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VOL. 130 | NO. 187 | Friday, September 25, 2015

Airbnb Provides Options to Memphis Homeowners, Guests

LANCE WIEDOWER | Special to The Daily News

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It all began for Marilyn White over phone conversations with a close friend back home in Buffalo, N.Y.

Marilyn White has turned a spare room in her Germantown home into an Airbnb listing, which she says has ‘been the coolest thing in the world.’ 

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

Two of White’s three children were out of the house and she had more space in her Germantown home than she needed. The conversation kept returning to the success her girlfriend had renting out space on Airbnb.

White had two options: She could be sentimental and leave her children’s bonus room as-is – and unused – or she could convert it into her own version of an inn, a home away from home for travelers that would generate extra money to help pay for her children’s college tuition.

It quickly became a no-brainer.

“It was a big endeavor, an emotional thing initially because it was the kids’ room,” White said about the decision to convert a large upstairs space in her family’s home to list as an accommodation on Airbnb.com. “When I’d tell people I was doing it they said, ‘Are you kidding? You’re going to let a stranger in your house?’ But it’s been the coolest thing in the world. Everyone who comes in is very interesting. They’re quiet and respectful. I love it. I’m a very social person.”

Airbnb started in 2008 as an option to traditional accommodations for travelers. Today, it lists accommodations in more than 34,000 cities and 190 countries.

The service works for travelers of all types looking for lodging for a night, a week or much longer. And it’s a marketplace for people looking to make extra money by renting out an extra bedroom, an apartment while out of town or even a second home.

Apartment and vacation rentals make plenty of sense in communities where tourists are likely to visit; think Downtown and Midtown. And there are listings in the core of Memphis.

But move the map search on Airbnb’s website east of the Interstate 240 loop and numerous listings appear in Germantown and Cordova.

White said her location in a quiet, residential neighborhood is a plus for some guests. Her listing is set up like a suite with a private living room and bedroom set apart from the homeowner’s space.

White has had a variety of guests, from people in town for job training to a man from the Netherlands passing from Nashville to Memphis on his bicycle. Families in town for weddings and graduations also find a suburban property attractive.

“My biggest concern with Airbnb is that it’s unregulated in Memphis.”

–Kevin Kane
Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau

Airbnb requires guests and hosts to verify their IDs by connecting to social networks and scanning ID or confirming personal details. Detailed posts and reviews about hosts and guests are part of the platform, and a messaging system allows prospective guests to talk to hosts in a secure manner.

Not all communities are excited about Airbnb. New York, for example, has been cracking down on what it calls illegal listings that violate the city’s short-term rental laws.

Kevin Kane, president and CEO of the Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau, said it’s important to understand the many elements that make up the tourism industry and how it’s financially sustained, in part through local hotel-motel bed taxes.

“My biggest concern with Airbnb is that it’s unregulated in Memphis,” he said. “Until stronger regulations are developed with Airbnb, it isn’t something we can presently endorse, but I’m optimistic that a partnership is possible in the future.

“There’s no doubt the sharing economy continues to grow, and an innovative company like Airbnb certainly provides a unique experience for visitors to Memphis.”

Airbnb has been successful in Nashville where the city is top five in the U.S. for rentals. The city put a law into effect last November that requires homeowners to register and obtain a license. The city also imposes a hotel-motel tax, which must be collected under the terms of the short-term rental properties ordinance.

For now, Airbnb provides another accommodation option for business and leisure travelers to Memphis. And the business isn’t likely going away. Airbnb has more than 800,000 listings worldwide; by comparison, Hilton Worldwide’s 12 brands comprise more than 730,000 rooms.

And for homeowners like White, the opportunity to host others in her home likely will continue.

“Airbnb people are just different,” she said. “I try to make it as elegant as possible so people will want to come back. We are similar to a B&B.”

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