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My First Airbnb

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When I travel I always like to stay in vacation rentals, but until recently I hadn't even so much as created an account on Airbnb, much less actually stayed in an Airbnb home. I needed to end that streak.

And when planning my visit to New York City -- pretty much the bubbling cauldron of the shared economy -- I figured it would be a fitting place to lose my Airbnb virginity and give it a go. Here's everything I learned.

1. Setting The Stage

In technical terms, Airbnb represents one of several large listing sites in the broader short term rental market. Airbnb is kind of a separate ecosystem with it's own culture, momentum, rules, quirks...etc. If the vacation rental industry was a country, Airbnb would be it's own semi-autonomous island off the coast.

On a more qualitative scale, Airbnb seems to be much more polarizing than other vacation rental companies like HomeAway, FlipKey, VRBO...etc. Neighbors, families, city councilmen tend to either really love or really hate Airbnb. In fact, about one week before my trip, I read in the news that NYC passed a law killing Airbnb1. Just to be sure, I reached out to Inner Circle member Evelyn Badia who is pretty much the Airbnb whisperer. Based in NYC, Evelyn walked me through the experience and assured me I should be fine.

2. Unpredictability (In Moderation)

It's the quirky travel stories that always seem to become memories. Take my trip to Montreal 25 years ago. I couldn't tell you one single detail from that trip other than that my mother had to hide naked in the hotel closet when the bellboy opened the door unannounced (we still tell the embarrassing story to this day). Quirks make for memories!

We often discuss unpredictability as both an asset and a liability in the vacation rental industry -- about why establishing some standards to close the gap between what a traveler expects and what they actually receive is so important to achieve travel zen (or at least to reduce travel angst).

In NYC, arriving to my Airbnb would serve as a good example of fun unpredictability. Several days before my Airbnb stay, my host sent me GoogleDocs instructions on how to arrive and upon reading through it, I immediately felt like a spy:

Find the secret phone booth and corresponding lock box > scramble once you've got the key > now slip between tavern and Amish Market > unlock bottom lock with red key > make your way to top floor unit > if anyone asks, "you are working in New York City for a few weeks"

I very much enjoyed our secret spy arrival. But because Airbnb is so controversial (and illegal in some cities) I could see sensitive travelers getting flustered with this kind of unpredictable arrival.

3. The Side Hustler

I have noticed that lots of Airbnb hosts are side hustlers. And it's important to remember that the side hustle is about more than just money: it is a hedge against feeling cornered and bored by life. In this sense, Airbnb hosts are passionate people reinventing themselves, creating better communities, and sharing their corner of the world with like-minded peeps.

Not unlike with vacation rentals, however, when a side hustler enters a professional's arena to compete for the same client, things can get tricky. For instance, our Airbnb host charged $450/night, which was the same price of a few other hotels I found on HotelTonight. And when you're competing for with hotels, you are (however fairly or not) setting yourself up to be expected to deliver a comparably professional experience.

I was a little disappointed, for instance, when I emailed my host about the Airbnb ban (to ensure the flat would be available or if we could email outside of Airbnb in the case that his listing was taken down). His response was a polite "you'll need to talk to Airbnb about that." Another example, we asked if we could arrive before 3pm (check in time) in order to drop of our bags for meetings: the request simply went ignored. Goldman Sachs recently came out stating that most people who use Airbnb don't want to go back to hotels2. So these questions may be getting more pressing by the day.

4. Professionalizing The Host

The beauty of the side hustle is that people are less driven by profit and really truly want to share their lives with you!

Because with Airbnb you are frequently staying in someone's living space (as opposed to a vacation home that has been designed for the purpose of visitors) there are some little nuances that travelers should expect. My host's clothes in the closet would be a minor and unobtrusive example. My host's hairs on the shower would be...umm...another. Now that I've stayed in an Airbnb, I can resonate with the HomeAway commercial (below).

But during my first Airbnb stay, I also realized that "staying in someone's home" sounds way more uncomfortable than it is. While there are bound to be horror stories because Airbnb moves so many travelers, the company really impressed me with their review process, which acts like a self-governing mechanism. In this sense, it's almost like Airbnb is becoming a hospitality school for millions of people world-wide. And that is an incredibly powerful thing.

As we learned in Inside The Mind of VR Guests, short term rental guests want to be treated with white gloves. So professionalizing the hosting role definitely has serious rewards.

5. Rent-A-Local

When I travel to new places, I like to pick destinations where I have friends because they can seriously enhance the local experience. And if I'm lucky, those friends have an extra bedroom or happen to be out of town for the week and will lend me a place to stay. This kind of insider access is what I would call "the new luxury" and replicating it seems to be at the core of what makes Airbnb so successful.

The slight difference however is that my friends don't offer these things in exchange for money. They do it because we have a pre-existing relationship...they do it based on reciprocity. The moment an act of generosity is turned into a business transaction with the exchange of money, it takes on whole new context and responsibilities. (On the flip side, if I'm staying at a friend's home for free, I don't really have the right to complain about anything.)

"When money is exchanged, staying @Airbnb becomes a business transaction w/ responsibilities"

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I have a feeling that this grey area might be the root of some Airbnb controversy. If I had the chance to meet the CEO, I would ask how the live-like-a-local concept scales and what expectations are appropriate when selling the service of insider experiences?

