Can Airbnb have its cake and eat it too? With the company’s efforts to professionalize and provide guests with consistency, some hosts feel that the ‘sharing’ roots of the platform have been diminished. It is possible for Airbnb to function more like a hotel, yet maintain its signature personal touch?
Jasper is joined by David Jacoby, Co-Founder and President of Hostfully, to discuss this week’s headlines regarding the Airbnb shift to promote best practices among its hosts, including that of the Instant Book feature – which is being upgraded to allow hosts more control.
They also cover Airbnb’s acquisition of Trooly, a background check startup that will help protect users from bad actors and further professionalize the platform. Last but not least, Jasper and David answer listener questions about attracting bookings during low season. Remember, you can email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org!
Article #1: Can Airbnb Professionalize Without Losing the Personal Touch?
- Airbnb plays up ‘sharing’ roots
- Of 3M total listings – 1M shared space, 1M private, 1M management co.
- Push for consistency of experience
Article #2: Airbnb Tries to Behave More Like a Hotel
- Instant Book feature, flexible cancellation policy
- Hosts encouraged to upgrade space
- Business-friendly tag (privacy, Wi-Fi, 24-hr access, iron)
- Must attract different types of travelers to grow
- Changes likely part of prep for IPO
- Focus on increasing supply
Article #3: Airbnb Ramps Up Push to Get More Hosts to Choose Instant Booking
- Instant Book introduced in 2010, 40% using
- Default search (must de-select to see additional listings)
- Suite of new tools incentive for hosts to turn on Instant Book
- Improved calendar tool for multiple listings in same home (prevents double-bookings)
- Gives host more control
- Saves step for hosts who rarely turn down guests
- With customization, listing process more complicated
Article #4: Airbnb to Buy Background-Check Startup Trooly to Root Out Scams
- Acquisition to protect from bad actors
- Authenticates user identities to avoid scams
- Could be added to Instant Book features
- Improve image in preparation for IPO
Q: How do I attract more bookings during low season?
- Make listing as attractive as possible
- List on multiple platforms
- Establish your own website
- Consider subletting when demand is low
- Explore niche sites like misterb&b, Bud and Breakfast or Innclusive
- Reach out to previous guests
- Add creative options (i.e.: packages)
- Host refugees through Open Homes initiative
- Join the Couchsurfing community
Connect with Jasper
This episode is sponsored by Aviva IQ. Aviva IQ automates messages to your Airbnb guests. It's also free!
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Complete Transcript for Get Paid for Your Pad Episode 164
Jasper: Welcome to Get Paid For Your Pad, the definitive show on Airbnb hosting, featuring the best advice on how to maximize profits from your Airbnb listing, as well as real life experiences from Airbnb hosts all over the world. Welcome.
Before learning about Aviva IQ, I used to spend so much time managing my guests communications manually. Now with Aviva IQ's easy to use automated service, my workload has reduce by 80%. Did I mention it's free? Automate your Airbnb messages now at www.AvivaIQ.com.
Hey, welcome everybody to another episode of Get Paid For Your Pad, and today I'm co-hosting with David Jacoby, the president of Hostfully, and also the co-founder. David, how's it going?
David: Wow, Jasper, good job with that J. I'm impressed.
Jasper: Yeah, David was giving me some shit about me mispronouncing his name. I say Jacoby, instead of Jacoby. I'm getting there. I'm getting your title right now. First I always used to think that he was the CEO, but he's the president.
David: It actually used to be a German name, it is a German name, so you are pronouncing it the original way. I'm pronouncing it the bastardized American way.
Jasper: Right, so I'm actually right, and you were wrong.
David: That's true.
Jasper: Okay good, that's good to know. All right, great way to start this podcast. Well, let's talk about some news. Again, we're gonna do the new format where we'll talk about some news, then we'll also have some questions from listeners that we'll discuss. First of all, there's an article in Fortune, that's called, Can Airbnb Professionalize Without Losing The Personal Touch. It's a pretty interesting article, it also has a video where Brian Chesky is interviewed. Then there's another article on The New York Times, the is called, Airbnb Tries to Behave More Like a Hotel, where they interviewed a host who feels like she's being pushed to be more like a hotelier, then an Airbnb house, and she doesn't particularly like that.
So let's talk about this, I think this has been a trend that has been going on for a while, where Airbnb is trying to stimulate their hosts to be more professional, to make it easier for guests, and for the users to book Airbnbs just like you a hotel, with Instant Book, and they're encouraging people to use flexible cancellation policy. They're encouraging hosts to make some changes to their homes to make it more professional. This is a trend that's been going on for a while, and I think this is a good question, because not everybody likes that. A lot of people who are on the Airbnb, they are there for the more personal touch. So when you make the experience more like a hotel, then there's also going to be more people who are looking for a hotel experience, that will stay with Airbnb host. That will also change the expectations host.
