Joey and Cynthia Allen learned about Airbnb from a conversation with a rental property tenant. Mrs. Allen researched the app and site and decided to give it a try. She hesitated when she heard a news story about some horrible things involving an Airbnb rental in New York. After some soul-searching - and not wanting the hard work she had put into her cabins not be profitable - she logged into the site and advertised the three cabins she wanted to rent.
"It was easy," Mrs. Allen said. "I took some pictures and wrote a good description of the cabins and posted it on the site."
The Allens own and operate Smith County Cycles. Their property near Lake Tyler East was large enough to accommodate three small cabins, a bathhouse and a general store. The couple was looking for another source of income to carry them into their retirement years.
"We don't have a 401(k) or a retirement plan," Mrs. Allen said. "We were looking for a second source of income to fund to carry us into our rocking-chair years and retirement."
Airbnb is revolutionizing the way people plan their travels and rent their properties to other travelers. It's an alternative to the travel sites that only list hotel rooms. Travelers and visitors to Tyler can use their smartphone app to search for someone's extra bedroom, private room, guesthouse and an entire house in Tyler and the surrounding area. Several East Texas property owners are listing their spaces to travelers and earning additional income.
John and Stori Nix always made their guesthouse in their backyard available for friends and family who came to Tyler. When the couple saw it wasn't being consistently used, they remodeled it into a one-bedroom, one bathroom house and listed it on Airbnb.
"There's a place and time for a hotel," Mrs. Nix said. "When you can rent an entire house for less money, feel more comfortable and engage in the local culture, it's worth it. We stayed in a flat in Paris, France, where we were able to talk to the neighbors and learn about the culture through being a part of the community."
Airbnb has revolutionized traveling and listing short-term rental properties. The online marketplace started in 2008. Rentals are available in over 191 countries and 34,000 cities.
Airbnb has a protection plan that protects listed property from damages. The site provides guest refunds in certain situations. An income tax form is provided to people who list property on the site that allows for easily filing when taxes are due.
A guest service fee of 6 to 12 percent is added when a reservation is booked. A host service fee of 3 percent is taken from payouts every time a reservation is booked. These fees cover Airbnb operating costs.
City of Tyler officials said, at this time, the current ordinances and regulations do not have any restrictions against Airbnb.
According to the state, the average visitor to Tyler spends $84.30 per day in Tyler. This includes eating, shopping, entertainment and lodging.
"Visit Tyler sees the value of Airbnb and we have heard good things from visitors in the visitor's center," said Holli Fourniquet, assistant vice president of marketing for Visit Tyler.
Airbnb has economic impact on the communities they are located in, but it is difficult to calculate and up to the home owner to report.
"It's a double edge sword," said Tom Mullins, President/CEO of the Tyler Economic Development Council. "From a consumer's view, it's great for the free market. It's much like Uber and ride-share apps. It's consumer friendly and technology driven."
Yet tradition hotels and motels have to charge occupancy taxes in Texas. It's 13 percent and another 2 percent can be added on for tourism related projects in the community.
"From a traditional view, hotel and motels have to comply with state laws and that can put their product at a price disadvantage," Mullins said. "Airbnb properties don't pay the hotel occupancy tax, so they are at a 13 percent advantage."
A NEW APPROACH
The Allens have three cabins listed on Airbnb. They are not equipped with restrooms, but a community bathhouse with plumbing, claw-foot tub, shower and dual sinks is located about 25 yards away. An outdoor kitchen and laundry room are available for guests to use.
"We do roadside pick-up for our motorcycle shop, Smith County Cycles," Allen said. "We were picking up people and their motorcycles that had broke down on the road and we would drop them off at a hotel. Now, we can offer them a place to stay that is right next to our shop while we repair their bike and get them back on the road."
The Bunker House is the third cabin the Allen's added last month. The firefighter-themed cabin is dedicated to their son-in-law, Devon Colbert, a fire inspector with the Garland Fire Department.
The four-bed Bunker House is decorated with donations from the Brother's Keepers Motorcycle Club. The cabin's decor includes turnout gear, fire hydrants, hoses and lights.
The Victory Room cabin is a military-themed cabin decorated with model airplanes and WWII aviation photographs.
"This is a fun place where you can sit outside and relax," Allen said. "It's a project and source of income that will help us enjoy our rocking chair years."
The Nixes also use the app to rent a vacation home they own out-of-state. They use a property manager to help them maintain their house in Maine. Airbnb allows them the flexibility to manage their businesses in Tyler but still have control and a voice in who rents their property in Maine.
"Ninety percent of our renters for our Maine property are through Airbnb," John Nix said.
Airbnb allows a person who lists a property to see customer ratings and customers can see the ratings of the property listed. This allows a person who is listing property to have a way to engage and decide who will stay in their property.
"The review system is not tainted," Mrs. Nix said. "You must stay at a property in order to write a property review and a person must be your customer before they can be reviewed as a renter."
Tips for travelers
Look at the site or the app and see what rentals are available
Read the reviews and see what others have said about the listing
Ask questions about the property through the message option on the app or site
Post a review of your stay
Tips for future hosts
Study the site and app
Inform homeowners insurance or renters insurance of your intentions
Take pictures of your listing
List your property correctly
Include amenities you are offering; Wi-Fi, cable TV
Keep it well supplied with sheets and towels
Must have usable bed and furniture
Keep the space clean and maintained
Post a review of your customer