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…And This Is Why I Never Talk About Airbnb

Screen Shot 2014-08-12 at 12.10.19 PMOver the past 4 years, I’ve written a total of 277 posts on this blog, all designed to help vacation rental owners and managers generate more bookings.

And in only 4 of them will you actually find me mention the name Airbnb.

So people kept asking, “Why don’t you ever mention Airbnb?”

And I’ve chosen to try to answer that question using the following example.

You’re probably familiar with the email:

“Tommy T. would like to book your vacation rental for 14 days at a rate of $300/night.”

Hooray, we get excited. A $4200 booking straight into our bank account!

But not so fast…(the email continues):

“In order to confirm this booking, to access Tommy T.’s identity, and to receive the payment when he checks in, please log into our messaging interface and agree to our terms of use at your soonest convenience.”

Doh!

A wonderful gift…but one that comes with conditions.

Here’s The Catch…

Screen Shot 2014-08-12 at 10.45.31 AM“The Data Curtain” is the foundation of a strong business model.

It withholds vital data in order to streamline a smoother service and ensure that clients are tethered to its shores.

By forcing all transactions through their system and keeping sensitive or valuable data (like guest contact info or credit card details) air tight, the company successfully legitimized an industry of random people lending other random people space in their home.

And as acutely pointed out by Jason Clampet in 6 Ways Airbnb Changed Hospitality And The Vacation Rental Industry, Airbnb’s model has made transactions better, feedback more transparent, discovery easier, cities bigger, and rentals safer.

There is no arguing that Airbnb’s centralized system has done all these things masterfully and apart from the last five words of his article’s title (more on this below), I agree with everything Jason says.

Why “The Data Curtain” Impedes Independent Growth

The success of the Data Curtain model of Airbnb (and increasingly of HomeAway and FlipKey) is predicated on two assumptions:

1. They must control a large share of the demand (in other words, lots of travelers inquiring for a place to stay)

2. Their suppliers (owners and managers) must not know how (or want) to generate leads on their own

This second factor, is what makes things…well, complicated.

From a newbie’s perspective, the $4200 booking is a conditional deal:

It fills up your calendar in exchange for some nominal trade-off costs.

And many owners/managers may be content to make those sacrifices in favor of the community, the security, and the ease of it all.

But beyond simple costs, the Data Curtain could also be deemed an enabler.

As we have seen with many successful VR businesses, one’s precious time and energy in vacation rental marketing — if you are thinking long term — can be an investment that pays for itself over and over again…not just a one-time fling.

Working in front of the Data Curtain is perfect for those who are not looking to take full control of their mini-hospitality business: those who are fly-by-night or simply happy to trade off some benefits in honor of joining the Airbnb community movement…

Screen Shot 2014-08-12 at 11.04.20 AMMaybe it’s just me, but when I read it again, that initial email actually sends a message more like this:

“It feels like Tommy T. has recognized your hard work and chosen to stay with you for a period of 14 days at a rate of $300/night. But we are creating a barrier to you working with Tommy.”

Here’s Why I Don’t Talk About Airbnb

First of all, Airbnb is focused on primary residences whereas my niche is vacation rentals or second homes…

We can’t blindly lump Airbnb into “the vacation rental industry” because it is fundamentally different (although that is starting to change).

Second, the majority of Airbnb listings are urban whereas the majority of my niche is not.

I’ve had some very nice conversations with the folks at Airbnb, and they are all super smart, progressive people very aware of these differences.

But perhaps it’s part of the greater reason I don’t write about Airbnb much on this blog as a whole either: because of an incongruence in the overlapping of what they do and what I do:

I am trying to build the community of individuals and their vacation rental businesses.

Airbnb builds a community around one central brand (their brand).

The Conflict Of Interest (I Think)

Last week, Airbnb’s CEO Brian Chesky went on my favorite show (The Colbert Report) and did the awesome interview in the lock box below…

And from this great video (funny how Colbert calls it “home prostitution”) the one thing that really struck me was the following quote:

“Everyone should be able to participate in the economy like a corporation.”

This is a ballsy statement (I personally love it).

But knowing what we know about The Data Curtain business model as it relates to Airbnb, I felt like that statement should have been something more like:

“Everyone should be able to participate in the economy like a corporation…but preferably a corporation that must use our proprietary marketing department.”

Airbnb would seemingly be its own worst enemy if it encouraged hosts to go out into the world and establish their own true hospitality identities.

And apart from some select empowerment tools, I think the company would be walking a fine line between helping hosts make more money and giving them the ability to do so ‘hit or miss’ on an independent basis.

Could they build even more loyalty if they opened up their resource center to help hosts truly get more professional?

Beyond just hosting standards, Airbnb stories, or other internal best practices?

I definitely think so.

My Final Thoughts…

Of course, you won’t find me damning the Airbnb business model or brand because it’s smart.

In fact, anyone who’s complaining about fees or control of any of these sites is barking up the wrong tree: you can either adopt the agency’s terms or go find a way to do it yourself. No one forced you into this industry and you can drop the victimization mentality because nobody owes you nothin.

photo(50)But apart from the host values that I preach (all very in tune with Airbnb), I’m more an advocate of full control, flexibility, independence, and evergreen marketing work.

Even if it means you’re building something super makeshift like this bathroom (right) I just used in the San Blas Islands where I’m publishing this post.

I admire the revolution that Airbnb has begun (and will likely continue in blowing their competitors out of the water).

But under the current conditions, it’s not the sole solution for VR folks who want to build sustainably.

Those are the vacation rental owners and managers building their own mini-empires!

 

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)

  • Good post as always. Just one remark, I have only had two bookings via Airbnb during the last year, but I did get the contact information of both guests via Aitrbnb’s website directly after booking.

    After the guests checked out this information disappeared from Airbnb’s website (of course I still have it). Therefore in my opinion there is not much of a difference between Airbnb and Flipkey.

    Also Flipkey does not supply any information like email addresses and telephone numbers until booking. With the difference that this information stays available on Flipkey’s website after the guest has checked out.

    By the way Wimdu works exactly the same, but adds an extra 18% on top of the set rate!

    • Matt Landau

      So Linda, if I’m reading this right, you’re saying you copy the guest’s vitals while it’s available (for newsletters, repeat guest nurturing) before it disappears for good?

      • That is correct, they get my newsletters. I am still in good contact with those guests and hope they come back.

        • Matt Landau

          Nice!

          • Jamaicavilla

            Matt,

            I am listed on Airbnb and over the past 3 years had one booking. my experience was different as the guest arrived with more guests than was stated on their contract.

            Fortunately, I have staff on premise who informed me immediately.
            I believe they need to add a few more checks and balances in their process.

        • SSBN

          If I understood what is happening with ABB now, you will no longer have the same access to the customer data.

    • tokillamockingbirdfromtexas

      Great to know!

      I copy ALL my guests and inquiries (VRBO/Homeaway) contact info into my own file for marketing purposes. I will soon beginning marketing to those who did not book.

  • TommyMaui

    Great post Matt, I totally agree. Having recently listed my condo on Airbnb, I’ve had 5 or 6 reservation requests within the last week. Couple things were immediately apparent: 1) super frustrating not being able to communicate directly with a potential guest as Airbnb strips out any web / email addresses and phone numbers in their messaging system. 2) their workflow re: inclusion (not) of local taxes and individual rental agreement (contract) is kludge. Reminds me a bit of Apple, it’s their way or the highway…

    • Matt Landau

      Thanks Tommy, did you convert those bookings and would you say the tradeoff was worth it?

      • TommyMaui

        Hi Matt – TBD! I converted 4 of the bookings, but none have stayed in the condo yet. For two of the upcoming guests, I was able to delicately steer them to my website and then get their contact info…but it was a hassle. Still not sold on Airbnb, but for some reason I’m getting more requests thru them than the other booking sites.

        • tokillamockingbirdfromtexas

          I find that interesting. I have a single family home that I rented long term and flipped to a VR this past April. I researched the prior six months before doing so and still watch other listings in my area. VRBO is my #1 source of bookings with Homeaway site being #2 and Flipkey a distant 3rd.

          I have noticed on VRBO/Homeaway that condos seem to book slower…seems for whatever reason, they attract more guests looking for single family homes as Airbnb seems to draw those for single rooms or condos.

  • Excellent Blog. Best I have read in a long time!

    • Matt Landau

      Richard, if I’m not mistaken, you refer to this same concept as “the walled garden,” no?

      • Hi Matt,

        It is, but I prefer Data Curtain and you should maybe copyright it!

        Have to say I was really impressed that article and really hits home.

        You are also correct as we all have to adapt to these changes and we and many others are very much in your camp. I think the problem is that people in general are not as prepared to be as active as they need to be, so tools are needed to facilitate these changes.

        I meant to hook up to you end of last week, but got called into a few owners meetings. Silly season here.

