Hospitality homes

Booming: Bed ‘n breakfast, homestays, student housing – it’s all earning. Photo: Louise KennerleyDavid Bromley and his Japanese partner, Kiyomi, enjoy the company of strangers. When they moved back to Australia and bought a large house in bushland south of Coffs Harbour, it seemed natural to invite paying guests to share it with them.

”I’m used to hosting people after living in London for 20 years and having family and friends of friends to stay,” Bromley says.

They listed two bedrooms with accommodation website Airbnb in January and took their first booking within days – an Austrian who wanted a week close to a beach where he could practice yoga naked at sunrise and then walk back to spend his day writing. Since then they have had a stream of local and international travellers. Online accommodation sites such as US-based Airbnb and Stayz (owned by Fairfax Media) are revolutionising the travel industry and providing an income stream for Australians with room to spare. In the past year alone the number of guests staying in Airbnb’s 9500 Australian listings has increased 457 per cent.

This could be the tip of the iceberg, if the latest figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics are any guide. More than three in four Australian households have at least one spare bedroom and a surprising number – 18 per cent of those who own their home outright – have three or more rooms to spare. People such as Seymour Jacobson and his partner, Susie Cowley, empty nesters whose five-bedroom home in Melbourne’s Caulfield South did not stay empty for long.

”When our children grew up and moved away we hadn’t been alone for 25 years, so we thought about hosting students,” says Jacobson. They opened their home to two Chinese university students for 18 months and now have a Brazilian student staying with them.

”I have taught overseas students and know they need guidance when they arrive with things like how to open a bank account and local customs,” says Jacobson. So he approached Australian Homestay Network, the nation’s largest homestay provider. AHN has contracts with most of our big educational institutions, including universities, and global education agents to provide accommodation for international students with homestay families who are screened and vetted.

”We will place more than 10,000 international students in the next year,” AHN executive chairman David Bycroft says. Hosts are generally limited to two students at a time for a minimum of four weeks to begin with. The average stay is 10 weeks for over-18 year olds but school-aged students tend to stay longer. ”The trick is to make [hosting] a pleasurable cultural exchange, with money as a side benefit,” says Bycroft.

Host families typically receive between $190 and $270 a week for room and board after AHN deducts fees for insurance and administration. These payments are generally tax-free, but Bycroft says host families should get their own tax advice (see box ”Tax Matters”).

Holiday rentals tend to be more straightforward commercial arrangements and taxed accordingly. Airbnb hosts set their own price and are encouraged to look at what other listings in their area are charging. For example, an Airbnb spokesperson says the most popular Sydney listing is a bedroom in a Pyrmont terrace for $95 a night, including breakfast. Hosts pay Airbnb a 3 per cent commission, which includes insurance.

David Bromley provides guests with bed and breakfast and use of the kitchen or a home-cooked Japanese dinner at extra cost. Even when guests cook for themselves, they tend to sit down to dinner with their hosts to swap stories.

To date, they have had no difficult customers. ”Our guests tend to self-select. People who are unsociable wouldn’t sign up for it,” he says.

For Jacobson, the benefits of hosting also flow both ways. On Friday nights his extended Jewish family gathers for dinner, including student guests past and present. ”We enjoy helping people but we also enjoy their company,” he says. There is also a financial benefit of about $1000 a month for each student, which more than covers food and other costs. A win-win all round.

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