Given it now boasts more than two million listings in 34,000 cities and 191 countries, it’s strange to think Airbnb only started in 2008.
But while you might have taken advantage of the properties on its books – bedding down in spare rooms, chic apartments, converted churches, houseboats, treehouses and lord knows what else across the globe – you might not have taken the leap into hosting yourself.
Because although extra cash is always handy (especially if you’re booking people in while you’re off on hols spending the money on Margaritas), it’s hard to know exactly what you’ll be expected to do. Should you chuck them the key and leave them to it? Should you put posh toiletries in the shower? Make a folder of nearby restaurants? Buy flowers? Cook a full English breakfast and leave a chocolate on their pillow?
Department store John Lewis, currently collaborating with Airbnb on Perfect Host masterclasses, reports a “significant increase” in year-on-year sales of guest-room essentials, including a 26% increase in sofa beds, a 37% increase in small double beds and a 9% increase in mattress protectors.
With more and more of us looking for extra income, we decided to get some insight from the experts on how to ace Airbnb, speaking to two of the site’s ‘superhosts’ – those who are so great at it they’re running hosting classes – for tips and tricks on making the most of your space.
Community manager Hannah, 26, has listed an en-suite room in her London flat on the site since August last year. “It was a combination of reasons that made me decide to host,” she says. “Of course, it's a great way to make some extra income. But on top of that, my experience as an Airbnb guest was so great, I thought ‘I could do this!’
“I get a combination of guests, from tourists to professionals, and it's so great having repeat guests. We've made a few good friends on Airbnb who we stay in touch with.”
Meanwhile, Birmingham-based social worker Emma, 32, has hosted more than 100 guests since listing her en-suite room in September 2013. “We moved house and had some spare space. We had a lodger before and wanted to do it again but were keen to have people stay short-term rather than anything long-term so we could have plenty of our own time. Airbnb seemed perfect for that.
“We have made friends with several of our guests and keep in touch via Facebook. Some have returned as guests, others have come back as our friends.”
Should you fancy sticking your sofa bed online, letting the whole property when you go on holiday or are already listing and want to know how to up your Airbnb game, read on.
And remember, what you like about Airbnb is probably the very thing to ease any worries about what you’re offering: there’s a huge range on offer in terms of both space and hosting, you can be as involved or not as you want.
As long as you’re clear in your listing about what the guest can expect, you don’t have to pretend to be a hotel. Although if you just like a maid’s uniform, that’s your call…
How do I know how much to charge?
Look at listings in your area and compare what they’re offering to what you’re offering. Are you closer to transport links? Is your room bigger? Would guests have their own bathroom? Base it on that and see how the bookings go.
Hannah advises also looking at nearby hotels, as that’s often what guests will be comparing your listing to when looking for accommodation in your area.
How do I sell myself in my profile?
Be honest. Emma says: “Give a brief insight into your personality and interests. Highlight any facts which may put off some people from staying (for instance, we have two cats and an 18-month-old son which might cause some to look elsewhere!). Also try to find a friendly-looking photo.”
Hannah says keep it brief: “Having a few photos is really important and a nice little profile about who are and why you host is great. From the beginning, you want to make people feel comfortable about staying at your place, they want a quick idea of who you are, so don't write anything too long.”
What can I do to sell the space on my listing?
Take pictures of how the space will look when people arrive – there’s no point posting perfect, filtered pictures of a room full of flowers and chic bedding if they arrive to an empty box room with a ratty duvet.
Hannah says: “I think it’s important to know what you have to offer and own that. Some people want elegant, others want cosy or rustic. Know what makes you different and go with that.
“If you can get Airbnb's photography service, that’s great, too! Open all the curtains and make your space look nice and bright! I think fresh flowers are always nice, too.”
Do I have to buy anything new?
Make a list of the bottom line you’d expect and review your own space from there. Hannah says: “I already had some of the basics, such as a bed, table lamps, and a small TV. But when I decided to Airbnb, I invested in some nice bedding, throws and cushions, a mini fridge, and nice towels.
“For the bedroom, an inviting bed is always key – nice, crisp bedding and comfy cushions are perfect for that guest who’s had a long day of travel.”
Also keep all bedding for guest-use only, ensuring they’re always fresh and ready to go.
What else should I have in the room?
Airbnb research revealed technology is considered an essential, with almost 1 in 4 guests expecting a good Wi-Fi connection, and more than 1 in 10 hoping their host will lend them a tablet or computer. Consider universal adaptors for overseas guests.
