Local Business

White Roof unfazed by Airbnb competition

  • On island: Tracey Johnson, left, and Johnette McNeil of White Roof B&B show a listing section on the company’s website (Photograph by Scott Neil)
  • Local service: Tracey Johnson, left, and Johnette McNeil of White Roof B&B check the company’s website, which lists vacation rental properties across the island (Photograph by Scott Neil)

A vacation rental property agency in Bermuda has seen a remarkable growth in the sector since it started six years ago.

And it is confident it can handle the heightened competition expected from global vacation rental service Airbnb, which last week signed an agreement with the Bermuda Tourism Authority.

The team at White Roof B&B steadfastly believe their Bermudian-based service for homeowners and vacationers offers a valuable service that would be difficult for a remote global brand to match.

White Roof is an offshoot of JBM Realty. The B&B business started in 2011 as a way of adapting to the challenging economic conditions at the time, which included a reduction in the number of guest workers on the island renting accommodation.

“The economy was really slow. People in the west end had real problems renting out. We came up with a solution,” said Chrystal Talbot, one of the rental advisers.

She explained that many visitors liked to stay in the western parishes. That spurred the idea of renting out suitable properties on a short-term basis to holidaymakers.

But it also meant a learning curve for the White Roof team.

“We knew about [real estate] rentals, but not much about vacation rentals. We had to figure it out,” said Ms Talbot.

The enterprise started small, but quickly caught on.

“It grew as one neighbour told another. We started to get busy. It helped a lot of people stay afloat.”

Having started in the west, the agency now lists properties across the island.

Originally called First Bermuda Vacation Properties, the business created a booking website listing available rental properties. Two years ago the website was completely revamped and upgraded. At the same time, the business changed its name to the more Bermudian reflective White Roof B&B.

The rental accommodations range from studio apartments to four-bedroom properties, including some with swimming pools.

The website features properties, including a location map and details about each parish, and which rentals are available.

Holidaymakers enter their preferred dates and instantly get a price, including any fees and taxes. Credit card bookings can be made on the website through a secured service.

For homeowners who want to rent out their accommodation, three options are available. One is a per booking option, where the rental is self-managed by the homeowner, with the agency advertising the property and handling the booking fee.

For homeowners seeking to rent their accommodation for a number of months each year, the agency recommends its annual subscription option.

The third option is a comprehensive service where a White Roof adviser handles the listing, enquiries, booking and other requirements that a client might need.

Homeowners can explore the options and pricing through the White Roof B&B website. As of yesterday, there were 32 properties listed on the site.

The majority of guests are from the US, UK and Canada, and the agency sees a lot of repeat customers.

While the trend for holidaymakers to rent rooms and apartments has taken off in recent years, Ms Talbot pointed out that it is something Bermuda residents have been doing for a long time.

White Roof takes pride in providing a personal and reassuring on-the-ground service to homeowners and vacationers. This includes for guests pre-arranged transportation from the airport, having groceries ordered, supplying cribs for families with young children, and providing detailed information on places to see and things to do.

The team believe in maintaining quality standards, and they inspect properties before they are listed.

Johnette McNeil, another of the advisers, said: “We go around and make sure the properties are up to scratch.”

She added that many of the homeowners who joined when the service started have continued to have their accommodation listed during the past six years.

Announcing the agreement with Airbnb last week, Kevin Dallas, the chief executive officer of the BTA, said he hoped more Bermuda homeowners will consider renting out vacation accommodation.

Ms McNeil feels the service available with Devonshire-based White Roof B&B offers advantages to homeowners and holidaymakers.

“We want people to know it is another option. We are here for assistance; we have a presence here and we can recommend homes,” she said.

Colleague Tracey Johnson, who also takes care of marketing and social media for White Roof, said: “People can sign up and get their property on the website. We go out and ensure the standards. We have a slogan ‘local homes, local hosts, local experience’.

“We explain to the homeowners what to expect and how to welcome guests.”

While recognising that Airbnb is a competitor, Ms McNeil is confident White Roof B&B will thrive “as long as we do what we have to do”.

She said: “Airbnb is a platform for putting properties on. But being here, we are assisting people who do not know how it works. And working in real estate we can help price the rooms.”

In a 2015 report into the vacation rental property market, the BTA highlighted the need for quality control standards.

Last week, the BTA said its agreement with Airbnb would create a framework for dialogue between the Bermuda Government and the company to discuss industry matters, including regulation.

Ms Talbot said: “We have been to all the summits and we know we need the standards. We have nothing against that. We have done everything in compliance with the BTA.”

The White Roof B&B team is encouraging homeowners and vacationers to check out their website.

Ms Johnson hopes more homeowners will decide to list with the Bermudian company.

She said: “We are looking for homeowners who want to list. We need more properties. People can call and we can answer their questions.”

White Roof B&B can be contacted on e-mail at info@whiteroofbnb.com, or by calling 234-2050. It has a website at https://whiteroofbnb.com/