How we make money through Airbnb

While Airbnb offers tourists and holidaymakers an alternative to traditional hotels and holiday accommodation, it also offers something to the people who are opening their homes to these people. Moneybags journalists Jessica Anne Wood asks three Airbnb hosts to share their experiences.

Alison offers guests a one room apartment, attached to her house, just a stone’s throw from the Cape Town CBD. She first listed her property on Airbnb in November 2015.

Belinda rents out rooms in her house in De Waterkant, welcoming people into her space and life. In addition, she also has a beach house which she rents out through Airbnb.

Robyn and her husband had their property recommend by the Huffington Post. They rent out their family home, having listed the property in June 2015.

Why did you become an Airbnb host?

Alison: After my divorce I was no longer able to be a full time mom. Secondary to the income support, I wished to be involved in a happy industry which would bring guests from all over the world to stay and I could spoil during the void when my son was with his dad. Mostly I wanted my son to see me mobilise into an entrepreneur and for him to develop guest inter-personal skills.

Belinda: On returning to live in South Africa after 14 years working abroad in the non-profit sector, where I earned either Dollars or pounds, I had a choice, sell [my properties] and continuing working in the non-profit sector with its relatively low salaries, but massively rewarding work, or sell my soul to the devil and return to a corporate work environment to pay for the properties. But there was a third choice, making the properties work for me financially using a vehicle, namely Airbnb, that also gave me just the right amount of independence, creativity, control and client engagement.

Robyn: Whenever we’d entertain, or have people over, they’d often say how comfortable and relaxed they felt in the space, and how they’d love to move into our place for a holiday, or a house sit or a home swop. Then we were talking about going abroad for a couple of months and were brainstorming how to finance the trip over and above our regular expenses.

Obviously if we weren’t going to be using our home for a while, it would make sense to use it to subsidise our trip. But we weren’t keen on renting out our house to just anybody.

Then one day we were reading about Airbnb and realised how the mutual review system was a good way of assuring that whoever moved in would treat our place with care and respect (or else they compromise their own rating, and limit their options).

What do you love most about being a host?

Alison: I love adding my personal touch and information to enhance my guests’ Cape Town (and onward) experience.

My mission is to enhance my guests’ visit both within Cape Town and further with information, comfort and general assistance to the last detail.

Belinda: Airbnb is nothing like running a guesthouse, which was my initial reservation about sharing my space.  It’s about creating an experience that is personal, unique and meaningful, and sharing that with people who are very likely to appreciate and enjoy it as much as you do (I’ve discovered that guests choose the host almost as much as they choose the house!).  It gives me pleasure to see people having a really awesome holiday in my beloved hometown.  It’s a lifeline to my former global life, and I enjoy meeting visitors from all over the world.  It’s also a manifestation of Ubuntu in many respects.

Robyn: The extra, unplanned income is exciting, and liberating. But it’s more than that. With Airbnb there is a strong sense of community and cohesion between guests and hosts alike. It’s a lot more personal and open than a hotel experience. You get to know and meet one another on a different level.

We’ve found that the people that get attracted to Airbnb are looking for more than that cookie-cutter, ticking-off-the-checklist experience. We’ve had some fantastic experiences, exchanges and moments with our guests.

We love our city, and love helping people enjoy it to the fullest. We enjoy sharing our local secrets in terms of things to do, see, eat and drink, etc.

From the exchanges we’ve had so far, I can think of a number of our guests who could easily have become personal friends if they were living closer.

When did you decide to expand your listing?

Alison: Within my first quarter on Airbnb I identified the property directly in front of my home into which I wished to expand my little brand as Airbnb ‘Boutique’ I cautioned myself to wait a full year in order to understand the annual income flow. I made my approach and the landlord would not sell so I bought an apartment opposite the Company Gardens after almost one year, to the day.

Belinda: There is no way I could continue to live in exclusive De Waterkant on [my] local salary. I tried the housemate option first, which didn’t work, and then thought I’d give Airbnb a bash. I wasn’t sure how I would feel about having people staying in the same house as me, but actually it’s been totally amazing.

It’s my home, and I adopt an approach that I continue doing my normal routines and life. I don’t act like a hotel manager. Guests who book a room in someone’s house through Airbnb don’t want that – otherwise they would book a hotel.

I feel like I have the best of each world: control over my living environment, and the opportunity to meet amazing people and share my world and city with them for a few days.

How much do you normally list your accommodation for?

Alison: Depending on seasons, over the past year I have charged R800 – R1 150 for the unit per night. It works out to be roughly R20 000 [per month] on average over the course of the year.

Belinda: [I rent out my properties for] between R850 and R1 600, depending on the season and how long the guest is staying. I also live in the house, so it’s shared accommodation. The guests have a floor to themselves though, so it is really a ‘flatlet’ with a common entrance.

[I make about] R30 000 per month for the two properties.

Do you have any safety concerns?

Alison: I have never declined a guest. They choose me. I trust in Airbnb’s verification process and the universe. What you put out is what you attract, if not you simply disarm the opportunists with firm love and kindness.

Should I feel vaguely threatened, I will not hesitate to press my panic button for armed response.

Belinda: I have a well-developed sense of intuition, and am increasingly learning to trust it. It’s rarely wrong. I also check references. If they don’t have reviews, I’ll ask them some questions to get a better feeling of who they are.

I do sometimes have concerns if I’m not in the house, especially for local guests who are more likely to throw parties. But this would be in breach of my house rules which specifically state ‘no parties’.

For more information on Airbnb’s safety standards, click here.

Do you have any tips for hosts or aspiring hosts?

Alison: Familiarise yourself very carefully with the terms of the policies. Also understand clearly how to manage your listing on the website and join the hosts Facebook page for daily insight.

Pay attention to your guests’ needs in advance. Your welcome must be friendly and enthusiastic. Be generous to ensure the guests experience is memorable while banking as much credit as you can in case you make a mistake. That way guests are far more forgiving.

Belinda: Life is too short not to step out of one’s comfort zone. Research well, prepare well and you’ll reap the rewards, and those aren’t just the financial ones.