        Cheers
        Richard

        Richard Vaughton
        Director | richard@discoveryholidayhomes.com | http://www.discoveryholidayhomes.com Discovery Holiday Homes Ltd | 1 Palk Street, Torquay, Devon TQ2 5EL | Private Tel: +44 (0)1803 214023 | Mob +44 (0)7836 235112

        Discovery Holiday Homes Ltd,is registered in England, Company No. 07431449 at Sigma House, Oak View Close, Edginswell Park, Torquay TQ2 7FF, UK. This communication contains information that is private confidential and privileged. It is therefore for the exclusive use of the addressee. Please do not copy distribute or transmit this communication or any part of the information contained within. It is prohibited and illegal. If you have received this communication in error, please contact us.

        • Antonio Bortolotti

          Great conversation, as always, Matt and Richard!

  • Well said Matt! You hit this on the head as to the ultimate reason why you need to be away from all of these “big dog” portals. Not to mention the fact that cities like NY, SF and NOLA are fighting Airbnb as well. Well done as always!

    • Hi Matt: I am well aware of what’s going on in all 3 of these instances. The only one directed at Airbnb was the NY Attorney General (who lost the case). The law SF is about to be changed in Airbnb’s favor and NOLA is about all VRs not Airbnb….

      • Thanks for the feedback Glenn. Seem to know a lot of what is going on at Airbnb. Also, might be my browser, but the link to your website is done when I click through from your Disqus profile.

        • Matt, I meant to thank you for that earlier. Somehow a stray click deleted the first “L” in my name (um, I mean, the domain, LOL). Fortunately, it’s just my Tumblr feed for now, so the lights are still turned on. Hahah

  • SarahE

    I find it a little alarming the way the ‘big boys’ are headed. There are several that have adopted this kind of listing and in my mind it really creates an unwanted barrier between the guest and owner. I don’t want third parties in the middle of my business.
    HomeAway are dipping their toes in the water now by blocking contact details on some owners accounts, but at least you can still log in and get those details. How long before they follow suit and hide everything behind the ‘Data Curtain’ too? And how long before they block all contact details completely? They won’t want owners getting the repeat business instead of them, so that’s a scenario that could well happen. You’d need to physically call guests after they had arrived at your place to try and get their contact details. It won’t take them long to figure out repeat guests are a lucrative market.
    Now is the time for serious owners to start harvesting guests from all the other many means available, it will be a long slog but it would be worth it in the end to be “Free of the Listing Sites”. At the moment I am pretty much dependent on them and I don’t like that one bit!!

    • Matt Landau

      Sarah, if you were the CEO of Airbnb or HomeAway let’s say, what changes would you make?

    • Fully Booked

      With more platforms going toward pay-per-booking (commission 15%), clever guests will be able to pay 15% less (or more if you discount them for booking directly)

  • Lisa

    Great blog. I am not really
    keen on AirBnB, but do use them and had really good success with bookings. I don’t rely on them as my main source of
    bookings, but what I get are really good gap fillers. I do find it a frustrating system and have
    lost many bookings as I’ve not been able to point the guests to alternative properties
    that may be more suitable. As soon as
    you put any numbers in the email, AirBnB hides the property reference thinking
    it’s a phone number. However, by putting
    our business name in the email, guests have been smart and found our website
    and booked direct!

    • Matt Landau

      The billboard effect: also a valiant point!

    • Fully Booked

      Yes, they are good to fill gaps (booking.com can be too), but if your rental is not in high demand you would not make a lot of money with airbnb. If your product is right, airbnb can be a good source…

  • Jim Newberry

    Matt – this maybe the most well thought out post I have read from you. Really Excellent. I use Airbnb (reluctantly) only because they are growing so very fast. My annual bookings with Airbnb are 10% or less presently. I agree with ALL of your points and probably because I am a Matt Landau disciple, their “Data Curtain” drives me crazy. However, in the spirit of fairness – I would add 3 points:

    1. While my sampling size with Airbnb is much smaller, I have had NO problems whatsoever with renters from Airbnb. I am curious as to why but I cannot say the same thing about other listing sites.

    2. I do have the opportunity to create my own hospitality with renters. They are staying in my home, experiencing me and what we offer them. etc. And…..

    3. The data curtain doesn’t keep me from talking to them once they walk into my home. We exchange contact info. I provide them all of my personal branding / and website. I get their contact info, email, etc.

    While I hate the front door experience of Airbnb, I must confess I still have the opportunity and flexibility to interact with our guests once they walk through the iron “data curtain” of Airbnb. At that point, it’s up to me.

    • Matt Landau

      I agree that the quality of guests argument (despite the incidents in the press that are blow out of proportion) is a huge plus for Airbnb. At my rentals, we love young progressive travelers and while we’re not using Airbnb at this time, I can see how that — avoiding tirekickers for instance — would be worth the tradeoff.

    • I am convinced the reason Airbnb inquiries convert so highly is because of the search algorithm, a secret guarded as tightly as the Coca-Cola formula (I am not kidding).

      Search is also something that makes listing on Airbnb unique because the cost of entry for the Host of an airbed in a 300 sq-ft. shared studio apartment is the same as a 300 room castle. Zero.

      Additionally, unlike other listing sites, you can’t buy your way to the top of the results. Only by his actions and the actions of others can a Host influence the results. If anyone tries to guarantee a top #1 search results placement, they aren’t telling you the truth or the example they’re using isn’t somewhere you want to stay.

  • It’s definitely better not to rely on AirBnB, et al. But, those gift bookings you mention are wonderful. An AirBnB booking provided me my seed money to get started, before I ever paid for VRBO, etc.
    What I like about it is that AirBnB attracts young, smart, cool people that just pay & have fun. I haven’t got a lot of guests from it, but the ones I get are great. These are the people that are really invested in the idea of AirBnB & don’t look elsewhere or negotiate.
    It’s also nice to get an AirBnB booking out of nowhere in the slow season.
    I don’t like that they charge a hefty fee to the traveler. And, that there are plenty of trendy tire kickers that just heard about it, signed up, and are looking for bargains. They are easy to spot & avoid.
    I also like that AirBnB advocates for short term rentals in cities like NY, SF and NOLA. Their efforts benefit the people that use AirBnB, as well as someone who wants to just rely on their own marketing efforts.
    Short term rental laws seem to only benefit hotels & other established hospitality businesses, not keep prices down for local long-term renters. If AirBnB can liberalize these laws more power to them.

    • Matt Landau

      Using Airbnb as a gateway: this is a cool comment Joe. Should probably be included in a kickstart course for new vacation rental owners to get their legs under them before going fully independent.

      • Exactly, since it’s free to sign up and it does get a lot of traffic from savvy, easy going young travelers; starting out with an AirBnB listing first is a great way to generate seed money and get good at making guests happy.

    • Mark F

      You are not correct about the impact on housing for the city’s long term renters, Even in popular vacation communities long term housing can be a problem. San Francisco as a whole suffers from extremely high rents directly attributable to supply and demand. The quality of the neighborhood also could suffer with transient “renters”. Mr. Cooley is correct that Airbnb massive pressure tactics may impact short term rental ordinances where over the objection of the planning commission report a modification of the present law would give a 90 day allowance for transient rentals. That is not a sure thing as it will come before the full council to be either amended out of existence if not completely reversed.. An alliance of tenant and homeowners associations, hotel and labor organizations have just begun the fight.

  • Karen

    Does this mean you do not know who you are renting to until after the booking? I personally like to vet and speak to my potential guests to make sure it is going to be a good fit. Can someone please explain?

  • Antonio Bortolotti

    “the majority of Airbnb listings are urban whereas the majority of my niche is not.”

    I totally agree Matt and that puts those whose property are not in urban areas in a position where listing on Airbnb doesn’t really make much of a difference.

    Yet, I think it’s wise to study what they do, where they head to, because they’re super smart, like you correctly said. I’m sure you’ve seen how impactful their recent website restyling is, haven’t you?

    • Hey Antonio, what did you think of the redesign? The new site is very much a Guest centered experience, which has turned off lots of Hosts, but I think from the standpoint of how to run a successful marketplace platform it was brilliant.

      The Host complaints are somewhat founded from a useability standpoint, but I think they could alleviate this by creating a separate site after logging in as a Host, similar to what they did with the mobile app relaunch last fall.

      • I find parts of it pure genius, Glenn and in fact it gave me another one of those ‘A-ha’ moments that I find so inspirational. As a matter of fact, check out this site I just did for a fellow property owner in Thailand and tell me what message do you get from it: http://www.bangkokplanet.com (please don’t focus on the low-res images I placed since the owner didn’t have high-res available and the site is still in beta, as the owner needs to populate it with content)

        The latest trend in web design goes through ‘stacks’, so you basically have a more or less long homepage that you scroll top to bottom, with sections that refer to the other pages of your site. So you have a ‘teaser’ of your entire site on your homepage. If you notice, many sites are going that way and I’m glad I’ve embraced that path a couple of years ago already with all the sites I’ve done both for my own businesses and for fellow property owners. Video is what’s coming next and for good reasons.

        I’m about to revamp totally the site of my own properties and the Airbnb redesign gave me a lot of inspirational ideas that I can’t wait to implement. Possibly, I’ll explain them more in depth at the 2015 edition of the vacation Rental World Summit, which I saw you attended and hope you enjoyed.

