When Kehau Hall set up her Airbnb glamping tent in 2014, she didn’t think twice about being about 10 minutes from the volcanoes. She is used to her unpredictability, since she has lived in Hawaii since she was 2 years old, and she says that she doesn’t feel threatened by them.
“Years ago, from my mom’s house, I could see one of the volcanoes erupting,” Hall, 28, told CNBC Make It. “From her back porch, you could see the lava glowing at night. It’s something you get used to,” she narrated.
Like his mother’s house, Hall’s glamping tent is in the Glenwood neighborhood of Mountain View, Hawaii, about 12 miles from the heart of Hawaii’s Volcanoes National Park, which has two active volcanoes.
His inspiration for creating an Airbnb site was simple, he says: He saw a photo of a glamping tent in a magazine and thought it would be a unique way for mainlanders to experience Hawaii.
He spent less than $300 on the tent and about $8,000 on amenities like a kitchen, outdoor shower and king-size mattress. Now the property, which Hall says requires 10 to 15 hours of work per week, brings him $28,000 a year in income, according to documents reviewed by CNBC Make It.
Those earnings represent a part of a highly competitive tourism industry: In 2019, visitor spending on all Hawaiian islands amassed $17.75 billion, according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority. The main island, where Hall’s tent is located, averaged $22.4 million a day.
Hall’s tent, by comparison, is modest, costing visitors about $70 a night. But to her, it represents independence, and the money she earns helps her spend more time traveling.
HAVE AN INVESTOR’S EYE
Hall, whose father is Hawaiian, grew up on the property: The 90 acres of land, which has been passed down to his family for generations, is home to a handful of family homes, as well as wild pigs, cows and chickens. Hall says he partially pitched his tent to share the natural beauty of the property more widely.
“I wanted to use the land for good, where other people could come and benefit from it and really immerse themselves in nature,” says Hall.
“Today, everyone is working. Everyone is connected to electronics. It is important to unplug and relax from the virtual world for a moment, ”she expressed.
She also had experience in the industry. In high school, Hall helped out at local hostels, which also used Airbnb, and worked with a realtor to manage local rental properties. For four years, she also worked for the nearby national park.
At age 20, she decided to lean on her entrepreneurial instincts and list her glamping tent on Airbnb. She says that it took her about six months and five positive reviews for the tent to gain ground.
GRADUAL GROWTH IN AIRBNB
Since then, glamping bookings have remained fairly constant: Hall says she averages three bookings a week, with the average guest staying two to four nights.
Before COVID-19 hit, Hall says, work felt like a Hawaiian dream. She worked 10-15 hours a week managing reservations and cleaning the property herself after each stay.
He spent an additional 15 hours a week helping manage other guests’ stays at homes on his family’s large estate, earning him another $20,000 a year.
Then, in March 2020, Hawaii issued a mandatory 14-day quarantine for travelers to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Tourism, the state’s “largest single source of private capital,” according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority, immediately plummeted. Between the first and second quarters of 2020, the state’s unemployment rate jumped from 2% to 20.1%, according to the Hawaii Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.
Hall suffered the effects: He was unbooked for about six months, during which mainland travelers were not allowed to visit Hawaii without serving a 14-day quarantine.
She got by on her savings and started cleaning personal houses to earn money. During those six months, she says, she lost most of her sources of disposable income and barely left her house, only to work or buy groceries.
BUSINESS RECOVERY AFTER COVID-19
Business at Hall’s “glamping” site picked up in early 2021: Guests booked month-long stays with expanded options for remote work.
With more consistent cash flow, Hall says he now sets aside four weeks a year to travel to the continent or abroad.
“I’ve always wanted to be able to come and go as I please, so running this ‘glamping’ tent has really helped me do that,” says Hall.
Hall says he wants to open three more tents in Hawaii over the next two to three years. Airbnb currently charges most of its hosts a flat 3% and charges guests a 14% service fee.
Hall says the exposure, responsive customer service, and easy-to-use interfaces make it worth the price: His tent is also listed on GlampingHub, which charges hosts 1% more than Airbnb and only generates a couple of bookings per month for Hall, which brings in just a few thousand dollars each year.
The main obstacle facing Hall now is the competition. Hawaii’s tourism industry can be cutthroat, and when people see a good idea, they often take steps to copy or top it. Hall says that she is up for the challenge and that she has no plans to expand her hospitality to the mainland.
“There’s so much Aloha here, which is like love,” she says. “There are so many caring and nice people. I like to be laid back, Hawaii time,” she says.