6. Conclusion

This was my first Airbnb experience and not unlike the people featured in the Bloomberg article, I will stay at one again. I have been critical of Airbnb in this post in an effort to stimulate conversation and open dialogue about where this company and side hustle short term rentals fit in the big picture. I am not suggesting that one Airbnb experience represents them all, but I am curious...

If you are an Airbnb host, do my observations offend or annoy you? Was my experience accurate of what Airbnb is all about?

If you are a traveler, do you think my expectations fair?

If you are a vacation rental professional, what's your experience with Airbnb and how do its clients match up to that of more traditional VR sites?

Really curious and excited for everyone's take on this...

Footnotes​

About the Author Matt Landau

Matt Landau is the Founder of the Vacation Rental Marketing Blog and the Inner Circle, two online resources dedicated to helping vacation rental owners and managers generate more bookings. Google+ | More Posts (230)

  • OMG, that Homeaway video is hilarious….and also provides some great talking points for VR owners striving to describe why to go with a VR instead of a hotel or resort.

    Now you need to try Glamping: http://www.glamping.com/

    • Matt Landau

      I actually just went Glamping too last month!!! Was lovely — feeling so innovative right now.

  • Gazza

    We use Airbnb as one of a number of platforms to diversify how our guests find us. Airbnb is less than 10% of our bookings. Our experience has been that the quality of guests are generally higher. They leave the house neater, easier to clean and give great reviews. We like the platform and the commercials are generally better for hosts. I’ve never used them as a guest – no reason just haven’t.

    • Matt Landau

      Good stuff, Gazza! You should do some “research” and travel somewhere fun!

  • Hi Matt, being a professional vacation rental manager for 25 years now, I always try to stay in VRs and I usually use management companies. I stayed in my first Airbnb in August when we went to Alaska, because that was the only place we could find a VR. Our experience was very similar to what you described. (The key was inside the bottom left door of the BBQ, which promptly fell off when we opened it.) The owner did not leave any personal items in the home, but there were opened packages of food in the cupboards and refrigerator which I would never use for safety reasons. And there was a hair on the shower wall. They also did not provide nearly enough towels for a 6-night visit. Having mentioned the few things that could have been more professional, the host was very friendly and helpful and communicative. She left lots of books, maps and info in the home for us to use while planning our daily adventures, too. I felt like she really cared about us having a nice vacation. I also felt like she is a newby to the hospitality industry. We will be using Airbnb again next summer for my nephew’s wedding in a rural part of Oregon where again there are no other options for VRs or even hotels nearby.

    • Matt Landau

      So great, Betsy! Sounds like for you (much like me) a baseline of standards (maybe a company like http://www.CityAmi.com — Michelle Himden is the founder) could eliminate much of the inconsistencies and really be the cherry on the the cake for the whole movement. That challenge is totally feasible and straightforward to overcome!

  • Bjorn

    I own and manage several apartments in Reykjavik Iceland. I have used HomeAway since 2008 and started using Airbnb in 2014. Airbnb is constantly getting larger share in my bookings. You can of course always choose to have the entire apartment or house to your self, use that as a filter. You do not need to choose a shared apartment, I would never do that neither as a guest or as host. There is no difference between the dwellings offered on Airbnb or on HomeAway, often they are the same units. HomeAway is trying to get their clients to get more into online bookings and they are really copying the Airbnb system there. Airbnb users always give a review but HomeAway guests seldom.

    • Matt Landau

      Hey Bjorn, nice to hear from you. Do you have other listing sites in your portfolio? As different destinations seem to generate different results, I’m always curious to hear the marketshare in new places like Reykjavic (which I was supposed to visit last December but was cancelled due to a terrible storm 🙂

      P.S. Would love to see a link to your property.

  • Coracle Cove Waterfront Suite

    HI Matt, Last year we travelled through New England and stayed in 6 Airbnb’s. We’ve just returned from South Africa, where we stayed in 5 more. Why stay at an Airbnb ?? Because their search engine is so incredibly powerful, providing the ability to drill down to find exactly what you want, in a reasonable amount of time. PLUS, the reviews give you that final but essential piece of information you need to pull the trigger.

    I’ve been in the B&B and STR business since 1999, and it’s been quite a journey working with the various online opportunities available to market your business. The Airbnb site is the most sophisticated that I’ve seen, with a seamless reservation system, dynamic pricing, pre and post communication with guests, etc. Their reciprocal review process has taken the Trip Advisor model one step further and has resulted in a three-fold increase in the number of reviews I can generate from bookings. We all know how critically important reviews can be in your overall marketing strategy. In the past year I’ve paid closer attention to enhancing my own Airbnb listing and it now accounts for 50% of my bookings, with the other half coming from my own website.

    The downside is that it’s so easy to get set up on Airbnb, and there are a lot of newbies jumping aboard, hoping to make some extra cash, without an understanding of all of the elements it takes to successfully operate an accommodation business. Fortunately, the reviews are there to sift out those who want to provide a great experience from those who just haven’t figured it out.

    • Matt Landau

      Dead on accurate. With your understanding of B&Bs, STRs, and Airbnb units, do you think it’s feasible to build an industry-wide standards framework? Or are all of these products too inherently different from one another?

  • You didn’t happen to mention if this particular home was ALSO listed elsewhere.

