Detroiters profiting from Airbnb

Tourism has long served as one of the backbones of Detroit’s economy. After eight consecutive years of tourism growth both in Detroit and throughout Michigan, it’s clear that the increasing attractiveness to visitors is catalyzing the city’s comeback.

The renaissance in particular is boosting Detroit’s hotel industry, which has experienced the largest year-over-year revenue increases of any top 25 American market. This reflects an encouraging sign for Detroit’s economic health, particularly in neighborhoods that have hotels.

However, the overwhelming proportion of Detroit’s hotels are located downtown, with a handful sprinkled within some of the fast-growing “New Detroit” neighborhoods. While we all support downtown Detroit’s revitalization, we must do more to democratize the revenue and ensure that all of the city benefits from Detroit’s burgeoning status as a tourism destination.

Home sharing and short-term rentals have recently emerged as innovative solutions to the complex challenge of spreading the economic benefits of travelers to Detroit’s communities of color. Peer-to-peer home sharing platforms like Airbnb allow Detroiters to rent a room in their home or apartment, or their entire place while they are gone to visitors from around the globe.

Nearly 400 Detroiters share their homes via the Airbnb platform. In the past year, those hosts have earned $6.8 million in supplemental income through Airbnb while bringing over 41,000 guests to every neighborhood of the city. These visitors are finding local Old Redford restaurants, shopping on the Avenue of Fashion and experiencing Midtown museums. Their presence — and their dollars — reflect an important part of the city’s comeback by virtue of attracting visitors to some of the historic African-American neighborhoods hungry for economic growth.

The supplemental income — about $6,000 annually for the typical Detroit Airbnb host — is helping working people across Detroit find new ways to make ends meet and better afford to keep their homes. This is particularly meaningful for the 200 Detroit hosts who simply share an extra, unused room in their.

Take Debra, for example. She rents an extra room in her Five Points home, often to young professionals relocating to Detroit for new jobs. She uses her hosting income to help pay the bills and it has given her the opportunity to meet visitors from across the globe. She views herself as an ambassador for her neighborhood, facilitating business for local merchants by offering tips to her guests hoping to live like native Detroiters for as long as they’re in town.

Debra’s story is indicative of what we see in Michigan and throughout the country. The traditional hospitality industry has long neglected communities of color, with hotels nearly always concentrating in the wealthiest neighborhoods. This has historically deprived minority neighborhoods and their small businesses of the opportunity to benefit from tourism revenue. Home sharing is helping to correct this disparity by activating economies for Detroit neighborhoods without hotels.

To be sure, not everybody appreciates the benefits of home sharing. The Lansing and Washington D.C. hotel lobbies have aggressively attacked the rights of Detroiters like Debra to share their homes, out of concern that Airbnb’s popularity will affect hotel revenue.

It’s unfortunate because for Detroit’s Airbnb hosts to win, nobody has to lose. The city’st hotels are achieving record revenues even as Airbnb’s community has grown. Home sharing empowers the city to cast a wider net to prospective travelers whose budgets cannot accommodate higher hotel rates.

Airbnb and our Detroit hosts welcome fair regulation of short-term rentals, but those rules should be simple and fair. State lawmakers have recently introduced new legislation — SB 329 and HB 4503 — which would simply prohibit outright bans. By taking the nuclear option off the table, this law would encourage communities to collaborate with local hosts on common sense rules that protect economic growth and quality of life.

We should strive to protect home sharing and open up the economic impact of Detroit’s tourism boom to all neighborhoods. In doing so, we can collectively continue to shine a global light on the qualities that make Detroit special.

Janaye Ingram is Airbnb’s director of national partnerships and formerly served as executive director for Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network.


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