Ashly has become the resident AirBnb expert among her friend group. The 31-year-old Graduate Hospital dweller has been using the service for nearly a year to rent out her space to strangers. She’s done it more than a dozen times, and has been designated by AirBnb as a “Superhost” due to a slew of positive reviews by strangers who’ve stayed with her. And Ashly rarely has a problem renting out her space.
Except for this weekend.
Ashly, who asked her last name not be used due to privacy concerns, lowered her price from what she had originally set her one-bedroom apartment at — $700 a night — and has still had no bites on renting out the space for this weekend’s Papal visit. She says she easily rented out her space for last month’s Made in America concert weekend and had 150 views of her page for that event. For the Papal visit? Thirty.
“There was so much hype about how much money you could make, that I think we out-priced the market immediately,” she said about AirBnb, the online hub for renting out your crib to strangers. “And then nobody wanted to lower their rates.”
Nearly 6,000 AirBnb listings are still up for grabs in Philadelphia this weekend, including in the most popular neighborhoods to rent like Rittenhouse Square, University City, Graduate Hospital and Fishtown. And despite rumors people were planning to get thousands of dollars for their studio apartment in Center City, AirBnb spokeswoman Molly Graizzaro said the average price of booked listings for the weekend is around $100 per night.
There’s frustration among even the most seasoned AirBnb hosts as the service saw a 270 percent increase in Philadelphia users since just April of this year. And though demand is, according to the company, eight times higher for this weekend than it is normally, that apparently wasn’t enough for the money and rentals to go around.
The other concern among AirBnb hosts Billy Penn spoke with was the idea that maybe the problem wasn’t AirBnb — maybe the problem is that not as many pilgrims are flocking to Philadelphia as was originally expected. It’s two days before Pope Francis gets here and the hotel rooms in Center City still aren’t full and, according to SEPTA, more than 200,000 Papal passes are still available for people coming into the city.
One woman who has a two-bedroom flat in the heart of Old City has been renting out her space for more than three years using AirBnb and has earned more than 150 five-star reviews from stranger who have stayed with her over the years. She typically rents out her entire flat for about $200 a night, which she raised to $350 a night for the Papal visit.
The woman, who asked her name not be used due to privacy concerns, said she listed her space on AirBnb months ago and assumed she would get a booking before the “newbies” because of her experience as a host. Her place is popular — she already has weekends in December booked up. And one guest who was going to stay in her space the weekend of the Papal visit actually decided not to because the Pope was coming.
And still, no takers.
“Such a big scare went out that Philadelphia would be so inaccessible that it made people book places in Cherry Hill or down by the airport,” she said, “and it kind of backfired and made it so that all of us in the city didn’t get bookers.”
The city and the Secret Service were criticized over the last several months for first failing to release information ahead of time, and then releasing information in a piecemeal way that caused confusion about what would actually be shut down in the city. The clear communications issues gave way to businesses worried about how they’d operate and residents angry about what the could and couldn’t do within their own city.
The city switched up its public relations strategy and made efforts to shed the event in a more positive light by highlighting what would be open and accessible during the Papal visit — but some think it might have been too little, too late.
Fairmount resident Michelle Friedman rents out her basement through AirBnb and was booked for almost every weekend this summer. Every time there’s a major event like Made in America or the Philadelphia Marathon, Friedman’s space gets scooped up quickly.
“I don’t think as many people are coming out as originally thought, just because it’s so hard,” Friedman said. “The city of Philadelphia isn’t making it easy for anyone, so I’m not terribly surprised.”
Alyssa Kalter, a Society Hill resident, agreed, saying she and her roommates put up their space that’s two floors of a rowhome back in early spring for $1,000 a night. There were no bites, and they lowered the price significantly and decided that at that point, it was no longer worth the hassle.
One man who lives at 10th and Arch in the shadow of the Convention Center — literally steps away from the World Meeting of Families — had a guest put down a deposit to stay in his apartment for a week for the Papal visit. But concerns about security arose, and the guests decided they only wanted to stay for a weekend.
Then, the guests got spooked even more, and last week shorted their deposit and canceled their trip altogether. The resident was able to keep the deposit, but he said he stood to make a lot more had the reservation been kept. He, like many other hosts, blames the city.
“The city played themselves,” the Chinatown resident, who didn’t want to be named due to privacy concerns, said. “They were so excited about having the Pope coming, but they really went overboard with the whole idea of security. I have friends in New York who AirBnb and they’re like, ‘we rented ours out no problem.’ The city didn’t make it all weird, like a life or death event to come see the Pope.”