Airbnb Takes Off In Small Towns

By: 
Judy Kramer
County Reporter
Cheryl Groves, of Warsaw, has a talent for hospitality, and has put it to use by offering visitors to the area a comfortable place to stay while in town. She and husband, Don Groves, have a spacious lodge at their home that has a separate entrance and is perfect for paying guests. Cheryl  had wanted to run a bed and breakfast, but her daughter told her about the popularity of Airbnbs, and helped her start this type of temporary lodging business in the summer of 2016.
“I had to interview with Airbnb officials and find out the guidelines” said Cheryl. “Approval took about a week and a business account was set up at my bank for all Airbnb transactions. I had to tell what kind of space I had and submit pictures for the website. There are 12 pictures of our lodge online, including the bedroom, bath, and back yard. Visitors have access to the lanai, barbecue grill and fire pit, and there is a dog pen if they have pets. I serve breakfast outside in spring and summer, and in the house during cold weather.”
Cheryl has hosted 35 guests since she opened her home as an Airbnb. Guest ratings have been so positive that she is considered a five-star hostess by her company. She prepares an elaborate cupcake for guests on their birthdays, and all are welcomed with a basket of fruit and fresh-baked chocolate cookies when they arrive. There is wine and cheese available, and she cooks a variety of foods for breakfast. Cheryl went to local businesses to gather maps of the area, as well as restaurant menus and brochures of local tourist sites for her guests.
The idea for Airbnbs began in 2007 when roommates Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia could not afford the rent for their loft apartment in San Francisco. They came up with the idea of putting an air mattress in their living room and turning it into a bed and breakfast.  In 2008 Nathan Blecharczyk joined the roommates as the Chief Technology Officer and the third co-founder of the new venture called AirBed & Breakfast. They put together a website. Then, they were approached by other companies which provided them with training, and money for a small interest in the company. By March 2009, the company name was changed to Airbnb.com and the site expanded to 10,000 users and 2,500 listings. Listings varied from entire homes and apartments, private rooms, castles, boats, manors, tree houses, teepees, igloos, private islands and other properties.
 Airbnb.com is now operating internationally, but is also seeing a spike in business in U.S. rural areas. A USA Today article from June 2017 reported that 3.3 million guest arrivals occurred at rural listings in the U. S. over the last year, an increase of 138 percent over the year before. According to Airbnb’s research, there are more Airbnb hosts than corporate hotel chains in many rural communities in the U.S.  The states with the fastest year-over-year growth are Oklahoma, Illinois, Arkansas, Missouri and Alabama. This research also reveals that many of the most popular rural destinations are near national and state parks or places that play host to youth sports tournaments. The Airbnb platform is that this form of temporary rentals is supporting the middle class, and brings tourism to places that haven’t benefited from it before.
Airbnb.com provides security to hosts and guests by verifying personal profiles and listings. Every Airbnb reservation is scored for risk before it’s confirmed;  running hosts and guests against regulatory, terrorist, and sanctions watch lists, as well as background checks for those in the U.S.  Hosts can also request free carbon monoxide and smoke detectors for their homes. There is a messaging system allowing guests or hosts to get to know each other and ask questions before committing to a stay.
“My mother came from Hawaii to visit my family last summer, and stayed at Cheryl Groves’ Airbnb,” said Jodi Orton, of Warsaw. “She was only a short distance from our farm and was able to visit us often.  Cheryl spoiled my mother. The lodge was like living in a log cabin, and Cheryl opened up her home to her. It was a quiet place which is what my mother is used to in Hawaii. She was wonderful with my kids coming around to visit. I would absolutely recommend Cheryl’s Airbnb.  She and Don are business people who take pride in their community.”
Other guests at Cheryl’s Airbnb included a young lady who had an exhibit at the State Fair and stayed 11 nights, and a couple with a baby who stayed a couple of days just before Christmas.
Cheryl Groves said her lodgers are not required to pay local or state taxes, making their stays cheaper than in traditional hotels, which makes Airbnbs more attractive.  Some members of the hotel industry have been trying to lobby for commonsense regulations that level the playing field between the two types of lodging industries. An April 2017 New York Times article stated the American Hotel and Lodging Association planned to lobby politicians and state attorneys general to “reduce the number of Airbnb hosts, funding studies to show Airbnb is filled with people who are quietly running hotels out of residential buildings and highlighting how Airbnb hosts do not collect hotel taxes and are not subject to the same safety and security regulations that hotel operators must follow.”
The Association claimed legal and regulatory victories during 2016 in Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles, as well as in states like Virginia, Tennessee and Utah.
More information about Airbnbs is available at the company’s website airbnb.com.
 

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