Charlotte is quickly becoming a destination city. In fact, visitors are spending more money in Mecklenburg County than any other tourism-centered destination in the Carolinas, including Raleigh, Asheville, Charleston and Myrtle Beach.
According to Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority, Mecklenburg County led all North Carolina’s 100 counties in domestic travelers’ expenditures at nearly $5.4 billion, an increase of 4.2 percent since 2016, and visitors across the Charlotte region spent more than $7 billion, an increase of 4 percent since 2016. (See the CRVA’s 2018 report.)
Visitor spending in Mecklenburg County has seen a steady rise the past several years, growing by 44 percent since 2010. In 2017, the Charlotte region hosted approximately 28.3 million visitors. That’s an increase of 500,000 from 2016, according to research firm Longwoods International.
Filling the Vacancies
And all those visitors need somewhere to stay. Hotels will always be a mainstay in the travel and tourism space, but other options, like AirBNB and VRBO have grown in popularity.
“When I first moved to Charlotte in 2012, I’d heard about AirBNB and listed my property and within five minutes I had my first request to book,” said League 704 Founder Justin Gaither. “I thought how can I scale and build a business?”
The answer, he determined, was to provide an Uptown experience for visitors to Charlotte.
Founded in 2017, League 704 is a collection of boutique short-term rentals in Charlotte, N.C. Gaither and his team work with property management companies and private owners to lower vacancies and increase gross rents by marketing their properties through its network of corporate and leisure travelers.
“We operate like a hotel, but we’re not all in one building,” Gaither said. “We’re spread out.”
League 704 currently operates short-term rentals for 20 properties in and around Uptown. Gaither said this time of year his properties are 80-100 percent booked.
Home is Where the Startup Is
If you think you’ve heard of Justin Gaither before, you probably have. While finishing up his studies at the University of Miami, Gaither and Dan Thibodeau founded eCampus Ventures which launched RoomSurf.com in 2010 and TextSurf.com a couple years later. Both websites made college life easier by helping students find compatible roommates and the best deals on textbooks.
Gaither — and eCampus Ventures — moved to Charlotte for one simple reason: “My family was here and I had a place to live,” he laughed.
In 2014, Gaither and Thibodeau went through the RevTech Labs program at Packard Place to develop JoinU, a college social media program that groups users by shared interests. In February 2018, Nashville-based ULoop acquired eCampus Ventures.
With League 704, Gaither’s family members all play important roles. His sister Jasmine Gaither (pictured with Justin) is the League 704’s cofounder and also works as a realtor which comes in handy in locating properties to invest in. Their mother assists in day-to-day operations, while their father and younger brother are key investors.
Charlotte’s Got A Lot
Gaither has been a staple in Charlotte’s startup community.
“One thing I really like is the culture,” Gaither said. “There are companies in our space who have reached out to understand and see how we can support each other. Other markets can be more cutthroat.”
Gaither has pitched at PitchBreakfast in the past and recommends the experience to anyone looking to grow their business.
“Inquire about pitching ideas,” Gaither said. “It’s great to hone that skill and get feedback.”
Mecklenburg County led all of North Carolina’s 100 counties in domestic travelers’ expenditures at nearly $5.4 billion, an increase of 4.2 percent since 2016. And visitors across the Charlotte region spent more than $7 billion, an increase of 4 percent since 2016.
Gaither and his team are working to improve his current process. The goal is not to necessarily expand in Charlotte, but to branch out into other markets like Atlanta, Raleigh, Asheville and potentially Miami.
“As the founder, I’m working toward stepping away to grow the business instead of running it,” Gaither said. “Going from one property to twenty in one city to twenty in another city … it’s a challenge, but a fun challenge to take on.”