A winning formula: Mark and Liz Beard host guests at their house in Johannesburg. Picture: SUPPLIED
A winning formula: Mark and Liz Beard host guests at their house in Johannesburg. Picture: SUPPLIED

From its 2008 beginning in San Francisco, Airbnb has now spread to more than 34,000 cities in 191 countries across the world. There are currently more than 2-million listings across the globe, which have hosted more than 60-million guests.

"SA is an incredibly beautiful and diverse country, with so much to offer visitors," says Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky.

"We have a vibrant and welcoming community here, which we look forward to expanding so that even more visitors can benefit from the unique and local experiences our hosts provide."

When filmmaker Guy Spiller had a few projects cancelled and needed to find another income stream, he turned to Airbnb.

"My wife Tanya’s 91-year-old father had mentioned Airbnb when we visited him in the Drakensberg at Christmas so I looked it up online," he recalls. "We had a few vacant rooms in the house as some of our children had left home in the last few years and so it was easy to start."

Brian Chesky. Picture: BLOOMBERG/ WALDO SWIEGERS
Brian Chesky. Picture: BLOOMBERG/ WALDO SWIEGERS

Since joining in March 2015, Airbnb has worked well for the Johannesburg couple. But besides making some money, they have also met some amazing people.

"The most unusual guest was Mark," Spiller recalls. "He was on a world tour and spending a week in 52 different cities! He makes a video blog of his travels and hosts. He filmed me showing a client a video I had made, us playing tennis, him getting a violin lesson from Tanya, and a family celebration."

One challenge for the Spillers, who host an average of four to five people a month, is matching guests with local attractions that they would appreciate. It is also tricky to find a balance between excitement and safety.

The couple find it amazing that their guests from different countries seem to share similar core values.

"We love meeting interesting people from all over the world in a relaxed atmosphere," Spiller says. "It has given us a fresh focus on Johannesburg and what it has to offer, as we are continually seeing the city from our guests’ point of view."

After being told their place was "too nice" to let people sleep on their couch for free, Mark and Liz Beard joined Airbnb in December 2012.

"Since we support previously disadvantaged kids with their education costs, a Canadian guest suggested that we look at Airbnb so we could charge for our accommodation and use the funds for charity," recalls Mark Beard. "We did it and have never looked back."

Not only does this hosting give the couple an opportunity to do what they love — sharing their space — they also learn from the people they host. In return, they are uplifting deserving and needy children.

Some of the charities benefiting from their Airbnb listing include Newkidz on the Block, Epilepsy SA South Cape Branch and Youth for Christ in Knysna. "We love learning and exchanging experiences and culture with our guests, who we hope will always leave as friends," he says.

"Airbnb has introduced us to some of the most considerate, kind, and honest people we have met in our entire life. We can only offer our deepest gratitude to our many guests."

One of the strangest was without a doubt a beautiful lady ... [who] had been married to a sultan and that she was accustomed to having 24 hand servants

To keep up with the demand of hosting about 200 people a year in their two listed apartments, the couple hired another housekeeper and gardener. They stock their self-catering flat with food so that guests don’t have to bring any when they first arrive.

"We are so grateful for the opportunity that we have assisted our friends with unique spaces to set up on Airbnb," Mark Beard says.

"We have also derived great satisfaction from watching them enjoy the experiences that Airbnb offers."

For 15 years, Vourn Small of Green Point in Cape Town ran a successful coffee shop. She was busy seven days a week and loved being a confidante for her regular customers.

"I became more than a coffee shop owner," she says. "I had to be a marriage counsellor, a psychologist, a financial adviser, a shoulder to cry on, a good friend and a lot more."

But when she retired, she missed the contact with other people. And so, finding her life feeling a little empty, she decided to join Airbnb in June 2014. The number of her guests varies with the season (it peaks from November to April) but she now hosts about 150 people a year.

"One of the strangest was without a doubt a beautiful lady who arrived with a large hired car packed from trunk to front," Vourn recalls.

"She told us she had been married to a sultan and that she was accustomed to having 24 hand servants. This was quite believable when we found ourselves peeling a banana for her to eat and emptying the bath after she bathed in milk!"

There have been many more fascinating stories from other people Vourn has hosted: which include doctors, nurses, professors, teachers, bankers, lawyers, pilots, models, authors, journalists and hippies.

"It’s been the most amazing experience," she says. "I’ve met the most incredible people and now have friends in over 30 countries around the world.

"The best is that they are mostly here on holiday. So instead of listening to people’s problems, I share their happiest moments."

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