Florida’s hospitality industry rakes in over a hundred billion dollars a year and employs well over a million people. While much of this is concentrated around Miami and in the Keys, Levy County offers a visitor experience that’s very different from these destinations. Several local residents have already turned this into a business opportunity, renting out cottages, cabins and even RVs for $100 per night or more.
This may seem like a nice amount of money for doing little more than cleaning, and as long as you’re selective about your guests this will generally be the case. One of the first things to understand is that hosting paying guests is a very different proposition from having friends and family members stay with you. People will expect a certain level of professionalism and service, but also a warm, personalized experience. In particular, they will expect you to be upfront with them if anything goes wrong, be available to check them in and out as well as provide local advice and guidance.
AirBnB in Florida
As in other states, AirBnB and similar platforms have enjoyed a complicated relationship with the community and the established tourism operators. The latter, quite reasonably, point out that a number of independent operators have been known to exploit their customers, harm the reputation of the state, annoy their neighbors and have in some cases been convicted of offenses such as violating liquor laws. AirBnB hosts, equally reasonably, point out that they shouldn’t be held to the same standard as a venue that employs dozens of people.
Still, with approximately 40,000 AirBnB hosts living in Florida, the phenomenon isn’t all that likely to disappear soon. At the time of writing, it seems likely that Senator Greg Steube’s Senate Bill 1400 will pass. This will require all short-term rental properties to be properly licensed and collect taxes on the government’s behalf. Many communities are however opposed to this new law, as it concentrates all regulatory power at the state level and doesn’t address the problem of hosts running businesses in residentially zoned properties.
Whenever you have paying guests on your property, you’ve effectively turned it into a public space. This implies that you could be sued if someone gets hurt there if you don’t practice what lawyers like to call reasonable care. Although this can be argued differently in court, the basic idea is that you should remove all known hazards to your guests’ safety. If the handrail on your patio is loose, for instance, you could be expected to block off that area and put up warning signs until the problem is fixed. This can also be extended to keeping people safe from crime: you won’t be expected to employ a full time guard, but there are certain very specific laws you’ll need to comply with.
To protect yourself against these kinds of claims, it’s highly recommended that you speak with a lawyer and update your insurance – this will likely save you money in the long run. You will also have to educate yourself as to how food and beverage sales are taxed as well as how to calculate transient rental tax. Both Levy County and the State of Florida will have a claim on part of your earnings, although AirBnB itself takes a lot of the work out of filing your returns.
AirBnB itself contains a wealth of information on hosting and the various aspects of running a DIY hotel. Doing as much research as possible before spending any money or making any commitments is probably the best thing any prospective host can do.
Much of this research will focus on your specific area. Browse around other local AirBnB properties: what do they charge, where are they located, what comments and criticisms do their guests leave? Getting as much information as possible, including from the Levy County Visitor’s Bureau, will make designing a marketing and pricing strategy that much simpler.
They key to doing this successfully is often restricting yourself to a particular type of guest. If the property you want to AirBnB is a remote fishing cabin without internet, most twentysomethings will not have a good time there, nor will business travelers leave a positive review. At the end of the day, consistently getting five stars is what will convert a sideline into a successful business.
In this regard, you will probably have to invest a little money into furniture and fittings. A stained toilet bowl will already be enough to put off most people, while simply buying an air mattress suitable for children can greatly improve your changes of getting family bookings. Always make sure to have enough beds.
Improvements like these can be made gradually, though, as long as you’re completely honest about what you are actually offering to your guests.