Years ago, long before Airbnb existed, my partner and I were in Brazil and decided to make a detour to visit São Paulo. We had no idea where to stay so he called a concierge service he used in London who came back with some very expensive options. I looked at the tres aspirational *Wallpaper handbook I had taken with me and gave the fancy Hotel Fasano a call. It looked swanky and the short review singled out a chap called Leo as being particularly helpful.
To my astonishment, they had a room at a pretty manageable rate. I don’t recall the transaction on the phone, but they arranged for a car to collect us from the bus station (I doubt too many guests at the Fasano arrive by bus) and Leo himself was the man who checked us in and oriented us for our one night stay.
Next day we were dropped off again at the bus station to go to Paraty. Late that evening we arrived, exhausted and sticky. We collapsed inside our pousada when the phone rang. Who the heck? It was Leo at the Fasano. He was calling to check that we had arrived safely. He knew we were heading to Paraty but neither of us recalled mentioning where we were staying. By some kind of strange hospitality magic, this chap had gone to the trouble of working out where we were, what time we would arrive and how to contact us.
I was blown away.
Now that I’m in the hospitality industry, I always remember how I felt a long, long way from home when a stranger who had no obligation to me cared enough to check up on our wellbeing. I had paid the bill. I probably wasn’t coming back anytime soon. But Leo went out of his way to make me feel that someone cared — that thoughtfulness made a powerful impression on me and how I view our Airbnb guests.
What I’ve learned about being a host on Airbnb.
- TL:DR version: People have limited holidays and resources. They are putting themselves at your mercy — don’t let them down.
- The bed has to be good. Your guests will spend most of their time there.
- Mattress protectors. If you don’t already have one, buy three. (And wash them.)
- Fresh bedding for each new guest. It doesn’t matter if only one person has slept in the bed for just one night, every guest gets fresh bedding.
- If you use a duvet, also use a light sheet beneath it.
- Two pillowcases per pillow.
- Extra points for ironing pillowcases and sheets. Crisp, clean bedding feels luxurious.
- White bedding makes life easier (and reassures your guest that all is clean).
- Tell guests where they can find additional bedding if they need it.
- Guests need surfaces for their things. Do an audit of all those objects, books etc that you probably put into the spare room to be out of the way. That photograph of your niece on the bedside table has to go.
- If you are sharing the bathroom, remove all out-of-date or unused products. That half-empty bottle of sunscreen from two summers ago — dump it.
- Guests can overlook a lot of things, but not cleanliness. Scrub every surface until it’s shiny. No short cuts.
- Hair may be a perfectly natural product of your body but you’ll find that most guests just do not want to see it in the shower. They just don’t.
- Especially pubic hair.
- Ditto toothpaste spatter on the mirror. Clean that mirror with some suitable glass cleaner and then give it a rub down with paper to get that Hollywood shine.
- Get rubber gloves and scrub that toilet until it glows. Don’t use the same cloths for the toilet as you do for the other parts of the bathroom.
- Drop one of those little blue block things into the cistern.
- Clean, fluffy, white towels are always reassuring. Dump the threadbare, greying towels.
- Leave a clean bathmat/towel rolled up next to the bath or just inside the shower.
- Keep surfaces clear again but do leave a tumbler/glass for each guest. Leave them upside down on coasters to show that they are unused.
- A fancy fragrant candle (lit up on their arrival) is a nice little extra.
- Imagine that you have travelled across the world. You’re tired. You’ve managed to manoeuvre through customs, traffic, maybe a different language, side streets… what do you want to be greeted with when you arrive? A big welcoming smile and the assurance that all is now OK; you are safe and with friends. Everything else is a bonus.
- Great service means reducing uncertainty. Answer questions before they are asked. For example, when a guest buzzes on the outer door of our building, I say “You must be Lisa! Welcome. Just inside the door to your left is the light switch then come through to the elevator and come to the third floor”. The only thing they have to say is “yes’.
- Have a huge welcoming smile on your face for the first time they see you. Huge.
- Have a printed list with things like your wifi password, contact numbers, instructions on how to use certain things like the coffee machine, how to recycle, tipping etiquette and so on.
- Bonus points for remembering little things. Did someone mention it was their birthday? Surprise them with a cupcake. Is this an anniversary? A chilled bottle of bubbly will blow them away. Are they leaving too early for breakfast? Make a little breakfast bag to take away. Trust me, these guests will rush to leave an outstanding review.
- What would do in an emergency that wasn’t life-threatening? Do you know the opening hours of doctors’ surgeries, the admission policies of nearby Accident and Emergency departments, late-night pharmacies?
“But these strangers will invade our space and end up sitting on the couch next to us all the time”. Your guests are here to see your city/country and not you. When I ask guests why they chose Airbnb over hotels, they say — in this order — price, location, experience. So, they will have breakfast then generally get on with their tourism, come back late and flop into bed exhausted.
“I’ll have to lock away my stuff”
We have had so many people stay as guests and they have been nothing but utterly respectful. The only things we have hidden away is clutter. Remember that guests know that they will be reviewed by you as much as they will be reviewing you. And yes, there always could be that one bad apple that wrecks everything, but a life lived in fear of the one bad experience is just not worth living. It’s easier to trust. (Besides Airbnb give you ENORMOUS insurance cover…)
“I’ll have to be there all the time”
Nope. On several occasions we’ve gone away for a night. We simply tell the guest that we’ll be away and if they’ll be OK setting up and clearing away the breakfast things themselves. Your guest knows that this is not a hotel, that you have a life, responsibilities and all that that entails.
That said, if you have a high occupancy (as we do, thankfully), it’s important to block off some nights to have a break every now and again. After all, this is work (enjoyable work, but work nonetheless).
“I’m going to make a ton of money and hardly do anything!”
Identify your direct competition (same location, same type of accommodation/facilities). How much are they charging? Have a look at their calendars. What sort of occupancy are they achieving?
Don’t spend a fortune on getting your place ready. You will need to spend some money, but hold off on getting that Nespresso machine until you can justify it with a steady stream of guests.
And remember that this is work. We found that turning a room around takes the best part of an hour (no shortcuts!). Apart from that you need to keep the breakfast stuff stocked up, fresh flowers, fresh fruit, keeping shared spaces generally tidy, etc. And you’ll need to keep the Airbnb algorithm happy by responding to requests promptly, updating the calendar, tweaking the price, looking for opportunities to share the room on social media (without spamming your followers), updating your guidebook, keeping up-to-speed with local events etc. (And writing blog posts of course…)
It’s a privilege to welcome folk from all over the world into your home. Some will want to be left alone; others will be fantastic fun and you’ll miss them when they leave. All have decided to trust you with their precious holiday time and to give you their money so the least we can do is greet them with a huge smile and make them feel welcome and safe.
Everything else is a bonus.
Did I mention that we’re on Airbnb? Check us out in London. https://www.airbnb.co.uk/rooms/1962492