Home Away from Home | Airbnb Transforms Tech into Splendid Hospitality
Once you have earned those hard-won retirement stripes, among your greatest rewards is time to travel. No longer does that have to involve a fussy lot of planning, a huge investment or even a pet-sitter for your precious pup Ginger.
Welcome to the wonderful world of Airbnb, where there are more than 650 getaway destinations close to home in the Roanoke Valley and Smith Mountain Lake. The number of listings for short-term rentals in the Old Dominion has grown 172 percent between 2016 and 2018. So now, on a moment’s notice, you can zero in on a splendid property that offers everything on your wish list, for a weekend’s exhale or a romantic getaway with your honey. How about fulfilling that long-imagined private retreat to indulge your love for writing poetry? You’re on.
“I said no thanks to the idea of staying in a stranger’s house, until my girlfriend Megan convinced me to put aside my trepidations and live a little. My eyes were opened to a whole new world of lodging,” Roanoke resident Mac Foster tells HOME. “Our first Airbnb was in Charleston, SC, stopping over on the way to Savannah for a wedding. The experience was fantastic; we stayed in a quaint little auxiliary house adjacent to the owner’s home. As we were looking through the guest book to find food recommendations and reading fun stories from folks traveling from all over the world, I realized Airbnb is a great alternative to chain hotels, and we’ve used it multiple times since.”
The “sharing economy” can provide lodging around the world or via a quick flight or train ride north to a top 10 U.S. metro—Washington, Philadelphia, Boston or NYC. Pleasant and simple for retirees, a quick Airbnb jaunt can be found just down the road: the site makes it easy to search with numerous filters for a pool and hammock, gourmet kitchen, fishing, proximity to restaurants and shopping, and yes, pet-friendly accommodations. Imagine it, because you will find it; Airbnb.com offers every kind of accommodation from opulent to offbeat.
In Roanoke, listings include the likes of a charming Victorian cottage in the historic Old Southwest neighborhood for only $50 a night; Haven For Hikers, minutes from the Blue Ridge Parkway; and a newly built home minutes from downtown, seemingly designed for indulgence, with Tempur-Pedic mattresses, 1000+ thread count sheets, 65″ HDTV, generous dining table and a 700 square foot deck with grill. Or how about an 1890 Victorian home, “updated to 21st Century standards,” that includes a Farmhouse Breakfast with home-raised eggs, local roast percolated coffee and mimosas?
Airbnb has transformed the hospitality industry in the 10 years since it “persuaded strangers to sleep in one another’s homes and became a $25 billion company,” Business Insider offers. The platform now has five million listings in 191 countries; its total accommodations exceed the top five major hotel brands combined. The site offers two types of rentals, one in which you meet the owner at check-in, take charge of the keys and then occupy their property solo, known as a “home stay.” More adventurous Airbnb-ers typically reserve a bedroom and private bath within the home and are offered privileges to enjoy the public spaces, kitchen and outdoors—with the owner present in his or her home during your stay. This defines the “home share” model on which Airbnb was founded, and is often more rewarding for a sociably engaged “guest.”
I have been an Airbnb host since 2014. When a friend in New York City explained the concept of sharing guest bedrooms in my house with strangers, my reaction was admittedly, “Well, that’s weird.” That was then. I have garnered Virginia “Superhost” status for 18 consecutive quarters—and have entertained over a thousand guests, learning so much about different cultures across the nation and around the world, making new friends within all age groups and demographics. I show my guests around, indulge them in a bit of history about my 55-year-old, mid-century modern home, and encourage them to make my space theirs and to regard me as their “butler down the hall.” I’m here if they need me, but otherwise I encourage them to indulge indoors and out. It’s so much fun for me to share this experience with them.
FOR THE AIRBNB HOST
HOW TO DELIVER A CONSUMMATE GUEST EXPERIENCE
As an Airbnb host, opening your home to folks you’ve never met may feel just plain strange at the start. But for those with a sociable nature and a welcoming household, the sharing economy will quickly become good fun—and soon feel like business as usual.
The extra revenue doesn’t hurt a bit, either. I entertained guests for 218 days in 2018—which paid for a new stamped concrete patio off my back porch. Not only is that a value-add for guests, but the money I earned was reinvested in the community by hiring a local contractor. Likewise, when I entertain guests from out of town, I recommend local restaurants and vendors—contributing to our community’s bottom line.
Here are tips and tools to help you become the host that boasts the most…
• First, you’re in good company: The number of hosts 60+ has grown 1,100 percent over the past year, according to a December 2018 Airbnb report, while retirees comprise more than 50 percent of senior hosts on Airbnb. There are now more than 400,000 senior hosts on Airbnb worldwide, who earned $2 billion globally, hosted some 13.5 million guests, and welcomed travelers from 150+ countries. Well done.
• Starting point: Replace a traditional front door key-lock with an electronic keypad with four-digit code from Schlage or Kwikset. Deadbolts start at $65. This is a no-brainer as guests come and go, to eradicate the antiquity of keys and to refresh the code for each new visitor.
