Mead Leads: Airbnb Island Style

This week for the paper I dabbled in some investigative reporting. The idea to look deeper into Airbnb came from 1) their new TV ad campaign that makes me want to be a loner in Europe and 2) the impossible search for a hotel room for a weekend in July on Block Island. I found a handful of AIrbnb renters who were willing to chat and answer my probing questions. I’m pretty good at what I do because by the end I had offers to “stop by for a swim anytime”. Take a read, skim if you must, but check out that Ross house, I want to stay there. Fun fact I learned in all my research, it is called Airbnb because of the spin of “air mattress bed and breakfast”. See the things you never knew.

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There has been growing popularity all around for the peer-to-peer house-lending site Airbnb. The site works by allowing anyone to list their homes, a single room or other unique space to the world. Those looking to book a place to stay can search by destination and see the various options in the local. The site has the ability to turn anyone into an innkeeper within a few online steps.

Airbnb, founded in 2008, offers travelers the chance to explore to new places, and also to feel “like a local”, by staying in private homes. With more than a million listings worldwide, it is hard to find a place where a room is not available. By not having to stay in a busy hotel, the stay can be as seamless as arriving at home. Payments are processed through the site directly and securely meaning there is never a transfer of payment during the actual stay between the two parties. The site seeks to ensure a comfortable experience for all involved by providing various safety and insurance coverage. The site charges guests 6-12% of their reservation for their service and insurance and 3% for the hosts.

Because Airbnbs permits anyone to list a space and anyone to rent, there is a reliance and importance on reviews. Both homeowners and renters can review each other and assist future transactions and increase the verification and trust between both parties. The incentive to provide a pleasurable stay is evoked with guests’ comments and reviews that become attached to the online listing. At the same time hosts can comments on the behavior of their visitors which future renters can see in the traveler’s profile.

A part of the attractiveness of the service is homeowners can make money opening their space to others and travelers can save with many listings costing less than a comparable hotel room, If saving money is not the worry of the traveler, but instead a more unique experience Airbnb also provides that. The personal host-to-guest connection erases some of the fine lines of impersonal hospitality that exist in hotels. Around the world one of a kind spaces are listed from castles to tree houses. Those looking for something different in their adventures have begun to turn to Airbnb.

With its uptick in use, Block Island has joined the ranks and is home to 9 different listings currently. Some are single-family homes, while others are simply private rooms within homes. With prices reflecting the amount of space and privacy provided. In the every impossible search for hotel availability on the island, the hosts have been successful in booking their spaces for most (if not all) of the summer.

Even homes that are not on the island have seen Airbnb become a viable rental option. In corresponding with one host who rents a single family home in nearby Narragansett, the opinion of the online service was in extreme high regard. Susan, whose home is completely booked for the remainder of the summer (but is booking for 2016), loves Airbnb for a number of reasons. She enjoys the fact the site handles the billing transactions, contracts and cleaning fees and after she was able to set up the account, it is as has become simple as accepting or declining an inquired reservation. And before she does that, she can easily see a little bit of more information about the guests via their online profiles. Susan’s home, which is a stones throw from the water, is listed as $180 a night and current has a rating of 4.5/5 stars. This rating is controlled completely by those who have stay on the property.

The personal approach of the site also benefits hosts as well. Susan receives direct feedback from guests. Her home has been referred to as a “slice of heaven”. She uses the positive feedback from those who have stayed at her home in promoting the listing in the future.

In response to the question of why her home is unique, Susan answers, “Our house is unique because it is right on a sandy beach. Guests can swim, bike, fish, sail, paddle board, surf, volleyball, etc. right outside the front door. Guests can walk to homemade ice cream, lobster sandwiches, fired clams and doughboys.”

The charm and character of being able to stay in a comfortable home environment rather than a sterile hotel is what Susan finds appealing about staying in Airbnbs. She stays in them herself when she travels and finds her guests feel the same.

On Block Island, Ginger, another host who us of the service, began using the site in 2008 when she was unable to fill her home throughout the summer during the financial crisis. Since then she has only rented with Airbnb twice and is able to fill the property with the use of traditional island rental service Ballard Hall.

Her home (top photo) located close to Settler’s Rock is booked this summer with only one week of availability, July 12-18 at a rate of $5800 a week. Ginger says that the two times she had guests stay from Airbnb the payment was not as smooth as she would have liked between the guest, Airbnb, Ballard Hall (who assisted the process) and herself. One other issues Ginger deals with is many of those who inquire about her home through Airbnb are looking to negotiate. They see a nightly rate posted on the site (which she is required to post), but then come to find out Ginger only rents her home by the week. To add to that shifting rates based on season, leads to many inquiring based on an inaccurate understandings of the price. This confusion does not yield many renters from within the service. Instead, Ginger is able to fill her home using Ballard Hall’s rentals.

Though she says the she does not rent to many with the site, she does not feel like it does any harm to be on it. It does not cost her anything and can lead to potential renters. Additionally, the site expands the scope of market of her home, with her latest guests coming from Maine.

Ginger agrees that she likes the site nonetheless. She stays in Airbnbs when she travels and advises others to just do their research before they book. The professional site opens the door to personal interactions says Ginger. She feels that the listings are a good value and have additional perks, like full kitchens and friendly hosts often times.

Ginger says she would happily rent more using the service, but has just not found as many guests through it. Overall she feels very positively about her experiences, and with her home also being for sale hopes that a future guest may feel at home enough to make it their own.

On of the most unique listing on the island is the Ross House on the secluded southeastern corner of the island. The house is priced at $1000 a night and offers visitors a modern minimalistic space. The use of glass doors and windows throughout the building connects those inside with the beautiful surroundings.

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What differs with this listing is that it does not require guests to stay numerous nights. Visitors can come and have the experience of the home for one night during a trip to Block Island.

Based on the research and knowledge of the island, this type of listing is where the future lies for Airbnb on the island. Many people can not book a home for an entire week, but many still want the privacy and comfort of a home during their visit. Airbnb listings can provide this. Another further use of the site possibly will be more homeowners renting out a bedroom within their home for nightly stays. With the increasing popularity of the island and limited hotel space visitors would likely seek out Airbnb listings of this sort, and homeowners could profit as well.

To see all the homes mentioned, along with others visit airbnb.com and search “Block Island”.

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