Colorado Airbnb hosts pivot to make ends meet during pandemic

Posted at 9:44 PM, May 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-20 01:22:36-04

DENVER -- As Colorado rebounds, local Airbnb hosts who counted on renting out spare bedrooms and basements saw their income evaporate almost overnight. Now, many are finding ways to pivot to make ends meet during the pandemic.

For the last four years, Jennifer Nelson has been renting out the third floor of her Denver home on Airbnb, relying on travelers for a stead income stream. So steady, she recently took out a loan to furnish the space.

"I was absolutely relying on it," said Nelson. When we saw three months of bookings evaporate into thin air, I kind of panicked."

The novel coronavirus changed everything, and with Airbnb, there was a ripple effect: From hosts to cleaning companies to property managers.

"We literally had all our books cleared. Every reservation that was on the books was gone," said Gretchen Blaz, who owns Denver Super Hosts. She used to manage 20 Airbnb listings in Denver, however, many have now been turned into long-term rentals.

"It was a very dramatic plunge," said Blaz. "And seeing that Airbnb had overridden the cancellation policies meant there was literally no money coming in."

Initially, Airbnb only gave guests refunds. After an outcry from hosts, the company later offered to pay hosts 25% of canceled bookings.

For some connected to the sharing economy, it was too little too late.

"It's devastation for the owners and for me since it was my full-time income," said Hillary Skye, who managed several properties in Colorado and could no longer make ends meet. "First of all, you freak out! And I immediately went out and applied for several jobs, and I was able to get a job at a local grocery store."

Other property managers and hosts are trying to pivot.

Blaz is planning to launch a fogging company to disinfect properties.

"We're seeing and recognizing that the need to sanitize spaces will be greater than the need to host home shares," said Blaz.

Meanwhile, she said some people are booking small spaces to quarantine themselves.

Some hosts, including Jennifer Nelson, got help from the Paycheck Protection Program to help get through the cancellations.

"I don't know what I would have done without it," said Nelson. "I think a lot of people think Airbnb hosts are these rich investors living this lavish lifestyle, but the truth is, we're just normal people trying to make an income and support our families."

Nelson said people are starting to book her third floor again, and she is holding her breath, hoping for a rebound.

"It's a much lower pricing. It's not the same, but it's better than nothing," she said. "I tried to be very careful about not over-leveraging. But we definitely still owe for the furniture."