Story by Bekah Porter Sandy
Sandra Moreland spent years in the corporate world as a marketing consultant. Each day brought new obstacles and challenges, and the busyness of it all left her seeking solitude.
For that reason, the Cumming resident and her family jumped at the chance to purchase a piece of land off Lake Lanier.
“It’s just a very serene place to enjoy nature and quiet,” she said.
That was almost 20 years ago. Now her boys are grown and living in Hawaii, and her husband has retired from his equally hectic career as an ad agency executive. And while the little standalone bungalow that came with the home had seen its fair share of overnight guests throughout the years, Moreland thought it seemed a little lonely.
“We’ve hosted so many people there, and they have all said how relaxing and enjoyable it has been, and they urged us to put it on AirBnB,” she said. “Now that we’re empty nesters, we decided we’d give it a shot.”
Moreland is one of more than 1 million individuals worldwide who has decided to get in on the room-sharing web business that has already overtaken the largest hotel companies, according to Business Travel News. According to the InterContinental Hotels group, AirBnB had about 37 million room nights rented in 2014, and reports show that this number is expected to increase by 44 percent in the next year.
“I think (AirBnB) has made the lake more accessible,” said Stacey Dickson, president of the Lake Lanier Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Here in Hall County, we only have about 1,000 traditional hotel lodging rooms, so we are limited on space, especially during peak time in the summer when those hotel rooms fill up very quickly.”
The online company has been making business headlines since its launch in August 2008. Its website allows people to rent residential properties for profit, with a percentage of the cost paid to AirBnB for facilitating the exchange.
Yasmine Knighten of Roswell uses the site to rent out her four-bedroom houseboat in Flowery Branch.
“(AirBnB) was a great way to get the word out, with (it) having such a big footprint established already,” she said. “It’s an easy way to get to know who you are putting in your investment, and likewise for the guest.”
Knighten found that she naturally fit into the AirBnB community. She manages 350 gulf-front properties in Florida, and said it seemed a perfect way to generate revenue when she wasn’t using the boat herself.
“(You can) stay where you can see the water from every room, have coffee on one of the many outdoor spaces, catch and cook right on the dock, or just relax on the rooftop hammock and read a book,” she said. “The nature and all that surrounds you has no comparison to the traditional settings of a rental.”
Dickson said the CVB has noticed a surge in AirBnB properties largely for exactly that reason: the properties do differ from the traditional hotel room stay. Hall County AirBnB properties range from cabins to gypsy carts to treehouses.
“It’s something unique and quirky,” she said.
Moreland agrees her property drastically veers from the traditional hotel stay. In her cozy bungalow, she does everything she can to make the experience personal.
“I try to anticipate what will make our guests happy,” she said.
That means providing a paddleboat, a fire pit, a fridge stocked with goodies like beer and ice cream bars, and all sorts of bamboo products (from toothbrushes to sheets to kitchen utensils) to pay homage to the bamboo garden on the property.
And her guests seem to appreciate these touches, one couple even going so far as to insist on making Sandra and her husband breakfast.
“They insisted. They absolutely insisted,” she said. “So they came in and made us this amazing Indian dish. It was wonderful. Truly, we’ve met some great people. Super, super nice people. We’ve had great conversations and met the type of people we’d like to associate with anyway.”
While Moreland hadn’t anticipated this chapter in her life, she said that she’s glad she gave it a chance.
“We started mid-September and thought, ‘We’ll see how it goes,’” she said. “We’ve been booked every weekend.”