I believe there is potential in creating a central website that will showcase locally-owned cabins in the Red River Gorge area in Kentucky.
The Red River Gorge area is a fairly popular tourist destination in southeastern Kentucky. It features hiking, camping, and world-class rock climbing, bringing thousands of people into the area every year. Tourists stay in a number of cabins in the area, providing a much-needed economic boost to the struggling communities.
Unfortunately, history is repeating itself. The region's resources are not going to locals, at least not to the extent that they could be. The industry is dominated by multiple cabin rental agencies owned by people who are not from or do not live in the area. These agencies charge anywhere from 28–50% of the booking price as commission to just place the cabins on their website.
This is fine for people who are not invested in the area and just have a cabin built for a passive income. For local owners who are invested and rely on their cabin(s) for their main source of income, this is unacceptable.
50% is an enormous price to pay to just have your cabin listed on a website, especially when you are still responsible for the building and maintenance of the cabin. On top of this, the cabin owners are forced to absorb nearly all the damages caused by the guests. This is because the agencies do not want to charge their customers for the damages they cause, since this increases the chances of a negative review (and it was not the agencies' property that was damaged). Also, local owners' cabins are placed at the bottom of the list, as the rental agencies will only direct people to these cabins after the agencies' cabins are booked.
I witnessed firsthand all the troubles my parents and other local owners went through while in this situation. It was not pleasant, and it isn't fair.
Websites such as Homeaway and Flipkey offer similar services while charging reasonable commissions. They can serve as reasonable alternatives if a cabin owner does not want their own website. Still, there is no replacement to having your own website, and many local cabin owners prefer to handle bookings through their website whenever possible.
Ideally, a central website would showcase pictures and amenities for all the locally-owned cabins in the region. It would link tourists to either the cabin owners' websites or their contact information. It would be easier to get locals to approve having their cabins on the website if the website was completely free for them. After the upfront development cost, the maintenance of this website should be able to be supported by ads.
Of course, there is no reason why this website could not be expanded to include other regions. I only suggest the Red River Gorge region as it is the region I have experience with.
This website would also provide benefits to tourists. In general, renting from cabins where the owner is actively involved and invested in the cabin will provide the tourist a cleaner cabin and a better rental experience. Tourists can also expect to pay a lower price for the quality of product they are receiving as the middleman is cut out. Furthermore, tourists will know the maximum amount of their money is staying within and helping the local economy.
During the summer after my freshman year of college, I tried to create this website. I bought the cabinsdirect.org domain name and created a website on the bootstrap framework. This website allowed you to easily add, edit, and remove cabins. It also allowed the user to filter the various cabins by what amenities they wanted.
The source code of the website is available on my Github page.
I was able to add my parents' cabins to the website, but I did not receive any responses when I first reached out to local cabin owners in the area. With my move back to Philadelphia close by, I decided not to pursue it anymore. I eventually took down the website.
I unfortunately do not have enough time as of now to pursue this project. However, I still believe it has a lot of potential. I will gladly help anyone who wants to revive this project in any way that I can.
While this is probably not the next big thing or a massive money-making venture, it will definitely provide valuable experience and has the potential to help a few struggling communities.
If you are interested or have any questions, please don't hesitate to contact me by email at justin (AT) justincaustin (DOT) com.
Disclaimer: My parents own a cabin rental business in the Red River Gorge area.