Cancun couple become hospitality entrepreneurs
In 2015, while Diego searched for work as a chef in Cancun, Mexico, he suggested to his wife Mariana that they list a room in their house on Airbnb to make some extra income. Mariana, who worked in a local hotel, was skeptical and worried about her privacy, but she agreed to give it a try. As it turns out, they loved interacting with visitors and helping them shape their trip to the city—as well as the financial boost they got from hosting them.
“Receiving our first guests from places like Germany and France was awesome,” Mariana says. They loved hosting so much that they decided they wanted to help others share their homes as well. “This would be a great way to be more economically independent,” she says.
That single room became the cornerstone of Seahorse Rentals, a thriving property management company that the couple built almost entirely on Airbnb. It has allowed Diego and Mariana the flexibility they sought as they raise their young child (with another on the way). They quit their day jobs soon after starting the company and became full-time hospitality entrepreneurs.
Seahorse now operates 37 listings, including two properties that the couple bought and others that they manage for friends and neighbors. It employs three people, all local residents, who help with maintenance and guest relations. Well over 90% of Seahorse’s business comes through Airbnb. Diego and Mariana embraced the platform early on because its reach allowed them to attract guests without having to do any outside advertising. Due to their consistently excellent guest reviews, Mariana and Diego quickly built up a network of referrals on Airbnb—both of potential guests and of other local homeowners seeking a company to help them host their own property.
Mariana believes they could not have accomplished such fast success by listing on any other platform. “I just got another call from someone who got recommended to us to manage her house,” Mariana says. “We have so many referrals now that I had to ask her how she got our number.”
If Mariana and Diego have an issue, they know Airbnb’s Host Guarantee helps them get back the full value for any damage done to their properties, which gives them peace of mind as they continue to grow the business.
“The support and service and safety they give us is unbelievable,” says Mariana. “Every time we think of listing our properties elsewhere, we think, ‘Is it even worth taking that step?’”
Between 2016 and 2018, Seahorse Rentals’ revenue nearly tripled. In the peak month of December it reached nearly 500,000 Mexican Pesos (roughly $25,000 USD) in 2017 and 2018. Seahorse has partnered with local tour companies to offer discounted rates to their guests—as well as personalized shopping and chefs’ services for the guests who want them. Mariana says Airbnb’s presence has helped galvanize a new kind of tourism in a region of Mexico that was best-known for all-inclusive resorts.
“We can see a huge impact downtown,” Mariana says. “A lot of restaurants were starting to close because most of the hotels are all-inclusive.” When people arrive at an Airbnb, she adds, “they really get to know the place they’re visiting.”
Mariana says they want to continue to grow Seahorse through Airbnb but more slowly because they do not want to sacrifice their personal touch. They plan to only add about three properties to their portfolio each year. “You need to put a lot of attention into each one to make sure it’s all working well for the guests,” Mariana says.
That attention to detail has paid off in unexpected ways. Mariana and Diego have become friendly with many of their frequent guests, and last year Mariana visited with their first-ever Airbnb guest during a trip to Germany. “We don’t get to see every guest, but we have some kind of bond with them just by messaging with them,” Mariana says. “And going forward, we don’t want to lose the essence of what we do.”
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