Airbnb use is on the rise in the state.
When Richard Duran first started renting out a room in his Cathedral District home last spring, there were only five to eight other Bismarck-Mandan property owners using Airbnb. Now there are 36.
Airbnb is an online service that allows people to book or rent out rooms in private homes. Guest arrivals to North Dakota on the service in 2017 grew 158 percent over last year to 6,700, with the large majority being in Fargo. Bismarck-Mandan had the second-highest number of guests in the state with 1,435 combined, according to data from the company.
Other destinations in central and western North Dakota included Medora, Williston, Minot and Mott.
Duran had used Airbnb in his own travels. When the Colorado native moved to Bismarck for his job, he bought his first house and quickly found it was a large space for just himself. Having had good experiences as a traveler — he liked the down-to-earth, relaxed, friendly atmosphere — he became a host.
"It's like staying at a friend's house," many visitors tell him.
From spring through fall, most of of his visitors stayed for a night. People came from all over the country and Canada, and Duran estimates he had about 50 bookings. As winter came, he marketed to longer-term guests needing a place to stay while they worked in the area.
He liked getting to know his guests, which included a doctorate student moving from Seattle to Chicago and an older couple from South Carolina who he bonded with over football.
Duran's home also comes with a little bit of local history. The late Harold Schafer once lived there with his first wife. His second wife, the late Sheila Schafer, told stories of her husband bottling floor wax in the basement.
Jaime and Nick Hockett, of Bismarck, became Airbnb hosts after hearing about it from friends who had had good experiences as hosts. The couple has been hosting for about 2.5 years.
“The people are great,” Jaime Hockett said. “Most people are just looking for a nice place to stay and don’t want to spend $100 a night for a hotel.”
Hockett said most of their guests just stay for a night.
“We get a lot of younger people coming from Minnesota on their way to move to the West Coast,” said Hockett, adding they do get a few longer-term stays, too, particularly traveling nurses.
Summer is busier than winter. In August and October, there were times they had four guests a week, Hockett said.
“It’s surprisingly busy,” she said.
A lot are passing through on their way to see the national parks in Montana and Wyoming. Most stop in Medora along the way and visit Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Hockett said. While they’re in Bismarck, many choose to go downtown for dinner and entertainment.
“A lot like that interaction,” Hockett said. “They want to know about a local place to go eat and you just can’t get that if you’re staying in a hotel.”
Leah and Nick Walker, also of Bismarck, read about Airbnb a year ago and it piqued their interest. They already have rental properties, so in May, they decided to offer one to Airbnb guests.
“We’ve had people from as far away as London and New Zealand,” said Leah Walker, commenting that the majority are from the United States.
Walker said visitors are split about 50/50 between leisure and work travel. Some come in for family events, such as weddings or Christmas or to visit a grandparent in a nursing home.
Many leisure travelers are on a tour trying to make it to all 50 states. Their longer-term visitors often have been people who just moved to town and stay until they find a home.
Walker said many of their visitors choose Airbnb over a hotel because it’s less expensive and offers more amenities — a larger bathroom and a kitchen for cooking. She said they have a number of vegan and vegetarian visitors who like having a kitchen to cook their meals.
“As a family, we know we can make our own travel dollar go further if we can make a meal rather than eating out all the time,” she said.
In the summers, the Walkers share produce from their garden and invite guests to share a meal.
“Many are artists and entrepreneurs, and we like to hear about their adventures,” Walker said.
Another benefit of Airbnb is it provides the host with some side income. Statewide hosts brought in $667,000 in supplemental income in 2017.
"For a lot of people, this income that they're earning is money they use to pay the mortgage, to pay the bills, sometimes to take a family vacation," said Airbnb spokeswoman Jasmine Mora. "It's valuable income they're relying on."
In North Dakota, 16 percent of hosts are 60 years or older and 52 percent are women.