Did you know that sharing the story behind your home can lead to even more bookings? Learn how from Superhosts and creative directors Tereasa and David.
Superhosts Tereasa and David know a thing or two about the power of storytelling. As parents, preservationists, creative directors in advertising, published authors, and the owners of Camp Wandawega in Elkhorn, Wisconsin, they’ve come to understand how weaving narratives can bring people together. When they began sharing their camp’s 90+ year old history online, it struck a chord and ignited a loyal following to their Airbnb listing. Here, they share some wise words on how to find and craft the story of your home.
Tereasa: Starting out [on Airbnb], we underestimated the power of telling our story. But we’ve seen firsthand just how transformative sharing them can be. As we started unearthing and posting camp’s history—as a 1920s speakeasy, a meeting place for the mob, a brothel, a summer camp for the Latvian refugee community, as well as our own connection to it—we found that people really resonated with it. And there was a hunger for more.
David: Most of my childhood summers were spent at Camp Wandawega—so I have a particularly deep connection to the space. Its story is so rich, and we love the fact now that we're part of this living, breathing legacy. As the history of the place began to reveal itself to us through our research, it was humbling to realize we weren't really the owners of this place, we're just the current caretakers.
T: As we’ve restored the place over the last 15 years, it was important to us that every object, artifact, and item honor Wandawega’s original time period. It’s a trip to the past and an escape from the modern world for our guests. To be able to preserve it, to be able to share the stories with others and then to also know that we can pass it on to our daughter is beyond special.
D: If you can inject a bit of history or a more personal perspective into your listing, people will naturally gravitate towards you. Here are our tips on how to craft and share your story.
Tereasa and David’s Tips to Craft and Share Your Story:
T: Even if your space isn’t a century-old speakeasy, there’s always a story to tell. To find yours, start by digging:
Do some research and put that in your listing.
D: There’s so much more that you can share aside from just the number of bedrooms and bathrooms. People want to know where they can get the perfect cup of coffee, they want to know your favorite spots—so dig around, find your point of difference and grow that. Guests are seeking a connection and a reason to be emotionally engaged—and stories help bring us together.
T: When we started listing Wandawega, David wrote in this very high-brow advertising sort of way that was like, “Relax in the sunset, and enjoy a cup of tea…” But we’re a blue collar place. We don’t have any amenities, we barely have WiFi, and we don’t behave like a hotel.
D: Very early on, we learned that we needed to manage people’s expectations ahead of time because the last thing we want to do is disappoint them. So we created our Manifesto of Low Expectations. It’s a playful way for us to introduce the rustic camp life. It tells people what to expect—which is often unpleasant bugs, woodland creatures, and zero air conditioning—so if you need Egyptian sheets or modern luxuries, this may not be the place for you.
T: We’re a pretense-free zone. And so we lean into that with the language we use to describe our space. We decided to be straight up with people. We took a tone that’s funny but painfully true. Hyperbole is pushed to the edge for us and it's what gives us a sense of humor, which makes us more approachable, I think. And you don’t have to be a copywriter to be approachable, you can just describe your place in a really humble way.
D: I personally find when I'm surfing Airbnb that I like when someone’s personality comes out in the way they describe their place. I want to know that you've got a sense of humor and you're someone that I would want to hang out and have a beer with. Don’t try to sell me the moon. Don't try to pretend to be the world's best anything. Just be honest and truthful and fun because people want to be comfortable when they come stay in your place.
T: Don’t be perfect. Be who you are—and not who you think you should be.
T: To increase interest and bookings, cultivate a social media presence for your home. Most people find us on social first, actually. They come across our images or through our Instagram feed—it’s a really great way to build an audience and invite them into the possibilities they can experience at camp. A couple tips:
D: When people visit Wandawega, I can’t tell you how many times people will tell me that they’ve seen a photo on Instagram and they want to sprint straight there to recreate that moment for themselves. Instagram becomes a bucket list of moments—and a visual preview of your space for your audience. It can often be the reason you get booked.
D: In the beginning, we made lots of mistakes. But we’ve learned to embrace what we call upfailing—and the messiness of life. For example, with storytelling, we learned that there’s such a thing as oversharing. As much as people love to hear about the brothel madam, the mafia, and the murders—they don’t necessarily want to know where it happened—especially if they have to sleep there.
T: Upfailing, to us, is about treating every obstacle as an opportunity to grow. It’s how you gain wisdom. It’s how you learn. It gives you a new way to move forward. Honestly, the best way to learn how to tell your story is just by doing it. Over time, you’ll discover what works, what doesn’t, and what resonates with your audience.
D: And you’ll most certainly gain confidence over time.