        • As soon as you said Airbnb’s website gave you one of those “A-ha” moments, I knew exactly what you were going for. After looking at your prototype imagery for the http://www.bangkokplanet.com site, I think the video on a wide layout will be fantastic.

          I would give the visitor a call to action a few moments after the page loads also. Let us take it in for just a moment and then grab our attention while we’re focused on the imagery. It’s a very powerful tool.

          Some of Airbnb’s the videography choices have been puzzling; I sometimes feel like I’m watching “Big Brother,” but perhaps that’s because I when I go to the site, am thinking like a Host and the site is built for a Guest.

          Not to stray too far on a tangent, but everything seems to be about video these days and I often wonder why that is. Have we finally conquered the technology to reliably provide the bandwidth, storage and other resources? Or is it because we are catering to a generation that doesn’t really know how to read and comprehend written words? My cable bill now comes as a video. Are they telling me something?

          Please do share your process at the VR World Summit next year. I find the detailed process of innovators like you Anthony absolutely fascinating. I really enjoy it. And last year’s lineup of experts was really amazing. You did a fantastic job putting all that together. I’ll look forward to what you have in store for us in 2015.

          • Thanks for your kind words, Glenn, much appreciated.

            Like I said, I’ve been using video for over 5 years now with great results. And this even before the technology improvement of the last year or so, where the infrastructure enables almost everyone to enjoy the outcomes of complex things with little to no hassle – something unimaginable years ago.

            So that means to me that yes, the future revolves around an increased use of video to convey powerful messages or awesome story telling – like Matt does so well – , simply because the majority of us is lazy, lacks the time to read or is pushed to consume content faster day after day. So we are more naturally inclined to watch a video because it involves little to no effort compared to reading a page or two of information. And if the video is done well, and follows certain essential rules, it produces far greater results than a piece of written content or even a stunning image.

            One of the secrets to a successful message is a combination of the three: video, images and written content. What do you think, Matt?

          • Antonio, Matt was traveling yesterday to the East Coast so he might be still out of sorts with that. I spoke with him before he left because he’s been very interested about this article so I’m sure he’ll be around to read everything, which we know he always does, but he seems particularly interested in this one I think.
            __________________________________________________________

            I wanted to write again after reading your comment about how powerful video can be compared to text or an image made me think again about how much easier it is to convey a Guest’s joy and pleasure experienced after a one-of-a-kind experience in video than in writing and photographs alone.

            Even if you can’t understand the specific languagesomeone speaks, our emotions speak a universal language. Joy and happiness are powerful feelings that in a video are able to transcend language and are exponentially more powerful than mere words.

          • Matt Landau

            For sure! Although of course, there is a time and place for video. For instance, I’ve found that guests on the very “unaware” end of the spectrum (those who don’t even know they want to visit Panama yet) don’t really want to see me on a video telling them how great my neighborhood is. Instead, they’re researching and relying on other less personal mediums (blogs, newsletters, social media…etc.) Video — for me — comes in most handy when guests are in the negotiation or purchase phases of the process. For now that is…

          • tokillamockingbirdfromtexas

            When I was in a marketing seminar for a group of retail stores that I was president of their marketing group the speaker said something so simple but true.

            The more senses you involve in your advertisement the more effective it is.

            I have found that to be true. TV ads were my most effective form and it involved sight as well as hearing. Mailouts were second and it involves sight and touch.

            I will be incorporating the Digital Handshake soon. I love that I can do it myself and not have a mass produced look. Being personalized to an individual it will incorporate sight, sound and emotion/intimacy. Besides being effective marketing I want my guests to know me and I want to know them…that’s why I enjoy this so much.

          • I agree. I’ve been doing some work with it as well. I liked the post Matt did introducing the idea. I can see how if you had the right set up for it, you could almost respond with a video as quickly as with a text email.

            It’s definitely effective for the wow factor for the recipient.

  • VRObispo

    What you are talking about is a business model fit. AirBNB and FlipKey both create a “home stay” model that makes it easy to rent out a room in your house or the loft above your garage. I think it is a dicey model for various reasons, but it work for some. I have used it to find a cheap bed when at school in Pasadena, CA.

    But that model does not work for our rental business. It requires, as you point out, the owner to be branded by AirBNB or FlipKey. We are creating our own brand with out rental apartments. VRBO.com offers that opportunity, but it is gradually changing. This year VRBO installed an email relay system, much like Craiglists, that affords a little more anonymity and keeps VRBO in the communications loop until I break that loop. I think that is a perilous step toward losing control,of our rental transactions and, hence, our brand.

    So, I see a good fit for many home stay dabblers. There is a group formed (SLO Hosts) here in San Luis Obispo, CA that all are very happy using AirBNB. It fits their business model. We are more entrepreneurial in our approach to our rentals and find the limitations on communication also limits and alters our branding efforts and, hence, the guest experience. That’s a risk we cannot take with our business.

    • Matt Landau

      I suppose we could add another demographic to (a) home stay dabblers and (b) entrepreneurs, and that would be (c) professional home stay dabblers: hosts who are so loyal to Airbnb that these “costs” of doing business with them are easy to digest. Since few of these types have entrepreneurial aspirations, it seems to be a win-win for the company and the host. Community-building is great for all parties.

  • Jonathan Murray

    I find the cancellation policy and the holding of the money to be the biggest hinderance. I could probably live with the lack of data for some bookings, since there is some user verification and there are two-way reviews (their policy on this just changed for the better this week, too). But risking that a renter could cancel at the last minute during a peak booking season is a complete no-go.

    This seems like an easy one for them to change, but they are not willing to do so. They have a “super strict” policy listed on their website, but it’s darn near impossible to get – and it’s still too renter-friendly for me, anyway.

    • Matt Landau

      So Jon, you’re saying the withholding of the funds is your main issue? If someone books 2 months in advance and you’re not able to collect the funds until the check-in date, the “interest” on that money is foregone or costing you?

      • Jonathan Murray

        Yes, that’s the bigger concern for me, but not the interest – the risk that I might not get it. Airbnb’s cancellation policies are a bit too renter-friendly.

        It makes sense… given that they’re more like a hotel replacement (urban, shorter stays), the policies should be in line with what the renter would expect from a hotel. But if you’re running an investment property and banking on that income (vs renting out a spare bedroom for a little extra cash), it’s a bigger deal.

        Again, this one is solvable, and I’ve mentioned it to their folks this a few times, but no real response. I also tried a few times to at least get the “Super Strict” policy they have listed on their website (as invite only) and was told that they’re no longer giving that out. I could live with the Super Strict (50% refund if >30 days), but I can’t get it. Maybe I’ll try again and see if anything has changed.

  • I don’t get a whole lot of booking through Airbnb – less than 5%. But the price of entry is extremely low ($0) as opposed to paying hundreds upfront for other listing sites, and the initial benefits are enormous. Airbnb sent a professional photographer to my place within two weeks of my initial sign up. The photographs she took are stunningly beautiful, I paid nothing for them, and I use them on all the other listing sites as well as on my own website (They’re watermarked Airbnb, but that seems a very small issue.) Also, Airbnb sent me a carbon monoxide detector (at no cost) and a very nice, compact first aid kit (also at no cost.) So for an initial investment of zero dollars, Airbnb “kickstarted” my vacation rental business. I don’t mind the trade-off of them controlling guest contact in exchange for all they’ve given me. The way I see it, I am WAY ahead of where I would be if Airbnb had not believed my property would return something to them for their investment in my business. I see them as a really inexpensive initial partner in my start-up. I may drift away from them entirely in a year or two, but those occasional gift bookings are gravy, and the initial free perks have made everything else possible for my little business. Of course, now the rest is up to me – And with Matt’s helpful advice, I’ve rewritten my listing, professionalized my operation, and I’m on my way to bigger and better things.

    • Matt Landau

      Loving this comment Peter. Super observant.

      • Beautifulguest

        Superasshole.

    • I’m glad to hear you were successful on Airbnb’s site, Peter.

    • Whenever I have booked on Airbnb, I have remained in contact with the owner and have been able to book again with them again via their personal website. As a guest, I tend to favor Airbnb over the other listing sites because if something goes wrong (an owner is weird, the listing is not at all like it is listed), Airbnb acts as an intermediary and fixes the situation. I just rented on VRBO and found that there were no protections offered to us after discovering many huge flaws in our week long rental, and wished that we had booked it through Airbnb. All in all, I think Airbnb and Dwellable are the best listing sites for guests.

      That being said, I agree that there should be an option (even paying more money to do so) to obtain guests’ info after a great review has been received, so that a host can build up a guest database.

      Thanks Matt for the great article, as always.

      • Hey Mercedes —

        I mentioned lower in the comment thread about the new anonymous emails. Doing this was simply a way to provide a secure method to swap photos, directions, and other attachments.

        If a Host wants to build up a guest database, which they should definitely do, there’s nothing that can really stop them from getting the Guest’s information. Now if the Guest doesn’t want to hand if over, they have that option as well.

        I hope you’ve been well also–
        Glenn

        • Gorgeousguests

          Yeah, no intelligent person is going to “hand over” their personal information to slumlords, glenn. Try using both hands this time to pull your head out of your ass.