    All of this would be lovely and relevant if the owner selected ONLY ONE particular OTA to advertise over any another~ Airbnber… HA’er …TripAdvisor’er ~ each as a significantly separate population of Owners that do not cross pollenate.

    But that is not the actual situation for many.

    Oh sure, I would imagine there may be some who list solely with Airbnb to start…but I’ll put money on the table to say it ain’t really so for a good many of them. And given the Airbnb’er owner enough time, s/he’ll awaken to the realization there are other venues to advertise their home…Well, ok their whole home, not just their couch.

    So, how do you reconcile the Airbnb’er who ALSO posts the very same VR with it’s hairy soap and overstuffed closet of OWNER’s clothes on HA or other listings as well?

    While you may be more likely to give a free pass to the booking made on Airbnb… What should the expectations be for the very same home booked via HA or others? And why should the Airbnb’er be given that pass? Are guests going into this home with lowered expectations…cuz it is after all only an Airbnb?

    Bottom line: a bad host is a bad host. A lousy home is a lousy home.
    And on the flip side- excellent is well, Excellent!

    BUT with Airbnb you can at least rate that host. It’s not done elsewhere…
    But then again they can rate YOU as guest.

    We’ve booked a couple of Airbnbs (one that was also listed on at least 4 other sites). They were both in the end mediocre homes at best that would fit the (lowered?) expectations of an Airbnb home.

    I learned that if it isn’t shown in the photos..DO NOT assume it will be there like closets, or a family /living room.

    Note- a couple of chairs in the corner of the dining area, a living room does NOT make!…Ok for this particular home, there was seating in the garden- good if it didn’t rain or wasn’t cold. This particular home in Walnut Creek, CA was actually one space divided into two.. we had the kitchen and dining area with bedrooms, the owner had the family room and bonus room turned into a kitchenette and bedroom. Our gathering space was outside, weather permitting.

    But then again.. that holds true for any home posted anywhere…buyer beware!

    Our Paris experience was fair to meddlin’. BUT I give high points to our host who acted as a true host…To the point of actually commuting from Germany to Paris to help us out with various issues (TV & internet that would not work, a dorm-sized refrigerator filled with HIS food while he awaited someone to arrive to fix the actual refrigerator that broke down just before we arrived), lots of insider info on how to manage twin infants through Paris.

    So.. bottom line- it isn’t necessarily the venue that you book on as much as it is the host that provides you the service.

    Oh… and inquiring minds want to know how did you rate on the host’s review of you?

    (Disclosure: I am an owner of a VR (www.SeaRanchAbaloneBay.com) that uses a property management company. Our home is not listed on Airbnb. It is however listed with HA/VRBO via our PM’s Expedia listing, I have other listings separate from Expedia including Vacation Home Rentals/TripAdvisor. Airbnb is not one of them)

    • Matt Landau

      All great points, Donna. The other element I see you hinting at is that time will likely iron out a lot of these inconsistencies — that these are simply emerging industry problems that are likely to naturally dissipate as the industry evolves. Dynamic times to rent out your home (and be a traveler!) for sure!

      P.S. I rated my host a 4 out of 5. Don’t think he did anything wrong, but I didn’t leave thinking OMG 🙂

  • Ali Hector

    Matt was your host there during your stay?

    • Matt Landau

      Nope, out of the country. He uses Airbnb when out of the country to make money.

  • Congratulations, Matt! It’s about time you plunged into the Airbnb waters! Your experience is interesting, and as an avid Airbnb host as well as vacation rental owner, I DO have a couple of comments!

    First, I would probably not consider renting in New York City typical of most Airbnbs. You chose one of the most controversial places to try as a first timer. I don’t know NYC at all, but everywhere I travel, I check to make sure that my stay will be legal. I am extremely uncomfortable with subterfuge and trying to get around the law, even if I don’t agree with it. There is a place in the listings where a permit number can be posted, and it’s also a good idea for the host to note specifically in his/her description that their place is legally permitted.

    Airbnb hosts are similar in some ways to vacation rental owners. Some may start renting because they need the income, but I’ve seen over and over again, that a passion for hospitality begins developing. This passion becomes stronger when the host comes into direct contact with the guest. When you are sharing your home, the connection strengthens, friendships form, and magic happens. Here are a couple of recent quotes I heard in my own Airbnb community: Nina said “Think of it as meeting a second cousin for the first time. We’re related but we’ve never met.” Steve, another host said to me “Think of me as the friend you haven’t yet met.” Jill is busily preparing a giant Thanksgiving meal for ALL of her previous guests who will be in town over the holidays. You gotta admit, this is not something you would find on VRBO!

    So, there is this distinct emotional connection.

    Where I see Airbnb’s not being so great, is that they ARE unpredictable. There are no standards in either VRs or in Airbnbs, but when you are sharing someone’s kitchen and sometimes their closets and bathrooms, it would behoove the guest to understand that in certain circumstances you need to be more flexible because this is the style of Airbnb you have chosen.

    To clarify, there are 3 types of Airbnbs, with the most common are the ‘whole house’ style, which is frequently a studio, a connected apartment, or a VR. Another is a room in the host’s residence. The third is a shared room – dorm style. Probably because of the unpredictability of accommodations (unlike hotel rooms) Airbnb has rolled out a program which enables Superhosts to manage other hosts’ properties. This will likely go a long way in establishing some kind of uniformity in descriptions, amenities and cleanliness. However, most hosts will do everything in their power to make their guests feel comfortable and happy, not because they feel obligated to do so, as much as this is what they want and love to do.