Extra touches don’t have to cost loads but can make a real difference. Hannah leaves a mini fridge and a hairdryer in the room, while Emma says: “We always have a vase of fresh flowers, some travel-sized Molten Brown toiletries and a bar of Cadbury's chocolate (we live in Birmingham so it's only Cadbury's for us!)
“We also have up to date leaflets and What's On guides of events in Birmingham and the West Midlands, as well as a folder about the house and surrounding area.”
Leaflets and print outs won’t cost you much, but will leave an impression on guests, who will often be casting about for recommendations and somewhere close by to grab a bite.
What will guests expect me to do when they arrive?
Both Hannah and Emma often live-in and suggest taking your cue from your guests on arrival. Emma says: “We ask guests to let us know when they want to arrive and we try to ensure that someone is in to meet them, show them their room and offer them a drink.
“We then usually have a chat or leave them to settle depending on what the guest wants. Also, we try to leave a bit of a gap between guests so we are not rushed and guests can have a bit of flexibility in arrival/departure.”
Hannah adds: “I am there to welcome my guests, show them around the flat and even give them a small tour of the area if I have time. Sometimes, my welcome turns into a nice chat with a glass of wine if guests are conversational. It really depends from guest to guest, and I think a good skill for hosts is learning to gauge how involved your guests want you to be.”
So how involved am I expected to be?
As per the previous point, this totally depends on you and the guest. As Hannah explains, “Some people are very independent and have a full itinerary, others are very social and want your expert advice.”
Emma concurs: “We take the lead from our guest. Some we see a lot of whereas others want to be left alone! We always welcome people to join us in the public areas, but do not push this and leave them alone if they would rather have their own space.”
If you’re going to live-in, it’s important to make sure your guests feel welcome to use the shared space, but nobody will expect you to be at their beck and call unless you’ve written as much in your ad.
Should I be worried about having strangers in my house?
Be sensible. In terms of stuff, don’t go leaving all those loose diamonds and wads of cash lying about like usual, and click here for information on Airbnb’s Host Guarantee on damage.
When it comes to the general weirdness of having a stranger walk in, Hannah says: “The key is being selective during the booking period. Just like your profile is important, so is a guest’s. Before I accept a booking, I check the guest’s reviews, their photo and profile, and whether or not they have any verified IDs. So far, I've had really wonderful guests.”
And Emma points out that those staying with you probably have the same worries. “The guests are also taking a leap of faith and often are more anxious than us.
“We have found that having good communication with guests beforehand helps. We have always felt safe hosting through Airbnb who run checks on hosts and guests when they sign up.”
What will set me apart as a host?
Emma says: “We try and tailor our approach to each guest and be as adaptable as possible. For example, buying things for breakfast that we think that guest might like, making recommendations based on what guests have told us about themselves.
“We also try to let people check in and out at a time that is best for them on the agreed day. These are some examples of things that hotels cannot offer but make such a difference when people are away from home.”
Hannah says: “I put the focus on great communication and creating an overall experience for my guests. On the communication front, I send my guests a guest pack as soon as they book filled with maps, restaurant recommendations and contact details.
“I try to bring the overall London experience into their room – freshly cut flowers from the nearby Columbia Road flower market, for example. If it's a special occasion, a bottle of wine is nice, too.”
We asked Hannah and Emma for their top three essential details that really tip the balance between a good listing and an excellent one
Emma: “We provide breakfast and that seems to be something that people like.
“A good, comfortable double bed. The comfort of the bed has been commented on and is very important to guests, so have clean, crisp bed linen. And fluffy towels: they are absolutely essential!”
Hannah says: “Have a guest pack with important info, and send that to them as soon as they've booked.
“Providing a kettle, coffee, and tea with cups and saucers in the room has always been really appreciated too, while providing basic bathroom accessories makes a huge difference – shampoo, hand lotion and nice shower gel are so appreciated for those guests who want a shower first thing after their long day of travel.”
John Lewis and Airbnb are rolling out a Perfect Host masterclass programme across the UK at selected John Lewis branches. Hosted by an expert from the John Lewis Home Design and experienced Airbnb hosts, classes will cover getting started, guest room essentials and demonstrate how to turn the room around in 30 minutes. Details will be announced on johnlewis.com
Images: airbnb.co.uk / iStock