      • Lovelyguest

        What a joke! They don’t let you write a reference about said weird owner. Booking com’s theBEST, baby.

  • I’m a new VR homeowner and am open to all ideas when it comes to marketing outlets. This response may clearly show my naiveté but it is what it is and I welcome any help provided!

    Your podcast (recorded telephone call) with Joe Gatto was great in that he said (and I’m paraphrasing) “to get listed on all the (major) sites ASAP.” Wouldn’t that include AirBnB?

    Also, according to the interview on Colbert the owner can “visit with” the potential renter before the agreement is signed. However you point out: ‘“In order to confirm this booking, to access Tommy T.’s identity, and to receive the payment when he checks in, please log into our messaging interface and agree to our terms of use at your soonest convenience.”’ Now, from a newbie stand point that doesn’t seem too onerous or am I missing something? Also, how hard would it be to set up a “Skype” (or other service) button on your personal website to do this on your own “in person” anyway. (Quick answer to my own question: “not hard at all.”)

    Linda Lou mentions that she scrapes the data and that makes sense. So much sense that, I think, it should be a standard procedure; but it may violate airbnb’s TOU… dunno. Frankly… don’t care. I’d do it!

    I think that Airbnb is merely one-of-many opportunities to present a VR to a potential renter. We can use adwords, seo, personal marketing, newspaper ads, magazine ads, word-of-mouth, referrals, Facebook, twitter, …. geezelouise! This list is endless. Airbnb isn’t the only egg in the only basket.

    • Hi Terry, yeah that definitely includes AirBnB. I started with $0 managing my friend’s property. My first listing was AirBnB because it was free. I got a $6000 NYE booking within 10 days, and was able to invest it all in marketing (the full VRBO package, Trip Advisor biz, etc), as well as nice kitchen stuff, towels & sheets, etc.
      The other listing sites soon overtook it because I’m in a remote touristy area. It seems like for urban areas it’s indispensable, and an easy way to get traction.
      So, yes, it’s just another channel (and a good one) on your way to dominating your local listings and getting bookings exclusively via your own website, word of mouth referrals, and repeat guests. And, although this is the ultimate goal, it can take years.
      Yeah, use all the eggs in the basket to free up time to work on marketing creatively & more independently, and it will eventually pay off.

  • I also find the cancellation poplicy to be a big problem. But my biggest issue is that they hold my money until after the guest checks in. A good number of my rentals are booked 90 days
    or more out. Why should I allow Airbnb to have control of my funds for that
    length of time and then allow that guest to possibly back out at the last
    minute.

    I use Airbnb only for off season times when it is harder to book and the rental rates are much lower. I also want to get to know the person that is going to stay in my home. It is impossible to do that with Airbnb. I have created a large e-mail list from people who have inquired about by property over the years from all the other sites. Many of those people who did not rent at first are now
    repeat guests because I was able to follow up with them later on. It is so important to follow up with guests (and former inquiries) so that they eventually become guests and repeat guests. Again, no way to do that with Airbnb.

    Airbnb is a perfect fit for those who are renting for a few nights in an urban setting, as the guest usually will get much more for less than they would staying in a hotel. It is also a good fit for those owners who are looking for extra income in renting their home/property without having to put a lot of effort into the process,

    But for those of us who want to build their brand and to eventually get away from the big listing sites, it is a bad option if it is the only site you are on. I’m also more an advocate of full control,
    flexibility, independence, and evergreen marketing work.

  • maryke

    Hello,

    Two years ago I started as a vacation rental operator, having rented properties for my family in many places. I have properties in London which fit the AirBnB profile. Once I realised that Airbnb takes all the guests’ money upfront and only pays out after that guest has checked in, I decided to only use my listings on AirBnB as a last minute gap filler. That works fine for me in my urban setting.

    I think it is fundamentally wrong to hold on to monies in that way, sometimes for over 6 months. I also list on Flipkey but never take bookings through their system as their pricing is not transparent and costly for the guests. I may decide to cancel that listing once it is up for renewal.

    My main listing is on Home Away/VRBO which is where I get the bulk of my bookings. Their subscription rates have more than doubled in the past couple of years, but I do get a lot of business that way, so I guess it is OK, for now. However Matt’s Data Curtain has also dropped across the stage there, with direct contact with guests not quite prevented but discouraged as their details have become less readily available. HomeAway also now encourage all communication with guests to be carried on within their domain. I don’t comply generally.

    These corporate developments are ironic as the fundamental attraction of Vacation Rentals is the individualist and unique nature of the properties and its owners. As this is the essence of this business and as our global village expands, this individuality will always prevail, but in the meantime I am mindful of Matt’s warnings and insight that building your own brand and own identity is the way forward for anyone serious in this industry. I have yet to build my own site and will do so.

    In the meantime I use the aforementioned sites however it suits me right now and will keep on monitoring the developments in this industry, with thanks to Matt for his energetic input!

    Thanks to all below for sharing.
    Maryke

    • Matt Landau

      Sure Maryke, it does look like ‘the data curtain’ model will ultimately be used across all platforms. I just foresee a lot of very angry users who got spoiled with the cheap annual fee that saw like 40x return on its investment. But…that’s business!

  • David

    It’s just a matter of time before Airbnb begins working more closely with property management companies. For many European management companies, Airbnb is one of the top 3 booking sources. Once they make their API available, the data quality for managed properties will improve greatly, which will ultimate lead to more revenue for Airbnb. I guess they realize they will need to relinquish some of their control to make this happen. In the end, the revenue potential will be the deciding factor.

    Sorry to burst your bubble, but Data Curtain is a commonly used term relating to Data Centers. It has also been used when discussing Big Data and the massive amount of inaccessible aggregated consumer data.

    • Hi David: I don’t think Airbnb is going to start seeking out property management companies anytime soon. About two years ago Brian said (publicly) that marketing to property managers was his biggest mistake. He prefers to put his money into user experience because that’s where you get loyalty (same thing Steve Jobs did with Apple)

      There’s an API out there that has probably as much in it as you’re going to get….. it’s not official but I don’t see them doing that on a public level at anytime in the near to distant future.

    • Matt Landau

      “Relinquish some of their control to make this happen” was kinda the thesis I was going for in the article above.

  • BJ

    The great thing about Airbnb is it doesn’t cost anything to sign
    up. I had zero funds and signed up with Airbnb before I even signed
    with VRBO. I am now working on my own website and should have it ready
    within a few days. A HUGE portion of guests who use Airbnb have never
    rented a home before. They are not even aware of the existence of
    vrbo/flipkey, etc. So once you get this guest who is willing to pay
    more (because they are charged a booking fee from Airbnb) they become
    loyal to you. They will then book directly through you in order to
    avoid the booking fee.

    Why would they book two hotel rooms for the same
    price as a house? I have been using the site for a year now and have
    already had several repeat guests. Will I send them to my vrbo listing?
    No way. I will let them continue to believe it is either the crappy
    hotels in my area or Airbnb as their choices.

    The fact that Airbnb is popular in urban areas is
    great! That’s why I get plenty of bookings….because I am in the
    mountains. The city folk already are familiar with the site and are
    using it to find me. I hear people say that they won’t sign up until it
    is popular in the area. If it’s not popular in your area, that is the
    biggest reason to sign up. You will be the only one in your area!

    Now the greatest thing about this is that once I get
    my own website, I can price my property according to what Airbnb guests
    were willing to pay. So, if my property is $200 a night and I know
    that the guests were willing to pay the booking fee on top of
    that…then I can price my property at $220 a night or so. I also do
    this with booking.com.
    They take a 15% commission from owners so I price my place much higher
    on that site to compensate for the commission and because I am mainly
    competing with hotel prices.

    So, when a repeat guest contacts me directly who
    used Booking.com, they are willing to pay a much higher price. BUT this
    time I don’t have to eat the huge commission. These guests also are
    not aware of vrbo/flipkey, etc. They believe they hit the
    jackpot….securing a home when they were really looking for a hotel.

    So, I do agree that these websites are okay when
    just starting out and trying to gain some loyal customers, but in the
    end they also provide valuable information about what guests are willing
    to pay for your property. Oh, and FlipKey charges my guests an avg.
    $50 booking fee for just a two night stay. That again lets me know that
    I can increase my own website rates by $25 a night and people are
    willing to pay it!

    That’s all.

    • Matt Landau

      Great observations BJ, and very much in line with the other comments that Airbnb can be a great ‘jumping off’ point for new or struggling owners/managers.

  • Veronica- Austin

    I am surprised by the negatives comments about Airbnb. We have 3 houses in a fenced compound in East downtown. We post the properties on Airbnb 1-individually, 2-as a “compound” and few months ago we added 3-the “mini compound -the main house and one of the cottages”. Airbnb has been a very good platform for us to rent our 3 houses all together 80% of the time and I personally find this wonderful (less work/stress from every corner you want to see it and our guests love to be in different houses but still be very close to have breakfast together in the main house).

    Unfortunately, we don’t have that possibility in Homeaway (I attended to the summit in Austin and when I asked why we can’t post all three houses together, nobody could answer) .

