All posts by carolynhost

Visit my Airbnb listing if you like! www.airbnb.com/rooms/1226681

Lessons at Three Years

This month I celebrate three years as an Airbnb host. It’s something of a milestone: many hosts don’t last three months. I’ve been steadily booked since I started hosting, and I have dozens of great reviews. Three years ago, I embarked on an entrepreneurial journey — and I have succeeded at it.

Whether the benchmark we reach is one year at a job or five years in a marriage; whether we graduate from high school or retire from work; it’s human nature to want to celebrate what we’ve accomplished and to assess what we’ve learned. Mark the occasion! Tradition even tells you the appropriate gift for each year’s wedding anniversary. I’ve been hitched to Airbnb for three years, and the traditional three-year gift is….

Leather.

Does this mean I should celebrate by outfitting my Airbnb studio with new leather club chairs?

My guests would love them, but even if I raise my rates, it would take another three years to offset a pair of leather club chairs.

But they would look beautiful! Think what they’d add to my guests’ experience!

My immediate thoughts on “Leather” show exactly the priorities I have as an Airbnb host. First, what would my guests love? Second — in a split second:  WHAT WILL IT DO TO MY PROFIT MARGIN?? And then I’m right back to the leather club chairs.

I can’t stop thinking about them. I would love a pair of chairs in a comfortable faux leather, perhaps a deep red shade to match the curtains in my studio. Something sturdy yet inviting, where guests could take naps between sight-seeing adventures. I’d have to get a special cleaning solution for them — or do chairs like that have Scotchgard? The legs should be a dark wood…but I don’t want anything that looks too stiff or traditional. I have some throw pillows that would match my fantasy chairs, but I’ll need more…

I realize that, somewhere along this three-year road, I’ve figured out exactly the best lesson for me.

Pay attention to detail.

What a cliche! Can’t I come up with something more profound? Don’t I have any brilliant, original lesson to pass on to new hosts?

So many important points come to mind, and they’re common knowledge among veteran hosts.

***Write clear, comprehensive house rules, and stick to them.

***Make sure guests communicate clearly regarding their arrival. Have a self check-in system in place, so you’re not left waiting around for guests who don’t respect the agreed upon time frame.

***Have backups of sheets, towels, and bath rugs.

***BUY IN BULK!

***Talk to your neighbors! Make sure that they know you only accept quiet, considerate guests. Let the neighbors know that they can talk to you with any concerns.

***Update your listing and photos from time to time.

And of course,

***PAY ATTENTION TO DETAIL.

That’s it. That phrase that every job seeker includes on a resume, that truth behind each item on your hosting to-do list: that says it all. Every good host knows the importance of attention to detail. I’ve obsessed over the little things since I first decided to list my space. I frantically dusted the tops of doors, usually twice. I straightened the bedspread and topped off the already-full shampoo bottles. Then, at some point, I realized that I had calmed down; I didn’t need to worry. It’s not because I stopped paying attention to the little things. It’s precisely because I DID continue this attention that I became calmer and more confident. I began to enjoy hosting more, and I noticed that the guests seemed friendlier.

Of course,  the guests didn’t magically become friendlier over the last three years. If anything, I’ve had more not-so-friendly guests as time passed. What changed was my attitude. I was PART of their trip. No, I didn’t go sightseeing with them, and I only occasionally joined them for a cup of coffee. Yet, something about that attention to detail brought me into their world a little more. My small efforts became part of the fabric of their trip.

I’ve noticed that there’s one moment, as I prepare to greet new guests, when I feel completely relaxed. That moment occurs when I’m seeing to details. I always do a final check after the I’ve cleaned the studio and stocked the supplies. As I polish up the already polished stainless steel sink, I feel content, and I’m proud of the gleaming little sink. Sometimes I’m almost glad to notice that the bathroom curtain is looking a little dusty. I take it down, hand wash and iron it, and hang it up again. I get a such a sense of satisfaction you’d think I had tatted the lace myself. All this calm satisfaction came to me unawares. And I feel involved in the process.

What’s most interesting, though, is that it doesn’t even matter whether the guests notice the neatly folded towels and shiny flatware. I guess that’s because I know that some guests, at some point, will notice. And, more important, I feel that my attention to detail creates a positive overall impression. The whole studio is greater than the sum of its tiny shiny parts.