    Things can go wrong – with pets, with keys, with check-ins and check-outs, etc. When do you not have a glitch when you are on vacation? There is also that ‘class’ of host who offers the minimum, uses Airbnb as a source of income only, and is not interested in the guest. We find that in vacation rentals, too. Use it as a learning experience and an exercise in flexibility.

    If I could educate the guests who choose to share a host’s personal residence, I would tell them that hosts get burned out very quickly if you do not treat them with respect. It is necessary to remember you are a guest in their home, whether they are in residence or not. Remember the social graces you learned as a child, and use them.

    Showing appreciation and friendliness go a very, very long way. It might do more than just give you a place to rest. You might be making a friend for life.

    • Matt Landau

      Such wonderful words, Debi. And for anyone reading her comment, Debi is someone who’s pretty much an all star in BOTH Airbnb and the more traditional vacation rental niches, which makes for a super well-rounded perspective. More than anything else, I love how the keys to the puzzle — appreciation, friendliness, inclusiveness, respect…etc. — are some of the very same big issues that our greater country can be improving on as well. Thanks for your comment as always.

  • Deb

    Matt,

    I enjoyed your article. As a US-based host and an international guest, I use Airbnb but less so than VRBO/HomeAway. Further, I haven’t used many Independent sites to any great degree as a guest.

    As a host I generate most of my bookings from VRBO and a few from Airbnb. Additionally, my strong return clientele (35% of my 250 days rented annually) round out my advertising sources. I still haven’t developed my own website/independent listing, but given strong occupancy and my busy life, I am okay with this at this point.

    I think that many of the issues your article identified (side hustler, professional/cleanliness) relate to any platform/website/owner situation. But to do well, (bookings, rates, reviews, return guests, etc.) its important to anticipate and meet guest expectations. If you can exceed expectations, so much the better. This isn’t rocket science, but its amazing how often you run into a situation where cleanliness or access to host personal property affect the rental vibe at the Airbnb properties. I would think this will change over time.

    Further, the side hustler aspect of Airbnb extends to tax collection for guests in that the website doesn’t have a line for automatically calculate rental taxes by the guest. This undercuts state and local regulations/taxing authorities and reinforces the idea that is OK for owners not to collect taxes.

    My Airbnb guests are generally millennials, some with kids and others couples traveling with family or friends. As a practice, I get their email and mobile number after booking to initiate communications before, during, and after their stay to ensure they know they are working with someone who WANTS them to have a fantastic stay.

    While I am a people person, renting out a vacation home is a business transaction for any guest whether generated from a rental site, return guest or word of mouth. But like a five star resort, I cater to them as a good host. And like cream, good rental owers/managers will rise to the top. And your assistance through VRMB is very helpful. Thanks Matt!

    Debbie

    • Matt Landau

      So eloquently stated, Debbie. Great thoughts. I think you’ve captured my feelings with “to ensure they know they are working with someone who WANTS them to have a fantastic stay.” This level of intent (which can manifest itself in many ways) is the spirit of the industry and must be underlined.

  • noa mullin

    Air B and B in a span of one year now accounts for 60% of my bookings and growing (I rent entire cottage/chalets). It attracts my ideal customer (21-35 year old groups), has a slick and easy to use platform and my guests love it. I have actually had guests refuse to book direct with me and opted to pay the fees to book through air b and b (talk about trust and loyalty).

    I have also stayed with an air b and b host and loved it.

    If your targeting the same demographic you cant ignore this behemoth that’s turning the travel industry on its head.

    Also, im getting more and more inquires from the 50+ plus age group and they are starting to book more entire houses/cottages on air b and b…

    If I had to conform all listing sites to one platform, it would be air b and b’s.

    • Matt Landau

      Love this, Noa. Congrats on finding such a solid partnership. Sounds like everyone (you, Airbnb, and your guests) wins in that relationship.

  • Fran Maier

    Matt – have to say you are WAAAAY behind the curve on one of the most important vacation rental trend. And its been frustrating that you haven’t really jumped in. I’ve been a host on Airbnb for quite awhile, both for “hosted” stays where people stay in rooms in my home while I am there, and “unhosted” stays for the entire home. I list my homes in San Francisco and in Santa Fe on Airbnb and VRBO sites. For “room rentals” (just in San Francisco) Airbnb does it all and I appreciate that the platform handles guest identity verification, guest ratings, and tax payments. For home rentals (unposted), Airbnb is about 50% in San Francisco and about 40% in Santa Fe, growing from 25% a year ago.

    As to your experience, it sounds like you had an “unhosted” stay, and while that’s fine, the typical airbnb experience is hosted. That means that the host is in the house and welcomes you and can give advice and even cook you breakfast. I know that my guests very much appreciate the extra local touches and the fact that they paid for the room doesn’t lessen their gratitude.

    Also, NY is a unique destination. My airbnb stays in NY have been usually cramped and a bit less professional, I think in part because the market is so large and competitive. I always choose to stay with an Airbnb Superhost (I’m one), because there is a level of consistency and quality you can expect. As a super host, for example, I would always respond to your questions (and I’d be rated on communications).

