Rejected by Airbnb, travellers and entrepreneurs are going their own way
- 02 April 2017
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Karima Bihiki’s story is a familiar one for many entrepreneurs; the 38-year-old founder of Bookhalalhomes came up with the idea for her business after struggling with a problem of her own. In her case, it was how to locate safe Muslim-friendly rooms across the world.
“For the last decade, I was renting out my own home and I was also renting out rooms for myself in residential homes that were in Muslim areas,” the Moroccan businesswoman told My Salaam. “I was living in Holland, but I had meetings in London, and I found it difficult as a single woman to go to hotels that had a bar culture or a mixed culture.”
Karima eventually found a female Muslim landlord who was in a convenient location in London, while she herself rented out her Dutch rooms to Muslim students from Sudan. Before she knew it, the Bookhalalhomes founder had created her very own micro-version of the smash hit US peer-to-peer accommodation site, Airbnb.
Today, Bookhalalhomes has been coined the “Muslim Airbnb” by its users, but Karima says she didn’t even know the global website existed when she founded her firm in 2015. The ambitious London-based mother-of-six has since built up a portfolio of 4,000 global properties, with rooms available in cities such as London, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur.
Muslims spent an estimated $142 billion on global outbound travel in 2014, representing 11 percent of global expenditure on outbound tourism, according to the “State of the Global Islamic Economy 2015/16” report by Thomson Reuters. Peer-to-peer rentals globally were $50 billion in 2015, based on estimates from Dinar Standard.
Riding these global trends, Karima seeks to address an unmet need in the Muslim travel community. She said, “Muslims are increasingly asserting their needs when travelling, in particular demanding halal food, prayer spaces, alcohol-free and family-friendly environments, and separate facilities for men and women.”
Unique Muslim lifestyle needs have largely remained unaddressed by the big global players. Airbnb and other global P2P rental service providers currently do not explicitly list Muslim-friendly accommodations.
According to Karima, her own research has shown that Muslims have gotten rejections from conventional P2P rental sites because of religious bias. “I have spoken to agencies who have Muslim clients, and there are homes that have rejected them once they know the clients are Muslim. It’s the fear factor.”
Bookhalalhomes is currently focused on inbound and outbound traffic from London, Dubai, Morocco and Turkey.
Karima said that she is expecting 100,000 bookings for the whole of 2017. “Since the first year of our launch, we have grown by over 100 per cent every year. Our future aim is to be the single largest leader in providing peer-to-peer halal travel alternatives across the globe. We are currently seeking our first round of investment after having invested the seed funding ourselves.”
In December 2016, Hadi Shakuur launched a rival Muslim P2P rental site, Muzbnb. The community lists a variety of spaces, ranging from rooms to houses to apartments. “[Muzbnb is] a travel company that plays the middleman in helping travellers find welcoming halal places as well as offering people the opportunity to earn some extra cash and host their homes while sharing their experiences and culture with others,” Muslimgirl.net cited Shakuur as saying.
An openness towards other cultures is something that Karima would agree with. It was especially important to her that Bookhalalhomes have an open-door policy, and she hopes that Bookhalalhomes will help dispel prejudice and provide a welcoming service for all. “We allow anyone to host or travel to our homes; you can be any religion as long as you follow our criteria. We don’t want to close the door to anybody. It’s for everyone. We have 11 per cent non-Muslims who are booking.”