Ever wondered if you should screen Airbnb guests before accepting them?
Maybe you've had a bad experience with a guest on Airbnb and are traumatized. Or perhaps you about one of the many Airbnb horror stories out there.
If you take a second to Google “Airbnb horror stories”, over 18 million results pop up.
Guests using properties as brothels or “junkie dens”…
And so much more.
That’s a lot of unhappy hosts and upset neighbors.
But if you read a few of the articles, you’ll notice a common theme among these Airbnb horror stories. Most of these hosts weren’t screening Airbnb guests effectively and didn’t notice the red flags that popped up during the booking process. When you start running your Airbnb business, safety will be one of your first concerns.
If you know what to look out for and what questions to ask, it’s fairly easy to determine which guests are likely to break your house rules – and which ones might be engaged in criminal activities such as fraud or identity theft.
The screening framework outlined in this article will be applicable for hosts with one or two properties and property managers with 50 or even 100 properties. If you're scaling your Airbnb business, this will become particularly important. Learning to vet your Airbnb guests will help avoid a lot if not all of these issues.
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Why You Should Screen Airbnb Guests
I’ve had a lot of people email me about their bad Airbnb experiences. I always ask them about their screening process, and I’ve found that 95% of the cases could’ve been avoided if the hosts did their due diligence. There have been times where hosts forgot to do any screening at all – due to a last-minute booking that they didn’t take the time to look into.
Manage Guest Expectations
The Airbnb guest screening process allows you to set and manage guest expectations from the very beginning. By making it clear that you will be monitoring for any disturbances, you can discourage guests from booking if their main intention is to throw a party.
For instance, guests who come for a sporting event usually bring their friends (which is against most hosts’ rules). If you make it clear that you use noise and WiFi sensors to monitor the property, these kinds of guests won’t book at your property since they know that they’ll have a higher chance of having their nights ruined.
Most guests will also cancel by themselves if you’re strict enough with your house rules and communicate them effectively.
In order to have a sustainable business, you need to be as effective as possible in determining who to let into your property (i.e. being able to identify the guests who are going to abide by your house rules). By using the right process to screen your Airbnb guests you can also avoid using tactics that will hurt your ranking.
Boost Your Airbnb Ranking
Many hosts manage their risk by adding a lot of booking restrictions such as requiring a five-day minimum stay or turning off Instant Book. This risk management strategy will only hurt you in the long-run. Consider the following points:
- Because 75% of Airbnb’s bookings are Instant Book, you will lose out on a lot of visibility if you don’t have it enabled
- If you have a five-day minimum stay, why would Airbnb show your listing when it can show users listings that have their calendars completely open?
Having a lot of booking restrictions can also result in a high amount of false positives (i.e. quality guests who are getting denied because they don’t fulfill all the booking requirements).
This means that hosts are losing out on a lot of revenue by managing their risk through booking restrictions.
An efficient Airbnb guest screening process allows you to drop these booking restrictions, which can increase your revenue by 10-15%.
By removing booking restrictions, you will boost your Airbnb ranking and increase your listing visibility since Airbnb rewards open calendars. You can also expect to see a significant increase in reservations (not all will be good, of course) and accept more guests because you can rely on your own screening process after the guest has booked. If you have a legitimate concern, you can always cancel a booking if you have Instant Book turned on (more on this later).
Get More Quality Guests
Because Airbnb’s algorithm shows your property to guests similar to the ones who have previously booked, a history of quality guests can lead to more quality guests in the future. When you screen your Airbnb guests based on the kind of people you're looking for, the algorithm understands and filters mostly those kinds of people.
But if you’ve accepted a lot of one-night bookings (which are generally higher risk), Airbnb will show your property to more people who are looking for one-night bookings. This can be very concerning if you don’t have an effective Airbnb guest screening process in place.
Increase Your Revenue
You’ll get new revenue opportunities such as local and last-minute bookings. Since most property management companies and hosts don’t accept local guests (who have traditionally been deemed high risk), when you screen your Airbnb guests, you’ll have a competitive advantage over them.
In fact, some property management companies have found that local bookings can account for 40% of their revenue during slow seasons.
