By Colleen King
Inviting people into your home is as Louisiana as grits, gravy, and porch sittin’. As a natives of this fine state, we’re brought up to obey the heretofore unwritten laws of Southern friendliness: 1. Iced tea is for sharing. 2. Grocery stores are for gossip. 3. Let people into the house, for goodness’ sake. It’s hot out there!
Our hospitality is a hard brew that’s been steeped in sunshine for decades, but with the dawn of the Internet age, even the most time-honored traditions are evolving. Airbnb.com has caused a huge shift in the way people connect. The website has a growing presence that takes advantage of welcoming attitudes in an innovative way.
Airbnb enables travellers to rent out spaces in private homes for short-term stays. It connects people who have extra space to people who are coming to town. Say you’re is a prospective LSU student from out-of-state. You’re only in for a week, and you want to have a thrifty yet personable place to stay.
So you create an Airbnb profile, which gives you the opportunity to explore the 75 Baton Rouge listings based on price, privacy, and type of residence. The more economical stays offer less privacy and fewer amenities—sometimes as little as a bedroom in a house with access to a shared bathroom—while the pricier lisints offers as much as full access to a gorgeous home for up to eight guests.
The website verifies host and guest reputations through reviews and censors personal information until booking is complete, so you don’t have to worry that you’re getting suckered. Though the business model might seem odd to those who are accustomed to traditional bed and breakfasts, Airbnb is just one part of a larger online trend called the “sharing economy.”
The sharing economy includes services like Airbnb, SnapGoods, and Uber that facilitate transactions between users through the Internet. Information technology can now allow individuals to put their surplus goods and services online for others to rent without having to start an official business. In the world of the shared economy, that extra bedroom turns into cash, your old guitar can be rented out on a weekly basis, and empty car seats during your commute to work are money in the bank.
Many are sceptical of this peer-to-peer consumerism, yet Bloomberg Business recently reported Airbnb’s valuation at a whopping $20 billion worldwide. It’s hard to deny that worth when you look at the statistics: 40 million total guests, with 1.5 million active listings across 34,000 cities in 190 countries.
To figure out how Airbnb’s global version of hospitality fits into our own, DIG talked to some of Baton Rouge’s most welcoming hosts.
First, we visited Penni Guidry’s backyard “oasis,” a vintage trailer park that serves not only as a Airbnb but also as a venue for community events—everything from weddings to a haunted house for Halloween. The place is truly unique, an alcove of fashionable trailers secreted away behind a turquoise door. There is a flag on display—fashioned by Guidry herself—that reads “Drama” with a red slash through it.
“This is the No Drama Zone,” Guidry said.
The place seems magical, with access to a cozy trailer containing two small beds and a kitchenette, a covered outdoor living space, and a separate, spa-like bathroom constructed out of reclaimed wood. Guidry smiles as she leads a tour of the oasis.
The host mentions that BR hotels were all booked up for the recent Taylor Swift concert, and many out-of-towners looked to Airbnb. She put her place on the site for the first time that week, and it “booked instantly.”
When asked if Airbnb is helping put Baton Rouge on the map, Guidry said, “All it [Airbnb] does is bring people to Baton Rouge to spend money in Baton Rouge.”
But earning money definitely isn’t the top of her agenda when it comes to hosting. Guidry says her rental is about giving people a place to get rejuvenated. What sets her oasis apart is a quieter atmosphere, a home-away-from-home “feel.” Sitting in the retreat, it’s easy to imagine how one could prefer this setting over the hustle and bustle of even the quietest hotel lobby.
But in spite of so many inspiring feelings of connection, many are outspoken when it comes to Airbnb—especially those whose bread and butter is the bed and breakfast business.
Janice DeLerno is not only the owner and innkeeper at The Stockade Bed and Breakfast, but she has also been the President of the Louisiana Bed and Breakfast Association (LBBA) for the past five years. In order to open her inn 22 years ago, DeLerno campaigned for nearly a year to change the city’s zoning laws. She says that hotels in Baton Rouge should be in “a partnership” with the city, and partnership requires that all B&Bs are properly insured, licensed, and taxed. DeLerno’s stance on Airbnb reflects that of the LBBA and the Professional Association of Innkeepers International (of which she is also an active member).
“We don’t have a problem with the concept of Airbnb,” DeLerno said. “What we have a problem with is the way that the whole situation is handled by the reservation service and the legality of the whole situation.” And DeLerno is not alone in her concerns over proper licensing.
Since Airbnb launched in 2008, laws have been passed in New York and San Francisco that limit homeowners’ ability to host via the site. The New Orleans Advocate recently reported that City Councilwoman Stacy Head is crafting a similar proposal here in our home state.
Airbnb host Adam Pitts doesn’t see the need for lawmakers tightening restrictions.
“As long as you are not doing illegal activity in your house, you should be able to do what you want… If there were 20 people over here and I was trying to run an apartment complex, it would be different.”
Adam and Abby Pitts don’t just host on Airbnb; they also use it when they travel. Abby says she enjoys how welcoming the hosts are, how they usually have valuable local knowledge.
“Hosts… can recommend all kinds of restaurants and fun things to do, so that’s a really big part [of it] for us,” Abby said.
Adam and Abby say they try to pass on that welcoming attitude when they host too, as long as the guests are up for it.
The Internet is often blasted as a space where people become inhuman in their connections to one another, but sites like Airbnb promise users an opportunity to become more connected than ever. Its motto, “Belong Anywhere,” may seem a rather ambitious, but it echoes the sentiment of hospitality that we try to embody here in the South.
Back at Penni Guidry’s house, we ask her whether this e-hospitality is creating a brand new kind of openness. She responds that it’s quite the opposite—the system is simply “returning to old ways” via the new.
In her imagination, we are going back in time to when travellers would pass through town and stay wherever they could work for their keep. Whether this hospitality is new or old, it’s on its way to changing the Baton Rouge experience.