1. Tips for Airbnb hosts – Getting started
“Welcome to the shared economy!” I thought to myself as I completed my Airbnb profile and listed my Spanish property in the tiny town of Sitges, 30km south of Barcelona in 2013.
The telecoms consultant in me found this shamefully exhilarating. I was now going to experience what all the fuss was about. Plus I would get to experiment with the world of human behaviour and with the hospitality service industry. Bliss! I always enjoyed all the consulting projects where we would be able to process hyper large amounts of anonymous data on customer calling patterns and discover trends this was as close as it would get on the hospitality side. Plus I would generate passive income.
When I published my listing there were many question marks that needed answering and plenty of reservations about the risks associated with renting out my precious property to complete strangers.
Will they treat it with care? Will anyone steal my designer TV or sound system? Will I have to continuously replenish the wine glasses, smashed on a night of debauchery?
I was terrified that my beautifully decorated apartment would be destroyed by careless holiday makers and, at that time, I didn’t know anybody who could help me understand how Airbnb hosting worked. If you, too, are feeling a little cautious about opening your house to strangers, read more to find out some of the tips for Airbnb hosts that I have put together.
2. My first guests
I bought my apartment with the wishful thinking that one day in the not-so-far future I would return home to Catalunya and settle there. No effort was spared to refurbish, walls down and all, and redesigning the place to my every whim. I even expanded the bathroom, at the expense of the second bedroom, in order to fit a Jacuzzi. I put underfloor heating, because you know, Spain can get really cold in the winter (really?), and installed air conditioning, a rare commodity in Spain to which I had got accustomed to in Dubai and Singapore. I filled the apartment with artefacts, souvenirs and knick-knacks from all my travels. The Moroccan lamp hanging from the dome above the bed is from Marrakesh and was inspired by my 5 years in the Middle East. The zebra skin carpet in the living room is from South Africa’s culling efforts in Kruger Park. The paintings I bought in Sudan, Malawi, Turkey…you name it. Artefacts from all sorts of exotic places hang from the walls or rest on the shelves.
Then the first guest booked. And the next one; And another… And three years and countless more guests after that first one checked in I am still happily renting my flat out to already 75 guests. I have an almost perfect review score, a Super Host badge and lots of happy guests some of which have returned.
To all those considering renting out their properties I have the following tips for Airbnb hosts to share
3. Trust in the kindness of strangers
Of all the 30+ guests I have welcomed only one caused issues which cost me money but she is a one-off. Be it because the review system works or because people feel ashamed when dealing with an individual as opposed to a face-less hotel, hosting on Airbnb has renewed my faith in humanity
4. You harvest what you sow
This is a Spanish saying which I hope translates – If you are good to people they are very likely to reply in the same manner. I have always been extremely friendly, flexible and accommodating of my guests. If nobody was checking in on their departure I let them stay longer. I gave recommendations for restaurants, I offered the timetable for the airport bus, we even left a bottle of cava for a couple who were celebrating their anniversary. We have printed reservations for events they were attending, we organised flowers and chocolates for couples, we booked taxis. Anything really, like a concierge service. Of course, this cost money and time and we never charged for any of that. But, in return, I got great reviews, appreciation and, even, a hand written thank you card and a couple of key rings from Delft from a couple who were staying for the second time. And there is no better feeling that contributing to someone’s happy holidays and great memories.
5. Contact Airbnb immediately if you have any issues
If you have an issue with a guest, immediately contact Airbnb and send a request to recoup the associated costs. Keep photos as proof of the damage and if the guest does not agree to pay you back then ask for Airbnb to intervene. Because bad things also happen to good people. But beware, Airbnb will not make a claim for someone leaving the flat uber dirty, that is considered part of the cleaning fee, even if you need to get professional help to wash the bed sheets with disinfectant or get someone to come polish the floors.
6. A small detail may go a long way
In my flat there are beach towels, beach chairs & a sun umbrella. These are items that you wouldn’t pack in your luggage, let alone check in on a low cost flight. If you rent those at the beach it would cost 15-30 euro a day so I know it make a difference. Other things to consider are shampoo, conditioner and shower gel which are also heavy to carry and, surprisingly, dish washer or detergent are also appreciated. I have found that guests value having a washing machine. For guests with babies, I warn about the lack of a crib and have provided one (borrowed from a friend) when asked with enough notice.
7. Pre-screen guests but assume good
When I first listed my property Airbnb did not allow for instant bookings, those you can do with a hotel and where you get an immediate confirmation. So you could either let guests send a booking enquire which you had to confirm or screen them first through an email exchange before they were allowed to send a booking request. At the beginning I wanted to make sure people understood the house rules so I did not allow for booking requests. After a while I realised this was not necessary because people almost always had read the house rules (and Airbnb forces you to accept having read them before confirming a booking). The added step did however provide me with peace of mind and who can put a price on that? If you do not allow for Instant Bookings bear in mind you may lose some bookings to other places which allow these. I have finally allowed Instant Bookings and so far so good (it’s been a year now). Airbnb has also recently added the possibility to cancel a booking if you are uncomfortable with a guest who booked directly. And that cancellation does not affect your ratings.
8. People are usually late
My flat is managed on the ground by my mother because I live in Singapore. I handle all online communication and she greets the guests and organises the clean-up. In three years I have never got a guest arriving on time. Guests take public transport, bus or train, and they almost always underestimate the time it will take them. My mum waits between 1-2h on average over the agreed time. This is important if you are busy or if you are using a third party agency who will indeed not wait. Alternatively, I have seen other properties charging more for guests who arrive late or out of office hours.
9. Understand very well your cancellation policy
You will have to choose between three types of cancellation policies depending on the flexibility you wish to provide. Although I always felt bad for not returning money to customers who had to leave early or cancel last minute it is worth remembering that very close to the date you are not likely to find a replacement so if a guest cancels 5 days before your property will most likely remain vacant. Airbnb is not yet the go-to platform for last minute options and the lack of a Direct Booking option didn’t help
10. Take reviews with a pinch of salt
Yes, this is the banner platform for the shared economy and a great success case for a crowd-sourced, review-based site but do take the reviews with a pinch of salt. I have yet to read a negative review on any guest’s profiles even the ones who left the apartment in a dire state. This is because before you could see the other person’s review before you published yours so there was an incentive to provide very positive reviews. This changed a while back. Now, you can’t see the other review until you write yours so this is addressed. However, it is really hard to leave a bad review on a guest when what you write can be perfectly seen by everyone. It’s great for transparency, but severely discourages honest feedback.
11. Aim for Super Host badge
This is a really hard to get badge, not least because it requires you to have lots of guests, who both to write a review, and who have a good experience to write about. So if you have a seasonal flat like mine, it is hard to keep this badge. I do see an increase in bookings when the badge is activated so worth striving for it. Ask your guests to leave you feedback, usually people will do so. Since Airbnb will only let them leave feedback for 14 days after their departure, some people forget so reminding them can help.
How about you, have you stayed at any Airbnb place? Is your property listen on the site? If this post inspired you to host, use this link to get started