Reduce Hosting Anxiety
You can sleep better at night, since you won’t have to worry about troublesome guests anymore. You’ll be able to hold your guests accountable for their actions. If your screening process involves signing a rental agreement, you can sue the people who aren’t official guests since they’re considered trespassers.
But before we dive into how you should screen Airbnb guests, I want to first discuss the types of risks you might face.
Potential Risks to Property Owners
There are two main types of risk: general and fraud.
General risks can include parties, rule violations, additional guests, and potential property damage.
Fraud risks can include identity theft and criminal activities (e.g. credit card scheming, escort services, drug smuggling, and gun violence).
Unfortunately, the fraud problem is growing. A recent Ernst & Young report found that fraud accounts for around $150 billion per year in the hospitality sector (that’s 5-6% of the industry’s revenues!). This means that 1 in 20 reservations can potentially be fraudulent.
Fraudulent reservations usually come in waves, as these criminals move from city to city and attack all the booking platforms at once. That’s why all your reservations must go through a similar screening process.
If you’re trying to grow your short-term rental business by increasing your occupancy rates and expanding to other platforms, you’re usually going to have to loosen or remove booking restrictions. This is going to put you at a significant risk if you don’t have an effective screening process.
Built-in Host Protection by Platform
Some people use the built-in vetting to screen Airbnb guests. Here’s a breakdown of how some booking platforms perform in protecting hosts against these two types of risks:
While Airbnb is better than Booking.com and Expedia, it’s still not perfect. Airbnb has a good fraud protection and prevention algorithm, where it will flag any guest payments that are fraudulent. However, it doesn’t do a good job at managing general risk (and that’s why you hear all these stories about crazy Airbnb parties).
While Airbnb can verify guest ID, it’s not required unless a host specifically sets that as a reservation requirement. Unfortunately, guests can overcome this obstacle by paying someone else to book for them. This loophole demonstrates the need for multiple verifications. Airbnb only has nine verifications, while some Airbnb guest screening tools can have up to 2,000 different verifications and tests (including digital profiling and background checks).
Booking.com doesn’t do anything regarding fraud, so there’s a higher risk of chargebacks. However, the platform is moving towards payment collection, where it will guarantee that you will eventually get paid by processing guest credit cards and sending you the funds.
Many property managers are looking for growth opportunities outside of Airbnb and are trying Booking.com. However, Booking.com uses a completely different process, which is not as simple as Airbnb’s. Hosts will need to develop a payment structure, collect IDs, collect security deposits, and communicate with guests differently. The rising popularity of Booking.com can be explained by the potential returns since Booking.com has a massive distribution channel.
VRBO is risky for general risk, but it does perform a bit better on payment risk.
Regardless of what platform you use, you are still opening yourself up to identify theft, higher risk reservations, and, potentially, if you don’t screen Airbnb guests well, abuse and house rule violations. That’s why you need to have your own screening process in place.
How to Screen Airbnb Guests
When it comes to guest screening, there are two kinds of mistakes that you could be making:
- Allowing a guest who will cause trouble
- Refusing a guest who wouldn’t have caused trouble
In an ideal world, you’d accept all the guests who will follow the rules and deny all the guests who will cause trouble.
But, of course, that’s nearly impossible to do.
Fortunately (or unfortunately depending on how you view it), only 20% of all guests are problematic and cause 100% of your problems. Though, the problematic guests tend to come during the down season when occupancy rates are lower.
That’s why you should focus on developing a screening process that minimizes your risk while maximizing your profits. This will involve developing a multilayer verification system, where you can create a general risk model for a guest and analyze how risky they will be from a party or rule violation perspective.
Asking the Right Questions When You Screen Airbnb Guests
If you’re trying to increase your bookings, you’re going to have to take additional risk. In that case, you’re going to want to ask the right questions to screen Airbnb guests.
Here are the four questions you should be asking every guest who books at your place:
- What is the purpose of your stay?
- Why are you interested in this property?
- Where are you traveling from?
- What is your experience with Airbnb or short-term rentals?
You should try to ask your guests as many questions as possible to determine their intent. This way to screen Airbnb guests becomes increasingly important as you scale.