    Anyway, the Airbnb Data curtain doesn’t stop us to have more information about our clients once they book; our rule is to require the contact/signer person mailing address,the name of the guests who will stay at the property, and phone number to add to the contract to be signed at arrival; an email is required to send the the draft, never had a problem with Airbnb (or other portals) clients. However, I don’t like the the fact that they charge 100% of the booking with a 6% booking fee up front (I can tell some guests are uncomfortable with the rule due to we receive inquiries for 6 months or even one year in advance ). We are a little uncomfortable they pay us 24 hrs. after the guest arrives, which usually means we “see” the payment in our checking account after guest departure for the week-end bookings, but it is workable.

    I have to say that we still have a big room for improvement during week-days so I am thinking to try Evolve-Vacation-Rental next year when our VRBO and HomeAway subscription expire (not successful there at all- Maybe because we have silver subscription?). I want to try and see if their marketing model helps with the week-days; they want us to be exclusive in Homeaway, which I understand. This year we were rejected by them with the excuse we already had paid for the subscription and our calendar was pretty booked (?). Still want to try but I need to recognize that I am a little scared about the week-ends if they will not promote the 3 houses all together principally because of the layout of the compound.

  • Aruna M.

    Call me a sheeple but I love Airbnb (and Apple). I used to rent my 3 properties on Cape Cod only during the summer season with a few weeks during the shoulder seasons and none in the winter. With the advent of Airbnb, I’m almost constantly booked!

    I have pretty much dropped all other forms of advertising. The only bad thing is that I get a giant 1099 at the end of the year from not spreading out my business. There are a lot of Europeans who need sheets and towels (which I don’t usually provide) but other than that the guests are just lovely.

    Matt, I’m glad you explained why you don’t mention Airbnb (I was wondering!).

    Airbnb comes and photographs your property for free, their Iphone app is awesome (I can handle my entire 3 property business from my phone wherever I am) and the money is deposited directly into my checking account. What more can you ask for?

    • tokillamockingbirdfromtexas

      Are you still only a summer vacation rental? Not year around?

      If so that may make better sense for you. Maybe. May I present some things to consider?

      As a year around rental and someone building a business model around VR’s I would rather have my own photos without their advertisement on them, earn interest on my own money sitting in my own bank account instead of theirs. I would like to fully manage my own properties from my own website and not have to pay a fee to anyone like Airbnb, Flipkey or VRBO/Homeaway like I am currently doing (with exception of Airbnb which I am not listed on). I am not a 1099. I am an investor. I send 1099’s at the end of the year. Different tax strategies…and could be your most expensive business expense as a 1099. “the sole proprietor is a type of business for income tax purposes, and an independent contractor is the opposite of an employee, for payroll tax purposes.” from biztaxlaw.

      Also…
      “Self-employment is the more general term for those who are in their own small businesses, while independent contractor is more specific to people who work for others but are not employees.” I don’t want to work for any of these companies. Kinda negates Airbnb’s proclamation that their ‘service’ is a way for individuals to act like corporations (paraphrased). They ARE the corporation and you work for their corporation. Very easy to set up your own corp and be your own corp. He’s a good sales person.

      That said…I believe Airbnb and Homeaway/VRBO, Flipkey are here to stay and do fill a certain niche and goals of the owners of these properties. I just hate hearing a CEO ‘selling’ the average American on the idea that his company makes ‘us’, the individual, one of ‘them’, the big corporations, making tons of money off of the collective group of VR owners…regardless if they are seasonal rentals or year long 🙂

      • Matt Landau

        Good points. Turning hosts into mini-corporations is mostly true but also a little manipulative as I state in the article.

  • Juliana R

    Hi Matt!
    I love that you chose to talk about Airbnb today.
    Because I’ve been using it since 2011 and, yeah, what an impact they are making in my business. Here are some observations collected in the past 3 1/2 years:
    1- Airbnb is growing at the expense of HomeAway – 7% of my guests were Airbnb in 2011. In 2014 I am already at 35%. Now here’s the shocker: this growth came at the expense of VRBO/HA. While bookings from other channels (Flipkey / Booking.com / Aggregators / my own site) remain more or less steady, my occupancy rates from VRBO/HA guests are falling through the years even though I purchased a top listing in 2013. Airbnb is now my top lead source, followed by Flipkey and Homeaway a distant third.
    1- You can make Airbnb work for you. If you are a professional property manager, dealing with their system is a pain, but not impossible. I learned to lay my terms and gradually convert Airbnb guests into my guests. They sign my rental agreement, they give me their credit card as a guarantee, they pay hotel tax like every other guest. I found that the cumbersome ways of Airbnb are actually in my favor, because no one with 20 or 100 properties will have the patience to do what I do. There is a niche wide open for people like myself.
    3- Did you know that their data withholding just went to absurd new heights? Starting last week, Airbnb will no longer share the guest’s email address with the host and vice versa. Not even AFTER a booking. They provide each party with a “masked” email like Flipkey uses to send you inquiries. So now, if you want to have your guests contact information, you’ll have to ask them directly. Somehow, Airbnb thinks that one can be trustworthy enough to rent their home to a person but not enough to have access to their real email.
    I have a ton more stuff to say about Airbnb, but I fear it’s too much to fit in the comments box 🙂
    Cheers,
    Juliana

    • Matt Landau

      Thanks Juliana! I think a lot of people believe Airbnb is going to eclipse HomeAway. And like you say, “a pain, but not impossible” is what’s making its users very successful in the short term.

      • Juliana R

        Yeah. They have an annoying cult mentality as a company, but their service is way more user friendly towards travelers than anyone else. Did you see their latest site and app redesign? It is amazing.

  • tokillamockingbirdfromtexas

    Hi Matt,

    First, I just want to say I love your articles!

    You have your own file in my email for quick reference when I am working on my next business marketing agenda. I feel like I have joined the VR business at the right time…soon enough to use tools like VRBO/Homeaway and Flipkey to start my business and be able to collect guests and potential guests contacts but late enough to see the upcoming limitations on that (thanks to you and peoples posts) and not get addicted to the ease of their service.

    Right now 99% of my business is from VRBO/Homeaway.

    They are the easiest to work with in that they give me the option of using their ‘book now’ which I refuse to use (which they pimp for reasons other than getting more bookings as I am near full capacity).

    They also make it easy for me to have my own individual booking contract/agreement and gave me a great tools such as sample contract, what amenities to have, etc.

    Being new to the biz, I did not realize they changed the way emails were addressed. I am unable to send my booking agreement and payment instructions using their portal, plus would never want to as I want their inbox to show my email address which is the name of my VR.

    Recently, I have had issues with the VRBO/Homeaway addresses delivering emails with my attachments which leads to frustrated potential guests and possibly lost bookings so I always reply to both, the VRBO/Homeaway address AND the individuals address. This way I improve my ranking and I make sure I have direct communication with my guests/potential guests. Most of the time they will respond directly from their own email and all communication going forward is outside of VRBO/Homeaway.

    Flipkey I am not impressed with as I hate the more difficult process of uploading my own agreement and witholding my money. Yes, Matt, they are using my funds to earn collective (all VR owners) interest on our working capital and profits. When you add up the booking fee the charge the guest and the percentage they charge VR owners and the huge interest earned…well that is all money out of my pocket. They only reason to list is for the marketing…but I L O V E marketing and, thanks to you, I have the tools I need and a clear direction to do it myself.

    I will avoid listing on Airbnb. I was contemplating but already feeling like I was beginning to ‘ho’ myself out 😀

    My agenda? To learn WordPress and build my website. 2) to learn Digital Handshake, which I just received my equipment 🙂 to use on website and in responding to leads, wherever they come from and 3) direct guests and inquiries to website through surveys (I am now using thanks to you), and promo’s.

    • Matt Landau

      I’m really liking your agenda: please keep me updated as this sounds like a recipe for success!

  • Julia

    Matt- as always your blog is timely and on topic. There is a healthy discussion happening on the HA owners forum relating to the “data curtain”. Let me qualify my comment by adding I am not listed on Air BnB , Fk/ Tripadvisor and maintain my listing on HA/VRBO.

    Companies booming in the new “share economy” (Air BnB, Lyft, Uber, HA) are capitalizing on new entrepreneurs and new concept of business ownership. The companies have capitalized on internet enabled intimacy- it’s really not economic it’s cultural. The concept encourages a cultural interaction using a set of digital tools and promotes a level of internet intimacy- building trust.

    The SE uses hard line methods engrained in our society representing trust: linked accounts, registering with a credit card, guaranteed payment prior to service. These “securities” are appealing to individuals with a low trust threshold and most likely are predisposed to engaging in behaviors others consider risky.

    Air BnB’s business model gives owners and travelers a veil of security. Owners and travelers feel protected by a centralized system with built in security measures, guaranteed payment and legitimacy. The “trust and safety” departments of providers are quite genius developing profiling algorithms to route out fraud, deception and a whole host of nefarious activities. “We” the VR entrepreneurs see theses measures as “hand cuffs” preventing us from interacting with the customer and running our business as we see fit. In essence it is “a machine assuming risk on behalf of it’s customers and fees them from the responsibility of trusting each other”.

