PENINSULA — For $45 a night, a visitor can get a cozy RV on the shores of Willapa Bay with a kayak included. For $150, there’s a former 1889 Coast Guard station in Ocean Park, a rental where big dogs aren’t only allowed, but encouraged.
Since being founded in San Francisco 2008, Airbnb has spread to more than 65,000 cities and 191 countries, including the throughout Oregon and Washington coastal communities. The premise of the website is simple: to connect people at any price point around the world. It has also become “the easiest way for people to monetize their space and showcase it to an audience of millions,” according to the Airbnb website.
The impacts and benefits of short-term vacation rentals remain a hot topic, particularly in areas where housing scarcity is an ongoing concern. Meanwhile, the proliferation and widespread familiarity of Airbnb have encouraged a new generation of hosts to join the site’s growing ranks.
New Airbnb hosts
The stories of how people came to discover Airbnb are as unique and varied as the locations themselves.
“Our daughter uses Airbnb extensively and suggested we post our RV,” said Dierdre Duewel, 65, during a phone interview Sunday, July 23.
“It had never occurred to us.” In September 2016, Duewel posted her RV overlooking Willapa Bay for $45 for two people. It was the end of the summer season, and she had didn’t think her RV would draw much interest. She was wrong. Guests came from as far Germany and India.
“We’ve been surprised by the number of people,” she said. “We’ve had as many people as we want — sometimes we have to block out dates so we’re not so busy.”
While some came as far as India and Germany, the majority were Oregon and Washington residents from Seattle and Portland seeking a quiet weekend away on the bay. Duewel believes price — just $45 — is the biggest selling point, but admits the location doesn’t hurt.
“You’re right on the bay in a quiet setting, the view is spectacular,” she said. Where many hosts tack on additional charges for cleaning fees or a pet deposit, which can quickly add up for guests on a set budget, Duewel has resisted adding the fees and kept the rate at rock bottom.
“It’s just a straight $45 a night,” she said. With such a low rate, Duewel feels it gives an option to people who may not be able to afford a traditional room elsewhere.
“We’re among the lowest priced on the Peninsula,” Duewel said. Duewel believes the rock-bottom price can benefit neighboring businesses. “Any disposable income they often spend at various merchants. There are people who want to come here but feel priced out, especially during the summer when rates go up,” she said. Duewel, who previously worked for the Long Beach Peninsula Visitors Bureau, said she understands the dynamic of the local tourism industry.
“I know how much work our local hotels and motels go through to attract people to our area —it’s a big reason why we have the festivals and events,” she said. “I don’t want to be taking anything out of the pockets of our merchants on the Peninsula, but I figure the people are still coming here are eating in our restaurants and still buying things in the stores.”
With each rental, Airbnb takes three percent, largely for additional booking services.
“Instead of $45 we take $42,” Duewel said. Duewel said they pay taxes through Airbnb as well as local lodging taxes. Turning a profit has taken time.
“In the beginning, I don’t know if we were making any money,” Duewel said. Initial investments and additional insurance are typically necessary to bring properties up to code.
“Our margin is slender, but we enjoy it,” Duewell said. “Any money you have coming in at this point in our lives is a good thing.”
A personal touch
While consistency is a paramount for hotels, customization is king for Airbnb hosts.
“It’s a much more personal experience compared to staying at a hotel,” Duewel said
“When people contact us, they generally tell us why they’re coming.”
Whether it’s to celebrate an anniversary or go bird watching on a favorite trail, the reasons for visiting are often as varied as the guests. Depending on their reason for visit, Airbnb hosts will often customize for each guest with snacks or ideas for exploring area trails and beaches. Duewel said one guest came to stay along the Willapa because they were married in the Oysterville Church 20 years ago.
“We gave them an anniversary card and a bottle of wine,” Duewel said.
“We try to make it as personal as we can, which is what a lot of Airbnb hosts do.” Duewell believes there’s room for both short-term rentals and traditional hotels. “For people who don’t want it to be personal, it would be better to stay in a hotel or motel,” she said.
Rentals seek stability, exposure
“Perfect for family reunions, large families and large dogs,” is a claim few hotels would make, but it’s printed boldly on the top of the brochure for #309 Historic Coast Guard Station, the latest Airbnb rental in Ocean Park. In July, a portion of the property became the latest addition to Airbnb’s growing inventory of hosts along the coast. Owner June Craft made the move after a year riddled by clamming closures and poor weather. She’s hopeful joining Airbnb will bring added exposure and consistency to bookings.
“This has probably been our worst year overall, which inspired us to jump on the Airbnb bandwagon,” Craft said Wednesday, July 23.
“(Bookings) vary every year because of the weather, whether there’s clamming weekends or when the 4th of July falls.” Craft said guests continuously asked why their rental wasn’t listed on Airbnb, after a while, they felt compelled to join.
“If you can’t beat’em, join’em,” Craft said.
Leveling the playing field
In Pacific County, zoning ordinances and standards have placed limitations on short-term vacation rentals, but not everyone gets proper approval before renting their space.
“A lot of people on Airbnb are their own private place and they’re ignoring the county rules regarding licensing,” Craft said. Many will pick up paperwork, but far fewer return with it completed.
“They know if they bring the county in, they are going to slap on requirements for safety and it will be too expensive,” Craft said.
“For a lot of places, to get the approval and everything up to code, it’s thousands of dollars.” Craft currently has still has two rentals that are being renovated and updated to meet the code requirements, an expensive endeavor that’s particularly painful when there’s competition offering rooms at a lower rate elsewhere, some of whom Craft suspects skirting county inspections and necessary requirements that she’s subject to.
“We have to compete with people who aren’t licensed by the county, which is a big problem,” she said.
“They’re not paying the fees or the sales tax on everything.” Craft would like to see more enforcement of the ordinance to even the competition.
“It makes all of us that are doing it legally compete with the person down the street who may not be. It creates an unfair advantage between the ones who are licensed and those who aren’t. If they have the rules, the county should enforce them. Otherwise they’re just penalizing the people that are doing what they’re supposed to do. I would like to see them go after the people operating on Airbnb without a license.”