    I don’t see big differences among my guests other than that the VRBO guests are a bit older (but I think that’s largely because Santa Fe has been a vacation rental market for a long time and it attracts a older demographic). I’ve had no issues with guests from Airbnb, but I have come across VRBO guests who think they’ve rented an entire house and are surprised when they learn that they just rented a room or two (entirely their fault for not reading !). I have to bite my tongue before I remark that there is no way they could rent my entire San Francisco home for $175.

    I also prefer Airbnb for its booking process including instant book. I get so tired of the frequent back and forth with VRBO/Homeaway Guests. On Airbnb they just book!

    • Matt Landau

      Great to hear from you, Fran! And it’s terrific to hear your experience with Airbnb vs. the other listing sites. On this subject of hosted versus unhosted, how does one know what kind of property they’re choosing? I don’t remember seeing this differentiation, but maybe I overlooked it?

  • Maria Rekrut

    I’ve been listed with Airbnb for the past 4 years and until this year the listing site wasn’t very successful for my needs.
    This year has been a great year for both of my properites as both a vacation rental owner and a Bed and Breakfast host. I have really enjoyed having Airbnb guests stay at my properties and find them to be very gracious guests.
    I highly recommend vacation rental home owners try out this Listing site as a compliment to VRBO and Homeaway.
    Cheers,
    Maria Rekrut
    Niagara on the Lake, Ontario, Canada

  • CaseRealestate Nice

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/cd3ace2f15f7d3cf1f6c59a95940b324faba1f23967948efc20a92bb75f82088.jpg Dear Matt , Airbnb is not only to share one room in your home or a part of the house, is also to rent for some period the all apartment , or Villa …. this depends, on our choice

  • CaseRealestate Nice

    Obviously there are thousands of owner in the world , and service , cleaning , kindness can be very different , for this reason there are notes and judgements , very serious that nobody cannot change or cancel , this is a very useful method to allow us to choose a stay .
    Airbnb is a way to show a product, to have guarantees for home owners and tourists . It depends on vacation rentals guests , which kind of system they prefer to choose for finding and book their stay , and this is a big variable.
    I think that is useful to have its own independence , but is useful too to have more opportunities through serious platforms .

  • Brian Whitener

    Matt,
    Thanks for the post! Like everyone else here Inalways enjoy the conversation. A few years ago I used Airbnb(before they were the giant) to rent a cabin for a few friends and brought my experience up to people whenever I had the chance. Little did I know that I would be using Airbnb and all the listing sites as a pillar for myself as I grow to be LSI. So, when I began searching for ways to market my current rental I only knew of Airbnb; not VRBO or any others. To date I still receive more inquiries and bookings through VRBO(at a higher cost to guests) but I much prefer the Airbnb experience. The verification process is much more thorough which creates a safer experience for host and guests. Especially those who rent a room or the like. We try to shine and stand out in ways no one else does and the Airbnb review process assists us in this in ways the other sites fall way short(example here https://www.airbnb.com/users/reviews/2632450). As a host it’s also important to also be able to review guests especially when they are “that guest”. To date I have only had one group that were damaging to the property and did not follow house rules. Unfortunately, I was not able to warn other hosts easily because it wasn’t through Airbnb. The one downside is collecting guests information takes and additional step after booking as Airbnb dows not provide an email to the host. They have a simple calendar to use for both parties which I am trying to implore software companies like Lodgix to follow. All in all I am happy with Airbnb! Thanks again Matt for the post and all who have commented!

    • Matt Landau

      So cool to hear, Brian! I agree the verification system blows anything HomeAway, FlipKey…etc. has going for it. Question: what are some ways you have discovered to shine and stand out on Airbnb?

      • Brian Whitener

        Basically, it’s all about the review process. Airbnb all but forces you to write a review and that works to our advantage. It’s the little things we do for our guests that most hosts do not(I want to write an post for the IC after the holidays) that allows us to shine. Our passion is to give people place of rest and rejuvenation with excellence. This can only be explained to future guests through reviews. So when people say “our best Airbnb experience by far” in their reviews it communicates excellence to our future guests! We try to create as unique of an experience as time will allow(still work a full time job and trying to obtain a group lodge ha).

        • Matt Landau

          Super keen observation: I will admit that I have plenty of excellent service experiences at hotels or restaurants and fail to write a review — not because I don’t think it would really help — just because it’s low on my priority list. In this sense, the obligatory review system is a mechanism to bring out the best in us! Or I suppose sometimes the worst 🙂

          • Brian Whitener

            Agreed! I too fail to leave reviews often for the exact same reasons.

  • Matt Landau

    Great insight, Jan. I find your comment about guests “willing to pay Airbnb their service fee even knowing that they can book with us directly” as proof in the strength of the Airbnb community. Do you do anything to bring those guests onto your court such as ask for their email address and send them updates about Bowen Island throughout the year?

    • JanStevensDesign

      From the moment of the “acceptance” of the booking the guest has my email and they receive several emails from me and my web site directly: the rental agreement, the Welcome Guide, driving directions and request for review.

      • Matt Landau

        And do you follow-up the relationship after they depart?

        • JanStevensDesign

          After departure we ask for a review. But I know you want to know if we send them a newsletter or specials or other direct email. We are complying to the Canadian spam laws and need to have documented “permission” for emailing even past guests. We are working on our new mailing list to send to past guests and to ask “permission” so we can stay in touch with them after their departure.

