Airbnb Travel

 

 

 

The Host

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. If it’s a small kitchen or a kitchenette, make that clear.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

  1. 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.
  2. If you’re renting your entire apartment, be sure to have decent, clean, and comfortable furniture.
  3. Be sure your kitchen is stocked with pots, pans, dishes, glassware (wine glasses), small equipment (coffee maker, etc.) and a corkscrew.
  4. Towels that you cannot see through would be nice and good linen is important.
  5. Outlets for electronic devices are necessary these days.
  6. 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?”
  7. Either show your guests how to use appliances at check-in or provide instructions.
  8. 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.
  9. If you have rugs they should be clean and not sliding all over your floor. Make sure your space is super safe.
  10. You should have soap and shampoo in your bathroom.  Little extras such as razors, cotton swabs, and air fresheners are a big plus.
  11. 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.

 

The Guest

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:

  1. 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.
  2. Read the reviews! People will usually convey a problem even if there is a lot of praise and fluff.
  3. Is the host a Super Host?
  4. Do they respond quickly to your inquiry.
  5. Do you have to climb a lot of stairs?
  6. 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.

Postscript

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.

 

No automatic alt text available.

IN LOVING MEMORY OF GIORGIO, WHO GAVE ME NOTHING BUT LOVE & JOYNo automatic alt text available.

No automatic alt text available.

 

Love & Devotion

Giorgio’s nicknames:  G, Mr. G., Duka Do, Dukkas and Georgie.

 

 

I’m writing while in Lisbon with a friend, but to be honest, I’m having a very difficult time because Giorgio is at home and his little heart is failing him. A couple of months ago he developed a hacking cough and I learned his heart valve on the left side is almost completely blocked. Giorgio’s been with me for 11 wonderful years; he was flown in from Texas to LaGuardia Airport when he was eight weeks old. He has given me so much joy, it’s difficult to put into words, but I’m going to because I must. Anyone who has a pet or has lost a pet will know what I am feeling right now. I have a constant lump in my throat. I didn’t want to wait until he passes to express what he means to me.

His Current State

He’s on three different types of medication and for now he’s comfortable . . . I hope.  The blood that is backing up into his lungs is prompting an occasional cough. Sometimes I can hear the fluid in his breathing. It scares me, it hurts me, and it only makes me love him more. Although the medication is helping for the moment, I’m not sure and the vet is not sure, how long it will help. It feels like it won’t be long. I know I talked about being present last week and for me this is what is happening presently; I can’t escape from it and I don’t want to. I have made the decision to put him down at the first sign of distress. I cannot watch my dog suffer and I am certain that he will let me know when it’s time.

 

A few weeks ago, he had a very difficult night and I held him and wept. I was certain that it was the end; I should have known better. Giorgio has survived several near death experiences and he rallied once again. I think you’ll enjoy this story about Giorgio tying one on:

My Drunken Dog

Some of you have heard this story so I apologize in advance. Several of you were even in my life when it happened. It was almost 11 years ago, I had a rough day at work and after getting off of the disgusting New York City subway, I was ready for a cocktail. White Russians are a rare choice for me, but on that particular occasion, that’s what I craved and needed; I made a tall one. I placed it on my living room coffee table and went into the bedroom to shed my work clothes. When I returned to the living room, the glass was empty. I thought,

“I don’t recall drinking this drink, but I guess I did.”

You know how your mind works when you’re overworked and stressed. I made another White Russian and plopped myself down on my sofa. Two minutes later, Giorgio stumbled into the room and keeled over. He was six months old and weighed about four pounds. Until that moment, it had not occurred to me that he might have helped himself to my cocktail. There were no signs of anyone else having touched the glass. He had lapped it up skillfully and quietly, as is his way.

White Russian recipe — Jamie Oliver. Love this chef.

I rushed to get my phone and called Animal Poison Control. A kind person answered on the first ring and asked if he could help. This is a group of veterinarians volunteering their time for a public service — I am grateful for what they do. I stammered and shared what Giorgio had imbibed as tears of panic washed over my face.  He advised me to get Giorgio to an emergency animal hospital right away and made it clear that if I did not take his advice, Giorgio would probably die. My little guy drank about 8 ounces of alcohol; a larger dog would have been fine.

I had a car and I knew that his vet in Park Slope had a 24 hour animal hospital. I put Giorgio on the seat beside me and started driving. On the way to the hospital, I looked over and found him passed out. I stopped the car to shake him and I begged him not to die on me. I’m still not sure how I made it to the hospital without wrecking the car.

I double parked, ran him into the vet and the assistant who greeted me at the door asked me what happened.

“He’s drunk!”

The assistant took Giorgio from my arms and asked me to wait in the waiting room. I called two different friends who both had pets, knew Giorgio and whom I knew, could calm me down. I was feeling guilty, scared, fear and about 46 other emotions.

One hour and a stomach pump later, he was admitted. He had to be on an IV and observed for 24 hours; 24 of the longest hours of my life. He pulled through and hasn’t had a drink since.

Giorgio Has Nine Lives

There have been several close calls throughout Giorgio’s life, but none took the wind out of me more than the time he fell off of a deck 18 feet off the ground. It was the day after he had received all of his annual shots and I was told he might be a bit “out of it” that evening, but there was no mention of how it would affect him the next day. By the time we arrived at the home of friends on Shelter Island, I had completely forgotten about the vaccinations. Giorgio had been up on this deck a dozen times and never went anywhere near the edge. On this day he wasn’t himself and ended up falling off the deck. I watched him approach the edge and I called out his name. He never turned around; he just went straight over. I was in a state of shock and I could not get up off of the chair I was sitting in. Because I did not hear a sound when he hit the ground, I assumed the worst.

My friend Angelina looked over the edge of the deck and told me that Giorgio was not there. I ran down to look for him. When dogs are hurt, they hide and nurse their wounds. He was hiding under my car and would not come out. I sat and waited and he eventually crawled out from under my car. I don’t know how he survived that fall without breaking anything. He’s my little miracle.

One Happy Dog

I don’t believe there is a happier dog alive. He unmakes my bed every day just for shits and giggles. He grabs my shoes and shakes them with his teeth, before he goes out for a walk. He pees with his hind paws in the air so as not to get urine anywhere on his fur. He lets those he loves know how he feels by letting out tiny yelps. He performs tricks for biscuits I never taught him. Giorgio, when walking unleashed, will always walk several feet ahead of me. He looks back constantly to make sure that I am still there. He listens and stays clear of traffic. Sometimes when he is outside my building or in the woods or on the beach, he appears to be smiling — unbridled joy.

Giorgio has more friends than I could ever hope to have. His love is unconditional and pure.

As you can see I’m preparing myself. He’s lost several pounds and now all I can feel are his bones. He urinates in the house, something he never did. He sleeps most of the time and he’s not eating. He knows he’s not well and I believe he knows he’ll be leaving us soon. I like to think animals understand the life cycle and accept it. He’s showing me his love and gratitude with his eyes and for that I am grateful. He’s trying to make this easier for me. He’s always been there for me and I know that he will be my true companion until the end.

Mr. G at nine weeks

 

Image may contain: 2 people, including Christopher Papagni, people smiling, dog

Maggie & Giorgio — BFFs

 

Image may contain: people sitting, dog and indoor
Mauro Fermariellio, a professional photographer, and friend, took this photograph of Giorgio about six years ago and sent it to me as a gift; a gift I will cherish.

 

That’s daddy’s boy. He always puts his paw on my face when I hold him.