Ironshore turns to Airbnb

Ironshore revitalises itself via Airbnb

Observer writer

Friday, November 09, 2018

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If you browse Airbnb online looking for accommodations in the Montego Bay area, you may notice the website mentions that there are more than 12,000 reviews of properties in the tourism capital — high numbers for private homes and apartments, considering the thousands of hotel rooms in the city and its environs.

If you go deeper and focus on the residential neighbourhood of Ironshore, a suburb of Montego Bay, you will notice how many Airbnb-registered accommodations dot the website's map of the neighbourhood. Most of the roads and avenues contain multiple listings. In some areas there are clusters of between 10 and 25 listings covering two or three roads.

Then there is what meets the eye if you happen to actually travel the avenues of Ironshore. It has become normal to see tourists occasionally walking along the sidewalks.

At the popular Whitter Village Mall at the entrance to Ironshore, it is not uncommon to see individual or groups of tourists in the aisles of the supermarket. By the quantity of items they are purchasing, it is clear they are not from the nearby all-inclusive resorts where food and beverage costs are already paid for.

But perhaps the most telling story of Ironshore's transformation into a popular short-term rental destination would come from the people with an intimate knowledge of the area, such as the resident property owners or realtors who do business in the neighbourhood.

Garfield Gourzong is a realtor/owner and managing director of RE/MAX Realty Group Jamaica in Montego Bay. He has spent more than 10 years practising real estate in the city, with much of that time spent doing business in Ironshore

He explains that the neighbourhood has always been a villa destination. But like many other areas of the tourism industry, the villa business was adversely affected by the rise of all-inclusive hotels.

Approximately 10 years ago, large hotels like Iberostar and Secrets in the second city were opening their doors while villas were going into decline.

But with the recent emergence of the Airbnb phenomenon all that has changed. Villas are popular again, but in a different way.

“Part of the new confidence in villas has to do with how Airbnb operates,” Gourzong explains. “ Airbnb pays attention to your performance as a host. There is a reporting system in place for guests who feel they have been short-changed by hosts. Hosts can actually be penalised if a bad experience is ruled to have been their fault. As a result, the property owners work hard to make sure their clients are satisfied. The result is a greater sense of confidence among travellers in the accommodation alternatives to the all-inclusive hotels.”

The success and proliferation of short-term rentals via Airbnb — and others like HomeAway, Expedia and to name a few — is reflected in the type of renovations that are being done on homes in Ironshore. Gourzong notes that more houses are being divided into self-contained units to accommodate travellers. Sometimes additional kitchens are constructed to host more guests.

The original villas in the area are experiencing a revival because whereas once it was common for the whole villa to be rented, under the Airbnb system, villas are now renting individual rooms within the villa itself.

This is cheaper for the single guest who is not required to pay for the whole villa, but can still enjoy a villa-type experience. Many of these guests do not mind sharing the villa with other travellers or sharing the kitchen, living and pool areas.

Gourzong has observed that as the success of Airbnb in Ironshore has become more pronounced, a lot of buyers in the real estate market are looking for houses or apartments with the specific intention of using them for this kind of short-term rental.

“And where do the overseas buyers stay in Ironshore when they come to explore the properties?” he points out with a smile. “In Airbnb accommodations, of course.”

One particular businessman owns a villa in Ironshore with enough rooms to accomodate large families or groups. He started attracting guests through Airbnb a few years ago. Today his home is almost constantly occupied by travellers.

As a matter of fact, he explains that his success has moved him beyond Airbnb, because repeat guests have spread the word through their own networks and people now book with him directly.

He also confirms that it is because of successful experiences like his that many other owners in the area are now renovating their properties to seek their share of the tourism pie.

He cautions newcomers, however, that property owners who have been engaged in this kind of business for a few years have it much easier than the ones who are just starting.

There is a lot of competition with so many homeowners entering the market, and in a business where hosts are dependent on good reviews for success, the veterans have a definite advantage over the newbies. The short-term rental business is no longer a guarantee of success for new players.

Not everyone may consider this new era in Ironshore to be a positive one. Gourzong makes the point that a growing inventory of short-term rentals means a smaller inventory of long-term rentals in the area.

This drives up the price of long-term rentals, and for some tenants it has made their homes too expensive. Some of these people have moved from Ironshore to other residential zones of Montego Bay where rent is more affordable.

Ironshore is still primarily a neighbourhood for long-term residents, but the growth and development of the short-term rental business there is significant and impressive.

The area is known as one of the more beautiful residential zones that Montego Bay has to offer. It is five minutes away from the city's international airport and 10 minutes away from the Hip Strip and world-famous Doctor's Cave beach. The thriving Whitter Village Mall in the neighbourhood offers a wide variety of shops, restaurants, a gym, casino, and bowling alley.

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