Not all of the commentary has been flattering. Home wrecking incidents and competition for affordable housing are highlighted, and some local governments are imposing heavy (and in my opinion unfair) restrictions on hosting.
Personally, I think that – – done "right" – – Airbnb is a great way to build community and make the world a kinder, smaller, safer and more respectful place.
Here are some of my top reasons for hosting on Airbnb…
Meet Interesting People
Over the past several years, we've had the privilege of hosting a variety of noteworthy visitors, including an engineer working on the island runway extension at the airport I fly out of in Toronto, two retired biologists (ornithologists), a group of Polish astronomy students, and a PhD student working on the Hadron collider. We've also had our share of artists and musicians hoping to be inspired by new surroundings on PEI and and in Toronto, as well as travellers coming to North America for their first time and stopping in for a night or two at one of our places to rest up and get their bearings before setting out on a cross-Canada camping tour.
Whoever comes to visit, we almost always end up having some deep conversations over breakfast or before turning in at night, about the state of various world affairs.
Sharing ideas about ways to support and promote things like sustainability, feminism (and equity in general), responsible parenting and/or dog ownership and a wide range of other important topics invariably flow from these sorts of conversations.
Share Favourite Local Hangouts
Another reason I enjoy hosting on Airbnb is that I get to share some of my favourite places in Canada with others who have not yet discovered them.
Whether it's where to have dinner, or the best place to catch a beautiful sunrise or sunset, as a lifelong Torontonian and an avid wanna-be PEIslander, I am fairly knowledgable about both locales, which works out well for visitors trying to get a sense of what they should do with their limited local time.
I'm always eager to share my favorite, less-touristy hotspots with both our Toronto and PEI visitors, and get a real kick out of other people getting as excited about a place as I have been when they, too, discover it.
Support the Local Economy
People who use Airbnb tend to be people who would not necessarily use a more traditional hotel, either because they can't afford it, or because they prefer a more personal, authentic accommodation experience. And so I feel like hosting brings spenders into town who might otherwise not be here.
At the very least, they have to buy food/visit local restaurants while staying, and, often – – as in the case of the antique and curio-hunter staying in my kids' play house tonight – – they buy a lot more while traveling.
Practice and Develop Life Skills
Running a side hustle like renting a spare room on Airbnb allows one to develop a number of important skills. First and foremost, I love hospitality and the art presentation, two skills I learned by necessity the summer before my mother died.
Painfully uncomfortable and often nauseous from either the cancer or the toxic chemo she was taking to buy herself a few more months to get her affairs in order, my mother spent much of her final summer on earth tucked into a sleeping bag on a fold-out lawnchair nestled into a corner of the garden she loved so much. I returned to Toronto the summer of '94 from a stint working at a hotel in southern Germany, where I had learned about presentation at a mid- to high-end restaurant on site. I quickly put these skills to use preparing small, tasty drinks and light meals, enticingly presented, for my mother, while as she/we played host to various friends and work colleagues of hers who had come to basically pay their last respects before she finally moved into palliative care at Toronto Grace that fall.
Hosting through Airbnb some 20 years later has helped me to revive these skills and honour the memory of my mother as I prepare artfully designed breakfast services for my various guests.
Developing one's ability to be a great host is a skill which I feel is easily transferrable to many other parts of one's personal and professional life.
Imagine if we all treated one another in our day-to-day lives as valued guests in our personal space… How much kinder a place could the world become?!
I read reviews, research guest profiles, and – – if needed – – craft carefully-worded, diplomatic messages inviting new users to flesh out of their profiles and consider including a personal picture of themselves rather than their pet Chihuahua, in order to establish trust within the Airbnb community.
And as I am reading those user reviews, I consider how well I myself behave when I am a guest; am I respectful? Quiet? Tidy?
When Airbnb offers me options like "instant book" (which strike me as tailored to encouraged quick turnover and impersonal service) I develop the resistance to the temptation to make a quicker buck by rejecting that option, so that I can maintain the integrity of personal, clear communication between myself and my would-be guests before manually accepting any reservation request.
Become a Mentor Parent
This summer, my kids caught the Airbnb bug: Spurred on initially by the thought of making a few extra bucks for spending money, they pimped out their new Playhouse on Airbnb.
We've had many conversations over the past few months about what it means to be a good host. As I have learned and continue to learn from my own experiences and from other, fellow hosts, hosting through Airbnb has helped me guide my young entrepreneurs in this learning.
Pay for the Extras
A lot of people think you can make buckets of money off Airbnb. And in some contexts you can. (Take, for instance, those who purchase multiple properties for the sole purpose of accommodating such short term rentals in cities were demand is high, or if you happen to have a spare room in a city like Boston, which has the highest hotel rates in America.) But if you are doing things as they were originally intended, that is, renting out "extra space" in your own home periodically, and you live in a more "normal" city, then the fiscal payout can be negligible.
On the other hand, if you do rent often, you can, over time, make enough money to save up for special projects or alleviate the burden of those little extras we all enjoy but most of us can't really afford. Some of the things I've paid for with Airbnb earnings outside our regular budget include dinner out with my girlfriend, shows and musicals, ice cream and other outings with my kids, car rental while traveling, and a playhouse for my kids (almost).
Now I'm saving up for a deck for my music cabin on PEI! :-)
But how do you meet the standards of such an operation with things like a play house without electricity or running water that is never the less in-demand? (The treehouse my boys and I stayed in earlier this summer – – also without running water, and no breakfast offer – – was doing a booming business at $30 a night!)
Besides, with almost exclusively five-star ratings, what is the tourism board really worried about? (on Airbnb, guests are strongly encouraged to rate their hosts anonymously in areas such as communication, cleanliness and overall value, so if someone is running a less than stellar operation, they won't be in business for long, even without the tourism board meddling in their affairs!)
It seems to me that there is room in the economy for both five star hotels and five star Airbnb listings. Someone who is bringing a sleeping bag and paying $22 a night to stay in a playhouse wasn't going to pay $125 at the official B&B up the road anyway, and those who are staying at the "official" hotels, are not being negatively affected by their Airbnb-surfing counterparts.
And in the meantime, ideas are exchanged along with smiles and often outstanding hospitality, making the world a smaller, kinder, safer, smarter and more creative place – – even for kids!