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Wednesday, December 27, 2017 1:00 am

Airbnb big money for state, city renters

Lodging marketplace brings 175,000 to Indiana in 2017

MATTHEW LEBLANC | The Journal Gazette

Airbnb in Indiana

Airbnb hosts in Indiana earned $20.7 million in 2017. Following are figures for the state's top 20 cities.

City Total 2017 Total 2017

guest arrivals host income

Indianapolis 73,000 $8.42 million

South Bend 20,000 $2.89 million

Bloomington 16,800 $1.87 million

Michigan City 5,700 $867,300

Fort Wayne 4,250 $437,900

West Lafayette 3,050 $311,350

Lafayette 3,050 $383,500

Nashville 1,950 $207,700

Fishers 1,800 $200,600

Evansville 1,670 $163,700

Carmel 1,570 $270,000

LaPorte 1,490 $184,500

Noblesville 1,390 $178,300

Valparaiso 1,310 $143,650

New Albany 1,300 $156,100

Gary 1,300 $195,650

Granger 1,250 $159,700

Westfield 1,180 $146,600

Greenwood 1,080 $90400

Mishawaka 980 $121,100

Source: Airbnb

Kathy Leigh-Manuell struggled with what to do with a vacant apartment on her property in northeast Fort Wayne.

Two years later, she has turned the remodeled living space into reliable retirement income.

“We thought about selling the house. I had never heard of Airbnb,” she said. “My kids, they said, 'Mom, you should turn that into an Airbnb.'”

She is glad she took their advice. Leigh-Manuell, 65, estimates the little apartment has netted $20,000 in bookings this year through Airbnb, an online marketplace that offers alternatives to traditional hotel stays.

“That's a nice little chunk of change for someone who's retired,” she said last week.

Leigh-Manuell is one of nearly 4,000 Airbnb hosts in Indiana who collectively earned more than $21 million by renting homes, apartments and other spaces in 2017, according to the company. Hosts in Indiana typically earn about $4,700 annually, an Airbnb spokesman said.

“The 175,000 guest arrivals to Indiana via Airbnb represents 108 percent year-over-year growth,” the company said in a statement. “This comes as Hoosiers increasingly embrace the home sharing platform as an opportunity to earn supplemental income and make ends meet.”

Indianapolis drew 73,000 visitors, and hosts there earned more than $8.4 million in 2017. Fort Wayne ranked fifth on Airbnb's Indiana list of host income, with $437,900.

The company reported hosts in South Bend, Bloomington and Michigan City earned a combined $5.6 million this year.

Airbnb has faced criticism and questions about privacy and whether some renters are property managers rather than homeowners looking to provide short-term rentals. It also has tried to counter the hotel industry, which argues that Airbnb is cutting into its business without having to charge guests lodging taxes.

Jonathon Day, an associate professor at the Purdue University School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, said it's difficult to determine how much Airbnb affects traditional hotels and motels. Citing research from STR, an industry monitoring company, he said year-to-date occupancy at hotels and motels is up nearly 1 percent.

“The big question is how much Airbnb is impacting hotels,” Day said in an email. “There is some evidence that the impact is not that great.

“I believe that Airbnb has found a sector in that market that is looking for something different to the traditional hotel – and that Airbnb will be around for the long haul.”

That's the key for renters like Leigh-Manuell. She said hotels and motels simply don't work for some of her guests.

A Norwegian couple came to Fort Wayne to adopt a baby, she said, and didn't want to spend time with the child in a hotel. Her property can also offer children a backyard in which they can play, she said.

“It brings a lot of people to Fort Wayne who don't want to stay in hotels and who hotels don't really work for,” said Leigh-Manuell, who charges $75 per night for her apartment.

Liz Monnier is finishing her second year renting space in her home in the West Central neighborhood via Airbnb. Since posting the upstairs apartment on the website, she has rented more than 200 nights to visitors, she said.

More than a third of Airbnb hosts in Indiana rent out an extra, unused room, the company said.

“It suits me,” Monnier said. “It's nice to have it as a source of revenue, but I can have it flexible.”

mleblanc@jg.net