Alaskans who have found a bright spot in a troubled economy say they're making easy side money using an internet service to rent out their unused cars and RVs to tourists.
The digital entrepreneurs essentially run a miniature car-rental service out of their homes, completing transactions by smartphone or laptop and often handing keys and cars to arriving travelers at the airport.
They say they're not worried about vehicle theft or damage. Websites such as Outdoorsy and Turo take a healthy cut from each payment to offer sizable insurance packages and conduct driver background checks.
"I haven't seen any drawbacks so far, but I've only just started doing this," Anchorage land surveyor Tom Dreyer said in a recent interview.
This summer, when he couldn't use his Roadtrek motor home for a couple of months, he decided to list it on Outdoorsy, a website for RVs. It's built on an extended Chevy van frame with windows in the roof, a private bathroom, granite counters, a television and sleeping room for two; he posted it at $200 nightly or $5,600 monthly.
"It rented for a month and half straight," he said.
So he started offering his extra car, a 2015 Audi convertible, for $170 daily on Turo, a rental website for cars, trucks and vans. Clients like that one for weekends, he said.
The process is effortless, said Dreyer. Renters pay the online companies after they book his car. His portion of the rate, about 75 percent, shows up in his bank account.
He expects to pocket about $10,000 extra this summer because of the rentals. The "super popular" motor home is doing most of the work, with road-trippers reserving it for long stretches.
The extra money comes during tough economic times in Alaska, home to the nation's highest unemployment rate at 6.8 percent in June.
Tourism remains a bright spot in that economic bad news. It reached record levels in summer 2016, when more than 1.8 million people visited the state. It was 4 percent above 2015, thanks in large part to travelers arriving by plane, according to the Alaska Travel Industry Association.
Turo — available in the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States — is growing rapidly in Alaska and elsewhere, said Christin Di Scipio, communications coordinator for the San Francisco-based company.
Turo customers like the rates — typically 30 percent below a car rental company's, she said.
The company seems to be doing steady business in Anchorage. In September, about 90 vehicles were available, including a 2007 Ford Focus that was the cheapest, at $28 a day, the website showed Thursday.
The Subaru Outback is the most booked car in Anchorage, Di Scipio said. Next comes the Subaru Impreza, then Ford Focus. Travelers to Alaska often search for all-wheel-drive vehicles, she said.
While traditional rental cars are usually current-year models, Turo cars can be older.
Gesine Jacobs, an Anchorage school bus dispatcher who rents out cars at Turo.com, said business has grown steadily since she first tried the website last summer.
She joined after her 16-year-old son proved to be a reluctant driver. That left a blue Jeep Liberty idle, so she listed it on Turo.
"I thought it'd be rented out a few times, and all of a sudden it was rented out all summer," she said. "I was totally flabbergasted."
This summer is even busier. By March, the 2007 Liberty and a 2008 black Chrysler PT Cruiser were reserved most of the season by multiple travelers. Jacobs makes sure to keep a few days open for oil changes and other maintenance.
She's not surprised Turo is popular.
"At Hertz, you might spend $100 or $150 in July," she said. "Or you can rent the PT Cruiser for $40."
On Thursday afternoon, Jacobs got a ride from her son to meet a customer at the airport who was dropping off the PT Cruiser. The customer was Kyle Settles, who would be heading back to Sand Point near the Alaska Peninsula.
At the curb near the departure gates, he rapidly unloaded bags, totes and a meowing cat in a crate.
"I promise it didn't puke in the car," Settles told her as he handed back the keys.
Jacobs quickly inspected the car with a checklist in hand.
"It was great," Settles said of the rental.
Jacobs found no new dents and scratches, and the right amount of gas in the tank.
She said she's rented cars to about 50 people and it's almost always a great experience.
"I often get it back cleaner than when I gave it, if that's possible," she said.
One traveler crashed the Jeep Liberty into a parking lot pole, causing about $1,000 in damage. Turo compensated her, she said.
Not trying to make a lot of money, she offers economy prices for older but mechanically sound cars in decent shape. She figures she'll pocket about $4,000 from renting on Turo this summer after paying the company, taxes and car maintenance costs.
Jacobs also rents an RV over the internet, including on Craigslist and Outdoorsy. She expects to make about $2,000 from that this summer.
Settles seemed pleased. In a user review on Turo, he posted:
"Gesine is a turo star! The car was super clean, quite roomy, (great for luggage) and smooth. She is an excellent communicator and I wouldn't hesitate to rent with her in the future!"