AirBnB — Working for Guests and Hosts Alike

A train just passed by out my 11th storey window. I’m looking west as I write this, and Chicago is sprawling across the landscape as far as the eye can see. If I push my face against the glass, I can actually see Willis Tower (the 14th tallest building in the world, last I checked!) poking out above the skyline. We’re in Chicago’s popular Gold Coast neighbourhood, and the apartment that my girlfriend and I have been staying in feels like home to us already; likely because that is exactly what it is. This is someone else’s home, we just happen to be living in it today.

By my guess we’ve got about 600 square feet. Maybe double the size of a standard hotel room. She is asleep in the bedroom right now while I type away on my laptop, set up on the dining room table. The open concept space has a TV in the living room, which is on in the background. The kitchen is immediately available on my left in the event that I want to re-heat some of last night’s deep dish pizza.

Our Home-Away-from-Home in Chicago

Without a doubt, our Air BnB provides us amenities that we simply could not have if we had chosen to stay at a hotel. What’s more, the Air BnB we are in is significantly cheaper. We saved about $50 nightly with this apartment than if we had booked the cheapest rooms listed in this neighbourhood. We’re probably about $100 less than the average hotel in this area. Certainly, we were worried about the affordability of our trip when we compared hotel prices several months ago.
 
 While my Chicago trip was my first experience acting as an Air BnB guest, I manage my own small Air BnB unit out of my house back in St. John’s. This is a new development. My girlfriend and I have been doing it since we purchased our home in August. It has been a fantastic experience, and we have met many great people. What’s more, the profit from our unit is actually paying our mortgage. This was intentional — we knew when we designed our house during the early construction stages that we could pull big money if we provided all the right amenities.

The experience of hosting has been great, and now the experience of visiting has been great. Now that I am nothing short of a bonafide expert on both travelling and hosting with the service, I want to provide some information for both travellers and hosts that I think will help make the experience better for all parties.

LET THE HOST INDICATE THEIR AVAILABILITY

I’ve heard horror stories about needy guests. I’ve also heard disgruntled guests complain about hosts they never met. My thought on the whole thing is that the host is providing you space in exchange for cash, but unless stated in the listing there is no guarantee that the host is also selling you their time. You’re travelling and enjoying some time away, but the host still needs to go about their day-to-day life. Work, chores and their own social circles still beckon.
 
 If you’re looking for an engaged host, see if there is any reference to such a thing in the listing. Reviews are also a great place to look. If a past guest spent time with a host, it will likely be posted there. Keep in mind that reviews aren’t guarantees. They may have had lots of time for a guest three months ago, but be out of town when you arrive. If you are expecting the host to also show you the city, make sure you clear that with them well before your arrival and find out if they are available.

IF YOU HAVE A CONCERN, ASK. IF SOMEONE ASKS IT ISN’T PERSONAL (TAKE FEELINGS OUT OF IT)

I really feel like communication has broken down quite a bit in this day and age, and it is a shame. I’ve seen a number of posts on Air BnB discussion boards about guests who complained in reviews about issues that they were having. What is painful is to see the host’s frequent comment of “I could have fixed that if they had just let me know while they were here.”
 
 So why don’t guests ask? My suspicion is that it is because we are all so offendable! If someone tells me my drain is clogged, or that a window is leaking, or that my apartment is cold, I am not going to get defensive about the problem. I recently read another discussion where someone was really frustrated with a guest because they were cold “and no one who has stayed before has complained about being cold!” A guest being cold is not a personal insult to your preferred temperature settings. Hosts, listen to me, stop taking feedback personally.

I encourage guests to discuss problems with hosts instead of subjecting them self to the problem complaining later. A bad review can definitely cause problems long term, particularly for new hosts. However, if we are going to ask guests to tell us when things are wrong, we have to be prepared to resolve them if we can if the request is reasonable. To do this, we can’t act confused or hurt if the guest has a problem. Communication people! Feedback is a good thing, and “negative” feedback doesn’t equal negative intent!

COMMUNICATE AT LENGTH BEFORE ARRIVAL

This one I have to stress, but you might be surprised the number of people who book and then go silent until the day of their arrival. This doesn’t allow me, as a host, enough time to coordinate for the guest. Particularly if I had another guest the night before.

Our arrival in Chicago was several hours before check-in. Instead of wheeling our luggage around the city, we made our host aware of the fact that this would be the case. They informed us they had a storage unit a block away from where we were staying, and met us there to drop off our things. This allowed my girlfriend and I several hours to explore Chicago without the inconvenience of suitcases. It also allowed our host time to consider our problem and recommend a better solution. It altered our travel plans too; we ended up getting dropped off in a different location than intended. 
 
 Everyone won though. This certainly beats arriving early without any notice, or needing a parking spot when previously there was no indication that this would be the case. In my experience, I would rather someone ask me a number of questions as opposed to show up assuming that things will be okay. I can likely find a solution or make an exception if needed, but it is a lot easier for me to do that three days in advanced versus three hours.

MAKE SURE YOU BOTH KNOW YOUR CHECK OUT. TRIPLE CHECK.

One issue I did run into with a guest was confusion about check out time. We resolved this quickly, the guest was great. However it did cause some stress for me, since I had another guest coming that day. With only a couple of hours to spare between my check in and my check out time, I need to clean the apartment quickly but effectively.

After this incident I started to stress check out times on my communication with guests. I also went back and double checked my check-out time here in Chicago. Sure enough, it was actually an hour earlier than I thought. It is an easy mistake to make, especially since check-in and check-out are likely different. If you’re a guest, I suggest confirming it verbally when you meet your host. Ask them point blank “So to be clear, you need me out of here by noon on the 22nd?” This also gives them the opportunity to tell you if you need to rush. Generally if I don’t have someone coming that same day I will advise my guests they don’t need to rush out promptly at the set time.

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The opportunity and experience provided by Air BnB is fantastic for both guests and hosts alike. For hosts, empty space becomes an immediate source of revenue. For guests, travel accommodations can quickly submerge you into a city in a way that a hotel simply can’t. Not to mention that generally speaking, you’ll be saving cash while you’re at it. I encourage everyone to test out Air BnB if you haven’t already. The “sharing economy” is growing rapidly, and Air BnB is at the forefront of that. Embrace it, enjoy it, and make sure you do it right!

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