    Air BnB has taken cues from other SE leaders encoring owners to build strong host profiles which symbolizes a mock face to face encounter humanizing the booking process and encouraging guests and host to behave better through in depth communication throughout the process. Why are these communications conducted behind a data curtain- how else would Air BnB or any other SE machine track and assess the validity of the “SE entrepreneur”. Big dollars are spent developing algorithms supporting the data mining necessary to feed the beast! It’s all about minimizing risk. Listings are assigned a “trust score” – similar to a “credit score”. The trust score translates to big $$$ – high score- good profit- low score- flagged for investigation and eliminated from the equation. I recently read Air BnB reported 6 million stays and only 700 host claims: credit goes to the Trust and Safety Department and the “DATA CURTAIN”.

    I don’t like the “DATA CURTAIN” and I am not a person who falls into the category of “low trust threshold”. Perhaps it’s what makes me a great VR owner. I offer my guests the same level of transparency I expect when conducting business. Deliver Simply Outstanding Service and treating people well will always result in a better experience. For now I am still a slave to the HA machine, but have maneuvered through the data curtain thus far and established a level of trust and intimacy with guests. I’d like to share my proud accomplishment (without sounding egotistical) Paradise Found is 100% “served” out for 2014. We are completely full :-).

    Matt, I am thankful I stumbled across your website two years ago. I adopted a service attitude from day one and I’ll stand by the philosophy- put hospitality first and the rest will take care of itself. Thank you for continuing to work on behalf of VR owners and continuing to push independence. I have new goals for 2015!

    • Matt Landau

      “I offer my guests the same level of transparency I expect when conducting business.” Love this Julia!

  • Sandra Hampton

    Great article on the changing landscape of the VR business. Oh and by the way the “Data Curtain” terminology has been used for several years by a software company called EMC. http://predictive.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/EMC-Behind-the-bigdata-Curtain.jpg . So not copy writes Matt but creatively used by you in the blog.

    I am on the fence about AirBnB however it is hard to dispute their success and growth. They are VERY smart and progressive with their business model and sharing of key data points (intentionally). The explosive innovation in mobile, social media and “Internet of Things” will continue to reshape the vacation rental business model for years to come.

    However Joe Gatto and RIchardDHH make very good points about someone who is just kickstarting their rental. Many UNDERESTIMATE the money, time and effort it takes to grow a VR brand. For those like myself who have another full-time job and one VR this is just another lead channel for bookings. And yes although the 13% is steep, it’s a cost to doing business (plus I like they vet tire kickers). If you are diligent and use Linda Lou’s techniques to get the contact info then you can use your existing process/techniques to build rapport and the relationship to turn it into a repeat customer. I am a firm believer my repeat customers are because I offer a high quality product with excellent customer service. 90% of that happens after the booking rental….

    • Matt Landau

      Damn! Well, I tried 🙂

  • Airbnb is what led me into this industry to begin with, so I have bit of an allegiance to them. Like all things you have to take the good with the bad. On the whole I have been very happy with my experience.

    There is definitely a strong and growing sense of community, especially online, among Hosts. I like the connected atmosphere they provide.

    I’ve used other sites and Airbnb is where I get the most consistent bookings from Guests who are usually really great people. I’m still in contact with lots of them.

    Others commented too that you would have received “Tommy T.’s” information once the reservation was confirmed. Because Hosts don’t pay anything up front to list and part of what the Guest pays goes to Airbnb, they can’t just hand over the Guest’s information or they would be out of business in a week.

    Airbnb has been good to me and I’ve helped lots of other Hosts figure out how to do well in their marketplace. I’m glad you posted this Matt. I have often wondered what you thought about Airbnb and it’s great to get your perspective.

  • Dennis Liming

    My first rental with Abnb this season was a total of $800 and they withheld $240 of that saying I didn’t have the proper paperwork (1099) in place. Seems they forgot to tell me that I needed it! Tough to work on those margins. I use them only because I have to in conjunction with my own site and VRBO.

    • A 1099 only comes once a year. How did this get resolved? Or did it?

      • Dennis Liming

        They didn’t respond to my email but I will get a 1099 that will show this as a deduction from my income. So, I guess it will get resolved at tax time. Not an acceptable resolution in my mind!

  • Vasily Pronin

    I’m from the property management company (www.villanabali.com) and while we don’t have much business from AirBnb yet, mostly because we are in high priced properties league, AirBnb is no. 1 platform I’m using to plan my own trips. I rarely use booking.com (last time Expedia because of extra discount given for booking of AirAsia ticket) or hotel reservation system only if I need to stay 1-2 days. I booked lovely 1-bedroom apartment in Paris paying half of crap hotel room rate, I booked a room in chateau surrounded by wineyards in Loire valley, I booked design apartment in Bangkok, victorian style house in Edinburgh and a room in Chelsea, London. Why? It is fast and convenient. I’m happy they process all payments and I don’t need to arrange bank transfer, or print, sign, stamp, scan, send back any form, it terrifies me. I expect hosts on AirBnb are same as me – itiniative, motivated and nice. I love an idea of reviews and that you can’t cheat – and shut up and don’t say you don’t use tricks to increase your rating on TripAdvisor/FlipKey. And I have puzzling feelings about AirBnb in general. On one hand, it washed away part of my business as property managers can’t compete with private owners in terms of price especially here, in Asia (we pay taxes and service charge to the staff, and they don’t, it reflects on minimum 15-20% price difference). On another hand, this is the best platform to book private accommodation. I keep trying send couple enquires on HomeAway or FlipKey, but you rarely receive response on half of emails you send but last year we booked beachfront villa in Koh Samui on HomeAway as offer on AirBnb was very very limited. I don’t say all hosts on AirBnb are great, they are humans, however I always read throughout history of relationship between particular owner and guests or another hosts (remember, hosts are guests as well).

    • Matt Landau

      Good points Vasily: the difference between using Airbnb to travel (yourself) and choosing to skip it for your rental business.

      • Vasily Pronin

        We don’t skip it for business. It surprisingly brings clients for huge properties we manage (6-9 bedrooms, sleeps up to 20 people) and for hotel villas, as we have three properties located within residential part of five-starred hotel quite famous. It doesn’t work at all for villas located in urban areas with a lot of competition as we can’t beat properties managed by owners themselves or less nice… But we take it seriously and look forward having more business with AirBnb.

        • Vasily Pronin

          And I like to use for business as it’s very easily manageable. And for me it’s better they keep client’s money until guests arrive as I don’t like to pay owners before guests arrival in case of some unpredictable circumstances like new construction that began next door, very typical in Bali island 😉 I wish they will have more and more luxury villas then we’ll be able to play in one field with another top-end accommodations.

  • Lesley

    I much prefer Airbnb than Booking.com – at least you have a chance with Airbnb to check out who is coming to rent your place as opposed to BANG your place is booked with booking.com and it could be the axe murderer, or perhaps even worse, 5 male galahs (as we might say in Australia) who drink and stink the place out with cigarette smoke and jump on the beds. I like that at least with Airbnb the guest has been rated and you have a chance to have a conversation with them before you commit to the booking. For me personally, getting a booking is just one part of the equation. Equally important is to get the “right” guests, the people I am comfortable and confident to have staying in my apartments. Honestly, by the time you pay for advertising, cleaning, rates, insurance, credit card fees, linen, interest on your loan etc etc you don’t want to be adding costs to repair damage as well. Of interest is that booking.com has about 15 pages of terms and conditions for property owners but are scant of conditions for renters. With Airbnb renters must agree to a host of conditions and if I am not mistaken don’t they also provide the property owners with some insurance cover? This is the trouble with too many listing sites – it’s hard to keep up with all their conditions.

  • Juliana R

    Hey, guys:
    How about Airbnb’s newest move: they no longer provide hosts their guests email address. Not even AFTER they book. Your thoughts?
    – Juliana

    • Hey Juliana, anonymizing the Host and Guest email addresses has been an interesting and recent development. I’m not going to lie and say Hosts were a-okay with this change because they weren’t. They were furious.

      But let’s be realistic, Airbnb is run by some way smart people. At the end of the day they know there’s nothing that’s going to stop a Host and Guest from trading email addresses or any other information. That’s also true of Hosts and Guests who set out to disintermediate Airbnb in the first place.

      Those people aren’t Airbnb’s real market. And that’s not why the anonymous emails were put in place to begin with anyway.

      Airbnb wants to provide a secure environment in every possible way so that two people who would otherwise be strangers can safely connect and financially transact while each one is able to protecting his own private information. If the private details include an email address, the option is now available to both Guests and Hosts.

      Just like when a Guest and Host connect in person, nothing will stop them from trading each other’s emails and, well, whatever else they like.

      That’s what I think about it. Now you tell us. What are your thoughts on the matter?

      • Juliana R

        Yes, I do see how this fits within Airbnb’s strategy and how they cleverly frame it as a privacy concern. However, requiring guests to provide contact information is standard practice in the hospitality world. It is just a bit weird that they consider hosts not trustworthy enough to have access to a guest’s email.

