How These Two Friends Launched An Airbnb Business Prime For Today’s Outdoorsy, Digital Nomad, More Than Doubling Their Listings In Only One Year 

August 31, 2020 |

With COVID-19, new travel personas have emerged – specifically, millennials looking for strong WiFi connections in the great outdoors.

Less than a year ago, Nadim Tannous and Alex Haler left their full-time jobs to devote themselves to their property management company full-time. Their short-term rental business High Rocky Homes was launched in 2015, built on the back of Airbnb’s popularity and has continued to grow along with the trend of forgoing traditional hotel stays for vacation rentals. 

Today, the two friends who met studying abroad in Spain, have 50+ listings in Leadville, Aspen, Boulder and Keystone Colorado that capitalize on the great outdoors. What’s unique: the coupling of nature + great work from home spaces has meant that with COVID-19, their business has not only stayed afloat but is booming due to digital nomads’ desire for the great outdoors amidst the new norm of social distancing. 

How it started

Alex worked on the trading floor at Charles Schwabb in San Francisco, ultimately taking a pay cut to move to Denver and work at the startup Personal Capital. To supplement the drop in income, he began renting out his couch for guests to sleep on. Ultimately, that couch ended up paying his whole rent which was the catalyst to him renting out his own apartment entirely and looking for a new one. 

Coincidentally, that new apartment he chose ended up being next door to Nadim’s, who at the time had relocated from London to Denver to run the digital department for the premier kickboxing league, GLORY. Nadim was renting out his spare room on Airbnb to make a little more cash on the side. 

Both put their heads together and realized that lease arbitrage was a no brainer, resulting in them teaming up to rent out 4-5 apartments in their building as a side hustle. With Denver legislation then going into effect a year later, they decided to start buying properties to rent out. They landed on Leadville, CO – an area Alex is familiar with as a long-distance runner who had run the 100-mile marathon through the picturesque mountain town. 

The Result

After realizing that what started as a side hustle was yielding enough revenue to devote themselves to it full-time, they expanded into more cities in Colorado and today both own properties and manage those of homeowners who appreciate their percentage-based business model and not being locked into year-long contracts. In the last year alone, their number of listings has more than doubled, with them boasting 50+ listings today which are promoted across various booking channels – Airbnb included. These range from single homes to a governor’s mansion to a Bed n Breakfast

They also recently expanded into Panama City Beach, FL and Joshua Tree, CA effectively launching their second brand, Desert Homes – both of which are exceeding expectations as travelers seek out domestic vacations. 

Why COVID-19 Has Resulted in A Boom in Business

With many Airbnb and short-term rental hosts struggling to stay afloat amidst COVID-19, High Rocky Homes has been lucky enough to see the opposite effect. They quickly pivoted to promoting their stringent cleaning procedures on their website and across booking channels, and updated their listings to include the words “remote” and “secluded” to attract those looking to socially distance in nature. 

The results speak for themselves: 

Colorado

  • In Colorado, they have been fully booked as of June 1 when restrictions eased, with their mountain properties that boast outdoor space being in high demand. They have not needed to lower their nightly prices to attract guests.
  • Alex and Nadim note that guests are taking advantage of what they refer to as a “driving market” – properties 2 hours away from Denver, Fort Collins, Colorado Springs. Travelers are enjoying being able to escape the city.
  • Guests are increasingly booking stays for over a month.
  • Those booking their listings are digital nomads looking for the outdoors (hiking, etc), along with great WiFi, and families wanting space for their kids to run around and roam
    • They have received substantially more questions than usual about internet speed and connectivity 
  • Revenue is 50% higher this year in June compared to last June
  • At this time in 2019, their occupancy was at 89% and today it’s at 60% and quickly increasing (they receive a lot of last-minute bookings)

Florida and CA

  • Their properties in Panama City Beach, FL and Joshua Tree, CA, are garnering 80% higher average daily rates (ADRs) compared to pre-COVID-19 prices. In fact, they just began listing their first Joshua Tree home and with no reviews, were able to secure $350 per night on average.
  • For Panama City Beach, the Average Daily Rate (ADR) at their property is 30-40% higher when compared to this same time last year\

Relying on Tech

The friends and business partners have relied on technology to help them automate time-consuming areas of their business a year after opening, since 2016, with only 1 listing at the time. They knew that if they wanted to scale, they could not handle everything manually.

This resulted in them Guesty to streamline their operations, including automatically distributing their listings on multiple booking platforms, not just Airbnb. Both say the software takes the place of two full-time, salaried employees based on all the automated messages they are able to send through it – such as check-in/out instructions, COVID-19 updates and more. In addition, they rely on the 24/7 guest communication services the platform provides, handling queries in off-hours and more.

Guesty has helped High Rocky Homes grow to 50 listings, maintain a lean team of about 4 (Alex and Nadim plus two full-time cleaners), integrate with other tech solutions that help them run their business, closely follow their analytics and spend more time on business development and investor relations.

What’s Next

Nadim and Alex are true believers that their business – specifically in Leadville, CO where they began and which heavily relies on tourism dollars – can help keep other small businesses in town afloat. With everything shut in March and April, they are keen on helping others in town recover – suggesting local restaurants that deliver to guests and more.

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