Casey Kamakane is Kauai’s modern Renaissance man.
After traveling the world, he returned to his roots. Since arriving back on the island, he has been trying, like so many others, to get by. In addition to farming, hiking and music, Kamakane has been focusing on law changing advocacy.
The Kapaa High School graduate has been rallying people to fight the restrictions of Airbnb. Kamakane, like others, relies on Airbnb to make ends meet.
The Garden Island recently published a study showing that on Kauai, there were 739 home listings advertised on Airbnb from October 2015 to October 2016.
Of that number, 87 percent of the listings were booked for less than half the year. And 65 percent of the people who listed their homes on Airbnb used the website on an irregular basis. According to the study, 97 Kauai rentals on Airbnb were booked for more than 180 days, making up 0.32 percent of the housing stock and 13 percent of listings.
The Garden Island sat down with Casey Kamakane to get more insight.
TGI: How did you get into the world of homesharing?
Well, we were doing just the normal rent to a person, per month. Just the typical way. And what happened was our cesspool cap fell in and the county came out and told us we had to change it to a septic. The bill for that was about $38,000. That was everything we had and we were in quite a bind.
The rentals were slow and we weren’t charging very much. Then a friend of mine said, “Why don’t you try Airbnb? It’s going great for me here in Canada.”
I was a little reluctant at first. There is a learning curve with Airbnb but after the guest came in I realized how great it really was. Not only could I connect with all types of interesting people around the world, I could become more financially secure, on the island that has rising prices everywhere.
I was also making connections all over the world, some of which were inspiring different directions for my music.
TGI: Can you tell us about your music career?
That was probably the best thing for me when it came to relating to my guests. I would perform for people and make these wonderful connections and friends. I have been able to visit people all around the world, people who have stayed with me. For example, I’ve been to Germany, Spain, Switzerland.
The amazing part is that my music has been licensed by a German company all because I performed for some guests a year earlier. My guest was a producer for education videos in Germany and used my music for her videos. It’s connections like those ones that create this international dialogue amongst people of different cultures. I’d argue that allowing Airbnb makes the world a more connected place. I was even flown to Japan to perform thanks to someone that stayed with me. My music is chill and Hawaiian and was appreciated over in Japan. All of these things would never happened without Airbnb.
TGI: When you first started doing Airbnb five years ago, was there already an established page for Kauai on the website?
When I first started there were about 100 people. I just glanced over to see what was going on with Airbnb. There was already Couchsurfing, VRBO and Workaway, so I wanted to see how it compared. It looked like a risk worth taking and it turned out well. Instead of making $40 in a night I was making $80. While I was doubling the income it was helping subsidize the doubling of the taxes on this house. There was really no other way to keep up with the jump in cost, whether it be insurance, property tax, food, you name it.
Things started balancing out and for the first time in a while my family was comfortable. I wasn’t the only one who was getting by this way. That Airbnb page, at one point in time, had hundreds, maybe upwards of a thousand listings, and now, it has 50.
TGI: What does your home offer that a hotel might not?
An indirect guide. I can show them as well as just tell them about a place being dangerous, or this place is beautiful, this place is always crowded, or go to this place because it’s better suited for what you need. I’ve helped out on movie sets like “Pirates of the Caribbean,” volunteered to maintain different hiking paths. I’d say I’m well connected and help my guests feel like something other than a tourist. In addition, they can also take advantage of the garden sanctuary that surrounds the property.
TGI: Explain the sanctuary you have created on your property.
We have 39 fruiting trees and trying to fit in more. I give what I grow to local restaurants all over Kauai. You can find my avocados, mangoes and even breadfruit at places like Java Kai, Pono Market, Habaneros and Hanai Market.
TGI: Why have you stayed with Airbnb?
Well, very simply, both my parents are handicapped. My father is 97 and needs me as his primary caregiver. I have had some painful injuries, primarily with my back, that has prevented me from getting a real job. So on top of taking care of both parents, I just can’t get a normal job anyway, so Airbnb was the perfect fit. I could take care of my parents and still have a steady income. I didn’t have much of a choice but to make it work.
Aside from the threats of legal action and being fined lots of money, everyone I know that was using Airbnb would benefit from continuing. Everyone I know that used to do it, is now struggling to make ends meet. I’m not the only one who has the responsibility of taking care of my parents.
A few years ago, the county told me they paid someone to stay at my house, using Airbnb, to see what I was doing. It was sort of a sting operation. They had shut me down for a while.
TGI: How are you taking action to overcome these transient vacation rental laws?
I am working with Councilwoman and former mayor JoAnn Yukimura. I went to her with my story and explained the situation. JoAnn actually made the zoning law in the ‘80s and she now wants to amend her law that will allow people like me, who want to make ends meet, live out this possibility.
These laws are driving people off the island. The goal is never to get rich, it’s just to reach an equilibrium. The counties will still get their taxes, arguably even more through Airbnb. People need to continue writing letters and emails to the county to articulate how important this is to the livelihoods of so many Kauai residents.
We don’t take away from hotel sales. I ask everyone that has stayed with me if they would have stayed in a hotel. Never. These people are looking for a different experience, a more authentic Kauai experience. It’s a misconception that Airbnb takes away from hotels.
So I’ve created a Facebook group that is a grassroots effort to form a community that is advocating for change.