T: When we first started on this journey, I had this huge fear of sharing our “before” photos. I thought no one would want to come stay with us because of how horrendous it looked. But we’ve actually gotten the most engagement out of “before and after” photos.
D: People respond to honesty. They want to see the process. Again, they’re looking for a personal connection—so don’t be afraid to share parts of your personal journey. Keep it honest and tell your unique story.
T: Tell them about the secret spots in your house where they can sneak away. Anything! Just make it human and approachable.
D: When we think about how we interact with the spaces that we live in, or the spaces that we visit, it's all about the stories of the people that came before us. And it's about us creating new ones.
T: Every day is a story, every moment is a story. It's just whether and how we choose to share it. And in the world of hospitality especially, it's not the place you're renting that people are buying into, it's the promise of future stories.
D: Words and stories hold power. And we hope these tips inspire you to find your own voice.
T: We need [stories], people want to hear them, and they help bring us closer together.
-Tereasa and David
Check out the full #howtohost series here.
WOW ... I'm so encouraged! Thank you @Tereasa And David for sharing. I've been sitting on the fence for 2 years wanting to AirBnB my master bedroom in my large farmhouse (original part built in 1917). Now I'm convinced to start finding the story and eventually AirBnB all four bedrooms, the bunkhouse, and even the barn. I'm so excited.
Thank you SO MUCH!
Thank you for sharing! I think everyone including me try so hard to meet client expectation (like hotel) May be we need to look into 'not perfect, be yourself' now :)
@Tereasa And DavidInspiring content, thank you so much for sharing this. I don't live in a particularly smart or touristy area and feel I'm always trying to manage guests expectations especially if they are holidaying here. I'm going to recommend 6 activities to do in the local area that you couldn't do anywhere else.
1. Visit the Guru Nanak Darbar Gurdwara, the largest Sikh temple in Europe
2. Eat fish and chips in the town's oldest chippie.
3. See the statue of Pocahontas in St. George's church yard.
4. Take the ferry across the Thames to Tilbury Fort - the site of Queen Elizabeth I's famous "heart of a lion" speech.
5. Get down with the nerds at the Mug and Meeple gamer café. Tea, coffee snacks and board games.
6. Take a walk to the top of Windmill hill and view floating traffic on the River Thames.
I won't however be advertising any bugs, wildlife or low thread count bed linen. We're strictly a 400 threads per inch kinda listing!
@Tereasa And David Such an inspiring post. We started on our hosting journey 2 weeks ago as we had some space in our new but 'old' home. We purchased an Old Chapel in north Cornwall, UK, rich in history, dating back to 1825 when the Methodists used it a s a chapel and Sunday school. It was converted into a dwelling in 1985 and has been home to various families during the intervening period. We are the latest inhabitants putting our stamp on this unique space. Until I saw your story I wasn't sure how to put it's history into a narrative that the wider community might be interested in or even want to read about.
Thank you for inspiring our next steps on this wonderful journey. Chrissie
Hi @Christina820 Thanks! Your place looks delightful; an Old Chapel House and Annex built in 1850 as a Chapel and converted into a home must be filled with stories worth sharing. Not to mention the fantastic views over the rolling fields of St Mabyn, just a stone's throw away from the village pub and community shop. Sign us up!
Not everyone has a destination listing or a house with a 'story' behind it.
Our airbnb is a regular 2 bedroom apartment in a regular, no frills neighborhood, it isn't trendy, crafty, artsy or quaint, but it's 30 minutes from New York. People stay at our listing who are visiting New York City and want a cheaper/legal/larger place to stay than what is offered in Manhattan and/or a hotel. That's pretty much it. Our location precludes turning the listing into a "Plus" type of apartment, because it's not quite close enough to NYC to command that price point.
Hi @Mark116 I'd say that you do indeed have a story: "a regular 2 bedroom apartment in a regular, no-frills neighborhood, that isn't trendy, crafty, artsy or quaint" sounds pretty appealing to us : ) Even the absence of a "traditional" or typical story can be a relevant, engaging story that will appeal to people looking for a place like yours! That said, "The Heights" of Jersey City does have an interesting history that many potential visitors would find intriguing. And the unique assortment of structures in Jersey City recognized by The National Register of Historic Places (Barrow Mansion, Ficken's Warehouse, Hamilton Park Historic District, The Powerhouse, The Courthouse, The Railroad Terminal, The "Y", Old Bergen Church, St. Anthony's, West Bergen-East Lincoln Park Historic District, etc.) makes your neck of the woods a worthy destination in and of itself; not just a place convenient to Manhattan. I for one would love to explore your community sometime!