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Opportunities and challenges of tech for short-term rentals

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 Home intruder video monitoring and surveillance system.

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Over the past few years, the short-term rental industry, popularly known as Airbnb, has witnessed tremendous growth fuelled primarily by surging demand and increased venture capital investments.

According to estimates, last year alone, short-term rental projects in Africa attracted over $5 billion (Sh652.5 billion) in funding from investors.

The adoption of technology further increased the value of these assets, with online listing platforms such as, AirBnB, Vrbo and Expedia driving up occupancy ratios and indeed rental yields.

“On average, the return on investment for a home on online platforms is about 30 per cent higher than traditional short-term rentals,” says Eleni Georgopoulou, who runs YourHost, a property management firm.

Through data analytics, these platforms are making it possible for homeowners to assess when to adjust rates based on demand forecasts and occupancy goals, thus enabling them to optimise their revenues.

Homeowners, who may have limited time and expertise, can manage their property efficiently through tools that can track occupancy, manage calendars, detect and control noise, among others.

 “Artificial Intelligence solutions are transforming short-term rental operations through automation. From a phone, an owner can be able to see all bookings in real time,” says Georgopoulou.

For the traveller who wants flexibility, ease, convenience and value for money, AI tools are making automated lighting, temperature or entertainment control a possibility through voice commands.

Virtual reality tours

Others are able to do virtual reality tours and 3D walkthroughs of rental properties before booking for better selection, while others are leveraging digital tools for recommendations on local attractions and dining based on individual preferences.

More importantly, with cases of insecurity at short-term rentals on the rise lately, modern technologies such as video analytics and artificial intelligence are being used to beef up security in Airbnbs.

While in the past, all that a CCTV could do was record for someone to playback manually and zero in on what happened at a particular time, technologies such as video analytics and AI are enhancing the surveillance capabilities.

 “For example, if a phone is lost, all one needs to do with video analytics is search through the footage by name of that device. The results will show you every instance that the device was in view of the camera,” says Cyrill Kasembeli, Lead Engineer, SGA Security.

This makes it possible for whoever is doing the search to quickly narrow down to the exact point at which the device was taken, thus saving time they would spend playing back through the entire footage.

Through the use of biometrics and machine learning technology, homeowners can also do instant identity card verification and passport vetting. Once a user uploads their ID, the algorithms detect whether the ID is fake or not.

“Facial recognition has also become a thing, where if someone blacklisted as a criminal walks into your premise, you receive a wanted person alert and you can report them to the authorities,” says Mr Kasembeli.

Other hosts are only accepting payment on digital platforms to be able to detect fraud in case of stolen credit cards, or to easily trace individuals if a crime takes place during their stay.

However, while technology promises great value in the short-term rental industry, several factors continue to impede successful implementation. One of these is lack of adequate digital skills.

According to Robert Manyala, who runs the ICT company Robisearch, Kenya has made significant progress in developing digital skills at the basic level.

Data analytics

However, the country does not have a critical mass of people with intermediate and advanced digital skills to use modern technologies such as machine learning and data analytics for greater efficiency.

security code

A man opens the door using a security code. 

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 “You need specific skill sets and human talents to be able to operate these technologies but, unfortunately as a country, we are not yet there,” says Mr Manyala.

High cost of accessing ICT infrastructure, technology and data has also been highlighted as a big impediment to the use of technology in promoting efficiency and security at short-term rentals.

This has been attributed to high digital taxes that have made it impossible for the private sector to deploy more affordable broadband services and devices.

 “There is a need to address the high costs of ICT infrastructure in order to ensure effective use and application. This can only be achieved through government-private sector collaboration,” says Mr Manyala.

The ambiguity of regulation around ICT also continues to be an issue, with the constantly changing local and international data protection laws preventing use of effective security technologies such as video surveillance CCTV.


According to the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), any form of surveillance is considered an infringement on the fundamental rights to the protection of personal data and the right to privacy.

If done, it must be provided for by law and deemed necessary or proportionate, as envisaged in Article 31 of the Constitution of Kenya and Section 25 of the Data Protection Act, 2019.

“Video surveillance is one of the data protection areas that raises a few questions because it may lead to serious privacy risks,” says Cindy Terry, an advocate and director of CM Property.

