They view their Airbnb property as a place that provides a positive, engaging, Southern experience for those visiting; a counter to the less than favorable image some have of the state. That’s a good thing.
Janelle and Will have been hosting for five years now. They split the work of the Airbnb half and half. Will, who resides in Texas, handles the online element and bookings, while Janelle restocks the property with necessities and takes care of the things that can’t be done via computer.
The property sits up against the reservoir in Rankin county. Wood paneling lines the walls of the house of this house with a very 60s feel about it. The Hedermans bought the property, which had been in the family, from their cousins six years ago. They knew that such a peaceful location shouldn’t be wasted, but at the time, neither lived in the state. The Hedermans did not want a long-term renter and the property was already furnished so it seemed more economical and efficient to sign on with the then-up and coming Airbnb.
The big question was who would vacation in Rankin county. Over 150 bookings, 600 people, and five years later, that question has been answered.
Guests have ranged from in-state, California, Nebraska, Minnesota, and Kansas, to the United Kingdom and France. They even come from minutes away as in the case of two medical students who initially came for a month to study. They ended up staying for two. The Hedermans have also hosted students and their parents, bass fishermen, softball and soccer teams, family reunions, and wedding rehearsal dinners. They’ve even had people come film music videos and documentaries on the property.
When asked what the draw is about Airbnb, Janelle thinks that it comes down to how economical it is. The Hedermans property has bedding for 12 people, however, it can accommodate more. The sports teams have brought the most in, consisting of 15 or 16 people. In addition to the economy of Airbnb, entertainment is provided. The Hedermans have fishing poles, john boats, and canoes all ready to be taken out on the reservoir, along with plenty of space for kids to run around the yard. It’s all part of the welcoming experience.
While the city of Jackson considers regulations that would drive most Airbnb operators out of town, the Hedermans have already had to fight for theirs. Two years ago, Pearl River Valley Water Supply tried to put an end to Airbnb in the area. In the end, PRV did not succeed in eliminating Airbnb properties, but the issue did bring up concern regarding property rights. Janelle says many neighborhoods already have covenants that address whether residents can rent their property out or not and thinks it should be left that way.
There’s no need for any overhead government or government agency to come in and tell neighborhood residents what they can or can’t do.
According to Janelle, Airbnb is in the middle of a Southern clash; on one hand, Mississippians are friendly and want the comfort of knowing everyone in their neighborhood without strangers coming and going. On the other hand, companies like Airbnb can have a significant impact on economies, which Mississippi needs.
As a resident of Belhaven, Janelle believes Jackson’s economy itself could use a facelift. As to concerns about strangers coming and going, Janelle says Airbnb is based on the premise of the Golden Rule. The company has a system in place to hold everyone accountable. Just like guests have the ability to rate a property and leave a review, hosts can do the same for guests. Once you have a bad review as a renter, there’s little chance a host will be willing to take you on again.
In Janelle’s experience, the majority of Airbnb users are good, honest, hardworking people looking to have a good time and a good experience in a quiet place. Ultimately, Janelle is convinced that the concern of not knowing one’s neighbors should give way to the economic factor.
Janelle is confident that having Airbnb makes people more comfortable in coming to the state, and once they are here, an opportunity to show them all the good happening throughout the state, opens up.
Possibly changing negative minds about Mississippi.