Since its launch in 2008, Airbnb has grown from a promising startup to a key player in the travel industry. Earlier this year, the accommodation-sharing platform announced it now offers six million listings around the world. If you’re considering welcoming guests, you’ll need to stand out from the crowd, and being an exceptional host (with plenty of good reviews to back you up) can go a long way to helping you do just that. We spoke to some Superhosts to find out the 'dos' and 'don’ts' for Airbnb hosts.
Don’t slack on the listing
Good pictures will do most of the work for you. Think about lighting, angles and composition, and put the toilet seat down, clear up clutter and make the bed neatly. Many smartphones offer sharp enough resolution, although a professional camera can give you an extra boost. Post plenty of pictures, but only accurate ones — don’t go wild with fresh flowers or bowls of fruit if they won’t be there for every guest. Accuracy is just as crucial in the listing description: don’t exaggerate the amenities, but don’t assume anything is obvious, either. If you don’t have air-conditioning or a TV, say so, and likewise, if you have a good selection of spices in the kitchen, let them know. Finally, give guests a sense of the area: how far is your property from popular attractions? What’s the neighbourhood like? Is there a local bistro two streets over that they just can’t miss?
Do have trust in your guests
You may be tempted to go overboard grilling potential guests, unsettled by horror stories about raucous parties. Judy Benson, an Airbnb Superhost who rents out the Sunday School, a converted church hall close to her home in North Hobart, Tasmania, urges caution. 'It might sound strange, but I wish I had trusted more,' she says. 'In the beginning, I asked my first couple of guests for ID, photocopied it, etc. I quickly learned to trust people more and trust the Airbnb vetting process so my guests really became like guests, not customers.' You should still exercise your own judgement and get to know your guest before their stay, but make sure it’s a dialogue rather than an interrogation. Treat guests the way you would like to be treated.
Don’t overdo it on the rules
House rules are common on Airbnb, from smoking bans to specified quiet hours, but a thick manual isn’t going to contribute to a homely atmosphere. Judy recommends streamlining your rules and allowing for common sense. 'I want my guests to relax and enjoy the space, so I never put lots of ‘don’t do this’, ‘don’t do that’ notes around the house — it needs to be just as if it’s their home,' she says. 'Sure, the guest manual needs some guidelines about how to operate the heating etc, but not the manifesto of behaviour!'
Do respect your guests’ privacy
If you’re renting a room but not the entire space, installing a lock on the door can help to give the guests a sense of more privacy. And don’t go waltzing in without their permission — always knock or give a heads-up with a quick message through the app. Make yourself, or a back-up if you can’t be there, available in case of any issues, but don’t go crowding them during their stay. 'If I can be there to welcome them, that’s great, but it’s not essential and not always possible,' Judy explains. 'Some even prefer just to be on their own and I respect that. It’s good to let them know you are close but to not interfere with their private time.'
Don’t bother buying gifts
Some hosts like to present their guests with a welcome gift, although Judy says forking out for a box of truffles or a bottle of wine isn’t necessary. 'I don’t buy gifts, and don’t think it’s needed. If I know it’s a celebration or wedding night, I may put an ice bucket with champagne and glasses there, but nothing on a regular basis. I provide breakfast provisions and basic cooking needs and often the guests are surprised by that.' If you do want to go the extra mile, Dana McMahan — a Superhost who rents out Vertigo Louisville, the third floor of her home in Kentucky, and the Little Carriage House on the Alley, a studio space above her garage — suggests getting creative with homemade gifts that won’t be too hard on your wallet. 'I recently provided festival care kits for guests coming to an outdoor music festival in the summer. It only cost a few dollars, but it made a huge impact on how they felt about their stay,' she recalls. 'They knew I thought about and cared about their comfort, and that made all the difference.'
Do spring for the little extras
You’ll need to provide basic amenities including towels, toilet paper and bedding, but it can be worth plumping for a few non-essentials to guarantee a more comfortable stay. 'Guests often say they are amazed by how so many little extras help, whether it’s the picnic basket, a shoe clean kit or a few toiletries,' says Judy. A hair dryer, iron and clothes hangers will go a long way, too. When it comes to the bed and bath, Dana recommends spending a little more. 'Too often I see cheap toilet paper in insufficient amounts. Nobody wants to go TP shopping, especially in another country, on vacation. Give them the good toilet paper, and more than enough. And pony up for some Kleenex too, so people don't have to wipe their nose with that sandpaper TP,' she says. 'People spend the majority of their hours in an Airbnb in bed, so that is the last place to skimp on quality. Yes, some will be ruined so it can be painful to get the higher-priced things, but that's a facet of this business. Get good sheets, good pillows, and yes, you absolutely have to wash the comforter cover or quilt, or whatever your top layer is, between every single guest.'
Don’t overlook the small details
If your Airbnb isn’t your primary residence, make sure you spend some time there to get a sense of the guest’s experience: is there enough space in the wardrobe? Is the kitchen stocked with enough equipment to prepare a meal? 'A smart host will stay in their own space for at least a night, preferably longer — we stayed for over a week in both of ours — in order to learn what those details are,' says Dana. One of the main points she noted was lighting: 'Is there enough light to read sitting on the couch at night? Does each person have a light by the bed they can reach? Do you have extra bulbs readily available?'
Do prepare for potential problems
As mentioned above, you (or someone close to you) should be available in case an issue arises with the property. 'Better still, though, is to try to forecast potential issues and head them off, by setting very clear expectations, and addressing any possible concerns ahead of time, whether that's with a white noise machine for noise, for instance, or extra blankets if it's cold,' says Dana, who adds that it’s important to set appropriate expectations. 'It's always better to under promise and over-deliver than seemingly guarantee an amazing place but fail to mention any little issues that could have a negative impact on someone's stay.' Identify potential hazards, such as exposed wires or steps where guests might trip, and resolve or clearly mark them. Regularly replenish the first aid kit, and supply emergency instructions, including a list of contacts for local services and the closest hospital. If the emergency exit is not already marked, provide a map for guests.
Don’t lose your cool in the face of a complaint
If a guest is unhappy with their stay, remain calm. Dana advises: 'The host should try to find out exactly what the concern is, and offer options to resolve it. Be sure to document the conversation in Airbnb's platform so that if there's any discrepancy afterwards, the thread of communication is all there.' If you end up getting angry, rude or sarcastic, Airbnb may not be able to back you up. And don’t let a sole bad experience put you off. 'It’s important to not try to learn too much from one incidence,' says Judy. 'It’s a rarity, and not fair to suspect all future guests because of one problem one.'
Do communicate often
The easiest way to avoid problems is by managing expectations. Be aware that many guests won’t read through your full description, so try to keep crucial points at the top of your listing, and remind them of important details before their stay. 'I write to guests when they first book, and again closer to arrival,' says Judy. 'For example, I double check they have read the info and realise that it’s a very large, quite open area; the bathroom is private but all the beds are under one ceiling, so there is no sound privacy. I double check if they want me to close the gate in case they don’t like dogs. People will only be unhappy is if the property does not live up to their expectations, so it’s really important to be open, honest, and not oversell your property.'