• Stay connected: As soon as guests book, reach out via Airbnb, welcome them and assure that you are present to answer questions—and will check in again before arrival, to secure an ETA. The website is big on host communication and it is a big factor in your reviews and ranking.
• Prepare a “guest Bible” so your new friends can become familiar with the highlights of your home and the area. Their first inquiry is going to be your Wifi password. Maintain a private password for yourself, and create an easy to remember PW for guests, perhaps your street name using all lower case letters. Offer a guide to grocery stores, drug stores, urgent care facilities and your favorite restaurants by cuisine. Provide takeout menus and brochures of local attractions.
• Ready to put on a little show? Your new guests should be escorted around your home room by room. If your property has history, explain its mid-century modern vibe or location in the former Craddock-Terry shoe factory now transformed into a cool condo. Explain kitchen rights, property boundaries, use of gas grill and washer/dryer, lights if they’re complicated and whether it’s appropriate to open windows or adjust thermostat. Then let them be. I always playfully offer, “As your butler, you can find me in my office. Now please make yourselves at home.” And exit.
• Among musts: fluffy white towels and washcloths; shampoo, conditioner and body wash; blow dryer; iron & board; tissues; and of course, extra toilet paper. I provide Dixie cups and I find it prudent to have on hand make-up wipes; toothpaste and toothbrushes; and disposable razors.
• A bit of housekeeping: Declare Airbnb net revenues in a Form 1099, come tax time. Local municipalities in Central Virginia are still trying to figure out how they might want to tax and tariff short-term shares, and at any time things could change. Alexandria, for one, welcomes the practice, understanding that it organically increases tourism and thus, the city’s coffers. Virginia Beach, on the other hand, requires Airbnb hosts to register on a public roster while charging substantial taxes that come to $15 for every $100 earned. So make sure to explore local ordinances and follow the rules.
• Continue to eye your listing on the Airbnb site, and polish as you become more accustomed to hosting, continually offering new amenities and learn from feedback what your guests are most enjoying at your property. One thing is for sure: You will have fun meeting folks from far and wide, whose pioneering spirit staying in or sharing a home away from home, is as adventurous as yours. Enjoy!
On a practical level for guests, it gets even better. Homes are available in the Roanoke Valley for as little as $17 a night, plus Airbnb fees—typically about 20 percent of the total bill. Once you reserve, there are no tacked-on municipality taxes, parking fees or other “surprises,” which can make a stay in commercial lodging more like a “boo” than a “whoo-hoo.” Thinking out of the box, moreover, creative hosts are posting the likes of a boat docked in a marina slip, kitschy parked campers and RVs, rustic cabins, even treehouses. In Lexington for $59 a night, how about a 200-acre farm with a view of the Blue Ridge mountains—staying in a teepee equipped with a Sleep Number bed and Keurig, close to hiking, swimming, a brewery and vineyard tours? No, this is not the Hampton Inn.
In a February 2019 Inc. Magazine story, It Might Be Time to Stop Assuming Hotels Are the Best Option for Business Travel, entrepreneur and best-selling author Kevin Daum wrote, “Airbnb has been the secret weapon to my business travel success. There’s an amazing variety of locations, types of lodging and hosts. I’ve found wonderful places and fascinating people I never would have met staying in hotels.” Among traveler advantages: It feels more like home, is less expensive and offers flexibility in changing dates. Daum adds, “The most fun and powerful reason to use Airbnb is the experience. While others are isolated in boring hotels, you’ll be living among the local people. Hosts share a great deal about the local way of life. Airbnb makes travel easier and more accessible, which means you can experience more of this world.”
Like many municipalities, Virginia’s various city councils are casting a watchful eye on short-term rental regulations. In Roanoke, owners are required to pay a 1.5% local tax, while in Lynchburg, property owners are allowed to rent without additional permitting as long as owners are present. If they are not on the premises, a conditional use permit is required. But for you and Ginger as guests, all is copacetic.
For those over 60, Airbnb is certainly no longer an under-the-radar travel target. The company reported last fall that the senior demo is the platform’s fastest growing age group—both hosts and guests—with bookings up 66 percent in just the last year. “Airbnb is helping to redefine retirement by providing new ways to earn extra income, overcome loneliness and isolation, and travel the world in a truly local and authentic way,” the Airbnb blog offers. “It’s no surprise we’re seeing such strong guest growth in this demographic. Seniors are healthier and more mobile than ever.” Add to that a shift away from cruises and resorts, toward “travel that provides greater access to, and belonging in local communities,” adds Airbnb.
Frequent user Foster adds, “If you’re just looking for a place to sleep for the night, head to a big-box hotel. But staying in an Airbnb is an experience. It’s just as easy to book as a chain hotel, and a lot of times, the rates are better. I’ve stayed in plenty of hotels, but I’ve never been elated driving away thinking, ‘wow, what a great decision that was.’ When Megan and I left the Airbnb in Charleston, we couldn’t stop talking about how spectacular a time we had, and how we were looking forward to our next Airbnb.” ✦