It’s a problem in tourist areas across the country: an influx of summer visitors means employers need to hire more staff but have trouble finding them, in part because there aren’t affordable places for them to live.
It affects businesses from large resorts to restaurants to retail stores. Some, like Deerhurst Resort, have taken measures to increase staff housing.
Others are turning to technology to try to solve the problem.
Seesonee is a locally created online platform that aims to bring together homeowners who have a room to rent with employers and their seasonal employees.
“One of biggest struggles [employers have]is attracting good staff, and then trying to find accommodations for them,” says Jerry Feltis, currently Regional Director for Clublink and President of Resorts of Ontario. He is one of the people behind Seesonee and has spent many years working in the local tourism industry. “There never seems to be enough.”
He and friends were chatting about the problem, and what obstacles might prevent a homeowner from renting out a spare room. Privacy is one that’s difficult to solve if you’re sharing living space. But the uncertainty around who you might be sharing your living space with is easier to address, and they think they’ve found a solution with Seesonee.
The platform is still in early stages. “It’s a proof of concept project,” says Steve Abouldahab, who has been working on the technology behind the platform. “We are trying to solve a pretty big problem that employers in the area have articulated and we are looking for people who are willing to work through trying it out, whether it’s a business or a homeowner.”
They’ll keep it small this summer and use this first season to test how much need there really is, and work through how the platform can best serve both businesses and their employees, as well as homeowners. “I think if it’s done right and it’s done small to begin with, it can be scaled and used in other areas,” says Abouldahab.
Seesonee is a bit like Airbnb for seasonal employees. Homeowners list their available rooms and amenities, along with the cost to rent them. Seasonee has guidelines available for those who aren’t sure what they should charge, and aims to keep the cost of rooms affordable. Employers pay a fee to create an account on the platform and provide access to their seasonal employees who are looking for accommodations.
Feltis says that the goal of Seesonee is to create “trust and collaboration between homeowners and businesses. Homeowners are often reluctant to rent a room in their house to strangers because they don’t know anything about them. Seesonee removes this uncertainty by only allowing tenants who have been vetted and qualified by a reputable business to create a profile on the Seesonee platform.”
The listings aren’t publicly available, so homeowners know that they will only be communicating with seasonal employees who have already secured a job with a local employer, and can get to know a bit about them through their Seesonee profile.
A tenant is bound by a code of conduct created by the homeowner—Seesonee has guidelines to help with this, too—and short-term rental insurance is available to protect the homeowner from damages.
Abouldahab plans to act as an intermediary between the homeowner, the seasonal employee and the business as they set up early adopters of the platform. He’ll ensure that both employees and homeowners are properly vetted. He’ll also ensure that the home environment is suitable for seasonal tenants, and that tenants understand that the same professional conduct expected of them in the workplace is what will be expected of them where they live.
“And for better or for worse, seasonal housing isn’t treated the same way under the law as regular tenants,” says Abouldahab. “They are not protected in the same way. From a homeowners perspective, they have quite a bit of power. If there is a relationship that’s just not working they can end that pretty quickly.”
Seesonee also has policies in place to protect tenants from discrimination.
“We want to see if we can relieve some of that pressure off of local businesses and we also want to ensure that homeowners feel protected,” says Abouldahab. “It’s not like a blind application on Kijiji and you don’t know anything about them. I really want it to be personalized where the employee is talking about who they are, why they would make a great tenant.” Tenants can also note anything extra they are willing to do for payment, like cutting the grass or babysitting.
“Many homeowners won’t want to open up their home to strangers unless we can remove barriers like the risk of something happening, so insurance, and the risk of getting someone that’s not compatible,” says Abouldahab. He hopes that once homeowners see how Seesonee can make the process easier for them, they’ll want to be part of it.
“We all live in this beautiful tourist community and for eight or nine months out of the year we get it all to ourselves for the most part, but there are three months that businesses in this town rely on the income from visitors,” he says. “If they are strained or are limited in the employees they can hire or they are limited in finding housing for the employees they’ve already hired, it’s going to hurt their bottom line.”
For more information about Seesonee, visit seesonee.com.
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