Airbnb has been quietly cultivating a different kind of tourism in Bangladesh where visitors are able to stay with locals at homes to get better understanding of the country and culture.
Rentals from Airbnb ranges from a single room to tent to a penthouse for accommodation in Bangladesh.
There has been a recent shift towards this form of hospitality in Bangladesh where people seem to prefer a service unlike a traditional hotel varying from just a night to months.
The community driven service in one way help hosts or property owners to earn additional money by monetising their extra spaces, on the other hand helps travellers to discover places of interests staying at a comfortable place.
Speaking to the Dhaka Tribune, Jennifer Farrell, the creator of emergency response app CriticaLink, said she is hosting her apartment for travellers on Airbnb, because it caters to a wide variety of needs.
“For holding training sessions and workshops for our volunteers, we took an amazing place in Niketan as our office and training centre, but it had a bit more space than we needed. We thought about hosting interns from abroad, but then realised that Airbnb was a great way to help us cover some of the operational costs of our office space.
“Airbnb has allowed us to bring in almost half the cost of our rent and office expenses which allows us to grow and spend more money on our mission of saving lives,” said Jennifer, who has been living in Dhaka since 2013.
Another traveller, a Danish man Nikolaj Astrup Madsen, founder of Refuga, used Airbnb to find himself accommodations last year in Old Dhaka.
Sharing his experience, he said he found the place comfortable and his hosts very welcoming.
For people who rent the room in the office, they have an opportunity to interact with amazing volunteers and employees of Criticalink, Jennifer said.
“We have had people come from around the world – the US, the UK, Germany, Spain, Malaysia, and they get a chance to know more about Dhaka by meeting some of Bangladesh’s most exceptional young people. Our volunteers also enjoy showing them around the city, giving them insider tips for where to find the best phuchka, and just enjoying conversation in our common space,” she said.
“In addition to the cultural exchange, we offer co-working space, access to a conference room, office supplies, etc. We really want our space to be one that encourages entrepreneurship and sharing of ideas and social enterprise,” added Jennifer.
The cost of rentals on Airbnb depends on location, facilities and living arrangement at properties.
If you want to enjoy the water show of Hatirjheel lake sitting in a penthouse, housed on the seventh floor of a building, it would cost Tk2,000 for a single room there.
But, if you have a big family and the demand is for a modern and homely luxury three-bed apartment next to Gulshan area, it would cost Tk4,700.
The two-bedroom pet-friendly house, with three beds, has all the modern amenities including wheelchair access.
Another traveller, Emma from Los Ageles, US who recently used Airbnb while staying in Dhaka, said her hosts introduced her to the magic of Dhaka which is something she would not have been able to do alone.
“I can’t even quite explain how moving this experience was for me. Definitely the highlight of my trip! Probably the highlight of my year so far,” she said.
Cozy Studio Dhaka is a super host on Airbnb with four properties listed in Dhaka. They have hosted over 100 guests from some 20 different countries in the past few years that helped them to earn “Super host” status in Airbnb, the very first in Bangladesh, according to their website.
According to Airbnb, it gives hosts a super host status if they host at least 10 trips, maintains 90% response rate or higher, receives a 5-star review at least 80% of the time of their total review and a few other conditions.
The government stance
Despite operating in Dhaka, Airbnb is yet to take any approval or permission from the government or authorities concerned.
“Though ICT Division is not the legal authority to permit such businesses like Airbnb or Uber, if any company wants to operate a mobile application-based business, they are legally bound to inform us. But we are yet to receive any letter from Airbnb yet,” Partha Pratim Deb, additional secretary of ICT Division, told the Dhaka Tribune.
When asked who is responsible for giving the approval for such businesses, he said the Civil Aviation and Tourism Ministry may be the right authority responsible for monitoring such business.
The Dhaka Tribune contacted the additional secretary of Civil Aviation and Tourism Ministry Md Imran, and he said: “We can monitor such businesses under the tourism, but we are not an authority to permit them to operate. We have yet to find any application from Airbnb.”
Usually, city corporations under the Local Government Ministry assesses the house rental facility in Dhaka, but they are also unaware of the service.
“We have not been informed about Airbnb,” Local Government Division Secretary Abdul Maleq said.
Dhaka Tribune emailed Airbnb to get their comments on their operations in Bangladesh, but they have not responded yet.