Article 15 of the GDPR grants the data subject, or in this case the tenant, a right to obtain information from the data controller or the host, about whether his or her data is processed.

This means that the host or property owner must tell people if and when they are collecting their personal information to allow them to exercise their data rights.

These rights enable individuals to access the personal data stored on them, as well as to challenge the way their information is used.

Therefore, if someone is to position a surveillance camera anywhere around their property, they are required by law to notify guests at the entrance or gate that they are entering into a property under CCTV surveillance.

“You can make sure people are aware you’re recording them by posting signs that say CCTV is in operation. By entering into the property, automatically the guests consent to being recorded,” says Ms Terry.

A man installs cameras in his apartment. 

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Under the GDPR, it is not enough to inform people that you are collecting their personal data. You are required to go a step further and explain to them why you intend to record or use the data.

“If recording in a public area, you can meet this requirement by including a brief explanation on the signs you’ve posted, for example saying ‘CCTV is in operation for the purpose of public safety’,” says Mr Kasembeli of SGA Security.

The video surveillance topic brings more concerns with modern facial-recognition software being put to use, especially in advanced social monitoring and control.

There are some short-term rentals using access control where guests present their face to open doors. What should happen in this case is that the host should delete the guest’s face immediately when they are done using the property.

“If they are staying in from Friday to Sunday, by Monday you should have deleted that information and if you are audited, you should only have personal information for people who are still in your property,” says Mr Kasembeli.

If, however, for example property damage is detected, the host may be allowed to store the video footage for a longer period in order to take further legal actions.

In this case, it is recommended to conduct a risk assessment to document the reasons for longer data retention, failure to which could result in hefty penalties.

 “Taking into consideration the data minimisation and storage limitation principles, the personal data should in most cases be deleted automatically, after a few days,” Mr Kasembeli says.

How one uses personal details like the names and phone numbers of people who have entered into a premise could also raise issues of data privacy, if those details are not used for the correct purpose.

 “Unless you are using it for purposes of investigation, taking someone’s number from the record book and using it to send marketing material is breaching data privacy and misusing personal data,” says Mr Kasembeli.

If one is unsure of how to navigate through the use of modern surveillance technologies for purposes of security, it is recommended that they adopt simpler security options that are not heavily regulated, but that are still very effective.

Alarm system

This could be as basic as installing an alarm system that can be triggered by pressing a panic button strategically positioned in a room. An alert will then be silently sent and detected by a security company from their control room.

 “When someone rents an apartment, it is for the owner or host to show this person that in case of an emergency or if they are in distress, they can press a certain button for help,” says Mr Kasembeli.

Alternatively, depending on the preference of the short-term rental owner, they could have a loud alarm that may notify a guard at the gate who will then come to the rescue of whoever is involved.

Ms Cynthia Kitolo, a Property Boutique legal officer, says it is also wise to pick a location where the property owner has invested in security personnel stationed at the gate or at the main points of entry, to assess whoever is coming in.

 “They should also take details so that when something comes up, you will have all the details of the people who were in the rooms for purposes of investigation,” says Ms Kitolo.

Before investing your money, the advocate also recommends conducting a neighbourhood search to establish whether the location of the proposed Airbnb is safe for both the locals and visitors within the area.

 “You can know about the history of the area by inquiring from the authorities or residents who have lived there,” notes Ms Kitolo.

Due to the inherently unpredictable nature of, and difficulty in preventing intentional crimes on premises such as short-term rentals, Kenya's Occupiers’ Liability Act (Cap. 34) protects owners from liability when crimes occur there.

However, if the host’s negligence created conditions that facilitated the crime, for example faulty security system or known history of criminal activity in the area, they might share some liability.

If the host was aware of potential threats and failed to take reasonable precautions, they could potentially be held liable for negligence and share some liability.

Before booking an apartment, Ms Sarah Huko, an advocate, says that guests can also take some precautionary measures, including making sure that the residence is listed on a credible online platform, to protect themselves from danger.

“Most of the unfortunate crimes that have been committed lately did not occur in any premises listed on the digital platforms, nor were there any reserved bookings on the reported dates,” says Ms Huko.

 Guests should also familiarise themselves with the reviews left about the residence, its location, the type of appliances located within the vicinity, details of whether the contact person during one’s stay will be the host or an agent, among other small but significant details.