        • But that’s what I’m saying, they aren’t stopping or even limiting you from getting it. The window you have for getting the information is still there. They’re not “framing” it as anything.

          • Juliana R

            Oh yes they are. A quote from the email they sent to hosts:
            “Why we’re making this change
            Since your private email address is associated with your Airbnb account, disguising it helps us protect your personal information from people who abuse our system. While rare, we take these abuses seriously and want to protect our community as much as possible.”
            So they think hosts and guests with an accepted reservation may use each others emails for phishing and stuff???
            That’s nuts.

          • That’s exactly what’s happening Juliana. I’ve been involved in 3 different cases with the Trust and Safety department since last Friday night.

          • Juliana R

            Really??? As a host or a guest?
            Well, Glenn, in that case we should all start treating our email address like our social security number:)

          • I thought I responded to this before, but who knows? What happens is they get “inside” with a phishing account where some Host will unknowingly click on the link to their identical site, giving them their email and password.

            It usually happens with Hosts.

          • Juliana R

            Gotcha, you work for Airbnb.
            You didn’t explain, though, how in the 3 cases mentioned a host or a guest who booked a stay turned into scammers.

          • No, I don’t work for Airbnb. I am a Host.

            I have what most would consider a thorough knowledge of how Airbnb works. I also believe in what the company stands for and Brian Chesky’s mission of creating a world where people can have a sense of belonging anywhere they go.

            Last May, I founded and currently organize the New Hosts Forum, an online support group for Airbnb’s host community. Brian is one of the members. There are two other Hosts who help me organize and lead the Group.

            Through hundreds of posts, I have documented what I learned through my own researching and testing of the platform, which has helped thousands of New Hosts and is being used as the model for Airbnb’s Host Education program of which I am a participant.

            But I am not an employee of Airbnb and I have never been paid by them for doing anything other than being a Host. There is a profound need to belong in each of us. I get that sense of belonging when I write, help and share my knowledge in the community of Hosts.

            I believe in it.

          • tokillamockingbirdfromtexas

            I have zero issues with VRBO/Homeaway…and they allow me to see guests email and phone.

          • tokillamockingbirdfromtexas

            Lame.

            Airbnb would not be in business without hosts. Hosts are typically very busy people dealing with multiple aspects of their rental. Hosts should not have a ‘window’ to this information nor should we have to ask the guest to give it again if the ‘window’ has passed.
            That is repetitive and annoying.

          • Well of course Airbnb wouldn’t be anywhere without Hosts. The supply chain for the whole operation is provided by Hosts. I’m one of them.

            I don’t work for Airbnb, do you think I like having to deal with this? Of course not.

            The chances of getting a reversal on this are slim to none. The Head of Trust and Safety is a former military intelligence officer; he knows what he’s doing.

            The way I look at it there are two options:

            (1) Get over the minor inconvenience of having to deal with an obfuscated email until you can get the real one, should you actually need it since you will have the Guest’s phone number and other information.

            (2) Pay through the nose with HomeAway/VRBO until you get enough clients to sustain your own site like Matt does.

            I have learned how to utilize Airbnb’s platform to work quite lucratively in my favor, so dealing with the email nonsense has become part of the process.

            And the truth is we’re playing in their ballpark — for what amounts to a lot of freedom with minimal out of pocket investment, so we can either play by their rules or pay to play somewhere else. That’s the way it is.

          • Mark F

            Thanks Glen for your insights,
            As a vacation rental owner you do have to pay to use AIrbnb and actually VRBO gives you more options on how you want to pay.
            How does Airbnb respond to its critics? It seems to be going in an opposite direction to those criticisms
            I have visited Airbnb’s blog and have seen the blowback given by owners and travelers alike especially to the verification process. The comments would be godsend to any company seeking to improve their business model. The replies to these comments were simply to restate the company’s policies. So yes the portal is theirs and you have to play by their rules, but arrogance towards the owners is going to bite them back in the end. I maintain the model is a totalitarian threat to the entrepreneurial vacation home owner and should be resisted, I would go as far to encourage that no vacation home owner list on their site at all.

          • Mark, you have some interesting points from a financial perspective. I suppose it just depends on how you look at what you’re getting from Airbnb’s site versus VRBO.

            Both sites are going to “cost” someone otherwise there would be no way for them to sustain operations. You are correct that over the long run, Airbnb costs more than VRBO. I also believe as an owner or manager you get quite a bit more from a site like Airbnb compared to VRBO. Airbnb’s service level is leaps and bounds above what is provided by VRBO. With Airbnb there is a much more defined support network that you simply don’t get from VRBO.

            Now as far as the Verified ID part of your comment, I will completely disagree. As a host on Airbnb’s site, I would never take a reservation from a guest who didn’t have it.

            Airbnb also has an internal means of collecting input from the Hosts and Guests who use their site. The blog comments from random people on the Internet never represented the actual users of the site.

          • MarkF

            Thanks for the response Glen hope you are on the mend.
            So far I get all the support I need from VRBO, my hold time on VRBO is almost nonexistent whereas on Airbnb it has always never been less then 15 minutes! Additionally
            I have had several issues escalated for which no resolution was found with no promised callbacks materializing.
            While its true that anyone can enter blog comments, I wouldn’t be so dismissive of those which I have found to have thoughtful or constructive criticisms, they are at the very least potential customers. And while I strongly support your requirements for Verified ID, and glad you find it a useful tool. I wish my requirements were as equally respected. I object to being required to download a government issued id onto a third party server, the risk for the theft of my identity exceeds my comfort level. I believe the evidence lends overwhelming support to my discomfort.
            Once again I believe this is duplicitous on the part of Airbnb as it gives a false sense of security at one end while opening you up to a greater exposure on the other. It simply cannot guarantee that your information will not be compromised.
            I wouldn’t mind if Airbnb gave their users the option, but they have no intention of moving forward in that direction, but rather to even imposing greater control over its users.
            Right now I use Airbnb as a billboard which anyone with half a brain can use to redirect to my website wherein they immediately can save 10% with direct booking. If you need something more secure then a credit card or paypal,
            then be prepared to pay for it.

      • tokillamockingbirdfromtexas

        I agree with Juliana.

        If a person wants to book my home, which they have fully to themselves, we should have access to each other’s contact info including emails. That is in best interest for both, guest and host.

        Let’s face it…Airbnb is doing this to keep as much info to themselves knowing: 1) not all hosts will push for this info and 2) not all guests will give it.

        I understand a company wanting to keep themselves in business but being stingy with info creates resentment and that is not good for business…plus it hints at an insecurity.

    • 4andcounting

      I agree with you Juliana. I’ve had this discussion with Glenn before on AirBnB – before we quit there last month. I hate how things are hidden from hosts and guests. Email is only the beginning. I love how on VRBO we can have the guests phone number 90% of those that inquire book with us when I give them a call. Those that haven’t booked or normally those attempting to get deep discounts or trying to convince us to let them bring their pets.

  • My beef with airbnb.com: When an airbnb.com inquiry comes in my stomach churns, due to the fact that when a guest books from airbnb.com, as with a couple other websites, like flipkey.com, the conditions of receiving a refund are dictated by airbnb.com etc. as opposed to my own refund policy which is “NO REFUNDS ONCE PAID, PLESE MAKE SURE YOU PURCHASE TRAVEL INSURANCE TO PROTECT YOUR STAY.” I have had no problems with people accepting this and purchasing their travel insurance. I feel that once I have blocked a large amount of time on my rental, I should have the freedom to choose what my refund policy is. Just recently I had a lady book 3 months, to stay while she was having a baby, and wanted to be in our area to deliver. Once the baby was born, she suddenly decided that she needed a bigger house and wanted to leave a month early. Thankfully she had passed the refund deadline and decided to stay, but for what reason should I tie up my home while airbnb.com dictates my refund policy. I think that if a traveler does not wish to purchase travel insurance, they are free to book elsewhere. It also ties up dates while they “shop” the internet for a better deal. The booking fees also exceed the amount charged by VRBO.com on average. Of course, I accept bookings from them, as I will not turn away business, but dislike the idea of them holding my money while I sit and wait for the guest to arrive.

  • Matt Landau

    A lot of you have emailed me directly asking about Glenn Cooley, who has so kindly chimed in on a number of the Airbnb topics below. Glenn is a long-time subscriber of mine whose comments and feedback I always really dig: he also leads an online group of about 6,000 Airbnb hosts in California — almost like a moderator — which is why I’ve asked him to share his expertise with us. Super cool to be able to have someone so knowledgeable (yet with no vested interest) here to contribute! Thanks Glenn!

  • Louise Brace

    Controlling a guest’s first contact is not ideal and it’s something we have been fighting against at Spain-holiday.com for a while. But, no matter how often you educate owners on the need to protect their email accounts, via email, via articles; still 50% don’t do it and phishing and hacking in our industry is now an every day occurence. I understand that most of the owners and managers who follow your blog are professionals and they wouldn’t consider putting guests at risk, but this isn’t the case across the board, and certainly not for the increasing number of people that are registering single rooms and accommodation on Airbnb. And certainly protecting guests against losing their hard earned holiday savings is of vital importance in our industry. Still I have to agree, that the Airbnb data curtain is definitely more off-putting for users than some of the others and I am certainly under no illusion that Airbnb and other listings sites don’t have ulterior motives in putting these controls in place. I can honestly say that is not our intention, but it’s coming to a serious point where there is little alternative if we want to protect our industry.

