IN HOTEL BARS in many parts of Africa, foreign businessmen like to regale each other with tales about the difficulty of arranging even simple things like accommodation or a safe ride from the airport. The head of a big American investment bank recalls how he bagged the last available room in a swanky Lagos hotel, only for the door to fall off as he entered. When he complained, the receptionist said, “No problem” and sent up two burly guards to stand in the doorway all night. Your correspondent’s contribution to this fund of stories is about the disturbed night he spent in a brothel after unwittingly booking into a hotel with a reassuringly international franchise in its name.
Nowadays such mishaps are becoming rarer, thanks largely to the sharing economy. A business traveler can hail a car from the airport using a smartphone app and travel directly to an apartment in Lagos or Accra rented through Airbnb, at a fraction of the cost of the offerings of the formal travel industry and with much less hassle. That lets him sidestep two of the main impediments to trade and investment in many parts of Africa. But new apps and startups will have an even greater impact in areas where they solve specifically African problems.
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