Right now suddenly people are thinking hey, if I'm staying in a hotel, then the hosts should provide a hotel like experiences, hotel like services, et cetera. So I think it's a good question to raise. What are your thoughts David?
David: Sure, so things are changing on Airbnb. Airbnb really likes to play up their roots of the hosts sharing an extra bedroom that they have, and sharing the kitchen, and sharing the living room, but the truth of the matter is, there's about three million listings on Airbnb now, and only a million of them are shared accommodation. Two million of them are private rentals, and of those two million, it's about half and half where one million is rented out by the owner, and then one million is rented out by a professional vacation rental management company.
So when you go to the Airbnb open, and on their commercials, they're really playing up that real friendliness of sharing that space, but really where the money is, is on 66%, two million of the listings, where they're trying to get more business friendly. They have some rules in place to have a business friendly kind of tag on your listing, meaning you have wifi, and 24 hour access, and it's a private accommodation, and you have an iron, and stuff like that.
I think they're gearing up too for their IPO, where they just want to have more consistency. They want to be more user friendly to the guests. They're changing a lot of the cancellation policies. So it's not what it used to be.
Jasper: Right, it's definitely changing, and so you're thinking it has something to do with the IPO, right. I think in terms, for Airbnb to keep growing, I think they probably realized they should make the platform more attractive to different type of travelers. I think that's one of the reasons that they're on this trend. That could also be related to the IPO, because investors probably want to see that Airbnb can also attract a different type of traveler. Also, we've talked about this before, how Airbnb is trying to create revenue outside of the home sharing with the experiences and the trips. So it could very well be that this has to do with the IPO, I think.
David: Yeah, I think for all the listing platforms, like Home Away, and VRBO, and Trip Advisor's FlipKey, and Whimdu in Europe, and really the long tail, it really is a focus on supply. Vacation rentals, short term rentals, they're getting more popular, and everyone wants that supply. Airbnb realizes they can only grow so much if it's an extra bedroom in someone's home, but if they can get more business travelers, if they can get more vacation rental management companies, who are listing private accommodations on many platforms, if they could get them to list onto their site … They're trying to be a lot more vacation rental manager friendly, all so they can get that supply and get more bookings.
Jasper: Absolutely, and so, one of the major ways that Airbnb has tried to make it more easy for people to book Airbnbs in that way that you can book a hotel, is the Instant Book feature, that was actually introduced in 2010 I believe. Now about 40% of host are using the Instant Book feature. Airbnb really wants people, wants hosts to use the Instant Book. They'll bump your listing a little in the search result. There's a filter that you can use that shows only Instant Book places, and I believe in some markets that filter is actually the default now. So in order to see places that you can't Instant Book, you would have to deselect it.
So, it's pretty clear that this is a very important feature for them, and this leads into a question that I received in the Get Paid For Your Pad Facebook group, the group that everybody can join by the way. There's almost 1,000 hosts in there, and we have a lot of discussions about all different things related to Airbnb. This question came for [inaudible 00:07:43] who has been a long term member of the group, and she has this question. This question comes up a lot actually. She says, I list two rooms in my house. I'm thinking of the two rooms as a [inaudible 00:07:54] listing. With Instant Booking, I'm afraid of someone booking one room, and another person booking the two rooms, the entire listing. Is there a way that the platform prevents this?
Currently there is no way around this. This is an issue that comes up for a lot of people. There's a lot of people who list their entire house, but they also list one of the bedrooms separately. Obviously you don't want to be in the situation where somebody Instant Books the room, and then while you're sleeping, an hour later, somebody else books the entire place, because then you obviously have to cancel on of the booking, which you can do with Instant Book three times a year, but that's only if you feel uncomfortable with the guest. But in general, you just don't really want to cancel bookings.
So, Airbnb has now introduced, or is introducing, I don't know exactly when they're rolling it out, they'll probably do it market by market, but they're introducing some more features when it comes to Instant Book that gives you more control over how people can book your listings. So that was a pretty long sentence. Let me hand the mic to you David.
David: Sure, well just to expand on that, I'll summarize a great article in Skift from our friend Deanna Ting. She summarized some of the main bullets. As you just said, one of the big features, and I know many hosts here in San Francisco will be excited about this, is that hosts with multiple listings in the same home, have access to an improved calender tool, designed to prevent those double bookings, and also set minimum night stays for specific dates. Some other features with the new and improved Instant Booking are hosts can hold certain days from being instantly bookable by other guests, if they're already in conversations with guests who are inquiring about those dates.
