Airbnb has received much criticism over the years for harbouring racist and homophobic hosts as well as its fair share of problematic guests. Black Gay Blog caught up with London Airbnb Host, Dennis L Carney, to find out how he became the face of a British campaign for the American hospitality brand.
Who is Dennis Carney? Tell our readers a little about yourself
Dennis Carney is a freelance trainer and consultant, specialising in diversity and LGBTQ issues. I teach anger management, group dynamics, and gestalt therapy techniques as a part-time lecturer at City Lit. I am also a co-founder of Loving Men, an organisation that plans personal development events for gay/bi/queer men.
How did you become an Airbnb Host?
A very good friend of mine used to rent his apartment on Airbnb. He rented the whole apartment, and that enabled him to travel around America for six months and India for three months living off the income generated from Airbnb.
He kept encouraging me to sign up with Airbnb, but I wasn’t sure I wanted all these strangers in my house. I had a lodger at the time, and when the lodger left, I thought I’d give Airbnb a try. It turned out to be a real win-win situation, and that was three years ago.
What was your first hosting experience like?
I’ll never forget it. I was lying in bed the night before the first guest arrived thinking, “Oh my God, what have I done? I’m probably inviting a murderer into my house knowing my luck. But when I opened the door the next day and saw this man standing there on crutches, he really reminded me of an important lesson we must all remember.
Don’t let anything get in your way of fulfilling your dreams. He had booked the holiday. Broke his leg. But he wasn’t going to allow a broken leg to stop him. He stayed with me for two weeks and had a fantastic time in London, even though he was on crouches throughout his trip.
My second guest was a woman from New York, Natalie. She was amazing. We got on like a house on fire. We just clicked. She left me the most fantastic review that still encourages lots of people to choose my listing. I can’t say that all the guests who have stayed here have been like Natalie. Far from it.
What percentage of guests have been problematic?
I can’t really put a percentage figure on it. Most people are genuinely okay. I’ve met some really really nice people. I’ve been taken out to dinner a few times. One guest took me to the movies. I’ve been to a concert with another and to the local pub with many more.
I have met some fabulous people from all over the world, and I have been blown away by how successful my listing has been on Airbnb. I’ve had a couple of problematic guests, and one very bad experience but I don’t want to talk about it.
How many bookings have you had so far?
I’ve had over 230 guests in three years. It’s a very very popular listing. I don’t have to worry about paying the bills anymore. I would encourage anyone with a spare room to give it a try. My second bedroom was just sitting there empty. What’s the point in that when you can make money from it?
Has Being an Airbnb host helped you to pay off your mortgage?
Yes. Definitely. I paid off the mortgage two years ago. But it definitely helped to replace the income that was lost from the lodger. In fact, it more than replaced the income from the lodger. I earned twice as much in far less time.
The great thing about Airbnb is that it’s all within your control. If you want to be really busy, you can have everyday open. If you want to block out dates, you can do that too. It’s all within your control and that’s what I like about it.
I paid off my mortgage while lying on a beach in Barbados using the money earned with Airbnb. Fund your dreams, become a host on Airbnb.
How do you organise your hosting business around a busy lifestyle?
I have a specific check-in time, which is 5pm onwards, and I arrange that with each guest before they book. It allows me to get on with my day. Go to the gym, do my work, meet clients and all the other things I need to get done between normal 9-5 hours.
On the rare occasion when I’m unavailable to welcome a guest, I have a key box, and they can self-check-in. But that’s only happened twice in three years. It’s something I try to avoid. I like to be there to meet guests when they arrive.
I try to manage this Airbnb lettings in a way that does not cause me stress. One of the ways I’ve done that is to be very very clear about the boundaries and my house rules. For example, one woman came here and stained the bed linen with her make-up and it’s water-resistant and impossible to get out. I added in the House Rules, ‘please remove all make-up and fake tan before using the bed linen.’ I haven’t had any problems since.
I also used to find a lot of used tampons in the bathroom bin, and you can imagine how stressed out I was at that. Solution: I removed the bin from the bathroom. I don’t know what they do with their used tampons now, but I don’t have to be clearing them out anymore. I left a sanitary bag in the bedroom, on the wall, so they can’t miss it.
What was the initial Airbnb sign-up process like?
Very straight-forward. No problem at all. I did local research beforehand in terms of looking at other listings. Nicked a few ideas. Got inspired on what to write about my property and filled in the sections online one by one. You can save it as a draft before you go live, too, but I did it in one go because I came prepared.
So apart from PayPal or a bank account to receive your earnings, what else does an Airbnb host need to sign-up?
If you want to get lots of bookings, you’ll need some good photographs of your rental space. Airbnb can help you with that, but there’s a charge. Or if you’ve been a Superhost for 12-months, they will send someone round to take pictures of your listing free-of-charge. They can also deduct charges for taking any professional photos from future bookings. Ask about paying for photos by instalments once you’ve signed up.
How would you rate the Airbnb Support Team?
They’ve always been very helpful to me with any issues that come up. I had a pretty bad experience with one guest, and they helped me to sort it out. Some weeks later, they even dropped £250 into my bank account for the inconvenience. I’m also a Superhost, so I get priority treatment.
What about racism from guests?
There’s been nothing overt. I have experienced micro-aggression based on race from a few people. Most times, they’re not even aware of their passive-aggressive behaviour, but I have let a few of them know that acting up is not acceptable in my space.
I’m Chair of the local Home Sharing Club for Airbnb. So I’ve been talking to lots of different hosts, and I just innocently asked a few people, “What’s your review percentage?” People are telling me 95% – 98% and I’m thinking, hold on a minute. Why is mine 70-per cent? And it’s that kind of thing I see as micro-aggression from some of the guests.
They have no complaint, but they won’t even leave you an F-ing review when they know it’s part of the culture of Airbnb. It’s born of envy and racism. You can read it on their faces sometimes when they walk into your place and see that you’re a black person living well. Perhaps better than they live. But I am fortunate to have had excellent comments from those who leave a review.
How did you get involved in the campaign to recruit more Airbnb hosts?
Two totally unexpected things happened with Airbnb. I was having lunch with a friend in a local cafe when he noticed a sign saying there was a meeting there that evening for local Airbnb hosts. I went along and by the end of the night, they had made me Chair of the local Home Sharing Group. That was really useful because hosting can be isolating and it’s good to know other hosts to share experiences and get ideas about how to promote your listing.
The other thing I wasn’t expecting is to see my face plastered all over social media and the London Transport Network in the Airbnb campaign to recruit more hosts from different backgrounds. They interviewed 100 Airbnb superhosts in London and Paris, and it was a three-stage interview process. I was on the phone to them answering questions as part of the first stage when they said, “You know, Dennis, I don’t think we need to continue with this. We want you.” I was like, okay, how much are you gonna pay me?
But the level of recognition I’ve received in terms of people recognising me from the campaign, it blew me away. More often than not, people would come up to me saying how they saw me on Twitter or Instagram, but I don’t know how really famous people cope with all the attention they must get. It may sound like sour grapes, but I’m just trying to keep myself to myself. I don’t need strangers walking up to me at all hours of the day and night. Spooky.
What five tips would you give a new Airbnb Host?
- Take great photos of your listing
- Research local listings especially from Superhosts
- Identify your property’s Unique Selling Point (USP)
- Pay attention to small details
- Make your listing LGBTQ-friendly and state it
Any final words?
Yeah. If you’ve got a spare room, sign up as a host today. It could be one of the best decisions you’ve ever made! It was for me.