For example, if you ask a guest what their plans are and she responds that she’s coming in to celebrate her boyfriend’s birthday, you can tell her that your house rules don’t allow any parties and that you have noise sensors installed. She will probably cancel and look elsewhere if her intention was to throw a birthday party.
By asking the right questions, you can save yourself from a lot of hassle and even find ways to improve the guest experience.
If a guest is visiting for sightseeing, you can give them tips and ideas.
If a guest is visiting to celebrate an anniversary, you can leave them a bottle of wine.
Collecting and Verifying Guest Information
Because many criminals now know how to engineer themselves through an Airbnb guest screening processes, you can’t just rely on asking the right questions. You need to be vigilant in collecting and verifying guest information.
In the beginning, criminals tended to go after one-night stays and book last-minute with local phone numbers. Fortunately, property management companies and hosts were able to flag these fraudulent bookings and deny them.
But they learned how people screen Airbnb guests. As a result, these criminals have become more elaborate and started booking for longer stays with foreign numbers at properties with higher prices. Most have IDs and pictures of their credit cards (if you ask for proof), but none of them check out.
That’s why you have to be aware of and verify this information beyond a cursory glance.
Checking Airbnb guest IDs
As a rule of thumb, you should always ask for guest ID. This gives you a way to verify the person’s identity and protect yourself against fraud.
However, it’s not enough just asking a guest to send an email with a picture of their ID. You should go a little further to screen Airbnb guests. You should use an ID verification system because you’re not trained to spot fakes.
If you notice a guest using a fake ID, do NOT let them enter the property. Contact Airbnb and tell them about the situation.
You should also collect a security deposit. This will help protect you against general risk (e.g. property damage from a party) and fraud risk. You can make sure that the credit card isn’t prepaid or flagged for fraud. You can also check to see if the credit card matches the person’s location. If they say they’re from England, you can quickly Google to see if their credit card is issued from there.
But if you’re still somewhat uncertain about a guest, you can ask for their social media accounts. If a guest says he’s traveling for business, ask him for his LinkedIn or to send you an email from his business account.
You can also call the guest because a two-minute conversation can reveal a lot about a person. Fraudulent people will usually refuse to talk with you on the phone and ask you to communicate via text messages.
In the case that you really suspect a guest to be fraudulent, you can run a background check. Be aware that you will need to ask for consent first.
Instant Book vs. Booking Request
As a host, you can allow guests to book with Instant Book or a booking request.
When a guest submits a booking request, you don’t get their phone number. This means that you’re already working with less information than you would be if you used Instant Book.
If you receive a booking request and accept it, you can’t cancel penalty-free, even if some red flags come up. With Instant Book, you can cancel a booking within 24 hours without any fear of being penalized by Airbnb as long as you have a valid concern. This gives you time to review a guest’s profile and see if their risk changes as new information becomes available.
However, if you want to cancel a booking request after accepting it or an Instant Book after the first 24 hours, you can try contacting the guest to get them to cancel it. You can do this by presenting them with your house rules (which should be somewhat strict) and telling them to cancel on their side if they don’t agree to them and that you will approve a 100% refund.
Guests who cancel within a certain amount of time (based on your cancellation policy) can get their guest fees back. But if they’re outside that grace period, you can call Airbnb and ask them to refund the guest fees because you felt uncomfortable hosting them. You can screen Airbnb guests and then decide whether to keep them.
Here are some common risk factors to look out for when you screen Airbnb guests:
- Booking Platform: Where is your guest booking from? Airbnb? VRBO? Each platform has different measures to protect hosts against fraud.
- Length of Stay: Airbnb reservations that are longer in length are generally safer (e.g. less risk of parties), but you can open yourself up to fraudulent bookings and chargebacks in the future if you don’t collect ID.
- Guest Location: Where are your guests coming from? You can usually determine this from their phone number area code or by asking them. If they’re local, you will need to screen them further. A guest who’s booking a property 20 minutes away from their home is most likely using your property for a party instead of sightseeing.
