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The Communicator NEWS & POLITICS

Airbnb Offers Local Hospitality


Photo credit: Kathy Manuell

Written by: adminNovember 11, 2016

By: Tao Jin

It’s 8:30 a.m., and Kathy Manuell is up to check on the tiny apartment in her backyard.

Wine, coffee and tea are in the basket. Cereal and snacks are on the kitchen table. Fresh eggs, milk and water are in the refrigerator.

Everything looks neat. The room is ready for today’s guest.

Manuell said this has become her daily routine since last Thanksgiving. She is a host for Airbnb, an online marketplace renting out vacation homes from hosts to potential travelers.

“We drove to Cincinnati for Thanksgiving. On the way there, I got three inquiries,” Manuell said. “By the time I got home, I had Christmas week already booked, I was booked in January. It was crazy. It has not stopped since.”

According to the Airbnb website, the company has 1.5 million listings in 34,000 cities and 191 countries. In Fort Wayne, more than 51 listings are available.

These include a high-end carriage house in the downtown area, a bright lake house situated near Auburn and a 100-year-old Tudor revival mansion with extra bedrooms.

Reviews of Manuell’s cottage suggest her place is cozy and clean, and the decor is chic.

“I have children in their 30s. They came in and helped me decorate it. They travel a lot, so they know what they want,” Manuell said.  “We try to keep it really simple and neat and peaceful looking, so people don’t feel a lot of clutter when they come.”

Manuell’s main concern is her tenant’s experience living in the apartment, she said. She wants her guests to feel pampered. She stocks food in their room, prepares breakfast upon request and provides local tourism information.

At the same time, she tries to leave them alone.

“They just like the fact that it’s not the hotel. It’s private,” Manuell said. “They can enjoy the backyard, they can walk to the neighborhood.”

She recalls a woman with twin babies loved to walk around the neighborhood every day during their stay.

Gloria Chen, director of the Intensive English Program at Indiana Tech, said she lived in an Airbnb while visiting New York.

“We stayed there for 10 days, and every day we felt that we owned that place,” Chen said. “So we’re the hosts and host ourselves. And we were able to buy groceries and cook food for ourselves and for our daughter. It’s like home away from home.”

Manuell said she has good experiences with her guests because they bring interesting stories.

She has had guests from Great Britain, Switzerland and Guatemala. The guests have been musicians, athletes and full-time travelers.

She remembers two men from Norway came to get their baby from a surrogate, and they stayed in her place for the baby’s first three weeks of life.

“How fun is that!” Maneull said. “How would I ever meet people from Norway? Probably never.”

Nevertheless, the American Hotel & Lodging Association reports not everyone is satisfied with Airbnb, especially the traditional hotel industry feels threatened by Airbnb.

Martha Coussement, assistant professor in the department of hospitality and tourism management at IPFW, said Airbnb has impacted the traditional hotel industry. She suggests the industry enhance guest experiences to compete.

“They need to find out what you want. What they need to do is give you the experiences that you search for,” Coussement said. “That’s a design issue. Do something different. Customize your experiences. Because that’s what guests are looking for.”

Others question the safety issue of using Airbnb, and Fox News reports that some guests have disturbed neighbors. A few hosts have even sexually abused their guests.

However, Cherry Ang, a junior human service major, said she never had security problems when staying with Airbnb.

Airbnb offers tips and guidelines of choosing hosts and guests, Ang said, and trust is the foundation of using the site.

Manuell said she trusts her guests, and plans to continue her business.

“I love having parties, I love having people for dinner. This is just an extension of that,” Manuell said, “so I think if you like people and you like to meet new people, this is the perfect way to do it.”

If she could get an apartment on the downtown Fort Wayne waterfront, Manuell said, she would open another Airbnb in the future.afternoon, a car pulls up to her driveway. Today’s guest has arrived.

Manuell is walking him to his room, and he starts his stay with wine from the basket.