Much has been written and battles have been fought around Airbnb and because so many are hosting or booking these days, I must say up front, that I am fearful I will offend one of my “host” readers. Having worked in the hospitality industry for over 20 years, I feel compelled to share some of my experiences and thoughts about Airbnb with you. It is my hope that the Airbnb experience will soon be elevated and booking will be less of a shot in the dark.
There are several different ways to view the host experience. Unfortunately, I believe that too many see it as a way to make quick and easy money. This pattern of thinking is too easily conveyed to your guests. Those who are trying to create a unique and memorable experience for their guests are more likely to reap financial rewards. Good reviews will come if you treat your guests as you might treat a friend or relative who will be staying with you in your home or using your home on a temporary basis. There are some inexpensive and simple things you can do to make your space welcoming and comfortable.
As with most matters in life, good communication is essential. The following are numbered according to their importance to me as a guest:
- When you describe the space on your home page, be clear about what you’re offering. If it’s bedroom and a sleeping alcove, don’t call it a two bedroom.
- If there are several flights of stairs to navigate, be upfront about that in your description and don’t bury it at the bottom or as an addendum.
- If it’s a small kitchen or a kitchenette, make that clear.
- If your place is hard to find, provide explicit instructions on how to get there. There is nothing worse than being lost in a foreign cities while you’re dragging two suitcases.
- Create a list of grocery stores, restaurants, and attractions in your area. It doesn’t have to be a book; two or three pages should suffice. Videos work nicely these days as well.
What a good host MUST provide:
It is all about comfort and value. Too often a host will try to cut corners in order to save money. This practice will come back to bite you in the rear quickly and end up costing you a whole lot more than what you might have saved.
- A good mattress is non-negotiable. It is your responsibility to provide a comfortable and well made mattress. It does not have to be plush or super expensive. Be clear about the size of the mattress in your description. If it’s a high-end mattress, say so.
- If you’re renting your entire apartment, be sure to have decent, clean, and comfortable furniture.
- Be sure your kitchen is stocked with pots, pans, dishes, glassware (wine glasses), small equipment (coffee maker, etc.) and a corkscrew.
- Towels that you cannot see through would be nice and good linen is important.
- Outlets for electronic devices are necessary these days.
- If you do not have air conditioning, it would be good to provide a fan or fans. I once stayed with a host couple at an Airbnb in the Cayman Islands. It was 100 degrees and the wife wouldn’t allow me to turn on the AC because she said the electricity cost too much. My thinking was, “Why don’t you just charge more?”
- Either show your guests how to use appliances at check-in or provide instructions.
- Provide a contact telephone number. If you are not going to be available, find someone who can respond to an emergency. I once had a guest stuck in my building’s elevator at 1:00 a.m. and she had idea who to contact.
- If you have rugs they should be clean and not sliding all over your floor. Make sure your space is super safe.
- You should have soap and shampoo in your bathroom. Little extras such as razors, cotton swabs, and air fresheners are a big plus.
- Provide extra toilet paper and trash bags. Some guests like to tidy up before they leave and there is nothing bad about that.
Remember the difference between booking a hotel room and your place is convenience, the ability for the guest to prepare meals, tips from a local, non-cookie cutter interior (your personal touch), location and cost. Your guests should feel good about having made the right choice. The more you share in the description and communication, the happier they will be with their choice.
People are looking for experiences they cannot find at a hotel or resort. Airbnb in most big cities provides a variety of experiences such as concerts in people’s homes, cooking classes, food tours, sailing trips, and so much more. You can share your recommendations on these experiences with your guests and therefore, help shape the ultimate vacation.
Being a Super Host on Airbnb is a tremendous plus. It will give you better placement in a very crowded market — that’s not changing any time soon; if anything it will get worse. You can become a Super Host by being responsive and securing outstanding reviews. Airbnb has some good tips on their site.
Tips for being an exceptional host:
- a small gift upon arrival, such as a bottle of wine or a package of sea salts or bath salts, will make your guests very happy.
- share your knowledge without pushing your thoughts on your guests
- let your guest know that you are not too far away if they need anything. I had a bad experience in Lisbon recently; my host lived in Australia. I had to make a toll call halfway around the world — not good. No apologies were given and it was reflected in my review.
- offer to show your guest around the neighborhood if you have the time.
Being an exceptional host is a lot of work and personally, I have no desire to do it again. I have to say when I did do it, I enjoyed it. I was meeting wonderful people from all over the world and the extra cash came in handy. Keep in mind that there will be wear and tear on your home and by the time you pay taxes on your earned income, you may not be making as much money as you hoped or expected.
As a guest you have several considerations that will help ensure you choose the right accommodation and pay the right price. So may just look at the photos and book. There are a few problems with that. As you know, if you point your camera at the right angle, you can make a trash site look good. The other consideration is that a photo will tell you little or nothing about the location. Here are a few things you should consider before booking:
- What are your priorities? Location, price, space, authenticity, good reviews, air conditioning, big kitchen/small kitchen, water view, mountain view, near restaurants; you get the picture.
- Read the reviews! People will usually convey a problem even if there is a lot of praise and fluff.
- Is the host a Super Host?
- Do they respond quickly to your inquiry.
- Do you have to climb a lot of stairs?
- Is it in a noisy, touristy area. Some travellers like that (I don not).
Look at the fee breakdown. Some shrewd hosts make the base price reasonable and then charge crazy amounts for additional guests or cleaning. If you are asked to pay more than $50 to clean a one bedroom, your being charged too much. If your being charged a cleaning fee for a bedroom in someone’s home, well, I’d rethink that one.
There will sometimes be added taxes and that’s fair. Anything else besides taxes, cleaning or additional guests seems unreasonable to me.
If a host offers to pick you up at the airport for a set amount, do some comparison shopping. I once paid a host 50 Euros and later learned I could have taken a taxi for 20. A small mark-up is acceptable, but 30 Euros?
There are other sites out there (VRBO, Homestay.com, House Sitters, etc.). Comparison shop.
The truth is sometimes hotels are a better option. You might find more flexible check-ins, you might like to have a concierge, it may mean more privacy, sometimes there is an excellent restaurant in the hotel, and frankly, the whole guest review process on Airbnb can be unnerving. And because hotels now have loads of competition, you might get a great rate at a beautiful resort with lots of amenities. This why I believe there is plenty of room for both in the accommodation space.
Be a gracious guest. If you had a wonderful experience, repay your host with an excellent review. A small thank you gift is also a nice way to show your appreciation. In many cases you’ve saved a lot of money and got to live like the locals.
A friend contacted me about Airbnb travel for women traveling alone. In short she doesn’t feel safe traveling this way and I completely understand her concern — another consideration. She likes being able to call to the front desk and getting an immediate response/help. If you think of anything I have not included, please let me know.
IN LOVING MEMORY OF GIORGIO, WHO GAVE ME NOTHING BUT LOVE & JOY