Over the past week, I have shared what I feel are some relevant insights related to Airbnb’s IPO this Thursday. I chose to delete my Facebook and Instagram accounts 7 years ago and have since shied away from social platforms. But recognizing social media’s strength as a forum for change, I view it now as a tool for challenging traditional views and practices, especially those within the short term rental industry. I know I am not the only CEO aware of the issues our sector of the travel/hospitality world face, but I do feel like I am one of the few who are vocalizing these concerns today. I want to be clear, in no way am I trying to diminish the success of the industry or its leadership. I am simply asking the question: how can we do better?
As CEO of Open Air Homes, I feel a duty to spend a good portion of my day reading, learning, and envisioning the future of our company and the industry itself, while all the while remaining cognizant of the constantly changing state of the world.
2020, though challenging, has been paramount in forcing us to address issues of racism, upward mobility, gender equality, the environment, affordable housing, homelessness and public health. While many of these issues have yet to be solved, the conversation around them can no longer be ignored. If we want to actively build a better future, we will need all hands on deck. I don’t expect Open Air Homes to take the lead on solving every problem mentioned, but I do believe we, and the successful companies that follow us, have a role in supporting and driving these changes, until our goals are met.
Open Air Home’s History is Rooted in Connecting with Guests
I started renting my own home on Airbnb on December 13th, 2013. Instead of selling my home that month, I decided to take a risk and list my home for rent on a company that was beginning to generate buzz: Airbnb.
My first guest rented one room in my home. He was a Swiss man who also owned a Bernese Mountain Dog. I thought it was relevant information to mention in my first listing that guest’s would be living alongside my 120 pound dog, and I had no idea that this information would connect me in deep ways with travelers all over the world. This first renter also had a Bernese Mountain Dog at home, and he was thrilled to have such great company.
Sharing meals while regaling each other about our past and what life is like in our respective cities, we grew close during his stay. When he left, it was obvious that we played a significant role in his overall experience.
Reflecting on these memories reminds me of how much I crave those moments today, a feeling I am sure you share. Never before have we been this isolated from the outside world. While I fear we may begin to lose sight of what it means to come together and speak on the commonalities among us, I remain hopeful as I watch human ingenuity allow us to expand our ability to interact with not just those immediately accessible to us, but the entire global community.
Obstacles at Open Air Homes
Hospitality is rooted deep in our bones, but consistently having to break up parties in the early days left me with very few options. There were moments in the growth of this industry that I almost stepped away. As we grew to manage over 10 high end homes, we were faced with a growing guest base who saw short term rentals as their opportunity to have a party.
We were becoming a nuisance in the community, and I knew we had to change or exit the business. It was at this point that I made a financial commitment to adopting 24 hour a day communication and a strict vetting process. Next, we began to have all guests agree to our Good Neighbor Commitment before booking, and we turned off Instant Book.
Next, we are looking for the right nighttime security partner who will respond to any complaint we receive from a neighbor or Noise Aware device, and we will continue to look for ways to be better neighbors.
The short term rental industry has a long way to go to reverse the commonly held belief in many communities that rental homes are inherently bad for the community. It is my firmly held belief that long term renters, homeowners, hotels, hostels, bridge housing and other housing facilities for the homeless, and short term rentals can all peacefully coexist within our community. It is up to us to recognize that we still have work to do towards getting there, and I would love to hear from you about how we can put solid plans in place to create this reality.
Successes At Open Air Homes
A lot has changed since renting out a single room in my home. Our successes will always be tied to the rise of Airbnb, and we are proud of our partnership with them.
As Airbnb moves forward with going public, I wanted to share some successes Open Air Homes has had as well:
We have developed a business model we plan to launch in 2022 that begins to address upward economic mobility in this country. At Open Air Homes, we strongly believe that changes need to be made to the current system in order for everyone to experience the dream of home-ownership and upward mobility for younger people. While we are not ready to launch just yet, at Open Air Homes we believe that it is our civic duty to address the challenges that our country is currently facing.
We are proudly LGBTQ+ owned, and we have committed to having a 50% person of color executive team by the end of 2021, with half of that executive team being female. While we do hire some independent contractors, we are proud to provide our employees with health care benefits and an intellectually stimulating work environment where we want each employee to pursue their passions within the business. While we do acknowledged more needs to be done, we are committed to welcoming a diverse set of voices at decision making levels of the company.
We work with each of our homeowners to try to encourage solar panels and improvements geared at energy efficiency: from energy-efficient appliances and lights to electric car charges and retrofitting existing buildings to be more energy-efficient.
Always Looking Towards The Future
2020 has been a tough year, but it has also been an opportunity to slow down, reflect on the direction we are each headed in, and adopt better, more sustainable practices.
We are choosing to look towards a brighter future, and are actively trying to create it as we expand to new markets in 2021.
We are raising $600,000 to grow our business and expand into the Napa Valley, Orange County, Santa Barbara and San Diego markets. We do not intend to be nationwide, but instead want to focus on some of our favorite places that we think you’d like to travel to as well, whether it be for a week, or a couple months.
Within the Open Air ecosystem of companies, our goal is to re-imagine home ownership. We do not intend to be the largest company in the space, but we intend to be the reliable option for short or medium term housing as we expand to new markets with intention. We will continue to offer fully realized, well designed homes that inspire our guests.
It’s been a truly great 8 years growing this business within the ecosystem that Airbnb has created, and we thank them for continually working with us to create a better future, filled with inclusion, understanding, and upward mobility for everyone who works in the space.
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