Can Airbnb clone Agaztak boost tourism in Egypt?

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Not every entrepreneur is comfortable admitting that his startup is a local clone of an internationally successful business idea. But Hisham Refaat, co-founder of Egypt's latest vacation rentals website Agaztak, is different: “We clone Airbnb,” he says, “and we will be Egypt's premiere vacation rentals website.”

Agaztak (‘your vacation’ in Arabic) enables property owners in Egypt's vacation destinations on its north coast to offer their properties for rent. Travelers can search the website for a place to stay during their vacations, choosing from apartments that are listed with photographs, information about location, number of rooms, amenities, and rates – the same model as the mega-successful Airbnb.

Agaztak officially launched on July 2nd, operating out of a small office in New Cairo. Refaat, who studied Mechanical Engineering at the American University in Cairo and then completed his MBA at Oxford University, is one of three Egyptian founders of Agaztak.

The founders were inspired by the Egyptian North Coast’s potential as an international tourist destination. Refaat explains, “There are 300,000 potential tourism rooms on the North Coast of Egypt that are very underutilized, and could be utilized for [the] eight months of the year [that the region is sunny and warm]. That is a lost opportunity of about $3 billion USD and 3 million jobs annually.”

Since its launch, Agaztak has served 400 rental nights, and lists 2,000 properties on its website, and claims to have some very satisfied clients. Refaat assures me that they are profitable, although he would not disclose more information. “We make money through commissions from rental charges,” is all he would say.

Many new Egyptian and regional startups have approached the local travel and tourism market. GoEjaza, for example, offers hotel booking and travel planning services. But Refaat believes his new venture faces little competition: “We also provide very useful added services, like full transparency through our website, professional housekeeping, house insurance, call center, check-in/checkout service, etc.” he adds.

Next up for Refaat is increasing customer awareness of Agaztak and expanding regionally, beyond just local Egyptian customers. Many factors will determine whether Agaztak can replicate the success of Airbnb on a regional level – Egypt’s political situation not the least of them – but Refaat and his fellow co-founders' optimism may well take them far.

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