- Number of Guests: Does the number of guests booking make sense for a property of your size? If a single guest is booking a studio apartment for two, they’re probably not going to throw a party. But if a single guest is booking a 16-person occupancy place, that’s a high-risk reservation. It’s unlikely that the guest needs a last-minute stay because a hotel would be cheaper.
- Reservation Time: Bookings for Friday or Saturday stays are generally riskier than bookings made on other days. You should also look at the dates they’re staying. Accepting a one-night booking during “party” holidays such as Halloween and New Year’s Eve can open yourself up to general risk (e.g. property damage from a party).
- Average Daily Rates: A huge indicator of a fraudulent booking is if a guest is willing to pay a high price for a property that doesn’t match their profile. Consider this: a guest says he’s coming with his girlfriend and paying $600/night for a two-bedroom apartment. However, there’s a one-bedroom apartment available for only $300/night. Why would he be paying more money if he didn’t have to?
- Property Type: Bookings for villas and cottages are usually riskier than bookings for condos and studio apartments, especially since many condos have security who can let you know if anything happens.
- Type of Transaction: Depending on the booking platform, a guest may be able to pay online or in-person. If a guest pays online, you can open yourself up to chargebacks and disputes. In both cases, it will be on you to prove that the guest actually stayed at your property. You can do this by collecting and storing ID (but you can set yourself up for potential privacy violations).
By understanding these risk factors, you can combine them to paint a picture of your guests and ask them questions about any red flags that pop up.
Not all bookings are the same
A guest who’s booking on a Monday for a two-bedroom apartment can potentially be a business traveler. A guest who’s booking last-minute through Booking.com for a one-night stay on a Friday might be there to throw a party.
But this doesn’t mean you should automatically deny all bookings from guests who are coming in on a Friday. You should ask them their purpose and why they’re coming in on a Friday. When you screen Airbnb guests it's important to have a dynamic approach and understand each situation is different.
Additionally, if a guest has a local phone number and says they’re coming in for sightseeing, you can ask what their plans are, who they’re coming with, and why they’re booking with you. It wouldn’t make sense for a guest to stay in an Airbnb property that costs $300/night when they can Uber for $50 or $60.
As a host, it’s your job to verify a guest’s story and see if it makes sense.
If you’re collecting any sort of guest information, you’re exposed to privacy laws like the GDPR. In most cases, you aren’t allowed to store any personally identifiable information such as a guest’s full name, email address, and passport number.
In the past, a lot of property managers used to (and some still do) blast warnings about guests by sending pictures of a guest’s fake ID across their networks. This is illegal because you can’t share someone’s information without their consent, regardless if they gave you a fake ID or not. It's better to screen Airbnb guests beforehand and keep everything you find private.
As a general rule of thumb, you shouldn’t hold onto any unnecessary information. Verify and validate it when it’s received and then dispose of it.
After You Screen Airbnb Guests: How to Monitor Them
You can screen Airbnb guests the right way, and it can be an effective first line of defense, but risky guests may still get in. You should have a system to monitor your guests for any disturbances.
- Installing noise sensors such as NoiseAware
- Setting up security cameras outside the property
- Getting CO2 sensors
- Checking WiFi usage to make sure the number of people connected doesn't exceed what you expected
However, all of these are retroactive and aren’t as risk-mitigating as an effective guest screening process. They only show you what’s happening in real-time. That means you should use them in conjunction with an efficient guest screening process.
You will also need to develop a way to kick people out if they’re found violating house rules.
At the end of the day, it’s on you to protect yourself against general and fraud risks. Be on the lookout for any of the risk factors we covered above. If there’s a red flag, don’t take any chances. Decline any suspicious reservations. Finally, tell them that someone will meet them in person to check them in or collect ID, etc.
For those of you who work as property managers, teach your team and company about security and safety.
You’ll also have to figure out a good balance between your risk tolerance and process to screen Airbnb guests. As someone who’s in the hospitality industry, you’re selling by date, and once a date passes, it’s gone.
Screening your guests effectively is a challenging and time consuming task. Fortunately, there's a way to outsource your Airbnb guest screening. It's called Autohost. This innovative tool acts as a screening assistant that looks at different parameters to determine a reservation's risk profile. It then provides the host with a recommendation as to what action to take.