Hosts of Airbnb rental properties in the territory help spur tourism in the Virgin Islands by lodging guests who stay longer and spend more, according to figures presented by Airbnb representatives.
Speaking at a gathering Tuesday at the Windward Passage Hotel, Rachel DeLevie-Orey, Airbnb public policy associate for the Caribbean and Central America, said the type of guest Airbnb attracts tend to stay 2.1 times longer in their location than guests in traditional lodgings, such as hotels. Airbnb guests also spend 42 percent more in local communities, she said.
“Your homes are in your communities. You’re near grocery stores, cafes, restaurants and these are places that visitors are able to take advantage of when they are living in the community and it is something you can encourage them to take advantage of by offering them recommendations,” DeLevie-Orey said. She said hosts could do this either by recommending within the Airbnb platform itself or by leaving brochures of local businesses within their home for guests to utilize.
Several of the almost 100 attendees who came to Tuesday’s meeting were already using the platform and hosting. Several were what Airbnb describes as “super hosts.” A super host has a special advantage in the platform because their listings are put to the top of the screen and among the first seen when a guest searches for rental listings in the designated location. To achieve this, DeLevie-Orey said, a host must have 80 percent of their reviews at a five-star rating and also never have canceled on a booking, not even once.
Various tips were given by super hosts in the audience as to how they were able to achieve their status and keep their rooms filled. Residents described how to take better photographs for their Airbnb listings and even how often they updated their listing information.
DeLevie-Orey said the idea that a typical Airbnb guest is a young couch-surfing traveler has changed.
“The company and the users have evolved over the years. Globally the median age of the user is early 30s, however in the Caribbean the median age is mid-40s. We are talking about a more experienced traveler and often a more affluent traveler. That is the type of people who are coming to the Caribbean,” she said.
The type of traveler who stays with Airbnb is typically looking for more experiences during their stay as well, DeLevie-Orey said.
“That means when they come they want to see something beyond the beach. Whether that is arts or food or something else culturally relevant, there is an appetite for that among our travelers,” DeLevie-Orey said.
The service’s Airbnb Experiences program has not been offered in the U.S. Virgin Islands yet, but DeLevie-Orey said there was a likelihood of that occurring in the future as interest about the territory continues to develop. The new feature is advertised as a way for Airbnb guests to locate local excursions with ease.
Alani Henneman-Todman, director of communications at the Department of Tourism, and Imani Daniel, from the St. Thomas Recovery Team, told the audience of other measures that need to be taken if someone is to become an Airbnb host in the territory.
Henneman-Todman explained the importance of hosts stockpiling preparations should a natural disaster ensue.
“Should a natural or manmade disaster happen you should have key items in place for your potential guests and visitors,” she said. Putting a hurricane checklist within their Airbnb listings would be helpful as well, she added.
Daniel said hosts should also think about coming to the St. Thomas Recovery Team that offers a free service in which a host can put all of their essential files on a jump drive that would ensure a backup of important documents that could become destroyed in the event of a disaster.
The Economic Development Authority was also present at the Airbnb event with a booth put together by the Enterprise Zone Commission Managing Director Nadine Kean. Kean laid out several products made by artisans in the territory and explained how various items, such as locally crafted soaps and candles, add guest appeal because the items are authentic to the culture.
Put simply, DeLevie-Orey, said Airbnb is a “company designed as a platform to allow people to leverage their most valuable assets, their homes and their time, and to share them with visitors and to contribute to the visitor economy.”