‘It was fully booked from day one’ - What is life like as an Airbnb host?
Whether it’s seen a way for travellers to immerse themselves in new places, or a threat to traditional tourism, Airbnb has become a talking point. Lauren Cope reports.
For Tina Gambell and husband Chris, their Airbnb career has centred around their beloved llamas.
Faster Lente Llamas, their site in West Walton, combines glamping with wildlife, and took a cautious start in 2018 when Mrs Gambell, 53, uploaded a mood board to Airbnb to gauge interest.
"Minutes later I had my first booking," she said. "We didn't have much time to get ourselves ready. The little caravan was chocker, fully booked from day one."
Since then, they've invested in a second 'glampervan', and both now boast walk-in showers, barbecues, central heating - and hot tubs.
"The hot tubs have changed the scene completely," she said. "Before that people who came were campers looking for some comfort. They were looking for something different, but hot tub guests want the luxury, the barbecue, robes and slippers. It's a younger group of people, who want to chill out and relax."
She said it had been a steep learning curve, relying on other glamping sites, hotel supply websites and guest feedback for pointers.
"Our first glampers said you really do need to offer fresh filter coffee, not just the sachets, so it's picking on little aspects like that," she said.
Mrs Gambell - now a 'super host' - said the business provided a healthy income from the couple, even after taking into account Airbnb's fee and ongoing maintenance.
"I've always had a main job," she added, "simply because it's hard to believe this could become an ongoing, increasingly popular thing. It is, but it's still hard to believe."
Back towards Norwich, it was after her lodger of six years left that Mary George decided to list her Old Catton property.
"I thought that I fancied a bit of breathing space, and I thought this would be less commitment," she said.
"I do socialise in that I sit and have a chat when they first arrive, but people come and go.
"My first couple were from South Korea which was really interesting, and next was a man from Maldova whose family arrived as well."
In a report to Norwich City Council in June 2018, it was estimated that there were roughly 300 Airbnb listings in the city.
The council said it had attempted to keep tabs on the number, and location, of the properties, but admitted at the time that an issue is finding them - "unless you actually book the property you cannot get the actual address", the report said.
While the majority of hosts we spoke to had little in the way of bad experiences, one host, who has a property in west Norwich and who asked to remain anonymous, said one guest had broken furniture and left cigarette burns.
They first listed their property when moving away for a work secondment for three months, but continued to do so on their return.
"Most people have been fine, but I did have to buy a new chair which was smashed up and replace a table which had cigarette burns in it," he said. "It did make me question whether I wanted to keep doing it, but Airbnb was quite good and most people aren't like that. It's also easier now I'm there too, people are more respectful I think."
He said he makes roughly £400 from it a month, which he said goes on his mortgage and "frees up some spending money".
Up in north Norfolk, Anita Fortes and her husband decided to list a private room in their Overstrand home after their children moved away.
"It's an area that is popular with tourists and it's just me and my husband now, and we have got quite a big house with three floors," she said. "We thought that it was a bit of a waste.
"Our main concern was what it would be like having people there, but it's quite funny because we will sit there in the evening and say 'are they in?' 'Have they gone out?' Sometimes you just don't know."
She said the cleaning and keeping on top of the bedding was the least glamorous part of the job, and that she was happy she ran a business separate from the Airbnb.
"I know there are people who do it full time and good luck to them, but it's just not for me," she said.
'Not a level playing field'
As the popularity of Airbnb has grown, so too have concerns over its impact on the hotel trade.
One study in America showed that listings on the website led to fewer hotel nights booked and loss in hotel revenue.
But the company has insisted the presence of Airbnb only boosts the tourism industry as a whole.
Vanessa Scott, owner of Strattons Hotel, in Swaffham, said the main disparity was that Airbnb hosts often did not have to pay VAT or business rates. She said she had joined national calls to lower the rate of UK tourism VAT.
"For every £100, we are giving the exchequer £20 on everything, and we are competing with someone charging a similar price, but who is not VAT registered," she said. "It's very frustrating, I would like to see a level playing field.
"It's the same with business rates - our rates are nearly £3,000 a month. You can't expect the public to know about the difference, but our politicians do."
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