The comfort of home, wherever you roam
Accommodations can quickly take up a large share of anyone’s travel budget, especially when traveling during holidays or attending popular local events. Rural areas present a unique challenge, too, as available lodging may be scarce.
Enter Airbnb, the online lodging rental company that lets anyone rent out their properties or spare rooms. Guests enjoy accommodations at a wide range of price points. The company launched in 2009, and today helps six million people find travel destinations from its staggering 800,000 listed properties in 34,000 cities across 90 different countries.
In 2017, Airbnb says business doubled in Nebraska. Nebraska users hosted about 46,000 guests and generated $4.3 million in revenue last year. Most of the lodging activity was in Omaha to accommodate the large crowds for Berkshire Hathaway’s annual meeting and the College World Series. Rural Nebraska’s lodging numbers crept up in August 2017 as travelers from around the world flocked to the area during the Total Solar Eclipse.
Besides the financial benefits of booking accommodations through Airbnb, many guests enjoy living like a local and getting recommendations from people who are from the area. For many hosts, they simply enjoy meeting new people and showing off their house and community.
Who would be daring enough to open their private home to strangers? For these Dawson PPD customers, no guest is a stranger for long.
The Junkin Place – Bedrooms Available
Smithfield resident Amber Siekman wasn’t looking to host guests when she and her husband, Brian, purchased their home in 2015.
“I was at a Farmer’s Market in Norton, Kansas, visiting with the manager and we started talking about Airbnb,” Siekman said. “Our kids are married or in college, so their bedrooms aren’t used very often. I thought it was a shame that they were sitting there empty, so I thought I’d give it a shot.”
The process to verify and advertise her property was simple. The website takes the host through a series of questions and asks for a driver’s license number to perform a background check. Photos are uploaded and any special rules are spelled out before the listing is posted.
The Siekman’s home, built in 1916, originally belonged to the Junkin Family.
“Everyone around here knows it as The Junkin Place, so I kept the name when listing it,” Siekman commented.
The home has three bedrooms available with two shared bathrooms and other shared common spaces. Siekman listed her home in July 2017, and that next month she had a total of 46 guests, nine of those who stayed during the Total Solar Eclipse.
“At first, my husband wasn’t so sure it was a good idea,” Siekman explained. “But I said ‘Why not? We have to trust people.’ I haven’t had one bad experience yet.”
Like the hosts, guests are subject to submit their driver’s license for a background check. A peer review system helps all parties review each person ahead of time. Hosts are protected by insurance through Airbnb, although the company does recommend that the host has additional, appropriate home insurance.
Siekman says that her guests are simply passing through and tend to stay overnight only. Some are traveling for leisure while others are on business, like college interns or traveling nurses, who need a place to rest between home and work. Through this experience, she has met people from around the United States and other countries like Thailand, Ukraine, Germany and Israel.
Holen Horse and Homestay – Licensed Bed and Breakfast
When a guest wishes to book a location, a message is sent through the Airbnb website. The host has the ability to review the guest’s profile and message them to better understand their needs. Licensed bed and breakfast owner Peggy Holen of Overton noted that this creates rapport between both parties and a mutual understanding about expected arrival and departure dates and times. The host has the right to refuse a guest for any reason.
“I haven’t had anyone I’ve felt uncomfortable with, and I think it’s because the messaging system gives me a chance to get to know my guests ahead of time,” she said. “The guests are respectful and just want to have an experience outside of the traditional hotel room.”
Holen’s home, a three-bedroom farm house listed on the National Register of Historic Places, sits south of Overton in Phelps County. The home was built in 1909 and originally belonged to the Brenstrom Family. Holen’s father worked as a farm hand for Willie Brenstrom and purchased the property from him in the 1970s. Holen inherited the home in 2008 and saw potential for a bed and breakfast.
“When I got it, the outside was sad but the inside was still pristine,” she said. “I felt like it needed another chapter.”
Holen began upgrading the property in 2009 and opened her business in 2013.
Two years later, she saw an advertisement on Facebook for Airbnb.
“Airbnb is an easy way for me to market my business affordably,” Holen said.
Airbnb allows Holen the flexibility to control her bookings from any computer or mobile device and collect payment. Guests pay in full as they book through a secure platform, and hosts receive the money 24 hours after guests check in. Airbnb collects a small commission from the host and guest.
“My business gives me perspective and helps me appreciate what I have,” Holen added. “I’ve had many guests comment on the slow-paced, relaxed lifestyle, or the fact that you can see from one horizon to another without anything obstructing your view.”
Tipi Camping – A Unique Experience
Guests may find more than just room accommodations though Airbnb. The company also focuses on experiences, like camping trips, guided tours and cooking classes. In Hershey, guests may check camping in a tipi off their list.
Lida Weekly offers a one-of-a-kind experience by setting up a tipi in her backyard or at a nearby campground for an additional fee. On her property, guests may use her bathroom, kitchen and laundry area to retain some modern-day comforts.
“An old Native American once told me that tipi life is like this: When it’s cold outside it’s cold inside. When it’s hot outside it’s hot inside. When it’s wet outside it can be wet inside,” Weekly wrote on her listing.
Weekly previously offered a spare bedroom to host guests through Airbnb, but decided to try to offer an experience that is not typical for travelers.
“I grew up in a family who always had tipis, so it’s just a part of my being, I guess,” Weekly commented. “We got this tipi in 2004 from my dad’s friend in O’Neill. It is really special because my dad’s hand prints are on it from a rendezvous he participated in when I was a baby.”
Weekly says that as a multicultural family, they are always looking for a connection other people and cultures. The family has hosted foreign exchange students in the past, so sharing a space with a visitor was second nature.
“I really enjoy meeting new and different people each day,” Weekly said. “Everyone that has stayed with us has been nice and friendly. They are usually very tidy and grateful for the opportunity to share our home.”
Whether their visits are for a day or a week, rural Nebraskans know how to make travelers feel welcome and at home.