  • Matt Landau

    Yowzers! Talk about a downside of LSD. “Airbnb says it is ready to provide the city of San Francisco with details of its hosts, lodgings, and guests, as part of a registration system it would set up with its hometown — despite earlier claims that such a system would be unworkable.

    http://www.theverge.com/2016/11/14/13632004/airbnb-san-francisco-rules-cooperate-register

  • Now I understand better the difference you make between vacation rentals and the kind of operation I run which I call… vacation rentals as well. I am really amazed that this was your first airbnb experience. Even with this listing you could have encountered a better place and a better host. What you are describing is killing us.

    • Matt Landau

      Yikes! I don’t ever want to kill you, Maurice. You know what would have been helpful (and I’m speaking simply as a first time Airbnb user) is some kind of guide to choose the best fit built into the onboard experience. For instance, when I signed up, it knew this was about to be my first Airbnb stay, so it could have given me some basic guidelines on traits to look out for, red flags…etc. (I ended up going to Evelyn Badia for this in the end — but not everyone has a personal Airbnb guide in their destination city). Nice to hear from you as always, amigo!

      • As you described very well the quality of communication with the owner is the key point and reviews are there also to confirm that you are going to be treated correctly. It seems that the trend is to get more and more property managers advertising and taking care of properties. All my experience with them both as owner and guest have been disastrous. You can be sure that the flat will not be really clean, that some lights will be broken or details like that. From what I read of your mail exchanges with the owner you should have been avoiding this apartment. You almost have been paying the price of a room at the Pierre Hotel. If some day you come to Brussels, let me know you will get a 5 stars welcome. Abrazo.

        • Matt Landau

          Haha, you got it my friend!

  • Patricia

    Hi Matt!

    Perfect timing for this post! I am LA for the Airbnb conference next week. Would love to meet some of my peeps! Reach out me if your out here so we can hook up!

    I host and have stayed at several airbnbs.

    I had better luck than you did. My hosts were excellent, spaces were spotless, accommodating of my last minute booking, and went out of their way to make me comfortable. I will go back.

    My advertisements under Airbnb have not really been that successful. I have larger properties and families really look under Vrbo/Homeaway sites.

    I will say the biggest group of requests come from younger folks. It can be a good group to work with, but I really want to talk with guests so I can be sure the property is a great match for my guests and I.

    Keep up the great work!
    Patricia Moore
    Property Manager/Owner
    Cell 7036241165

    • Matt Landau

      Hey P! Great to hear from you. Keep up the great work. See you in Maryland or DC at the end of the month?

  • Judy Swanson

    Hi Matt,
    I, too, am very surprised that this is your maiden voyage into ABNB. To answer your questions — yes I’m an ABNB host, starting my 4th year. Yes, some of your comments I took personally, but am not at all surprised, given that I stay in VRs booked through ABNB. I have experienced the same issues — a hair on a used bar of soap? Heebie Jeebie time. Clothes in the closet? Yikes! I almost took home a host’s garment because I had one almost exactly like it.

    I have two condos in a resort town in CA, a gated community with a golf course, etc. The difference between my experience and many others is that I began this venture AS A BUSINESS. Having 25 years owning and operating a computer sales and service business gave me the background to succeed. That said, whenever I stay at another host’s property, I give them pointers (in a very nice way) of how they can improve. They always appreciate it. It’s a small thing, but I think if all of us are willing to make an effort to provide constructive feedback to other hosts that is specific, the entire market will benefit and the quality of VR experiences will improve exponentially.

    I use VRBO, Flipkey and ABNB for my bookings at this point. I think what’s great about the ABNB platform is that they have a vision, execute that vision in a superior way, and know who they are. For better or worse, the company is predictable, or has been so far.

    Many others have said this, but I think it bears repeating — the host and guest review process is one key to ABNB’s success AND to ours. The platform requests the reviews, which is to the host’s advantage for two reasons: number of reviews ( I have 73 reviews on ABNB, 10 on VRBO and 3 on Flipkey), and quality of those reviews (if a host has to solicit a review, it is less likely to be positive).

    THE GREAT REVIEW DRIVES BUSINESS SUCCESS

    It’s the personal, emotional touch that my guests interject that have made my reviews great. Anybody can say very clean, great location, etc. I’ve been astonished at the personal comments I have received — some far better than I could write myself. I never meet my guests, and very rarely speak to them on the phone. I have at least six points of contact, either text or email and I always have a REASON to reach out:

    Personal email address request
    Guest Information request
    Rental Agreement
    Check-in information and documents
    Welcome
    Thank you

    Usually during that process I get to know them in some personal way, and the personal connection that we share is reflected in my reviews: my guests almost always mention me by name.

    This is a point of departure from your usual hotel stay.

    Another key to ABNB’s success is that they realize the importance of differentiating those of us who operate a business versus those who want a little extra income. They have done this through the Superhost designation. The metrics that are used to qualify are not easily attainable, and metrics are reviewed every quarter. It’s not perfect — I truly wish they marketed this fact more to guests, but I suppose they can’t alienate their base.

    As others have mentioned, the demographics of VR site users are different. I have a winter high season, and most of my longer-stay guests who are retired use VRBO. ABNB helps pay the bills through the shoulder seasons and low season with 30 somethings looking for weekend stays AND with international guests. SO I benefit from both sites. Recently I’ve had children booking for their elder parents on ABNB. In choosing sites for your vacation rental, make sure you know your target market and sweet spot, and make sure that your plan holds water, which means lots of research.

