Explorer builds coliving space for travellers, digital nomads in Diani


Diani is like a rare image plucked out of a bestselling photobook.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

What you need to know:

  • Beyond the whitest sand on the beach, Diani has so much to offer. 
  • Coliving was introduced to make housing more affordable, especially for young.

Nothing prepares you for the heavenly tranquility in Diani. The small town, neatly tucked in the southern part of Kenya's coastline, is like a rare image plucked out of a bestselling photobook.

You will find the whitest sand on the beach here, sharply contrasted by turquoise blue waters. And when the waves start their slow suspenseful dance — you'll find yourself staring at nothing and something and never wanting to leave.

These globally recognised white sandy beaches are among the many things Duncan Malcom, the Director and co-founder of Skippers fell in love with Diani when he visited the place for the first time three years ago.


Coliving eliminates traditional renting arrangements such as long-term leases.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Beyond the beaches, Diani had and still has so much to offer. From water sports to nature trails, a vibrant community of locals and tourists, nice weather and much more.

Prior to visiting Diani, Malcom had been travelling through Europe and the world by boat, experiencing life as a nomad, but Diani was about to change all that.

Coliving experience

He ended up building Skippers, a Coliving hospitality spot for solo travellers and digital nomads. Coliving is a new real estate concept that originally targeted affordable residential housing.

Just like co-working spaces, Coliving houses bring together several biologically unrelated people with shared values under one roof.

It could be a three-bedroom apartment unit, housing three unrelated, young professionals – each with their rooms and shared common spaces.

Coliving was introduced to make housing more affordable, especially for young – just out of college professionals. It also fosters a sense of community while making exclusive and expensive neighbourhoods more accessible to the young demographic.

In some concepts, Coliving eliminates traditional renting arrangements such as long-term leases and even furniture ownership as tenants can access different furnished apartments managed by one entity.

Hidden gem in Diani where tourists pay thousands to see sunset

The concept is now gaining popularity in the hospitality sector, targeting a growing demographic of solo travelers and digital nomads.

According to data by Booking.com, Solo travel is booming and in 2024, 59 per cent of travellers are planning to explore the world solo. Though solo travel was initially a preserve of the young and those without families, data shows that parents too are joining the fun and 58 per cent are planning to travel childless in 2024. 

More Data by Solo Traveler, a platform that shares information on solo travelling shows that most people travel alone because they want to see the world and they do not want to wait for others. Some say they like the feeling of freedom and others want to meet new people through travel.

Malcom is one of the few who have managed to implement Coliving successfully here in Kenya, catering to this growing demographic of travelers.

DN2 Property caught up with him and he shared his journey, plus insightful pointers on navigating the dynamic and competitive hospitality sector.

Here's his story:

Tech background

“Growing up, my parents had a Bed and Breakfast, which gave me a glimpse into what it's like to run a hospitality business. We also travelled a lot and I always dreamt of a career in hospitality.

I, however, ended up in tech and I’ve worked in that field for almost 20 years. When I graduated from university, I joined my cousin in building an IT company together for a while. I then expanded my practice to different tech sectors, generally building tech products.

Though I've been in IT for almost two decades, Skippers isn’t my first foray in hospitality. While I was a student, I worked in Turkey for Sunsail/TUI, but the closest I came to my dream career was in France where I worked briefly as a resort manager for a popular ski company.

Duncan Malcom

Duncan Malcom, the director and co-founder at Skippers Coliving.

Photo credit: Pool

My IT career gave me the flexibility to work and travel at the same time and about three years ago, I came to Diani for the first time. I had been travelling around Europe and exploring the world on a boat with my partner. Around this time, the pandemic's impact was still fresh.

One frustrating issue was the lack of human contact, especially during lockdown. Unlike hospitality, where you deal with people directly, in tech, the focus is in delivering services. Even then, before the pandemic there were opportunities to interact with people when working on projects — but all this went away after the pandemic hit. Covid was perhaps the push I needed to finally get into hospitality. Coming to Diani gave me the drive to get things started.

Skippers is mainly, but not exclusively focused on solo travellers. People who are travelling without families and who are generally over 25 and under 45. They usually are looking for a community and that’s what we provide. A family away from home.

I'm a very active person and when I first came here, I realised there is a range of activities to explore. You can get on a bike and ride through Shimba Hills in the morning and spend time at the beach doing water sports in the afternoon.

I also noticed there aren't many young people visiting Diani. We wanted to create a Coliving space and make it accessible for younger travellers.

Diani just seemed to be a natural fit for what we were hoping to create. The town is growing and there’s a good community of businesses here. It has been a good place to get feedback from our guests and see what they really care about or don’t.

Hotel room

Coliving was introduced to make housing more affordable, especially for young.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Fortunately, we have been full since we opened. As the paint was drying on the walls, we had rooms booked. But that was not a coincidence. We spend about two years promoting the place, attending conferences and events before breaking ground.

