There are numerous smaller and larger NGOs around the world who have planned great projects, but are unable to realize them due to their strong dependence on the income from donations, which can only be planned to a limited extent. The Cologne-based start-up Socialbnb has come up with a solution to this problem, from which not only the NGOs and thus the population will benefit, but also travelers who can do something good ” whilst asleep” and at the same time gain profound insights into the culture of the country they are visiting.
As we are big fans of the start-up, we would have been very happy to welcome Socialbnb as an exhibitor in March. To introduce the innovative company to you and to make you want to use the offer in the future, we talked to the project manager Alexander Haufschild about the concept behind Socialbnb, the current challenges and next steps as well as his hopes for “the time after”.
In a nutshell, what is the concept behind Socialbnb?
In short, Socialbnb is an online platform that brings together travelers and NGOs. On our website, we list NGOs that offer accommodation to travelers. The money that is paid for the overnight stay goes directly to the respective NGO and is used for a specific project. The projects are very different. They range from financing the construction of a school to environmental protection, human rights, or hygiene projects.
Our concept is based on our conviction that tourism should above all benefit the local population and create added value for them.
And you then receive a certain percentage of the price of the overnight stay as commission?
Yes, exactly. We are in close contact with every NGO, and together we discuss the situation, the available rooms, the project, and also what else travelers can experience on location. The price for the overnight stay is then determined together. The organization tells us what financial means they need for their project. If, for example, a school is to be built, then, of course, more monetary resources are needed than to buy new books. We at Socialbnb then check once again that the price is competitive in the region. A deposit is paid at the time of booking, which remains with us. The rest of the money is paid directly to the NGO by the travelers and finances the respective project.
But you don’t put volunteers (in the sense of voluntourism) in touch with NGOs?
No, that is not the case. We are not offering onsite help, but financial support through the overnight stays. There are usually enough and above all qualified workers on site. But what is missing is the means to pay for them. But of course, the travelers do not only sleep at the corresponding NGO. They also get to know them or the respective project in person during their visit. We always get the feedback that these insights are incredibly beautiful and enriching for the travelers. For example, if you visit the school you support through your overnight stay and get to know other educational concepts, you also get a completely different understanding of cultural aspects in the school education of the respective travel country. Education can be interpreted quite differently from what we usually interpret. For example, some schools offer meditation or use skating courses for integration purposes.
Facts and figures: How many NGOs are you currently working with, how many travelers have already booked accommodation through you. And how many people do you actually employ directly at Socialbnb?
We are currently working with about 60 NGOs in 26 countries worldwide. Most of the projects are in Africa, but we also have partners on all other continents. In Europe, it was a bit more difficult in the beginning, because the legal situation is very different. But here, too, we are now constantly expanding our range of services. In total we have already been able to generate over 500 overnight stays with our partner NGOs.
Originally Socialbnb was a pure student project, which then evolved into a “real” start-up last year. The next big step is scheduled for June when a corresponding company will be founded. The Socialbnb founding team consists of two people working full-time. In addition, there are currently five students who provide support.
A worldwide travel warning is in effect until June. How did you react or what measures did you take when the whole Corona crisis started?
We quickly stopped all travel arrangements and canceled all outstanding trips. Many of the projects also work with risk groups. Of course, we can’t send anyone there at the moment.
But we are still in close contact with our partners and use the time to orientate ourselves and, for example, to expand our work in Europe.
What challenges and problems do your partner NGOs worldwide report to you?
Our partners have to deal with very different problems. On the one hand, of course, there is a lack of tourists and thus a source of income. In some cases, entire regions depend on tourism for their livelihood.
Another problem is the lockdowns all over the world. Some people no longer come to their place of work. Others, for example, can no longer sell their products on the market but do not have large savings either.
But the current crisis has also made us realize again how wonderful it is to work with NGOs. The organizations are super flexible and adapt very quickly to changes in needs. In no time at all, the necessary infrastructure is provided and for example, emergency packages are put together and distributed, workshops on the right hygiene measures are given, masks are distributed, and so on.
How are you supporting your partners? What can travelers do to help you or your partners?
We focus on small local projects that we can lend a voice to through our channels. In the course of this, we have started an action that enables a virtual trip to the projects and reports from there. For example, we share video messages from local people. At the same time, we provide information about the respective countries. However, the support our partners want varies from project to project. Some need donations, others simply want more attention and reach. In any case, we plan to provide even more information about the NGOs and projects in the future. We want to make people want to visit our partners as soon as it is possible again. Therefore we would like to show more in the future how a local experience can look like.
Will Corona change the way we travel in the long run? Which changes would you actually like to see?
The travel industry is of course particularly affected by Corona, which we think is a great pity. But at the same time, the crisis also holds the chance that the industry will no longer be dominated by the big players in the future. We hope that actually more people will also notice young, innovative companies and choose those over the traditional providers.
In addition, of course, our great hope is that travel will once again be perceived more consciously and given a special status. It would be nice if people would no longer fly somewhere else every weekend, but would once again travel more intensive and conscious, especially when it coms to long-distance travel.
At this point, we would like to thank Alex for the informative interview! If you want to learn more now or even plan your next trip including an overnight stay at an NGO, you can find further information on the Socialbnb website. On their social media channels, you will also get to know the projects you can support with your stay.