Airbnb in KC
Superhost Kristen Lichtenauer opens her Plaza home to guests of all kinds.
Imagine a trip to Savannah, Georgia, staying in a craftsman bungalow, sleeping beneath skylights with a view of the stars with Spanish moss swaying above in the breeze. Picture yourself in a lofty home near the Costa Rican rainforests. Perhaps a Manhattan penthouse overlooking the heart of downtown New York City is your desire. Welcome to the new age of travel, where what might have once been considered inaccessible is now readily available with a few keystrokes.
The idea of a vacation rental booking site is not the newest technology to come down the pike, but few can compare to the virality of Airbnb.com. The site, founded in 2008, is easy to use, boasts more than 2 million listings in 191 countries and has served more than 60 million guests since its inception.
Kansas City resident Kristen Lichtenauer, 33, is about to celebrate her first year as an Airbnb Superhost, an honor that distinguishes her as an Airbnb hostess who goes the extra mile providing outstanding hospitality for her guests. She’s not only personable and detail-oriented, but she also believes Airbnb is a game-changer in the way we travel, and she’s eager to get others on board.
By day, Lichtenauer is an environmental safety manager for a global manufacturing corporation, a career that comes with significant work-related travel. Since the fall of 2015, she has been renting her home near the Plaza to travelers while she is on the road. She decided to rent her home through Airbnb after using the service herself.
"I tried the service out when my boss recommended it. My experience as an Airbnb guest gave me the idea that I could experience the same success other hosts were having," Lichtenauer says. "Since I began last year, I have hosted couples, families, groups of friends of all ages wanting to explore Kansas City, book club 'staycations' and bachelorette party weekends. I’ve even hosted a bachelor party in my home.”
How does Airbnb work?
Basically the site helps online users find and book lodging — the significant difference between Airbnb and a site like Hotels.com, for example, is that you’re selecting from private homes and apartments that hosts like Lichtenauer make available to guests from around the world.
Sound creepy? To the uninitiated, it might, but…
Thanks to Airbnb’s verification/vetting process and ‘blind’ user review system (users and hosts rate one another after a stay, and reviews don’t go live until both parties have privately had their say), would-be scammers or otherwise undesirables are quickly marginalized. Lichtenauer herself has never had a security concern as a host or a guest, and she will candidly tell you she’s never had a ‘horrible’ experience. She jokes that the only reason she would ever consider staying in a hotel over an Airbnb listing would be access to room service.
You may find the occasional Airbnb naysayer complaining about a negative experience, but the rate of those complaints doesn’t seem to vary significantly from those of guests staying in hotels.
What’s it like to be an Airbnb host?
"Airbnb’s success is firmly rooted in the hospitality of its hosts, so the process is structured to keep everyone in alignment with what to expect from one another," Lichtenauer says. "As a host, it's a great opportunity to wow your guests and give them a great experience. As a guest, the opportunities are endless. If everyone communicates, and you, as a host, do your part, it’s a win-win."
Not only does she readily encourage others to use the Airbnb site to book as guests, she also eagerly encourages friends to sign up as hosts, something the Airbnb site makes easily navigable.
"I did some renovations when I first bought my home and was looking for a way to finish paying for those improvements, so that's how it started for me as a host," she says. "It is a great way to help pay for your property and improvements. It makes you more invested in your home, in your community, and it's a huge boost in terms of maximizing your home's value."
Lichtenauer advises against just being a host for the extra money but encourages approaching the venture like another job, with the same type of attention and care.
One thing is certain: the concept is far more than a passing fad or novelty, and the hotel industry appears to be forcing itself to adapt and even work with and learn from the likes of Airbnb and other similar services.
According to Airbnb’s head of global hospitality and strategy, Chip Conley, “The company has some initiatives in the works, including more classing-up of the experience for travelers, better matching technologies to match hosts and guests, as well as expanding tourism in smaller, more rural areas of the world.
In Lichtenauer’s opinion, there is no stopping the concept’s momentum. “I think that as time goes on, people will get more and more comfortable with the idea and work to remove more and more of the barriers that exist for us to travel this way,” she says. “In my experience, those who are apprehensive at first end up being pleasantly surprised.”
Airbnb Tips from a Pro
Airbnb does everything it can to make sure users are who they say they are, to manage reasonable expectations for hosts and guests alike, to settle disputes and to mitigate risks for all parties. The company reimburses hosts in the case of damage or theft and readily refunds guests who find themselves in a bad experience and need to cancel, but even then, sometimes the unexpected happens. Here are some tips Lichtenauer offers up to get the most out of Airbnb:
1. Start looking as far ahead of time as possible — if you wait until the last minute, the best listings may already be taken, but remember there are plenty of listings to match any budget. Take advantage of the “Help” tab on the Airbnb website, which overflows with great information.
2. Communicate. There should be no surprises for you, especially as a guest. Reach out and ask questions. Make sure expectations are clear. If you have a special request, don't hesitate to ask.
3. Users are verified and vetted, but take the time to get a feel for your future guest or host. If someone is not prompt, communicative or friendly in their responses, that could be a red flag. Airbnb is a hospitality service and should feel like it. As a guest, never pay for a reservation outside of Airbnb, as it puts you at risk for fraud and security issues.
4. As a host, extra touches are always good. It helps me to think of myself as a concierge. I travel quite a bit myself, and I know what extra comforts I like. Little things like Champagne, answering questions about things to do around town, providing a house guide/guidebook, and a guest atlas for guests to leave me comments and notes go a long way.
5. Manage your own expectations reasonably, and remember that the Golden Rule always applies. Treat your hosts and guests with the same kind of respect and care you would want to receive. Believe it or not, it always pays off in the end.
Four Things You Might Not Know about Airbnb
- A recent valuation estimated the company to be at the $25 billion mark (2016 alone has been forecast with $12.3 billion in bookings).
- During the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro — a city notorious for being limited on hotel accommodations — Airbnb served nearly 70,000 travelers.
- Airbnb was one of the first U.S. companies to operate in Cuba shortly after the U.S. eased federal restrictions.
- Revered investment tycoon Warren Buffett has warmed up to Airbnb as a lodging alternative for Berkshire Hathaway investors. When they head to Nebraska for shareholder meetings, some book Airbnbs in Omaha.
To book your next adventure, visit airbnb.com.