I’m really surprised that I don’t care if guests notice! I thought I was the type to worry about what others think. I thought I had those normal human responses. You know, when you feel that no one notices how hard you work or how great you are? I’ve suffered that at times, in other areas of life. But when it’s my home and my guests, I just don’t care if no one notices my efforts. That’s because my obsession with detail is already doing a lot for me, and at least a little for my guests.

Also, there’s that increased pride in one’s own home. I’ve become more connected to my home, even though my Airbnb studio is a separate unit. I think this satisfaction holds true whether you rent or own. When I had an apartment, I loved preparing the place for visitors. Now, I own a modest triplex on the edge of a great neighborhood, and I even have a big back yard. That yard isn’t left out of my little detail-oriented attention. Overall, my yard is overgrown and unkempt. But there’s such joy to be had in arranging little river rocks just right, or finding the perfect spot for a potted plant.

It’s gratifying, as a host, to hear guests exclaim how lovely my studio is and how inviting the yard looks. I take this feedback as a reflection of the little things I’ve done well. But, I know I’m providing a great experience whether I hear compliments or not. I’m on the trip too.

Maybe this positive feeling will change. I’m three years in, and I can pat myself on the back and keep shining the flatware in my Airbnb. But, how will I feel about all this detail work at, say, the five-year mark?  Will I still have pride in the little things and feel part of my guests’ journey?

I hope so. I’ve met lots of wonderful guests, and I’ve really gotten to know someone — myself.

 

 

 

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The SUPERHOSTAGE versus the NEWBIES

Ah, the Superhost.

Airbnb calls its Superhosts “extraordinary” and “outstanding.” Travel websites refer to Superhost status as a badge of honor, as the crown jewel of Airbnb. Yet, as many hosts know, the Superhost badge doesn’t actually mean much. That’s partly because it’s just too easy for new hosts to get.

Why should I worry so much about keeping my Superhost status when so many new hosts can get that badge in their sleep?

I call myself an Airbnb Superhostage. I’ve hosted successfully since June of 2013, and I’ve held Superhost status since the company re-instated the program beginning in September of 2014. As a Superhostage, I’ve been proud, indignant, confused, desperate, silly, and boastful. Whenever my next “evaluation” approaches, I check my Airbnb Inbox every five minutes, I pore over my Superhost statistics, and I overreact. For example, I was puzzled by the recent “Overall” ratings for my studio:

Great work! Your last 2 ratings were each 5 stars! 

Only the last 2 ratings?? Strange. Great work?? I think not…I have 144 reviews for that listing. Some recent guest has given me just 4 stars for “Overall Experience.” Who were these guests, and what had I done wrong with them? However, that kind of thinking wastes my energy.  I’ve never polled my guests, but I’ve heard other hosts say that their guests don’t even realize the Superhost program exists.

Yet, the Superhost advantages remain. We come up higher in search results. Guests can filter their searches to show only Superhost listings (I suspect that filter isn’t used much, but it’s there.) AND, the greatest advantage, in my view, is that, as a Superhost, you can call Airbnb Customer Service and be connected almost immediately with a staffer. This is huge. I remember painfully long wait times, before the program was re-introduced. Yes, Airbnb Customer Service has flaws, but I can usually get help with basic questions on specific reservations. 

To gain Superhost status, a host needs to maintain at least an 80% average on overall ratings and a 90% or better response rate. You must have no cancellations. AND – you must have hosted ten “completed trips” in the past year.  ONLY TENI see a problem with that. After ten sets of guests, you’re still a newbie, and you don’t have a proven track record.

I don’t want to diminish the efforts of those great new hosts who have put in the time, research, and money to develop a beautiful space and a well-written listing. Yet there are SO MANY “Superhosts” who have only a handful of reviews, or have only been on Airbnb for a few months. With such limited experience, how competent can a host be? Have these hosts gotten lucky with easy-to-please guests?  Perhaps. But, for most, I think their Superhost status will disappear at the next evaluation.

The majority of newbie Superhosts need to pay their dues. It’s evident in their listings.

I examined 30 Superhost listings with twenty or fewer reviews, mostly in my home town of Los Angeles, but also from other major American markets. 24 of the 30 listings – that’s 80% — had serious problems in their descriptions, photos, and House Rules. Surely some prospective guests would worry: Is this host flaky? Will s/he clarify these unclear statements? The reviews look good, but can I trust them? And, does that Superhost badge really mean that I’m staying at a decent, clean, well-appointed place?