Also, first time Airbnb guests will receive information explaining the difference between an Airbnb versus a hotel stay. Hosts can allowed check ins and check outs on specific days of the week, and at certain times. Then finally, I thought this was kind of peculiar, because I don't know why a guest would want to stay again, but if a guest rates a host with three stars or lower, they guest can not instantly book with that same host again. I don't know why they'd want to book with that same host again. So those are some of the changes. I think they are much overdue, and they'll be very helpful for many people that have multiple rooms.
I am a fan of Instant Book. I turned it on. I found myself thinking that, okay, I very rarely say no to guests anyways, so there's a bunch of benefits to this. First of all, it saves me an extra step. Instead of the guest having to inquire with me, and then me having to accept them, or preapprove them, I can just get the booking right away. So that's helpful. I don't need to rush, because often times a guest will send 10 messages out to 10 listings, and the first one to respond is who they'll book with. So now if it's instant bookable, I don't need to play that game.
Additionally it appears on the filter as you mentioned. It was one of the three main filters as of a week ago on Airbnb's site. They have room type, price range, and Instant Book. I just noticed that Airbnb added a fourth filter, refund policy, which I know there's been lots of controversy around that. But still, it's one of the main, highlighted features so some people might right away filter Instant Book, and if you don't have it turned on, you're not going to get a booking.
Jasper: Exactly, and just to go back on those re-booking controls. My interpretation was actually the other way around, that as a host, you can restrict guests that you have rated three stars or lower. So it's not the guest rating the host three stars or lower, but the other way around I believe.
David: I guess so. Maybe it's both. We can get some more clarification on that. Either way, I would hope it's both ways, because you don't want someone who had bad experience to stay again.
Jasper: Yeah, I think it's on the guest. Let's say you have a guest, and you don't really like the guest, and you rate that guest three stars or lower, then that guest is not gonna be able to book with you again. It's kind of like providing a little protection to the host I guess. First of all, I'll say that obviously these features can be very useful, but at the same time, I remember when I started in 2012, it was so easy to set up a listing, because there was very little features. It was all a very simple process. It's getting to the point where it's getting a little complicated right, with all these different settings, and smart pricing, and all these different calendar settings. I mean, it's useful, but at the same time, I feel like it might get a little complicated for some people.
David: Yes, they turn a lot of those defaults on as well, so you really need to dig in if you want to change things. Often times now Instant Book for example, is turned on. One more quick comment about the Instant Booking too. You mentioned the protection with the ratings, you can also choose who can do an Instant Book in terms of whether they have validated ID, they've shown their license, and other levels of validation. Or, if you want it to be one level stricter, it's people who have had positive reviews before. They give you some leeway there on the Instant Book settings, but as you said, that's another setting, that's another control.
Also, one thing that made me take the leap for moving forward with Instant Booking, and I haven't regretted it, I've had great experiences, they'll still let you cancel. So if for some reason, you feel uncomfortable about an Instant Book, you can email or call customer service, and they'll let you cancel penalty free. So you'll still keep your Super Host status, or you won't get dinged. So that's good.
Going back to what you were saying about all the different features, that's one of the growing pains right. You want to have many levels of customization, but with that comes the ability with it being overwhelming. Airbnb to their roots, they're a design company with Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia being from RISD, the Rhode Island School of Design. I think they've done, compared to other sites, they've still done really an excellent job at giving the filters for the host, making it easy.
They actually just revamped, over the past few weeks, the host login area, where you do make changes. They made if a little more Wiziwig, what you see is what you get. So as you're looking at your listing, you can press edit to all certain areas, and edit and update the calender, and the description, and the amenities. Before it used to be a whole separate, different backend. So I'm actually pretty impressed with how they've been able to keep up with making it somewhat easy, given how many controls there are, making it easy for the host to manage that.
Jasper: I think that's probably one of the reasons that Airbnb is so successful, the fact that founders have this design background, because I mean, I tried to design some things some times, and I'm pretty terrible at it. But as soon as you start editing more, it quickly becomes like a forest. It quickly becomes, you lose the overview, and it just gets too complicated. So I think it's … Adding features and still keeping it easy for people to use, and not for people to get lost, it's difficult, but if they can do that, that would be huge.
David: Yes, I agreed, and they've done a great job with it.
