The LGBTQ community — meaning lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer/questioning — has had a mixed experience with the short-term rental market.
On one hand, booking apps like Airbnb and Overnight have made it easier than ever to grab a spot last minute or plan a trip to a more intimate and less commercial environment than compared to a hotel. Most Airbnb rentals, for example, are either peoples’ homes or apartments. Airbnb even markets its hosts as one of the top reasons to book a travel stay with a host rather than a hotel or motel.
Of course there is a darker side to the equation. Allegations of discrimination against LGBTQ populations are ever-present. Risks rise in unfamiliar environments and in general, booking a room in a stranger’s home can be intimidating.
Population-specific apps aren’t uncommon and already geared towards the LGBTQ short-term stay segment is Wimbify, an iOS app that garnered some press when it launched in 2015 but hasn’t made a big splash more recently.
Following suit is RecruitingHosts.com, a “stealth startup” founded by Tampa-Bay native Robert Geller and which the Tampa Bay Times reported was planning to “use Tampa Bay as the launch place” for its app that caters to LGBTQ-friendly Airbnb and other room listings.
On the discrimination front look no further than the comments section of the same Tampa Bay article, which brought strong reactions from supporters and detractors to a LGBTQ-friendly beachhead in Tampa Bay.
Naturally we reached out to Recruiting Hosts’s Robert Geller to get us the latest scoop on the app.
GritDaily: What’s with all the secrecy around Recruiting Hosts?
Geller: With the actual brand name of the platform still under wraps we are using the URL www.RecruitingHosts.com as a means to drive inquiries and pre-registration from potential hosts.
More specifically, we are targeting Airbnb hosts. While our platform will feature host listings from all the major players, it only makes sense we go after the market leader with over 5.3 million active listings. Currently the largest percentage of our marketing efforts are directed at hosts although we are also encouraging future LGBT travelers who will use our site to register for our e-newsletter.
When we launch, our marketing efforts will then shift to include a constant consistent voice and reach to the LGBT traveler. We’ll launch market by market with giveaways of three night stays and activities promoting the hosts and destinations on our platform.
We’ve registered dozens of URLs again keeping the actual brand name and URL a secret seen only by visitor bureau representatives, LGBT chamber of commerce presidents and select Airbnb hosts. In fact two of the URLs caught the attention of Airbnb’s legal department to which we received trademark violation notifications a feat I was quite proud of in that it only took Airbnb four weeks to discover our $11.99 a month GoDaddy website.
GritDaily: With other options out there, why did you start on this new venture?
Geller: Our narrative on why we started it is in stark contrast to other niche Airbnb clones such as Innclusive or Misterbnb. While their narrative is ‘we were discriminated on Airbnb’ hence we built a clone site our approach, tone and brand voice come at the project from a different perspective.
It’s pretty simple, travel is about fun, let’s remove the pain point that LGBT travelers encounter in the accommodations experience.
Note that this not unique to short-term vacation rentals; it’s not unlike the experience at a hotel’s front desk when a gay couple books a single bed on-line and may have a dialogue exchange with the clerk where he/she infers there may be an issue with the reservation as it has them in a single bed.
It’s the whole “coming out” we as members of the LGBT have to endure, at a hotel’s front desk or in the home of a total stranger hosting an Airbnb.
We look to create a community of ally and LGBT hosts removing the whole coming out to a stranger, eliminating any anxiety, reinforcing that travel is about fun and meaningful connections. It’s pretty exciting actually to create a platform that is putting good out into the universe.
We’re bringing people together in a meaningful way that’s rewarding. We also hope to bring people together in the communities represented on our platform for events and activities that resonate with the LGBT community such as AIDS Walks and LGBT film festivals.
And we intend to bring it all full circle. LGBT youth are 120% more likely to be homeless when compared to their straight counterpart. We will be sharing a portion of our profits with organizations that support LGBT youth and LGBT welcome centers in the markets featured on our platform.
And there’s still more that makes working on this platform so rewarding, we are LGBT. Our team represents every acronym of LGBT. We are not a gay brand, I’ve owned and operated multiple gay targeted brands; retail stores and travel site. This platform as depicted in the imagery represents and speaks to all members of the LGBT community. I love working along side such a diverse group by age, ethnicity and gender identity. It rocks.
GritDaily: Does Airbnb have real short comings when it comes to serving the LGBTQ community?
Geller: I don’t really view Airbnb as having deficiencies for the LGBTQ community. Airbnb is a community representative of society.
Corporations whether they are Airbnb or Starbucks closing for a day for sensitivity training can not solve deep seeded issues within society. They can give a voice to issues, start conversations and perhaps move the needle. Airbnb’s mantra is ‘Belong Anywhere,’ a great corporate slogan that I feel is genuine. I’m an Airbnb Superhost and I believe in their platform. I’ve had some amazing guest experiences hosting travelers from around the world.
I also use Airbnb when I travel. However, it’s impossible for them or any large corporation to address the needs of every niche. In this case it’s a niche with a yearly spend of $112 billion — a nice-sized niche. As LGBT travelers we don’t want coming out to a stranger to be a part of the travel experience and our platform removes that pain point.
GritDaily: Why start in Florida?
Geller: Launching in the state of Florida is the logical starting point as the data clearly depicts. Like many visitor bureaus we’ve utilized the data services of AllTheRooms.com which demonstrated the concentration and large number of short-term vacation rentals within the state. From there we again looked at density coupled with my knowledge of the Tampa Bay market having lived here since the 1980s and launched multiple LGBT targeted businesses in the region.
On top of that, St. Petersburg hosted the International Gay Lesbian Travel Association Annual Conference in 2017 and Tampa is set to host the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce Annual Conference in 2019. The visitor bureaus here in the Tampa Bay region, the business leaders and municipalities get it, the LGBT consumer is a market to welcome to the area. The region premiered an LGBT Welcome Center that when opened was the third in the nation.
St. Petersburg hosts the largest Pride Event in the state. Put it all together, Tampa Bay is the market to launch in.
GritDaily: Your a numbers guy. Dish on all.
Geller: I love sharing the stats as I’m all about the numbers. I especially the love the number $11.99 as that is the exact amount of money I used to kick-off the platform. On a Friday night in August I built a website on GoDaddy for the cost of $11.99 a month, from that website in six weeks we attracted over 2,300 Airbnb and VRBO hosts.
We have pre-registered hosts from all over the world — everywhere — you name it.
It’s not just the number of hosts, we have ally and LGBT hosts sharing their stories of why they want to be a part of the platform, their personal stories.
The one that touches me the most is the mom in California with three Airbnb listings whose transgender child assists with the hosting. She shared how much she wants to be a part of what we’re building. Her comment resonated with the team and is just one of the many comments that motivates us.
2,300 host inquiries in six weeks is awesome. We’re actually a bit overwhelmed in responding to the inquiries in a timely manner as we view every listing on Airbnb or VRBO, check out their reviews and provide individual feedback to each inquiry. Soon we’ll have the process automated however at the moment it’s me and a co-worker replying to every inquiry.
Our goal is to launch with 10,000 hosts which will provide a nice selection when we go live. While we plan to concentrate with Tampa Bay as our launch market we’ll have listings not just in Tampa Bay or Florida but all over world when we go live.
GritDaily: Robert, thanks for the update.