    The ABNB booking process is streamlined, and saves time as mentioned below. The initial vetting of users is key to my peace of mind in hosting. It is definitely worth the price of admission.

    Not that they don’t DRIVE ME CRAZY with their accounting practices (rounding — who came up with that one?), tax collection, etc.

    Lastly, I can’t find a way to handle credit card transactions with foreign currency exchange for as cheaply as ABNB does it (3%) inclusive of the listing.

    • Matt Landau

      Hey Judy, I am supremely impressed by your comment – it’s like a complete standalone blog post on it’s own! Thank you for taking the time to share your experience — both pros and cons — with the VRMB community 🙂

  • Duane

    Hi Matt
    This brings up a point about what really is a vacation rental property. I would argue that you stayed in “not a hotel room” rather than in a vacation rental. Many people on AirBnB call what they have a vacation rental but I think the vast majority are “not a hotel room”. We have hosted on AirBnB for years but don’t get a lot of traffic as compared to VRBO etc. and lately I have been thinking that it is because of this distinction that I don’t think people understand. It really is a different market. I am guessing that most people that consider VRBO go straight there and never consider a hotel. However I bet most people that consider AirBnB go there after thinking of a hotel room, or an an alternative to one.

    • Matt Landau

      Hey Duane, I’m with ya. And it’s the answer to this question — “what is a vacation rental?” — that we’re constantly asking in the IC, which is really key to the big picture. I think this is where Airbnb, HomeAway, FlipKey…etc. could all get on the same page and really move this industry forward in a holistic way.

    • Deb

      That is an interesting perspective and I think it has validity, especially with millennials.

    • I agree with you. But there is a problem. After Expedia took over HA/VRBO the number of inquiries we get through them dropped very much. Airbnb is taking over so we are almost forced to work with them although the guests we get from them have really to be checked in order to avoid problems. There is definitely room for a new listing that would be selective.

      • Matt Landau

        Please don’t get this wrong: you are not forced to work with any major listing site and merely thinking that way can seriously disable your business growth.

  • Clare

    Hi Matt, great article. I am a vacation rental owner, with 3 cottages in an Australian wine region, operating for 20 years. I listed our smaller rental with Airbnb 2 years ago. We have only had 4 bookings but our prices as a fully registered 4-star property, are higher than most listings in the area. Stayz (Homeaway) still provides us the most leads. When we’re new with Airbnb we got lots of enquiries but these dropped to almost zero after 3 months. Possibly we didn’t follow up with guests to post Airbnb reviews. In Australia more and more Airbnb listings are vacation rental houses, nor sharing host homes.

  • Hey Matt, congrats on the first experience! I think when someone says “I’m staying in an Airbnb” many people immediately think of room sharing and all that goes with that. However, I check the “Entire Home” box so that I’m only searching for whole homes.

    I’m still shy about the sharing option! But, more than that, I like my own space (physical and mental!) after a day of conferences or meetings. It’s more personal preference, at least for me, than it is a lack of trust in the host or the standard of accommodation.

    It’s also interesting that I’ve only ever used Airbnb for business travel or a city break. When I’m planning a family holiday I only ever search VRBO, HomeAway, etc. On the flip, I would never search VRBO for a city break. Is that just me, or do you think that many people still see Airbnb as city oriented?

    • Andy, VRBO is excellent also for cities. But nowadays almost all properties can be found on all listings. On VRBO you may find a lot more reviews that will help making a choice.

      • Agreed. I think the growth in use of channel managers will certainly result in a greater % of homes being found on most major listing sites. I’ll check VRBO next time the city calls!

    • Antonio Bortolotti

      I think we all have our own habits, Andy. I’m shy about the sharing option too, while that’s something I embraced many years ago and that’s because as I grow “older” and despite being a very sociable people person, I tend to prefer my own space over a shared one, when it comes to privacy and a place to stay. I’ve recently stayed in a few Airbnbs and always look for the “Entire Home”.

      With that being said, I tend to search multiple listing sites, then check owner’s direct sites to make the best possible decision; yet sometimes Airbnb comes in quite handy because they make the whole search phase very easy, seamless and fast, if you don’t want to spend ages finding the best place.

      • Are you booking via the owner’s site when you search or are you rather using the listings one? Independence seems a very remote target.

        • Antonio Bortolotti

          If the owner has booking enabled, yes. If not, I have to go back to the listing site of choice.

          In our own case (https://casateulada.com) direct bookings work really well. I have online bookings enabled and I get lots of direct bookings on my site. I always ask how they find us and often they say they found us on a listing site, then googled the property (because I put the name of it in each description, photo captions, etc.) and decided to book direct.

          • But are you not screening who is booking in order to avoid bad experiences? Today for example, I received an AIRBNB inquiry for my Brussels apart. But by checking the reviews I clearly understood that these people would not follow the house rules.

      • Hey Antonio,

        “Airbnb comes in quite handy because they make the whole search phase very easy, seamless and fast”

        Totally agree and that’s why I use that for business or quick weekend breaks. For a larger family holiday investment ($ and family peace!) I spend much more time and will almost always choose to book directly with an owner/manager that I believe in more, i.e. personal and friendly approach on their own website!