Jasper: Awesome, so let's move onto another news article. This is pretty interesting. I think Airbnb has acquired another company, a company called Truly. It's a background check company. They've acquired it for not much, what is it, like 10 million or something, but it's a good move because a lot of people get scammed on Airbnb. There's a lot of fake websites, and there's people that have fake listings and stuff. I think it's definitely a good idea to have some sort of automated way to do a quick background check on hosts. I think Uber does this as well. If you want to be an Uber driver, they do a quick background check to see if you don't have a criminal past, and if there's nothing too sketchy on your record. So I think it's a good move.
David: Yes indeed. So Truly, they've raised about $10 million in venture backed financings, so I would imagine they were acquired for even more than that, hopefully for them. I don't think the terms have been disclosed. Having background check is really important, obviously for short term rentals, and that could be another thing, speaking of Instant Book, that they could add into that, where in order to do Instant Book, they do an immediate background check on the person. I know there is other companies in the vacation rental space that are trying to do that as well. So Safely Stay, they're a popular one. Again, as they're moving to be more consistent, and to get more business travelers, and possibly have that IPO, having more certainty of who the travelers are, having less scams, having less of those bad newspaper articles, because someone having a good stay doesn't make the newspaper, but when something goes wrong, it's in the newspaper. I think putting this in place is gonna be a great way to make them a little more professional looking.
Jasper: Hosts, if you're anything like me, you have multiple standard messages you send to every guest. I used to copy and paste those messages every time I had a new guest. Then I learned about AvivaIQ, and I'm an absolute fan. I copied my repeatable messages into AvivaIQ, and told it when I want each message to be delivered. Now, all my guests get personalized check in messages, and personalized check out messages, at the exact time I want them to, automatically. I also use AvivaIQ to send a message to guests, when a vacancy exists after their scheduled check out day, and invite them to stay longer. It's amazing how it's turned into free money for me on multiple occasions already. Sign up for free at www.AvivaIQ.com you'll be glad you did.
So let's talk about another question that I received. I actually received this right before we started recording. I thought it was an interesting question because it's a question that I get a lot, so I think it will be helpful to discuss. So this question is from Libby, and I'll just read her question. My listing is in Brighten Beach, Brighten is in Adelaide, of south Australia. I've had great occupancy right through our winter period, which is now. I've already implemented lower pricing for this pricing for this period in the hope this would not happen, but still haven't attracted a lot of bookings. So I'm looking for any help to get my listing noticed more when people search for Adelaide, rather than having to search Brighten. Open to any advice to track more bookings.
This is a question I get a lot. There's a lot of places where the demands on the Airbnb kind of seasonal. I know a lot of host in Canada are struggling in the winter because then it's like minus 150 degrees, and as soon as you open the door, you basically turn into an ice man, which keeps the amount of visitors down a bit in the winter. There's a number of things that you can do to attract more bookings in the winter. So I'll go through a few of the things that you can do, and then David I'm sure, will have some really interesting ideas as well.
I think the first thing that you want to do is to just make it as attractive as possible for people to book your place. How can you do that? Well, obviously the Instant Book is part of that. Having a flexible cancellation policy, and also reducing the minimum night stay to one night, is also something you can do to get more bookings. Now, obviously you can lower your price. I think this is something that she's already done. If you use smart pricing, or you use one of the third party pricing apps, they will do this automatically for you.
Another thing you could do is to list on multiple platforms, because there's a lot of platforms out there. It's not just Airbnb. There's Home Away, there's VRBO, there's Nine Flats, there's a whole bunch of them. There's also Booking.com, and Trip Advisor, and Expedia, that are starting to focus more on apartment rentals. So what I do is I look at those platforms to see if there's any hosts in your area. If there is a lot of hosts in your area, that means there's demand, so then you can try listing on those platforms. You could even have your own website. I know some hosts do that as well. It kind of helps to reach out to former guests, and it's kind of like an online business card.
Then the last thing I'll say is, I know people who rent out on Airbnb and other platforms during the high season, and then in the low season, they sublet their place. Some people in Canada I know do this, kind of October through May, they rent out to students. Then June through September, when the schools are closed, they put their place on Airbnb, or other platforms. So that's my advice. David, what do you have?
David: Whew, that was a mouthful, that was great. Well, for starters, you could always have your parents stay with you, come visit for three months. That's what I do during the low season, but I guess I'm in the unique situation that way. I want to expand on one thing you said about listing on other platforms. I think that's a big deal, and I've really been taking to heart what Matt Landau says. He's with the Vacation Rental Managers Blog, VRMB, and he's got within that something called the Inner Circle, which is a great discussion board. There he really talks about listing beyond Airbnb, and not just the sites you talked about, there's lots of other niche sites too. One that just raised a ton of money is Mister BNB, for example. That's for the gay community. Then I just heard, you don't need to be gay to list on there, it's just knowing that you have a gay friendly place to stay.
