Just the mention of Airbnb in Three Rivers is likely to elicit myriad responses. It’s like a speeding freight train heading downhill and everybody is wondering when or if we should apply the brakes.
When the founders started Airbnb in 2008, they did not envision the buying of multiple properties in gateway communities for short-term rentals. The company was founded after Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia put an air mattress to host visitors in their San Francisco living room to offset the high rent.
The air mattress enjoyed immediate popularity. Their apartment was transformed into a bed and breakfast. Airbnb is the shortened version of its original name, AirBedandBreakfast.com. From the start, customers were the travelers trying to find lodging in the city bursting at its seams.
Airbnb.com became the official name in March 2009. The hospitality brokerage company has experienced phenomenal growth ever since. In 2011, the company announced its 1,000,000th night booked; one year later, it topped five million. Six months later it eclipsed 10 million nights booked.
The huge growth in 2012 was fueled by a new international market. Seventy-five percent of the business came from markets outside the U.S.
In 2016, the Federal Trade Commission began investigating how Airbnb affected housing costs. This inquiry prompted many communities to launch investigations of their own.
The result was local ordinances determining where short-term rentals are permitted and how revenue is collected and distributed. Tulare County is currently undergoing its own review to determine what, if any, regulation is appropriate.
Airbnb guests: Who they are
When we say “guests,” we are referring to the Airbnb member. In Three Rivers, they are here to visit Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. The larger properties that contain one or more houses are popular for weddings, reunions, and family gatherings.
Intimate cabins, cottages, and rooms cater to couples. Among couples, the age demographic shrinks to 21-45 and forms the largest user group in Three Rivers. I chose three couples to profile who visited Three Rivers in a 10-day period during mid-June. Their average age was 29.
Alex and Tamara were on a two-week U.S. vacation and visited the Grand Canyon and an Arizona ranch before coming to Three Rivers. Alex, a marketing rep in Austrian futbol, had visited the U.S. as a child with his family.
For Alex, the highlight of his previous visit was the time spent in national parks. He brought Tamara to the U.S. as soon as they were able to travel together.
Tamara, a biological researcher and animal lover, is also a well-known Alps mountaineer. She plans where the couple stays, looking for Airbnbs where they can interact with the people who live there.
When they departed Three Rivers, their next stop was Santa Monica where they could enjoy things not found in Austria — an ocean beach and the glitzy LA lifestyle.
Meeting this couple was one of life’s crazy coincidences. They were both 28, owned their own home in a cookie-cutter tract in the same town where my father’s family were longtime residents. Back in the day, the economy was based on coal, steel, and industrial manufacturing.
With the highly publicized end of the steel industry, I was curious what careers were available today. They both work at Amazon, now among the largest employers in southeast Pennsylvania.
Their four-bedroom, 2,500 square-foot house the couple purchased two years ago cost $160,000. With stock options provided and decent pay, there was money left over to take a California vacation to see the biggest trees on the planet.
This couple was so warm and friendly, their body language easily overcame their difficulty with English. He’s a Bulgarian IT worker; and she’s a Turk in mid-management with a meat wholesaler.
Their only regret was that they could not stay longer. They were on a break-neck two-week tour to San Francisco, Grand Canyon, Death Valley, Sequoia, Yosemite, Mariposa, and some other places too. They left a trail of Airbnb owners in their wake with open invitations to come to Istanbul where they could return the hospitality.
This is no definitive sample but just a sneak peak of a steady stream of visitors — mirror images of ourselves from everywhere imaginable. So what is appropriate action for Three Rivers to take to deal with the Airbnb movement?
A recent comment by Christina Lynch, Three Rivers resident, on 3RiversNews.com:
“We don’t have to invent the wheel in terms of deciding how to regulate vacation rentals – many other places are making the same decisions and trying to balance the rights of property owners and the needs of communities. Here is a rundown of what some US cities are considering or doing in terms of regulations:
The ideas seem to break down in a few categories: restricting the number of days a property can be rented short term; saying that you can only rent your house out short term if it’s your primary residence; raising the taxes on short-term rentals to support a local housing fund; restricting rentals in commercially zoned areas. We need to decide what solution works best for us.
From the same article, here is what New Orleans is doing:
“In mid-January, the New Orleans City Council unanimously approved a package that permanently extends the nine-month ban on short-term rentals in the French Quarter and Garden District. In an effort to preserve retail space, the new rules also prevent Airbnb operators in commercial zones from renting first-floor units. And in residentially zoned neighborhoods, people can only rent out rooms in homes that they occupy.”