By Nicole Caldwell for NNY Business
For those who don’t know, Airbnb is an online marketplace and hospitality service that allows individuals and companies to rent out rooms, homes, cabins, apartments (as well as houseboats, teepees, castles, islands and campsites) on a short-term basis. Much like any social media site or app, Airbnb users make a profile as a host or traveler. Hosts can then create listings for available spaces and set a calendar to account for unavailable days, adjusted rates, and discounts. Travelers can search a region by date to see what kinds of accommodations are available to rent.
I’ve personally been using Airbnb for four years at my farm in Redwood; both for supplemental income and as a way to immerse people in homesteading, the arts, sustainability, and the farm-to-table movement. With multiple on-site cabins and a dozen sleep spaces throughout the main house, renting through Airbnb has kept this place bustling on weekends when we aren’t hosting retreats or workshops, keeps a steady flow of interesting people from all over the world into Redwood, and gives me—a diehard traveler and adventurer—a sense of traveling to new places without leaving home.
It also changes the local economy. In a hamlet as small as Redwood, the additional guests (several hundred each year through Airbnb alone) are a boon to Redwood pubs and convenience stores, and add to the tourism industry of the Thousand Islands. Multiply my rentals at Better Farm to the dozens of hosts in the area, and you start to see how this service has added value to the entire region.
In talking to fellow Airbnb hosts throughout this area, I found the reasons for hosting are as varied as the guests.
Temporary rentals can allow families to preserve property passed down through generations.
Anthony J. Coulson of Tucson, Ariz., put his Greig, N.Y., cabin on Airbnb as a way for his family’s second property to pay for itself.
“My aunt owned the property in the 1970s,” Coulson said. “My parents bought it from my aunt in the 1980s. They envisioned building a cabin on the property. They put a small trailer on it, ran power and jury-rigged an outdoor shower, lugging jugs from Fish Creek. My brother, nieces and nephews have tons of memories camping up there.” Coulson bought the property from his brother in 2013 and built “Bella’s Fish Creek Cabin,” which he said his father got to spend time in before his death in 2014.
Coulson retired from the federal Drug Enforcement Agency in 2010 after 28 years of service, and is now president and owner of NTH Consulting, Inc., a Tucson-based, integrated-management solutions company advising nonprofits. His wife, Jackie, works as a special procedures nurse. Two of the couple’s children live in Tucson, while the oldest son lives in Syracuse with his wife, who works as assistant district attorney for Onondaga County.
“I would get up there [to the cabin], but my wife worked in the Tucson area, so it was difficult to for us to be there as often and as long as we liked,” Coulson said. “Our caretakers took out trees and fashioned the driveway. But, without people in it, the mice started to take over. We put it on Airbnb because we realized that our place needed people in it. What we make from Airbnb guests pays for the mortgage and our caretakers. It is a financial wash for us, which allows us to keep the property so that family and friends can use it whenever.”
Coulson appreciates the user-friendliness of Airbnb’s app and website. “It is so easy to manage guests. Administratively, Airbnb payments are seamless and auditable for tax purposes. People don’t want bad reviews, so they almost always leave the place better than when they arrived. Their reviews are so rewarding in that we provide the gift of relaxation and peace, and great family experiences.”
Key for out-of-towners like the Coulsons is having reliable caretakers, and communicating efficiently with guests. “They are like part of the family,” he said. “I pay them monthly an amount that is not dependent on whether there are guests or no guests. I think the key to having routine maintenance, cleaning, laundry, etc., is building a budget that pays premium dollars to your caretakers. They know everyone in the area. So, if you need well repair, an electrician, appliance repair, they personally know those people, so the job gets done quickly at a fair rate. The other thing about hosting is that you have to quickly respond to requests and messages. As a host you have to understand that potential guests are trying to make decisions and arrangements, sometimes having to coordinate with friends and family. Lastly… I have key boxes and garage door openers that have a code. I provide the code, tell them how to disable the security cameras, tell them how the fireplace works, and then tell them to have fun.”
To Coulson, this place is much more than a personal paradise; he also sees it as a premier location for people who don’t have familial connections or history in the area. “People like the woods, creeks, ATV trails, and snowmobiling in the winter,” he said. “Fall colors, county fairs, special events, weddings (yes we had a wedding there), hiking, fishing, Old Forge, and the park. We are booked all year round.”
But Coulson said renters shouldn’t visit the area with too much ambition for sightseeing. “I tell folks that whatever plans they have are probably not going to happen. Most end up sitting on the deck watching the pines sway, listening to Fish Creek babble, and getting visits from the deer and turkeys.”
Airbnb makes property management a breeze.
Bonnie McClellan’s “Chase Lake Lodge” is a rustic cabin in Glenfield with an open floor plan and classic Adirondack-style furniture and railings throughout, along with knotty pine walls, wagon wheel chandeliers, and woodstove. She has been renting the property, which is in close proximity to snowmobile and ATV trails, full-time through several rental services, including having it listed on Airbnb for the last two years.
“I heard about it [Airbnb] and other sites from my web designer,” she said. “It was easy to set up and work with. I like working with them because their customer service is great and the process is super easy.” McClellan said she’s never had a negative experience with renters, payments or cancellations. “Their fees are very reasonable, lower than other sites I use. Using the phone to manage my property is great. And syncing my calendars is very helpful.”
Airbnb makes the hospitality industry a source for connection.
Penny Kring is the owner of Heath Photography in Redwood, as well as multiple rental properties throughout the tri-county region. For years she has also been studying the law of attraction, a belief that we usher experiences into our lives based on our positive or negative thoughts and energies. “I love to help people find their joy. That is my passion,” she said.
In her photography studio, she’s working on a program called “The Legacy of Love,” which compiles video, old and new images, and interviews to pass along to loved ones. “This program will personally fulfill me and my desire to connect with people, and for clients to pass down,” she said. She has also found another way to connect: through Airbnb.
For now, the money she makes from Airbnb is simply supplemental — “vacation money,” as Kring says. “I like it because I can just mark off the weekends when I don’t want to do it. I’m just kind of experimenting with it for now. To be honest I thought, ‘Let’s check this out, someday I may want to retire.’ I also love to use Airbnb myself when I travel; I’ve never been unhappy with the service and having that connection with people.”
Kring and her husband, Gene, have two bedrooms with separate entrance, bar, bathroom and living space at their home in Alexandria that they started renting out through Airbnb last year. Gene additionally has a “glamping” (high-end camping) cabin on Kring’s Point that sleeps six and is now in its third season of being listed on Airbnb.
“We live in quite a special area,” Kring said. “We have so much wildlife, so many plants. It is so quiet. My favorite part is the spring and the peepers and how loud it is out there. The wildlife, the trails, the waterways, the river… if you want nature, this is the place. There’s a calmness here, an ease, a balance. This is really the area to come and connect with your soul to the universe.”
More than the additional income, Kring treasures the relationships she’s forged with guests. “I really enjoy the people that I meet,” she said. “It’s a whole different experience. I’ve made friends who I’ve stayed connected with, I met a mentor who I’m still connected with and who’s guiding me through things. It’s a different connection. If you like people and you’re open, magic kind of happens.”