Shona Owen: How my life changed when I became an Airbnb host

Airbnb is the new phenomenon of the interconnected world, offering travellers places to stay and allowing property-owners to supplement their income…and learn a lot about life and themselves in the process.


By Shona Owen

Listing my Sea Point flat on Airbnb was not a carefully carried out campaign for me.

A friend, over dinner, briefly mentioned having a guest staying from Airbnb.. My first reaction was amazement at the popularity and number of listings, in my own suburb, right under my nose. Filled with enthusiasm and Merlot, I took my first step towards becoming an Airbnb host.

That was Friday. By Saturday afternoon, I had three requests for guests to stay from that very night  —  and life has not been the same since.

I learnt by making mistakes, quite a few, before mastering the art of Airbnb hosting. Yes, there are the obvious things to consider, such as what do you provide, who should you accept into your home, are you charging too much or little, should you try harder, socialise more, interfere less . . .

And that doesn’t even touch on the crash course on linen, cleaning, public transport, “essential” amenities and so much more.

But  the most beneficial skills I have learnt are about myself. My boundaries, my flaws, my strengths, my ability to handle conflict and adapt. It has been an education in defining myself and consciously choosing who and what is important to me.

Airbnb is the stereotypical, American style cheerleader, egging you on at every turn, comparing you to your “competition;” pointing out your less than five-star reviews. It team are masters at their game, consummate professionals, tirelessly passionate. Back at home, though, there were tears.

I felt marginalised by some guests, and at other times felt I had fallen short of expectations. I lost money, I overcharged, and then I went through it all again,  until I found the balance that worked for me.

One year after  my initiation into Airbnb, my experience with American customer service and becoming part of a new economic environment has taught me far more than I ever learnt via academic studies.

I learnt the power of community, of talking to a stranger for advice, of promoting my city, my country, and most importantly — myself.

I slowly stopped seeing South Africa as a boiling pot of Nkandla/ Pistorius/ Malema, and began to see the progress and energy we exude. I learnt to appreciate the “mountain” again, Cape Town street slang and even, to some degree, and only on some days, the minibus taxis.

We are truly fortunate to live in the landscape that we do, and to be part of such a vibrant, entertaining and curious set of cultures.

Airbnb warns: “deciding to host is not a decision to be taken lightly.” Financial advantage aside, it is a fantastic tutor. The brand is such a bold industry leader, pushing you every step of the way, offering excellent support.

I have met the most amazing, fascinating guests who became friends, from all over the world, travelling vicariously through their stories. I have also met some strange creatures who are better suited to a Dr Seuss book than real life.

And I met myself. I learned to listen to criticism. I grew stronger in areas where I was previously unsure. I highly recommend taking up the challenge yourself. See your country through your guest’s eyes. Embrace South Africa as the highly sought after attraction it is to experienced globetrotters. Your life will be so much richer for the gamble!

  • For more information on renting or hosting on Airbnb, visit Airbnb.
  • This article first appeared on the Change Exchange, an online platform by BrightRock, provider of the first-ever life insurance that changes as your life changes. The opinions expressed in this piece are the writer’s own and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BrightRock.
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