Airbnb use growing exponentially for Ironman

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KAILUA-KONA — When Hungarian engineer and triathlete Balazs Ronaszeki arrived at his Airbnb, he was greeted with the standard amenities local host Lorelle Carter offers all her guests: bottled water, fresh fruit grown on-site and some homemade banana-macadamia nut-raisin bread.

KAILUA-KONA — When Hungarian engineer and triathlete Balazs Ronaszeki arrived at his Airbnb, he was greeted with the standard amenities local host Lorelle Carter offers all her guests: bottled water, fresh fruit grown on-site and some homemade banana-macadamia nut-raisin bread.

And there was something extra: a framed photograph of the triathlete competing in another race, there to welcome him to his home-away-from-home while he competed in the 2017 Ironman World Championship.

“I saw it, but I couldn’t just process it,” Ronaszeki said. “I just posted on the Facebook to my friends that I’m like a pop star, that I’m so welcomed warmfully.”

When Ronaszeki came to Kona last year for the annual competition, he stayed at a property he found on an online lodging aggregator. But after hearing about Airbnb, he said, he decided to give it a shot, looking over well-reviewed properties in the area before booking a stay at Carter’s property for him and his wife.

“It’s more like you’re at home; it’s more personal than a hotel,” he said at Carter’s property Wednesday afternoon.

Airbnb, he said, gives him a chance to meet local residents and also make use of the various amenities like snorkels, masks and other beach supplies Carter offers her guests.

Ronaszeki’s far from alone when it comes to Ironman competitors, supporters and spectators booking their stays with West Hawaii’s Airbnb hosts.

Since 2015, the home-sharing business has grown dramatically year over year, with the company clocking 3,130 guest arrivals to West Hawaii from Oct. 13-15, which was the race’s weekend. Airbnb defines West Hawaii as the region spanning from Waimea to South Point. The company added 21 percent of West Hawaii’s hosts were sharing their spaces for the first time.

The weekend’s arrivals represent a 65 percent increase over the weekend of last year’s Ironman World Championship, when 1,900 arrivals came to the region, itself a 90 percent increase over 2015’s race.

Altogether, the company reported, arrivals to the island for the weekend netted Hawaii Island hosts $584,000 — about $350 for the typical host — with hosts in West Hawaii collectively earning $483,000, or $430 for the typical host during the event.

“As airlift continues to rise and hotels operate at record occupancy rates, home sharing serves as a sustainable option and provides an elastic supply of accommodations to meet the demand of the growing number of visitors to the islands,” said Matt Middlebrook, Airbnb’s policy manager for Hawaii. “We are proud of the role our host community plays in supporting the state’s tourism industry and will continue working with state and local leaders on policies that strengthen the economy and protect Hawaii’s resources.”

Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau Executive Director Ross Birch noted that this year’s event attracted 100 more competitors than last year who along with families and supporters represent “a sizable economic influx for West Hawaii businesses beyond the thousands who already come annually from around the world.”

“With the added international and domestic air access introduced earlier this year and launching in the coming months, we are hopeful Ironman will continue to generate increased interest from travelers globally,” he said in a statement.

And for local hosts who have opened up their homes to athletes and other guests, the experience has been rewarding in ways beyond the financial benefits.

“It’s like when your kids are grown and gone, and you just look around and you go, ‘OK, well, what now?’” Carter said. “And so there is a ‘what now’ when you’re retirement-age … Who would’ve thought that I would have a new occupation at age 62, something that I never, ever dreamed of and I’ve embraced it with all my heart?”

Carter, who started hosting with Airbnb in 2016, has hosted guests from 40 countries, calling it “an incredible awakening experience.”

Not only has she been able to welcome guests from abroad, she said, it’s also led to making friends that she can visit on her own travels.

It’s also inspired her to put more investment into her home, to make it a welcoming place for guests. Out behind her house, the woman has planted banana trees, a fig tree and plenty of other vegetables and herbs to fill out the yard, not to mention the free-range chickens that provide fresh eggs.

“With Airbnb, I have more of a desire to maintain my property and create new areas in my property that I just had no desire to before, but I’m just so enjoying this, and I’m going to have bananas in six months,” she said.

And for the triathletes who come stay with her she said, it provides an opportunity for them to meet and talk about the competition that drew them all to Kona.

Kailua-Kona host Trish Knudsen added Airbnb also provides a means for Ironman competitors to bring their friends and families to the competition who otherwise might not be able to afford a stay in local hotels.

“I think, for me anyway, that’s predominantly how we’re helping Ironman, the people of Ironman,” she said. “I mean our community of businesses and volunteers really gear up for this event, and I think most of the community is really all in and it’s a huge event for us.”

This year, she said, she hosted an Austrian couple for two weeks, who came to train, learn the course and cheer on a competitor from Germany.

Knudsen has been hosting since 2011 and, while she said its primary purpose in the beginning was to help her pay the bills at her multi-family home, it’s become more than that as years have gone on.

“Most of my guests are looking for — and I found this to be true for almost all of them — they’re looking for an affordable neighborhood experience,” she said. “So we can provide that.”