    • Hi Louise,

      Can you clarify your position regarding the anonymization of email addresses?

      I understand your connection to the industry, and it seemed at first like you agreed with Airbnb’s decision regarding obfuscation of Guest and Host email addresses.

      Your claim that a whopping 50% of owners don’t protect their emails which leads to phishing and hacking in the industry makes that claim abundantly clear. (I question where the statistic came from, but that’s really another issue.)

      Then you go on to say that the “Airbnb data curtain is definitely more off-putting for users than some of the others”
      You’re waffling on the issue as if to not upset anyone.

      • Louise Brace

        Hi Glenn, the statistic is from our data, not the industry as a whole. As a company we have been educating owners for a couple of years on the importance of protecting guests against phishing and have developed internal security layers, which are being rolled out as we speak. I should clarify that this statistic is decreasing, based on the work we are doing; our objective is to ensure that 100% of owners on Spain-holiday have secured their email account. We do this through monthly newsletters, regular articles and indeed direct contact.

        Our support team spend many hours every week on the phone to owners, talking them through how to set up email security. Unfortunately, more often than not, an owner only does this after they have been phished and potential guests have lost money.

        My comment on the Airbnb data curtain was based on my own personal experience using the site to find accommodation.

        Perhaps I didn’t eloquently explain myself, but I certainly wasn’t ‘waffling’ in order to ‘not’ upset anyone. I agree with the need to protect guests at every step, I also believe there are ways to do so, that can allow homeowner’s more access to their clients and still ensure guests are protected.

    • Fully Booked

      “off-putting for users” … isn’t that what most growing companies become? They try to prevent issues (like FlipKey now expects host to provide supporting documents which they did not before) to make it more safe. But the additional safety always comes with many downsides.

      Also protecting they market share (by not giving out email addresses anymore) will do the same: Make room for new, more convenient sites … which that will change to the worse too…

      We hosts have to be flexible and make the best out of it. That’s our advantage over corporates (like airbnb) and their workers. We can (and have to be flexible) and enjoy life in a beautiful country (like Panama) 😉

  • Mark F

    Great Discussion,,, I’m still reading comments,, so sorry if I’m repeating someone else’s observations. I pretty much despise Airbnb, despite Matt’s non bashing position. They are the most intrusive listing agency requiring an owner to download their government issued Id’s into a third party “secured server” exposing the owner to almost assured identity theft and are causing general havoc in the individual home rental industry. I don’t find them clever, I find them duplicitous. We all know the purpose of the Data Curtain but as other commentators have pointed out the real reasons aren’t given. They are marketing themselves as a “community” in the share economy when in fact they are a corporation raking in the dough evading taxes, zoning and safety regulations set in place for some very good reasons. The community marketing angle is a nauseating cloying trick, kumbayaing us while fleecing our pockets and putting real communities at risk. I know this the impetus of coming to Matt’s blog was to get as far away from Airbnb as possible.

    • Matt Landau

      Fair enough, Mark. I think there’s always gonna be some resentment or opposition to a successful model that has impacted the industry so much like Airbnb. Your comment got me thinking…If I was the CEO of Airbnb, how would I change the policy or image in order to be more transparent?

      And I think what I’d do is be very forthcoming about my business model, the immense value my company contributes to society, and my unique position in the marketplace. I would be equally honest and open about the Data Curtain (It’s how we make money!) as I would about how capitalism CAN make communities a better place.

      I think what bothered me about the quote in the interview above is akin to what you’re getting at in your comment: let’s not try to trick anyone or market ourselves as something we’re not. Being overtly transparent may mean losing some customers. But it would also mean a stronger core crowd. Maybe Brian and the Airbnb team is already doing this…Glenn?

      • Matt, I must say this comment of yours is akin to brilliance really. I have shared a similar mindset.

        At present, I am not aware of what the exact internal response has been among Airbnb’s upper management.

        Among Airbnb’s Host Community, the reception has not been great. There is confusion over how and why it needs to be used. It reeks of mistrust from the company and I think it’s really a poor move by them.

        Unlike Craigslist or other services that obfuscate their emails from the beginning of the user’s interaction with the site, the way Airbnb has implemented it is midstream in the site’s workflow and nonintegrated into the user experience.

        If they could have allowed their own message system to support attachments and regular HTML email, they would have no need for email obfuscation because all communication could be easily carried out on their site.

        Instead they punted with an artificial hoop they make the Hosts jump thru to compensate for their own useability issues.

        Announcements are coming from Airbnb regarding some upcoming events that will allow the Hosts to voice their opinions in a more public way. I guess we’ll see if this is still an issue a few moths from now.

        Sorry for the delayed response, I’ve been quite a bit under the weather the last few days and am just how coming out of it.

        • Tough to read all the comments, extremely interesting, as usual thanks to Matt, and now to you all (ciao Antonio!).

          I apologise in advance if what I’m going to write was aleady asked, didn’t see.

          What do you think of the new Airbnb’s messaging system? Now you don’t get your guest’s email address even after a booking is completed! They just transformed the address in another number “for our security”. At least I saw that you can ask it to the guests and Airbnb does not elimiate it, for the moment.

          Alessandro

          • ok.. now I found Glenn’s answer below!.. and I kinda agree, I personally receive many phishing tries, I know how to handle them, but probably not everyone does and gets money stolen.
            Ciao

      • Refinedguestnitmoneygrabber

        Booking. Com is WAAAAAAY more successful. Airbnb is blocked in nyc.

    • Fully Booked

      yes, they become more and more corporate. But FlipKey is not much better. Before I found HomeAway bewildering when they asked for utility bills as a proof that you are actually a host not a scammer. Now I start linking HomeAway more than FK or airbnb.

    • Preciousguest

      Why should n’t YOU have to give info when YOU are the one with whom they are entrusting their precious guests, MORON!

  • Kate Marcet

    Matt, this is an absolutely brilliant blogpost- you very eloquently described exactly why I find airbnb to be such a scary entity. So happy to have stumbled across your site! I look forward to following your blog in the future.

    • Matt Landau

      Thanks, Kate!

  • colink

    Interesting post. I did think the “Data Curtain” in the middle of the post was a bit of a paradox 🙂

  • paul dave

    Informative. Just in case anyone needs to fill out a form Rental Agreement, I found a blank form in this site PDFfiller. This site also has several related forms that you might find useful.

  • Kim Thomas

    I stayed at a great place in Venice in August 2015 (never go to Europe in August everyone knows that, only time we could go, still don’t go in August.) was very nice good experience. However about 1 1/2 yrs ago I listed my condo in San Diego for a couple of days and then
    unlisted it ( I thought) and all of a sudden just in the last month, people are emailing me to stay at my condo and I never gave anyone at AirBNB permission, nor did I go on to relist? So they must just put properties online without checking with the owners first. I think I got it unlisted, but of course no human being to talk to unless you want to be on hold for 30 min! Come on! Im a senior and my time is precious I don’t want to spend it on hold with ATT or Air BNB! Just saying.

  • Andy

    Hi you are soooo right. I have been looking for another way to generate more rentals as Owners Direct has changed so much. I use Airbnb and it has been wonderful but not constant enough as you say, however would not change it for the world….just need more bookings and to fill in my dates for July and August which normally get booked up through Owners Direct….Home Away is the new one in charge now…and I am not sure if I am going to be able to cope with it. I would appreciate any advice you could give me.

  • Nick Hernandez

    I’m an AirBNB host in Melbourne Australia. My story is a little different, in that it wasn’t my AirBNB guests that stole from me, it was a druggy guy that watched my guests put the key back in the key locker and saw the password. He cleaned out my apartment in about 3 hours, all caught on film. The guy was later caught by police, but that’s when I really investigated insurance.

    I found that the Insurance companies in Australia don’t have a proper policy to cover you. Instead, you have to find a broker that understands how AirBNB works and has routes into the major insurance companies. They can then broker a specific deal which covers you sufficiently.

    After going through this whole process and finding a broker who was very knowledgeable I setup http://AirBNBinsurance.com.au. It puts you in touch with him and he then negotiates the deal for you (only for Australians). At the moment I don’t charge for the service, it’s just a matter of making sure hosts in Australia are covered and AirBNB continues to grow.

    Anyway, that’s my story. I hope it has added a bit of value. Any suggestions or advice I can put up on the site to help customers, then please let me know.

  • Tatiana

    Go fuck yourself! Owners areTHE WORST. I ALWAYS USE BOOKING SO I CAN FUCK A BAD OWNER INTHE END! AND WHY THE FUCK SHOULD YOU BE ALLOWED ACCESS TO ANYONE’S PERSONAL INFORMATION FUCKING IDIOT! GET FUCKED IF YOU’RE WILLING TO PUT A BAG OVER YOUR HEAD AND SOMEONE ACTUALLY WOULD GROSSLY DO THAT.
    have a Nice day😊