Then I just came across another site, budandbreakfast.com for the 420 friendly travelers. So there really is a long tail of sites. Having your own site, I'm a big fan of that as well. There's lot of websites and companies that will help you easily do that, such as [inaudible 00:22:22] Rental, and Futurestay, and Lodgify, and BlueTent, and the list goes on. They'll help you not just have a beautiful website that you can focus some SEO on to get some traffic, and then you don't need to pay any commissions right.
So if you get someone on Airbnb, or HomeAway one year, then you can have them come back and just book from your own website the next year, and you don't need to pay any fees. These sites will help you list not just on your own website, but they'll then list you on the other platforms too, and they'll update your calender.
So there's some cool software out there, and hey, it's slow season, you're not getting much booking, so you can spend some time trying to figure this all out. I'm also going to do a shout-out to our friend Thibault Masson of RentalPreneurs, and on the Hostfully blog, he actually has a great article that he put on there called 15 Things to do Today to Get more Low Season Vacation Rental Bookings. So I highly recommend, we'll put it in the show notes for people to check that blog post out.
In addition to everything that Jasper said, there's some other fun, outside the box ideas like if low season is during the winter, and it's cold, invest in a hot tub, put that in. That will differentiate your listing from others, or reach out to previous guests, and make sure your listings are updated with maybe some creative options like some weekday discounts, or having some packages for example. If you're in a foodie place, throw in a free restaurant meal at one of your favorite restaurants nearby. So there's a bunch of more outside the box ideas besides just lowering your price, and lowering your number of nights, that I recommend you check out on that blog.
Jasper: And how about signing up for the Airbnb homes project, and host some refugees?
David: Yes, absolutely. That's a great idea.
Jasper: If your space is-
David: That's another announcement I know you guys talked about-
Jasper: Yeah, if your space is, if you don't really get much traffic anyway, then you might as well help some people, you could even think about couch surfing, and offer your home for free. You might think, what's in it for me, but here's the trick, if you host a lot of people on couch surfing, then you'll also be able to stay at other people's places for free because when you make an inquiry on couch surfing, a lot of people, they look at your profile. When they see that you're actually hosting people too, you have a better chance of getting accepted. So definitely a lot of things you can do. Did you want to say something David?
David: Yeah, absolutely, and just to be clear about that, people hear the concept of couch surfing in general, but there's also the website specifically, couchsurfing.org and I'm a big fan of that. I use couch surfing all around the world. I stayed for free with people in Lima, in Cairo, in Jerusalem, in [inaudible 00:25:09] Turkey, some random places on couch surfing. I've had couch surfing guests stay with me as well. I'm a big fan of that community. It's a great way to meet people from other cultures, help travelers travel. It's basically Airbnb without the financial component. You're letting people stay for free. There's still a review and ratings system, so there is a self policing community, and you'll feel comfortable with the people who you let stay with you, and yeah, you get free places to stay when you go travel as well. So, that's a great idea Jasper.
Jasper: And I wanted to go back quickly to a platform that you mentioned, what was it bud bnb?
Jasper: Budandbreakfast, you said it was 420 friendly. I don't know, a lot of people outside of the US might not know what that means, but it basically means that you can smoke weed on the property I assume.
David: Yes, cannabis friendly accommodations worldwide, that's their tagline.
Jasper: Okay good, okay awesome. Yeah, so those niche sites are interesting places to look as well. There's another site called Innclusive. I've actually interviewed the founder at some point on the podcast. The word inclusive, I felt it was a really cool name for a platform. So it's double N, so Innclusive-
David: Like you're staying at an inn, I get it, very clever.
Jasper: Yeah, you're staying at an inn. It's tagline is be yourself, and I think it's focused on people from minorities. I think the idea behind it was that there's some discrimination going on at Airbnbs, so this platform really focuses, it's open to everyone, and there's no discrimination on the platform. That's another niche site that you could definitely look at. Is there anything else you wanted to mention on this topic?
David: No, I think that covers it.
Jasper: Awesome, well that's good because we are running out of time, and so David, I really appreciate you taking the time to host this podcast with me. It was a blast as always, and I look forward to speaking to you again in the near future.
David: I'm so sad it's over. I'm going to have to wait another four weeks until we do it again Jasper.
Jasper: Yeah, well I mean I can stop recording and we can just keep talking. It's okay.
David: Oh, all right, that sounds great.
Jasper: I'm always happy to make time for you, emotional support, life advice, anything you want.
David: Thank you, appreciate it.
Jasper: And for the listeners, thanks for listening. Hope you enjoyed it, and we will obviously be back on Monday, so I'll see you then. Bye, bye.