This Airbnb tent near a Hawaiian volcano brings in $28,000 a year

When Kehau Hall set up her Airbnb glamping tent in 2014, she didn’t mind being about 10 minutes from the volcanoes. She’s used to their unpredictability, having lived in Hawaii since she was 2 – and says she’s not threatened by them.

“Years ago, from my mother’s house, I could see one of the volcanoes erupting,” Hall, 28, told CNBC Make It. “From his back porch, you could see the lava glistening at night. It’s just something you get used to.”

Like his mother’s house, Hall’s glamping tent is in the Glenwood neighborhood of Mountain View, Hawaii, about 20 miles from the heart of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which has two active volcanoes. Her inspiration for creating an Airbnb site was simple, she says: She saw a photo of a glamping tent in a magazine and thought it would be a unique way for mainlanders to experience Hawaii.

She spent less than $300 on the tent and around $8,000 on amenities like a kitchen, outdoor shower, and king-size mattress. Now the property, which Hall says requires about 10 to 15 hours of work a week, earns him $28,000 a year in income, according to documents reviewed by CNBC Make It.

These revenues are part of a highly competitive tourism industry: In 2019, visitor spending on all of Hawaii’s islands reached $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: it costs visitors about $70 a night. But for her, it represents independence – and the money she earns helps her spend more time traveling.

Good use of inheritance

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 she partially set up her tent to share the natural beauty of the property more widely.

Hall’s Hidden Glamping Tent costs around $70 per night and is about 12 miles from the heart of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Kehau room

“I wanted to use the land for good, where other people could come and enjoy it and really immerse themselves in nature,” says Hall. “Nowadays, everyone is working. Everyone is connected to electronics. It is important to detach and relax for a moment from the virtual world.”

She also had experience in the industry. In high school, Hall helped out at local bed and breakfasts — 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 20, she decided to rely on her entrepreneurial instincts and listed her glamping tent on Airbnb. She says it took about six months and five positive reviews for the tent to gain traction.

Gradual growth

Since then, glamping bookings have remained fairly consistent: Hall says she averages three bookings a week, and guests stay an average of two to four nights.

Before Covid hit, Hall says, the job felt like a Hawaiian daydream. She worked 10-15 hours a week managing reservations and cleaning the property herself after each stay. She spent an extra 15 hours a week managing other guests’ stays at her family’s large estate homes, earning her an additional $20,000 a year.

Then, in March 2020, Hawaii enacted a mandatory 14-day quarantine for travelers to prevent the spread of Covid. Tourism – Hawaii’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 rose from 2% to 20.1%, according to the Hawaii Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.

Hall felt the effects: She didn’t receive any reservations for about six months, during which time mainland travelers weren’t allowed to visit Hawaii without observing a 14-day quarantine. She managed to save money 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 go to work or buy groceries.

The price of Aloha

Business at Hall’s glamping site picked up in early 2021: Guests booked month-long stays with expanded options for remote working. With a more consistent cash flow, Hall says she now sets aside four weeks of the year to travel on the continent or overseas.

Hall’s glamping tent is equipped with a king-size bed, coffee maker, outdoor shower and wifi.

Kehau room

“I always wanted to be able to come and go as I wanted, so running this glamping tent was a big help with that,” Hall says.

Hall says she wants to open three more tents in Hawaii over the next two or three years. Airbnb currently charges most of its hosts a 3% flat fee and charges guests a 14% service fee. Hall says the exposure, responsive customer service and user-friendly interfaces make it worth the price: his tent is also listed on GlampingHub, which charges hosts 1% more than Airbnb and drives only a few bookings per month for Hall , resulting in only a few thousand dollars each year.

The main hurdle Hall now faces is competition. Hawaii’s tourism industry can be fierce, and when people see a good idea, they often take steps to copy or improve on it. Hall says she is up for the challenge and has no plans to extend her hospitality to the mainland.

“There’s so much Aloha here, it’s like love,” she says. “There are so many caring, kind people. I like to be laid back, on Hawaii time.”

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