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More people booking Airbnb to stay on Chicago's South Side

More people are booking on Airbnb to stay on Chicago's South Side.

The number of travelers choosing to stay in an Airbnb rental on Chicago's South Side has skyrocketed as more residents are opening their homes to travelers, according to a newly released report by the home-sharing service.

Nicole Cobb-Oliver, a manager at Second City, is one of the South Siders who's joined the home-sharing service, offering up her apartment in a neighborhood that has very few hotels or similar travel accommodations. She posted her one-bedroom place on Airbnb in November to make some extra spending money.

Away from Chicago's touristy neighborhoods like downtown or Wrigleyville, she listed the living room with a couch and futon in her Hyde Park apartment for $35 a night. A month later she got her first guest: a father visiting his child at the University of Chicago. Two weeks later, she would see more guests tied to U. of C., including parents visiting and a man applying for a teaching position on campus.

"I love meeting new people and also just because it's extra money for me. I feel like they have a good time while they're here," said Cobb-Oliver, 32. With the Harper Theater, Bar Louie and restaurant Porkchop nearby, she said, "It's a really nice area to hang out with your kids and do stuff."

Out of the 200,000-plus people who booked an Airbnb rental in Chicago in 2015, 17,100 of them stayed on the South Side. That's up from 7,200 guests per year, representing a 137 percent increase from 2014. The number of South Side options for travelers increased, too; apartment and other home listings more than doubled from 300 in 2014 to 660 in 2015, according to Airbnb.

South Side hosts made a total of $2.6 million in Chicago last year.

Despite the climb on the South Side, overall the bulk of visitors opted for Airbnb rentals on the North Side. 

With only 13 hotels on the South Side, Airbnb is "making it much more convenient for someone whose family lives in any of the neighborhoods on the South Side to stay close by as opposed to staying downtown and being a taxi and train ride away," Airbnb spokesman Christopher Nulty said.

Barbara Teague, 56, recently booked a Hyde Park apartment on Airbnb to attend her son's graduation in December from the University of Chicago.

"We had a great experience, and I loved feeling as if we were Hyde Park residents," said Teague, who lives in Virginia.

When visiting their son, Teague and her husband have stayed at the old Ramada Inn in Hyde Park and downtown hotels until the Hyatt Place opened near campus. Then, they tried Airbnb for the first time last year, choosing to stay in Hyde Park to support the local businesses and to avoid the downtown crowds.

"It is exciting to see how much the area has grown over the past four years, especially so the students and parents have more places to go without going downtown," Teague said.

Beyond Hyde Park, Airbnb data shows the South Side is attracting guests to the community areas of Douglas, which includes Bronzeville and is close to McCormick Place; Bridgeport, home to the White Sox ballpark and hipster bars; Kenwood; and Englewood, where Spike Lee's "Chi-Raq" was filmed.

Among the neighborhoods that saw the most growth in bookings were Gage Park, which is close to Midway Airport, and South Chicago. Gage Park had six bookings in 2014 and 261 in 2015. South Chicago only had a single booking in 2014 but saw 35 in 2015.

The popularity of Airbnb on the South Side could grow considering the Obama Presidential Library is coming to either Washington Park or Jackson Park and Spring Awakening has moved to Jackson Park. But it comes at a time when the city is considering legislation to regulate the industry and require hosts to register their units.

Travelers have a desire to explore the South Side and experience all it has to offer, Nulty said. Hosts often recommend their favorite coffee shops, restaurants and boutiques to their guests, who end up patronizing local neighborhood stores, he said.

A September 2014 Airbnb report on the economic domino effects of the home-sharing service shows that 34 percent of a guest's daytime spending is in the neighborhood where they are staying.

Other data from the new Airbnb report:

  • South Side guests are staying about a day longer for a total of 4.1 days, compared to 3.5 nights citywide.
  • More than 247,000 people used Airbnb in Chicago in 2015, representing a growth of 105 percent citywide.
  • More than 55 percent of bookings on the South Side are for private rooms—renting out a spare room in a home can be a cheaper alternative to renting out the entire apartment—compared to 35 percent of all bookings citywide.
  • Nearly a dozen new South Side neighborhoods added listings for the first time last year. 
  • More than 56 percent of Airbnb hosts in Chicago used the money they made sharing  their place to pay part of their rent or mortgage.

Jessica Fallen has made close to $2,000 since July when she posted her entire Bronzeville apartment on Airbnb.

"I was able to afford my rent as a result of booking out my rental unit for various weekends throughout the summer. If it wasn't for this service, I wouldn't have been able to keep up on the rent alone," she said. Fallen, 30, is paying $625 a month for rent as she works to restructure her company Embody Physique Health and Fitness.

Having guests stay at her place or nearby gives visitors a chance to get to know her community and redirects money to businesses that sustain the neighborhood, she said. The Bronzeville Jerk Shack recently opened. There's a bike shop, community garden, art galleries and a trolley tour through Bronzeville's art district in the summer.

"I was successful at booking out of town guests because most were excited to explore the many new developments in my area," Fallen said.

 

Top 5 Chicago neighborhoods by bookings in 2015:

  1. West Town
  2. Near North Side
  3. Lake View
  4. Logan Square
  5. Lincoln Park

Top 5 neighborhoods on Chicago's South Side (excluding the Near South Side which encompasses the South Loop) by bookings in 2015:

  1. Hyde Park
  2. Douglas
  3. Bridgeport
  4. Kenwood
  5. Englewood

Source: Airbnb

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