While the Jackson City Council considers an ordinance which could drastically limit Airbnb and other short-term rental properties in the area, Jan Serpente continues to maintain and prepare her cottage in anticipation of her next guests.
She first learned of Airbnb about two years ago, when her youngest son, Sam, suggested she and her husband rent out their recently fixed-up wash house in their backyard. “One year he said, ‘mom, why don’t you rent this out?’” Within the first 24 hours that the space was listed on the Airbnb site, she had her first visitor scheduled. Two years later, she has welcomed and hosted over 200 guests in the Jackson area.
“I think people want to experience their travel, and this gives them an experience,” Jan says.
Jan and her husband moved to Jackson from the Coast after Katrina. Most of the guests she and her husband have hosted are either traveling from Memphis to New Orleans or from Dallas to the beach. A drive, Jan says, that is too long to cover in one day. However, she has also hosted visitors from Cambridge, England; New York; and locals looking for a weekend retreat.
For those visiting the area, Jan leaves out a list of places of interest, restaurant suggestions, and places to explore. Jan and her husband themselves have traveled a bit, though not extensively. Their last stay in a hotel ended when a lawnmower smashed into their room causing them to swear off hotels completely. She says that when someone visits a town, they generally want the local experience of that town. Which is what they get with an Airbnb. With Airbnb, we can give our customers that local town experience.
In Jan’s opinion, Airbnb’s growing popularity comes from a few factors; the comfort level an Airbnb space provides can offer an alternative to a national hotel chain, it generally costs less than a hotel, and an Airbnb can add to a traveler’s experience in ways most hotels just can’t.
Especially important to Jan is the comfort of her guests. She bakes fresh bread every day and makes sure to leave some in the cottage to welcome the guests when they arrive. She also leaves snacks like fruit and instant grits.
“It just makes me happy,” Jan added. “I’ve always liked visitors. I like to make them cozy beds, I like to make good food. So, it’s kind of a spiritual experience that you’re taking care of strangers. You want them to be comfortable, safe, happy. You want it to be a good experience for them.”
By adding to guests’ traveling experience, Jan gets an experience of her own. She describes Airbnb hosting as a way of seeing the world from the comfort of her own home. An experience she loves to share with her granddaughter, who often accompanies her in welcoming guests.
How does a potential renter know if they will be staying in a nice house? Airbnb uses a peer-to-peer review system. If an Airbnb is not up to standards, guests can complain or leave a bad rating. When customers rate a host poorly, that host is likely taken off the Airbnb site completely and kicked out of the system. If a host wants his or her location to stay up on the site, they must provide the best experience possible. This puts the power in the hands of the users and guests who stay at these Airbnb locations, rather than in the hands of government.
We want to keep this power in the hands of the costumers rather than forcing local restrictions on hosts, as various cities in Mississippi, including Jackson, are either attempting to do or have already done.
In Jan’s opinion, the city of Jackson should be doing things to promote Airbnb in Jackson.
“I think we’re doing the city of Jackson a favor,” Jan said. “We’re fabulous ambassadors. Visitors come here for a stay and I want it to be nice for them.”
Considering Jan’s level of constant guests, she is sure that this is what people want. And she enjoys putting on a good face for Jackson. Since moving here over a decade ago, Jan and her husband have considered if they wanted to stay in Jackson on several occasions. Ultimately, there is a lot about Jackson they are both proud of and they want to share that pride with others. Airbnb has given them a way to use their property to do exactly that.
“You kinda want to share that with other people, it’s easy to be here.”