  • LucyLane

    Hi Matt. Thanks for sharing your story, and generating this discussion thread. Here is an ‘unexpected’ perk that I provided a week or so ago for a guest. The guest came down from Seattle to stay in my AirBnB farmhouse (you can find it by searching in ‘Hillsboro, OR’ and ‘B & K Farmhouse’, I know, shameless plug. 🙂 ) He was here for an interview at Intel, which was being conducted the following morning. After providing a bit of breakfast and coffee to him in the morning, I asked him what position he was interviewing for, and he explained that it was a Director position. So I ask if he would be open to a practice round of questions (I worked in technology field for over 20 years, so I know the lingo, and style of behavioral questioning he would encounter. He said ‘yes’, and I began the standard list of questioning (‘Describe a time when things went badly on a project you were in charge of, and how did you turn it around’, ‘Tell us about a specific project that you were in charge of where the stakeholders weren’t on the same page, and the project was overdue. ‘What did you do to address the communication challenge, and what steps did you take to make sure that the project would still be completed on time’, etc.
    So of course I was curious as to how things went, and sent a message that evening to inquire. He told me that ‘he had advanced to the second round of interviews’, so very positive outcome.
    Here is what he had to say in his guest review: “What an Amazing host ! I have yet to come across a warmer host than Kim in Oregon. She really took care like an elder sibling would.”
    This is one example of many. I don’t think you would get this kind of fringe benefit in a standard hotel, do you? 🙂

    • Matt Landau

      Wow, that is SOOOO cool, Kim! You could start to promote that — “We also help you prepare for tech job interviews.” What a great niche!

      • LucyLane

        LOL, I guess so! I also make homemade jams & jelly with the fruit grown right here. I put it out for breakfast every morning along with homemade sourdough bread. ( I sell that too)
        If you come to Portland, OR anytime, look us up! ‘B & K Farmhouse’ ‘Hillsboro’ (more shameless plugs 🙂

        • Matt Landau

          “If you’re looking for Jams, Bread, & Human Resources, we’re simply the best!”

          • LucyLane

            How about simply: B & K Farmhouse, etc.
            OR B & K Farmhouse +
            🙂

          • LucyLane

            The great thing about AirBnB hosting, is that you have an ability to be as creative as you want to be, and since we all have our respective talents, it makes for a unique experience every time. Instead of all the predictable boring hotel franchise staleness, right?
            We can also provide a lot of insight about the area, including what to avoid (which can be most helpful too), and tailor the experience to be customized to the guest, by taking the time to find out what they expect to get out of their trip.
            For example, if you tell me that you are a wine enthusiast, I’m going to tell you about the 9 wineries that are within 5 miles of our home. Or maybe how GREAT the Tuesday night farmers market is a MUST to go to, and why.
            I could go on, but you get the point, right?

  • Matt! Such a thoughtful overview of your experience! With so many extreme stances on both sides out there, it’s great to see someone with great perspective like you actually walk through their experience and call out the pluses and minuses. I definitely think that, as guests, there are people who are “better” at finding consistently great listings, which comes from both knowing what to look for (book a Superhost whenever possible!), but also knowing themselves well enough to factor in certain things when searching and ignore others factors.

    Love the great conversation here, and glad you’ve decided to sparingly give Airbnb a shot – I think it’s a great, low-friction way for people to try being a host, and then at some point transition to a more sustainable, controllable, lower-risk model running full time independent VRs.

    Cheers!

    • Matt Landau

      Thanks Tyler! Totally agree, I think we should call Airbnb “the gateway drug” to the greater VR industry 🙂

  • SoCalSurfer

    In our neck of the woods – coastal SoCal…AirBnB has largely been a curse to established VR owners. Since their SV (grow as fast as you can then sell and cash out) meets WS (keep the VR biz owners money as long as you can and invest it in xyz) driven hyper growth disruption of the home (in AirBnB case the spare bedroom/apartment/converted garage) sharing economy drove the coastal SoCal cities banning stvr’s altogether.

    AirBnB lowered the barrier of entry so that anyone (owner and renter alike) could list their spare bedroom, converted garage, or apartment for a night, a weekend, or longer with NO upfront cost. The backlash up and down the California coastline has been fierce – to the point their own corporate HQ hometown tried to ban them and LA – where they just hosted their annual cheer rah rah meeting with celebrities – put a limit of 90 days per year along with all kind of other bureaucratic requirements.

    We are adjusting and admittedly they are a much more modern (www 3.0+ vs HA/VRBO stuck in AOL 1.0-2.0 tech…) and overall better run business than HomeAway/VRBO or the worst of all Flipkey. The city backlash is forcing them to adjust their business model before and IPO with so many cities now banning or limiting stvr. We shall see how this all pans out…

    Onward & Forward!!

    • Matt Landau

      Great insight, SoCal. Check your inbox 🙂

  • Any tips for using AirBnB overseas for the first time? I have used it locally and had a mixed experience and myself and my partner are debating if its worth the risk when we travel Europe at the end of the year…

    • Matt Landau

      It depends on what your goal is. Have you discussed that?

    • Mind if I chime in here? Marcus, my suggestion is to exchange emails with your host until you are very comfortable with the accommodations. Ask all the questions you’s can think of, without being obnoxious and get a feel for your host’s personality. If you don’t feel like you ‘connect’ with him/her, keep looking, until you find the kind of communicator you need.