Five things I’ve learned as a full-time Airbnb host
July 29th, 2014
1. Airbnb is actually about entrepreneurship (which can kind of sneak up on you).
When I started hosting, it was truly out of desperation because I needed a way to fund the new company I was building. When I made my first few hundred dollars in a month with seemingly little effort, I realized that by taking hosting more seriously I could avoid what I thought was the inevitability of needing a part-time job (in addition to my 60-hour/week at Hello Holiday plus parenting my daughter). As my personal finances were dwindling, I could never have stomached the idea that starting a second business would be the solution, which is why the possibility of so much hosting success surprised me.
2. You don’t have to die for everyone.
Unlike some Airbnb hosts, I like to be pretty hands-off with guests—I give them the key, I recommend points of interest and restaurants in the area, and then I leave them to their own plans with the reassurance that I am available 24/7 to resolve anything that could make their stay more comfortable. With hosting in a permanent “side gig” role, I’m unlikely to bend over backwards to accommodate requests for specific types of coffee, pick people up at the airport, provide food (though I do offer a bottle of wine at check-in), or be available for socializing. I’m up-front about that with guests, and the ones who mesh well with that style of travel self-select for my listings.
3. It’s okay to screen guests and turn people away.
On my listing, I say “I’m an LGBT-friendly host. I welcome non-smokers only, please. Absolutely no drug use, no unreasonably demanding people, and no creeps or I’ll boot yer butt out!” The guest who said I looked even sexier in person than in my profile photo? Dealbreaker! He had to go find a hotel instead. The guest who left her weed pipe on the nightstand in my daughter’s room? Bye. I also don’t accept guests who clearly didn’t read the listing at the time of their inquiry. There is enough business to go around—I’d rather book guests who I trust right off the bat. It’s okay to be picky. After all, it’s your space and no one else is entitled to it.
4. Disclose anything objectionable about your listing.
Admitting in advance on your Airbnb listing the things guests are most likely to complain about is a great way to filter out guests who are likely to find your space problematic. For example, in one of my spaces I have no coffee maker or microwave. In another space, the blinds can be a little finicky and the street noise can be loud. Mentioning the potential negatives as well as the positives as a host builds trust with potential guests and shows that you are honest about the limitations of your apartment. It also helps hosts get better reviews—the guests who don’t mind city noise are more likely to leave me a five-star review than someone who needs total silence to sleep, so weeding those guests out with an honest listing description will add a lot of value to your experience in the long run.
5. We must take the opportunity to advocate for the sharing economy before we lose it.
A lot of credit goes to Airbnb for my success right now—for me and so many others. It’s totally changed my quality of life, it has given me the opportunity to have unique experiences as a guest in amazing cities, as well as the ability to connect with interesting, accomplished people from all over the world who have taught me a lot. But at the same time, people like me who depend on the sharing economy for income are put in a precarious position.
There’s an embarrassing division in my own local government right now (for example—maybe yours too) between lip service for innovation and economic development, and resistance to progressive change. We have more support in the form of technological infrastructure and capital for innovation than ever, but at the same time our local governments shut out innovative new businesses willing to take a chance in our market. (Lyft, Uber, Airbnb, Taskrabbit, Sidecar?) In these cases, business becomes political and citizens can play a role in encouraging regulators to compromise with companies. I predict there will be a huge gap between cities and markets that take these opportunities and are willing to change as technology changes, and those that shut it down.
Photo from Airbnb’s regional Omaha outreach tour, taken by Andrew Dickinson.