Airbnb revival for former cottage colony
The Ledgelets in Sandys was once a thriving cottage colony owned by John and Nelga Young.
Then the tourism slide began; the couple passed away and the Ledgelets became strictly residential in the 1990s.
Now the property is going through a revival, of sorts, as John Young, the original owners’ grandson, and his wife Alison Young, work to restore some of the cottages to tourism glory.
“When Bermuda signed with the America’s Cup in 2016, we said let’s just put the pool house on Airbnb,” Ms Young said. “Airbnb had just come on the scene in Bermuda at that time.”
They had experience with tourism, having met while working at the Tucker’s Point Hotel in Hamilton Parish.
The America’s Cup worked out so well for them that in the aftermath the Youngs renovated two more of the Ledgelets’ seven cottages.
“I had a conversation with an electrician,” Ms Young said. “He was saying locals haven’t seen any money from the America’s Cup. I said how do you think I can afford to hire you? And he wasn’t the only one we hired. We hired all Bermudian contractors. I think America’s Cup was great for Bermuda. You can’t buy that kind of coverage, but keeping the momentum and the moral up is difficult.”
Now in peak season the Youngs are enjoying more than 85 per cent occupancy. They largely credit Airbnb for their success.
“We get about 90 per cent of our business from Airbnb,” Ms Young said.
They tried a few other booking sites but found Airbnb took less of a percentage, and their payment processing was more efficient.
“The Airbnb app just works,” Ms Young said.
Now she sometimes helps other people set up Airbnb properties in Bermuda, but she doesn’t believe it’s for everyone.
“Some people see Airbnb as the gold rush,” she said. “They say let’s just take that apartment and throw it on to Airbnb and we’re going to be rich. Maybe that is true in some situations, but I am worried about the overall collective vacation rental product for Bermuda. Most people forget that when you are micro you can’t do it on your own like the big hotels can.”
She saw one situation where a property owner was trying to put what she saw as an unsafe building on Airbnb. She walked away from the project.
“They got horrible reviews,” she said. “It has taken them a couple of years to even out. Airbnb is a good opportunity, but it takes focus and education.”
But she feels the people who are really committed to making their vacation rentals a success with Airbnb will eventually weed themselves out from the dabblers.
Commenting on a recent story in The Royal Gazette expressing concern that Airbnb will eat up Bermuda’s residential stock, she said ultimately renting residential units is a more reliable.
Right now the Ledgelets is balancing a residential portfolio with vacation rentals.
“Vacation properties can be very volatile,” Ms Young said. “It’s variable and risky. From a residential prospective you can make three times that of a vacation property. You aren’t guaranteed 100 per cent occupancy on a tourism unit.”
But she feels Airbnb offers Bermuda a lot of possibilities not just for property owners, but also for people in fields such as maintenance and housekeeping.
“I met a couple of girls recently who were doing their own Airbnb management,” she said.
But Ms Young said the Ledgelets is not your typical Airbnb offering.
“It is a historical property,” she said. The Youngs first opened it in 1948.
To cope with changing times Alison and Jonathan have had to make some changes.
“John’s grandfather never would have allowed children,” she said.
In today’s market the Youngs are working hard to make the their vacation cottages family friendly.
This year they are finished with renovations, for now, and are concentrating on upping their marketing game. Until now most of their marketing has been done on Instagram.
“We are starting to get repeat visitors,” Ms Young said. “After coming to us through Airbnb once, they come back to us directly. Ultimately we would like to do direct booking. We have a great website. We have the capability to manage that, but the Airbnb thing has been so great”
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