Clementine the Vintage Trailer proved the perfect lodging for Jenni Kuker when she came from Colorado to interview for a job in Globe. Never mind that she didn’t own the trailer and hadn’t towed it from her home, nor that it belonged to a total stranger. It provided just the respite she needed.
Welcome to Airbnb, an online business that connects strangers needing rooms with people who have a little extra space.
When asked why she chose Airbnb, Kuker explained, “I didn’t want to stay in a hotel, I wanted to meet people and find out more about the area. I wanted to interact and have a relational experience.”
This was her second time using the online booking resource to find accommodations. “My first Airbnb was four years ago. I was needing a long-term hotel for three weeks in Seattle for a nursing certification course,” Kuker said. “Someone mentioned Airbnb and I found ‘Miss Peaches,’ a tiny tugboat on Lake Washington. There was barely room to lie down. I loved it!”
Kuker looks for distinctive, one-of-a-kind experiences. “I love unique places,” she said. Because of this, she read the descriptions of all the Globe listings and then scoured the reviews by prior guests. The final deciding factor for her? “Clementine’s story, one of trailer redemption, is incredible!”
Clementine is a 1964 Aristocrat Land Commander – a huge name for a tiny 13-foot trailer. Abandoned on a mesa overlooking the Salt River for 31 years, Clementine was used by a local rancher to store discarded metal bed frames, barbed wire, and broken luggage. Brought out of retirement in 2015, Clementine has had her interior lovingly restored with period-appropriate upholstery, vintage dish ware, and Arizona travel souvenirs. Her now rugged exterior, devoid of paint and pockmarked by hail, serves as a reminder of her long years on the mesa. She goes out camping six to eight times a year and serves as an Airbnb rental when not on the road.
Clementine is one of eight Airbnb choices in Globe. Some are rooms in people’s homes or guest houses, while others are lodgings in bed and breakfast establishments, and some are unique, like the vintage trailer. Airbnb highlights one-of-a-kind lodgings throughout the world (“Sleep in a remodeled cave!” “Rent a reconditioned train car!” “Stay in a tree house!”), and guests booking these stays are usually seeking special experiences rather than a traditional hotel room.
Airbnb is a relatively new idea that started in San Francisco in 2007 when two roommates, Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia, put an air mattress on their living room floor to raise money to help cover their apartment’s exorbitant rent. A classic example of the American dream realized, the business has grown from having its first customer in the summer of 2008 to now hosting more than 2 million people every night at locations around the world. The two guys who couldn’t afford to pay their rent are now billionaires because of their air mattress idea.
Airbnb is possible because of the transformative changes that the Internet has brought to the business world. Without owning a single hotel room, Airbnb has become the largest hotel chain in the world by serving as an online marketplace, or “aggregation platform,” for lodging options owned by other people. It makes money through commissions charged with every booking (10-13% charged to the guest and 3% to the host). Airbnb maintains a listing website, handles all financial transactions, screens both guests and hosts for quality, offers up to $1 million in insurance, provides 24/7 guest service support, and offers suggested room rates and promotional ideas for listings.
Nationally, more than half of Airbnb bookings are made by people under the age of 35, and most customers are traveling for leisure, not business. Globe guests may not fit these statistics, as our state has more retired winter residents, and many guests are in Gila County as contract workers for the mines or local medical facilities. Other guests are coming to see family or travelers passing through town. Because Globe is on the southern route for people wanting to bike or run across America, it serves as a perfect resting spot after a difficult day of travel, whether the person is coming from the west or the east.
If you weren’t aware of Airbnb before this article, you’re not alone. “In January 2018, I had never even heard of Airbnb,” said Deedee Marin, a Globe resident since 2004. Her son-in-law suggested they use Airbnb to rent a place to stay when traveling to southern Utah to watch a grandson play college basketball. “Our first experience was probably the nicest place I’ve ever stayed,” Marin said. “It was a beautifully decorated 2,200-square-foot basement in an amazing mansion.”
Following that stay, Marin’s daughter suggested she become a host, as she had a small casita in the yard that was rarely used. “I hadn’t even entered it for several years,” Marin said. Hosting was an idea that hadn’t entered her plans, either.
After investigating the idea, Deedee and her husband, Larry, saw that Airbnb earnings could potentially supplement their retirement income “sometime in the future,” so they decided to become hosts. They invested substantial money into locks, lighting, security, and room amenities before welcoming their first guest. While their first year was slow, this year they’re seeing twice the occupancy. “We’ve had people come for one to 32 nights. Some people come again and again and again, particularly contractors for the mines, doctors, and dentists.” Marin said guests come from across the United States, Canada, and Europe. “We haven’t had a single bad guest. I have really enjoyed meeting all these fun and interesting people.”
But not every host’s experience is so sunny. One local proprietor stopped hosting several Airbnb rentals in Miami because guests could not see how well maintained and sweetly decorated her units were and instead focused their online reviews on the dilapidated condition of the neighborhood surrounding the rentals. Another host said she has had hundreds of great guests – and one horrible guest, who refused to leave after a difficult 30-day stay. While the host considered calling the police to help remove the man, Airbnb immediately assigned a case worker, who got the man off her property in two hours.
Besides some of these local challenges, concerns have been raised globally about how Airbnb might deleteriously impact the hotel industry. However, none of these fears have been realized. Given the slowdown in building during and since the 2008 recession, there are actually not enough hotel rooms in the country, and Airbnb is creatively filling the gap. Even with the meteoric growth of Airbnb, major hotel retailers still reported that their own traffic increased more than 40% this past year.
Another concern currently on legislators’ radar is how Airbnb may be hurting the housing market, particularly in major metropolitan cities like New York and Barcelona, where housing is at a premium. Commercial owners (those for whom a property is a second home or apartment building) have been removing much-needed rental units from the housing market in order to offer them as Airbnb units instead. Besides reducing the inventory of properties, some people argue this makes the rent on available units go up. Airbnb disputes this claim and counters that the vast majority of hosts are renting parts of their primary residence. This is definitely the case in Globe.
On a positive note, besides offering unique and more relational experiences, Airbnb also helps infuse additional revenue into the community. Local First Arizona promotes “buy local” campaigns and reports that money spent at hometown businesses generates up to four times more wealth for the local economy compared to money spent at national chains. This was part of the reason Jenni Kuker chose to stay with a local resident through Airbnb versus a chain hotel. “Airbnb is really reasonable and a great thing to give to a community,” she said. “Residents make money, and I’m supporting the local economy.”
Jenni was committed to the town’s well-being as a visitor coming for a job interview. Now she is even more invested in the community after moving to Globe this past week – a decision made at least in part based on the relational connections she made during her first visit.
Clementine is hosted by Thea Wilshire, the author of this piece. Inspired by her Airbnb experiences, Wilshire wrote a fictional whodunit entitled “Unwitting Accomplice” that plays off people’s fears of having a stranger in their home.
Thea Wilshire works as an author, psychologist, speaker, healthcare consultant, and AirBnB host. Her passions include community development, the creation of public spaces, trying new adventures, and sharing her therapy dog with schools and medical facilities. Find her blog at https://www.acornconsulting.org/blog.