We interacted with potential guests and got a lot of useful information. We also used our travel experience from the Coliving spaces we stayed in during our travels as a benchmarking opportunity. During these nomadic years, we met amazing people who became friends, advisors and even guests.

Most of our bookings are mainly by word of mouth, from the marketing efforts we put in. We created our unique audience for the space because we knew the market segment we were targeting was not looking at popular travel listing sites for this kind of space.

So far, our guests have been happy. The town has everything anyone would want. Plenty of places to eat, good supermarkets, beaches and an endless list of activities. Importantly, very friendly people. 

Flexible model

We’re still in the process of setting up Skippers. What we have built so far is just the beginning of the vision. The tech background has led us to stray from the traditional path. We experiment a lot with different things and as we get feedback from guests we change them.

Usually that happens quickly. One guest recommended adding storage in the rooms and a pool within the compound, four weeks later we refitted the rooms and had a pool and sun deck.

We change room layouts, facilities, even down to the food we serve. In any hospitality business, you can have your assumptions of what people want but it’s only when you have real guests in a new environment that you’re going to understand their needs.

This is a bit different from traditional hotels where the concept is pre-defined before the first brick goes down.

Longer stays

Our construction method was flexible such that it's easy to redesign the model with time. We've also built using a combination of building methods and techniques that haven’t been tried here before but are helping us get incredible efficiency for energy usage.

We've been working with some innovative approaches using concrete and insulation materials that allow us to reduce our power consumption.


Coliving houses bring together several biologically unrelated people with shared values under one roof.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

All of our rooms are air-conditioned and when we've compared them to properties locally, we use around a third of the power. We are also completely solar powered which helps with sustainability.

The biggest challenge we have is educating people from Europe and the US about Kenya. Safety is the number one question we’re asked about, with Wi-Fi speeds being a close second.

People from other continents have the wrong perception of Africa as a continent and this impairs their judgment on tourism hotspots in different countries within the continent. As soon as people arrive in Diani, they love it. 

Sometimes we interview our guests during checkout, and they share the contrast between what they thought their vacation would be like, versus what they actually experienced. They all feel incredibly safe while in Diani.

We also have many guests wishing to stay longer. Our hospitality model and pricing strategy targets longer stays.

Unlike popular short-term stays which charge per night, we have a monthly pricing model. Our guests tend to stay for four to six weeks but during checkout, most of them wish they could stay for longer — mostly several months.

There’s still a lot of work to be done to promote Kenya and the beautiful people here. We have invested a lot of time and effort in promoting Skippers in-person in Europe and our efforts are paying off.

Coliving across the globe

The Coliving concept is new everywhere. Most operators have not been in the market for more than a few years — four to five years max. There are varieties of Colivings, from large commercial operations in cities which are often managed, shared accommodation to the more grass root travel communities like Skippers.

For Skippers to work beyond ideation, we researched a lot. If you travel a few months in the shoes of the people you’re looking to attract, you'll understand what they like and get ideas for different concepts that could work.

We spent five years travelling — which brought us to where we are today. We got to understand the unique demographic we are targeting and the existing gaps in the market. 

Most hotels have everything travellers would need. But for us it’s all about community and people. Our guests are not looking for an empty apartment or a hotel lobby full of strangers.


Coliving makes exclusive and expensive neighbourhoods more accessible to the young demographic.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

They are looking for shared experiences and people they can explore the world with. What we have is more like a community with shared spaces. It’s very much like student living accommodations with a few more creature comforts.

We have a gym, a pool, and a restaurant so people can come and relax, have coffee in the morning and then explore or work on one of their personal projects.

We have guests visiting churches and orphanages to see how they can help the community and we are setting up programmes to provide free career talks in local schools.

Our Coliving concept is about providing a sense of community, while presenting a list of possible activities but with the freedom to choose what to do. Our guests tend to be very independent — anyone travelling on their own for a week or several months tends to be quite self-starting.

Guests and competition

We have all sorts of guests — mainly solo travellers. From professionals taking a sabbatical, to people volunteering locally and even music producers looking for a different environment and some inspiration for their work.

We've had a good run, so far. We were fully booked before we finished building our first room and have been close to fully booked since we opened. 

Our pizzeria, House of Woodfired, is now ranked in the top 20 on TripAdvisor after just six months and is close to number one in Diani. 

Though Airbnb seems like our biggest competitor — if you look at the data there’s actually far more property available than is ever booked especially here in Diani. 

According to AirDNA data, there has been a significant increase in the number of hospitality rentals over the last one year in Kwale County — which is mainly Diani.

The county has over 800 hospitality properties, yet the occupancy rate is relatively low at 43 per cent. Hospitality is a competitive field, and you have to curate a unique experience to maintain a high occupancy rate.