How is Airbnb phenomenon affecting Pasadena as the city enters its busiest time of the year?
Published : Friday, November 24, 2017 | 5:46 AM
Everyone wants to be home for the holidays, but at whose home?
With the stratospheric rise in shared housing platforms such as Airbnb, HomeAway, and Tripping, some Pasadena homeowners are reaping the benefits of opening their homes during the holiday season. In fact, the two weeks of Christmas and New Year’s are among the most popular and lucrative for them.
“I think that the evidence in terms of home sharing being economically beneficial to the city is pretty persuasive,” said Mayor Terry Tornek Wednesday. “And it’ll be even more than official when we start collecting Transit Occupancy taxes, as soon as we get the various ordinances squared away and make the arrangements with the Home Sharing platforms. Right now there are the indirect benefits of attracting visitors and accommodating them in town, and they spend money, shopping and dining and recreating. But there will be a more direct pop when we start collecting revenue.”
And Tornek wouldn’t be the mayor if he didn’t extol the attractiveness of the City during the holidays, to wit, “The holidays in Pasadena is a bonanza. In terms of the merchants and the hotels and the restaurants, and just in terms of people having fun. I think it’s a time when Pasadena is not just for visitors. Pasadena is a good time for residents as well. There are lots of events. There are a lot of free events, most noteworthy, of course, being the parade itself.”
Councilmember John Kennedy agreed, saying, “I think that (home sharing) is a positive. It is, in some measure, the heart of how we accommodated friends and families and even those who we did not know when they moved from the South, and moved from the East to the West. We made our homes available to others. So we have historical references that we call upon in the 21st century model and the City Council’s responsibility from a policy perspective is to make sure that there are right policies in place to allow that activity to be safely undertaken in our city.”
A number of Airbnb hosts have told the City Council more than once, shared housing tenants spend a lot of money in the city, visiting restaurants, and of course, shopping.
For home-sharing host Mandy Elion, the Pasadena holiday season is a serious boom time, noting that she raises her rates accordingly.
“Usually my guest house rental is available for two nights minimum,” Elion said. “For New Year’s, it’s a four or five-night minimum and my rate is doubled. Hotels triple their rates during Rose Bowl.”
“The holidays are big,” agreed Liana Enkelis, an Airbnb “SuperHost.” And not just economically speaking.
“For me, Thanksgiving has never been as big a holiday but to other hosts I know it is,” she explained. “I only have one guest here, one couple here over Thanksgiving, and they’re actually here because the wife is doing research at the Huntington. They’re from Brazil and they’re not familiar with the American Thanksgiving holiday. So I’m taking them with me to my mom’s for the holiday, and I think that’ll be a fun cultural exchange.”
According to Enkelis, some hosts become surrogate family as well as local ambassadors for their tenants. As Enkelis noted, “A lot of the older homes in Pasadena are pretty small, and they don’t have spare bedrooms. So we Pasadena Airbnb hosts become the spare holiday bedroom.”
It’s the cultural exchanges that become nearly as valuable as the extra income, says Enkelis.
“I’ve had guests here from China approaching Chinese New Year,” she said. “They’re not here over the Chinese New Year, but approaching it. They’ve explained their traditions to me, and this past spring around Easter time, I happen to be Jewish and follow Jewish traditions, and I hosted a family over dinner at my house. And I had two different sets of grandparents from the Midwest staying with me for Easter break to visit their grandchildren. And these were set of grandparents who were Jewish but they were happy to watch me cooking and tasting the different dishes. So that was kind of fun, too.”
Home sharing host Van Martin-Rowe, has a similar tale.
“We’ve been sharing our home through Airbnb for the last four years and we’ve had guests for both Christmas and New Year’s, as well as Thanksgiving,” he recalled.
“And usually we get people who have relatives in town, or have family in town. However, two years ago, we had a lovely guest who came into town and had a change in plans or something happened, and the person she was supposed to meet for Thanksgiving, she didn’t meet, so we ended up having her join our family and join our table and just kind of made her Thanksgiving.”
It’s a tale that is apparently being repeated every year, all across Pasadena.
But how does it affect hotels, for example? Is there a drop in sales tax revenue from fewer rooms being booked?
Attorney Richard McDonald, who has represented a number of local hotels and developers, thinks the jury might still be out on that question.
“I think there’s a real diversity of opinion on that,” McDonald said. “Some will think it cuts into their business, others won’t care because they’re so booked up, others I think only care that the rentals have to pay the transit tax like they do. I think it’s a pretty big diversity of opinion.”
But that opinion could change when the large handful of hotels in the midst of development get completed, he offered.
“My own belief,” he said, “is we have to finish getting all the hotels that are in the pipeline built, and then, see where we are.”