Renting Recreation Land In The Sharing Economy Age

Photo courtesy of PrivateAcre

Digital platforms are connecting landowners with outdoor enthusiasts who want to use their land in the age of Airbnb. PrivateAcre is “a way for a new generation to access the outdoors,” Erik Johnson, the company’s co-founder and president, told PYMNTS in an interview. With the sharing and gig economies, Johnson said, enabling outdoor access for the younger generation is not the same as it once was. Consumers, for instance, might not be sure how to get a taxi anymore if it’s not on Uber or Lyft.

At a time when sharing economy sites focus on houses and apartments, his site centers around what’s outside the four walls of a building. While some of the listings on the platform could have lodging, the site focuses on activities such as hunting and fishing. However, Johnson said that the company wants to cater to other outdoor trends as well. He has seen “incredible movement” in other activities. Kayaking, for one, has a following and drone flying is “new and very popular,” Johnson noted.

The Booking Process

The platform works much like other sharing economy platforms: Consumers can browse properties on the site and see photos along with maps of some of the available activities. And Johnson pointed out that, unlike one of its competitors, consumers don’t have to pay to view the listings. (That site, in particular, Johnson said, is trying to be more like a digital hunt club.) In addition, Johnson said the reservations process works much like the early days of Airbnb.

His company, which uses payments platform Braintree, holds payment information when users request to book a property. (The company, however, may aspire to offer instant bookings in the future — “if it makes sense as we learn more,” Johnson said.) The customers and the landowner then have a conversation that takes place through a software-as-a-service (SaaS) messaging platform. “You can have a real-time communication between the landowner and the guest,” Johnson said.

The landowner, in turn, can confirm the booking. At that point, the customer’s credit card is charged, and the company holds the funds. The landowner, in turn, can access two different options to receive payment for use of the land. While the default setting is that they receive payment at the end of every month in a lump-sum payment via check, the landowner can alternatively receive payments through a digital payment option via PayPal.

The Listings

Johnson said the best example of a listing — and one of the platform’s most popular properties — is a home in the Cincinnati, Ohio area. The house, which has 100 acres, was fixed up with money earned from the platform. Moreover, he noted that the property is looking to set up beekeeping packages in the spring. Overall, he said, the “sky’s the limit” to the kinds of packages and experiences that make sense for the property or the owner (based on their expertise).

Landowners can get started with a few steps such as entering their address or drawing their property boundaries. They can also list packages to offer consumers, and, as of today, the platform requires each landowner to offer at least one. (A property owner could, in one case, provide a fishing package for $50.) The site then reaches out to landowners and goes through a process where it checks to see if the owner is who he says he is and if he owns the land. The platform also submits information to an insurance agency for the owner to be added under an insurance policy.

As it stands, landowners might already have informal back-of-napkin agreements where they give someone a gate code. And, if that person brings back a deer, he might give the property owner some deer meat. “We wanted to piggyback off of that,” Johnson said. In addition, Johnson noted that landowners can list their properties on the platform at no fee for family and friends (who then may pay a minimum charge of $9 for using the service).

Even with the advent of online platforms, agriculture and hunting ranked at the very bottom of McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) research on the digitization of sectors in the U.S. economy only about three years ago. But marketplaces such as PrivateAcre could help to change that — and help bring the sector into the digital age.