South African Airbnb community, with a significant percentage of them (65%) being women. Stats SA recently highlighted that the official unemployment rate increased by 1,4 percentage points to 29,0% compared in Q2 of 2019.The highest unemployment rate since Q1 of 2008. Currently, Black African women remain one of the most vulnerable groups when it comes to unemployment in South Africa, standing at over 30%, according to StatsSA. The unemployment rate for youth aged 15 – 24 stands at over 50%. 

Since 2008, Airbnb has welcomed over 2 million guests throughout South Africa which results in an estimated direct economic impact of more than R8.7 billion for the country. The Faces of Tourism exhibition shows the transformative power of tourism and how it can be used to combat very real social and economic issues within South Africa.

Velma Corcoran, Airbnb Country Manager for Sub-Saharan Africa.

The public can view the Faces of Tourism exhibition at the Women’s Jail at Constitution Hill from October 31 – November 15, between 10am and 4pm every day. Entry is free of charge.

Through being involved in Experiences on Airbnb and the Airbnb Africa Academy, we have found people have grown through the process. The Academy has forced people to look at tourism in a different way because initially they didn’t see themselves as people who would ever be in tourism. Now, however, they can see that this is something interesting that they can do and learn from. We know that tourism plays a huge role in Cape Town and that it contributes a large percentage to the local economy. For us to really understand and be invested in this space helps us to build our community.

Experience hosts and Africa Academy graduates Buntu Matole and Ayanda Cuba.


About Thom Pierce

Thom Pierce is a British photographer, currently working out of Cape Town, South Africa. After a successful career in the UK music industry he turned to photography in 2013. Over a short period of time he has built a substantial body of work which has been exhibited in major international galleries and festivals. 

*As set by the South African President in his State of the Nation Address earlier this year.

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