From Seattle to Africa: How Bongalo is Transforming the Travel Sector

Author
Hua Wang
Published
May 20, 2024

Based in Seattle, Washington, Minuifuong Nghombombong, CEO of Bongalo, is making waves in the travel accommodation sector by leveraging digital technologies to offer affordable, accessible, and seamless booking experiences across Africa. His journey is a testament to how innovative use of technology can transcend borders and create global opportunities.

Bongalo: The Airbnb for Africa

Bongalo, referred to by CNN as the “Airbnb for Africa,” is a booking platform designed to help travelers find and book affordable places to stay across the continent. Minuifuong explains, “Africa faces problems of remittance in terms of how to receive payments from other platforms. We’ve introduced mobile wallet disbursements to help hosts receive money easily and allow local travelers to pay with local payment methods.” This innovation taps into the widespread use of mobile money in Africa, which sees over 490 billion transactions annually.

Digital Tools and Technologies

Bongalo’s platform is built using a robust technology stack. “We operate on Python Django for the backend and use front-end languages such as Vue.js and Next.js,” Minuifuong shares. “Our mobile applications are built on Flutter, with Swift used for iOS development. We host on Digital Ocean and Google Cloud, utilizing Google’s services for map APIs and image storage.”

The Global Reach of Bongalo

Minuifuong’s team is as diverse as his customer base, with members located in Nigeria, Rwanda, and London, while he operates from Seattle. “Our customers are spread across the US, Europe, and Africa,” he notes. This international presence is bolstered by Google’s support, as Bongalo is a beneficiary of the Google Black Founders Fund. “Google’s $100,000 investment, $120,000 in cloud credits and access to mentors helped us test hypotheses, enhance our product offering, and gain significant media coverage,” he says.

Policy Recommendations for the Digital Age

Minuifuong is a vocal advocate for thoughtful policy-making to foster technological innovation and digital transformation.

Technology Choice

Regarding the mandatory use of local cloud providers as a condition of doing business in that country, Minuifuong is critical. “Restricting businesses to local cloud providers can disrupt operations and slow down data retrieval processes,” he argues.

Digital Tax

He also opposes the idea of a digital tax, which proposes taxing data moving across borders. “Requiring people to pay for every interaction, such as uploading PDFs or using e-signature platforms, would hinder access to information and services. This would inevitably increase the cost of digital services, making them less accessible, especially for underrepresented and developing communities,” Minuifuong states.

He elaborates, “For physical goods, taxes make sense because they’re crossing borders. But for digital goods, it doesn’t add up. It’s just going to inflate prices and put additional strain on people who are already struggling economically. Such a move would create barriers rather than fostering digital inclusion and economic growth.”

Minuifuong emphasizes the broader implications, “Implementing a digital tax would disproportionately affect those who can least afford it, widening the digital divide. It’s crucial to keep digital services affordable and accessible to support development and innovation.”

Mandatory Disclosure of Source Code

Minuifuong is particularly concerned about policies requiring the disclosure of source codes and algorithms. “Exposing source codes goes against intellectual property laws and could lead to security breaches,” he warns, drawing from his own experience of a cyberattack that cost his company $12,000.

He emphasizes the broader implications: “Such incidents show how dangerous it is to expose sensitive information. Allowing access to source codes can lead to significant security breaches and financial losses. There are always individuals or groups with ulterior motives, and giving them access to critical information is a recipe for disaster. It’s crucial to protect intellectual property and maintain the confidentiality of source codes to safeguard against such risks.”

African Trade Blocs

The various trade blocs in Africa, such as the East African Community (EAC), the Economic Community of West African States, and the Central African Economic and Monetary Community, each have their own set of regulations to facilitate trade and the movement of people within their regions. “These blocs provide a framework for trade and travel,” Minuifuong explains. “For example, as a resident of Rwanda, I can travel to Kenya or Uganda without needing a visa, thanks to the EAC’s policies. This ease of movement is incredibly beneficial for our business, as it encourages regional travel and supports our platform.”

However, the regulatory environment is complex and fragmented. “While these trade blocs help, there is no overarching, universal law governing all African countries,” Minuifuong notes. “The African Union aims to foster greater integration, but its impact is limited without enforceable policies. Each country still operates quite independently, which can pose challenges for businesses like ours that operate across multiple borders.”

The Future of Bongalo

Looking ahead, Minuifuong is excited about Bongalo’s expansion into educational trips. “We are organizing group trips for educational institutions in the US to visit different destinations in Africa,” he shares. This initiative aims to promote cultural exchange and provide students with unique learning experiences.

Conclusion

Minuifuong’s journey with Bongalo highlights the transformative power of digital technologies. His story underscores the importance of supportive policies that enable technological innovation while ensuring data protection and cybersecurity. As Bongalo continues to grow, it serves as a beacon of how digital solutions can create global opportunities and foster economic growth across Africa.

Bongalo

Minuifuong Nghombombong