These new Superhosts themselves will likely face problems down the line, if their information is unclear or the House Rules inadequate.

So what’s wrong with the listings I’ve looked at? First, so many are poorly written! These days, we shouldn’t be surprised at the lack of good English writing. In the listings, I found so many grammar errors that I lost count. I saw complete lack of punctuation, weirdly placed capital letters, and clumsy, confusing phrases. Some excerpts:

Under “About This Listing,” one Superhost only wrote:

      “its 2 min walking from Hollywood blvd bunk bed 1      level”

That’s it. A prospective guest might wonder what else is unclear at this place, such as the WiFi password or parking instructions. 

Generally, this Superhost has good reviews, but there is one which reads:

     “did not like at all”

Okay then!

Another Superhost repeated an entire paragraph fully three times, at different points in her listing:

“Beautiful large private bedroom/private bathroom in a 2bd/2        bath apartment… [Etc.]”

“Beautiful large private bedroom/private bathroom in a 2bd/2  bath apartment… [Etc.]”

“Beautiful large private bedroom/private bathroom in a 2bd/2  bath apartment… [Etc.]”

Wouldn’t a guest question that host’s attention to detail?

Here’s what another Newbie Superhost wrote, in describing his neighborhood:

” “Culture” (URL HIDDEN), (URL HIDDEN), “Nightlife” (URL    HIDDEN), “Guide to Bars”   (URL HIDDEN), “Shop” (URL    HIDDEN)….”

Note to Newbies: Airbnb blocks out links. READ YOUR LISTING AFTER YOU POST IT.

What about “House Rules?” Here’s an entry:

      “Be kind to the house.”

That’s ALL.

Most people will understand that they’re expected to take care of the property, but what about the guest who takes it to mean “Paint rainbows on the walls!?” I hope this Superhost rewrites his House Rules before some guest destroys the place.

Another host has “House Rules” almost as brief:

        “I don’t like rules…just be respectful.

         smoking outside only…”

That host really sets himself up for problems.

Here’s a House Rule from a Superhost whose landlord just might not be in the loop:

 “Do not talk to neighbors”

What happens if a guest does break that house rule? How would the host know?

Some of my Newbie Superhosts have pretty good photos, but others have shots that are blurry or even sideways. It’s hard for a guest to know what they’re in for. And, among these Superhost photos, I saw some really dirty floors and cluttered rooms. Outstanding??  Jewels in the crown?? I think not.

Shouldn’t the Superhost title mean something?

No. For all that Airbnb gushes with pride about Superhosts, the company does not endorse them. Airbnb claims to personalize encounters for travelers, but Superhost status is automated. A host meets certain measurable, mathematically calculated criteria, and the Superhost badge automatically appears on his or her profile photo. Or, a host meets the criteria, and the Superhost badge shows up three weeks later. Either way, no one from Airbnb is looking at actual reviews, listings, or photos. No Airbnb staffer will see that Superhost with the four-word review: “didn’t like at all.” Nor will any Airbnb employee notice the Superhost with three listings, active only since August of 2015, who has only three stars for cleanliness on one of those listings.

I find it ridiculous that Airbnb hands out Superhost status but doesn’t endorse the Superhosts. I mean, THEY PLACE A BADGE ON YOUR PHOTO. How is that NOT an endorsement?

If Airbnb doesn’t have the manpower to confirm whether these Newbie Superhosts really deserve that badge, the company needs to alter the criteria. At minimum, hosts should have to go through twenty sets of guests, not just ten, to qualify for Superhost status.

Think of the hard-working veteran hosts who have hundreds of positive reviews but may fall just short of that Superhost mark. Not only have they earned lots of money for Airbnb, they have also stuck with the company through its years of sudden growth, bad press, and failed ad campaigns.

Those veterans get to stay on hold for forty minutes while Airbnb Customer Service helps Newbie Superhosts.

Lots of improvements could help the Airbnb Superhost program. Certainly Airbnb should increase its minimum completed trips criterion. Airbnb will better serve its guests AND show more respect to its talented veteran hosts.

Should I call Airbnb Customer Service with my idea? Maybe. It probably won’t do any good, but at least I’ll get through right away.

 

c. 2016 by author