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The meteoric rise — and spectacular fall — of the Queen of Airbnb

🌈 Abstract

The article discusses the rise and fall of Dani Widell, known as the "Queen of Airbnb" in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It explores how the post-pandemic Airbnb boom led to a surge of new short-term rental listings in Tulsa, and how Widell positioned herself as a leading property manager. However, Widell's business eventually collapsed, leaving investors and employees unpaid, and revealing a web of accusations against her. The article examines the broader implications of the Airbnb market's boom and bust cycle, and how Widell's downfall impacted the local industry.

🙋 Q&A

[01] The Rise of the "Queen of Airbnb"

1. What factors contributed to the Airbnb boom in Tulsa, Oklahoma?

  • Low interest rates and the post-pandemic travel surge led to a surge of new Airbnb listings in Tulsa, with investors seeing the potential for high returns.
  • Tulsa's affordability, arts scene, and outdoor activities made it an attractive destination, and the city was actively courting remote workers.
  • Savvy investors were buying up homes and flipping them to the influx of out-of-state residents.

2. How did Dani Widell position herself as the "Queen of Airbnb" in Tulsa?

  • Widell was a former accountant who transitioned into real estate and short-term rental management.
  • She offered services to stage and manage Airbnb properties for a fee, promising to handle everything from booking to guest communication.
  • Widell cultivated an image of success, with a high-profile lifestyle and claims of having the most Airbnb listings in Tulsa.

[02] The Collapse of Widell's Empire

1. What led to the downfall of Widell's Airbnb business?

  • Investors began to complain that Widell was not paying them the expected rental income, and she would blame the drop on unexpected costs or guest cancellations.
  • Some investors discovered that Widell was steering renters away from their properties to other Airbnbs she managed, effectively diverting bookings.
  • Widell's spending on furniture and other expenses became excessive, and she started falling behind on paying her staff and Airbnb hosts.

2. How did Widell's personal life contribute to the collapse of her business?

  • Widell's marriage to her husband, Will, was strained as she became increasingly consumed by the Airbnb business, while he wanted to cash out and retire.
  • Widell took out significant loans and credit card debt, much of it without her husband's knowledge, which led to their divorce filing.
  • Widell eventually fled Tulsa, leaving behind unpaid investors, employees, and guests who were locked out of their Airbnb rentals.

[03] The Aftermath and Broader Implications

1. How did the Airbnb industry in Tulsa respond to Widell's downfall?

  • Widell's investors found new property managers, and her employees found work with other Airbnb companies.
  • The Tulsa Airbnb community remained active, but Widell's collapse gave the industry a "bad name" and caused some "naive, first-time operators" to be more cautious.

2. What does the Airbnb market's boom and bust cycle reveal about the industry's future?

  • Experts believe the COVID-era Airbnb boom was a "once-in-a-lifetime event" and that occupancy rates and revenues are unlikely to reach those heights again.
  • The market is settling into a more stable equilibrium, but the promise of easy passive income will continue to attract new investors, despite the risks.
Shared by Daniel Chen ·
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