The Ultimate Airbnb Hosting Starter Guide
Starting out as an Airbnb host can be quite an overwhelming experience. I remember when I first started out I had a ton of questions. At the time, back in 2012, there weren't many resources available so I had to figure everything out by myself.
It would have been really useful for me if I had someone to guide me through the process and prevent me from making the typical beginner mistakes. So now, after five years of hosting on Airbnb, I want to be that person for those who are just starting out.
In this guide I aim to help you take a shortcut to running a successful Airbnb hosting business without making all the beginner mistakes. I'm going to guide you through the entire process so that you can do everything right from the get go.
I'm going to start with going through the different things you should do before you get started with Airbnb.
Then I'll talk about how to prepare your space. This comes before you create your listing, because you want the photos to be an accurate representation of your space and you may want to make some changes or add some amenities.
Next I'll discuss how to create momentum and teach you hospitality basics to get great reviews. Finally I'll recommend the best tools and resources that will help you manage your listing effectively.
Before you get started
Before you get started on Airbnb and create your listing, it’s important to understand how Airbnb works, what type of host you want to be and what type of people your space would appeal to.
If you’re going to share your space with your guests, the main question is the extend to which you want to interact with your guests. If you’re not looking for much interaction, you want to appeal to business travellers for example.
If you’re going to be an “un-hosted host” and you won’t be sharing with your guests, then you might be open to hosting any demographic. If you live in a building with a lot of older residents, you may prefer to host older people.
How to find your niche and audience
Look at other successful Airbnb’s in your area and read their reviews. Now ask yourself these questions:
- What kind of people are renting these spots?
- What are their interests?
- What are their needs?
- Do you want to cater to this audience?
- How can you cater to this audience?
This should give you a better idea of how you could brand your Airbnb listing. Don't worry if you're not sure, another way to find your audience is to start hosting and see what type of people book your listing and their feedback.
Do a market analysis to find out whether it will be profitable for you
If you're going to invest in new real estate in the hopes of starting an Airbnb business or if you just want to find out whether the properties you already have are going to be profitable, doing a marketing analysis is essential. Some areas may be unexpectedly booming with potential while others may simply not have enough demand for the work to be worth it for you.
But you don't need to be a data analyst or real estate investment expert to do this market research. Phew!
You can use tools like Airdna to perform the market search for you. AirDnA is a tool to find profitable Airbnb locations. After many hosts find success with their first rental they naturally think about investing in new properties, either buying or renting.
You can get a market report and find out whether a property investment would be worth it or not.
What's your unique selling point?
It's very useful to understand what the best aspects of your listing are. This will help you choose what photos to put first, how to compose your title and what to focus on in your description.
Step into the shoes of an Airbnb guest
Airbnb hosting is a business and as with any other business understanding your customer's needs is key. The best way to understand your customer is...you guessed it, be a customer. In other words, stay at an Airbnb as a guest.
If you haven’t stayed at an Airbnb yet, go ahead and find an Airbnb that you would like to stay at, either in your neighbourhood or at a different location.
If you can, I recommend you actually stay there. If you can’t, at least go through the process of selecting your favourite place to stay.
Take note of what the most important factors are in your decision making process. Good chance your potential guests look at the same things to decide if they want to stay at your precious pad!
Getting insurance coverage
Most hosts do not have Airbnb liability insurance. It's one of those things that get overlooked. Homeowner's and landlord's insurance will not cover you from any damage caused by short-term renting. Airbnb does have Host Protection Insurance that covers you up to $1 million.
That sounds like a lot, but if something really bad happens (a fire for example), hospital bills can add up. This could be a concern if you're hosting big groups. One person won't rack up a $1.5MM hospital bill, but if six people have to spend a few weeks in the hospital it adds up quickly.
Read more here about whether you should get additional Airbnb hosting insurance.
Not a homeowner? How to pitch re-lease model to rental property landlords
Instead of illegally hiding your Airbnb rental behind your landlord's back, you could try pitching it to them as an investment opportunity. Offer them a cut andoutline the benefits that are in it for them. This is a great option for people who aren't homeowners to start generating revenue immediately.
Find out how to get permission and pitch your short-term rental to your landlord.
from my mistakes
I didn't do any of the things I recommend here and as a result I had no idea what the best aspects of my apartment were, what type of guests I wanted to host and target.
About a year after I started hosting, I hosted a group of two elderly couples. They told me that my apartment was perfect for them! They loved that the bedrooms were equal size and positioned on opposite sides of the apartment. Finally a light bulb went off in my head!
I changed my listing to appeal specifically to couples traveling together. Within a few months my income went up significantly as I was able to command a higher price!
Preparing your space
Before you create your listing, you must ensure that your space is ready for guests. Transforming your space from an awesome private living area to a guest friendly unit can take some doing.
Below you’ll find the most important steps to take in order to prepare your apartment or house for all types of travellers.
Remove or store personal items
First things first: remove personal items that are not useful for guests. There is no reason to have your belongings strewn about the apartment. You probably don’t want your guests to try on your favourite pyjamas, and they don’t want to have to see your toothbrush and razor in the bathroom.
If you're sharing your space with your guests then this applies only to the area that your guests have to themselves obviously. In most cases this would be the bedroom and the bathroom if you're not sharing.
When I say storing, I don't necessarily mean that you should rent storage space. You could lock one room and store your stuff there for example, or if you don't have much, put everything in a closet.
Ensure your guests get a sound night of sleep
One of the most important components to providing a comfortable stay is making sure that your place is conducive to a good night’s rest. Lumpy mattresses, annoying sounds or noises or uncomfortable linens can be a sure fire way to a negative review.
from my mistakes
My neighbourhood in Amsterdam is quite noisy as there are lots of bars and restaurants. In addition, at 6am in the morning the salesmen of a local market ride their products through my streets in carts, making quite a lot of noise. I got used to the noise, but my first guests weren't. The result: unhappy guests.
How to ensure your guests will sleep like babies:
Add items that your guests might need
Your guests may have different needs than you do. I learned this the hard way when my first guests, a group of four girls, asked me where the hairdryer is. Ehh...the what? I'm a dude so I don't use hair dryers. I obviously ran to the store and bought one, but it would have been better had I thought about this beforehand.
Things that could be worth investing in
Since hosting on Airbnb is a business, you may be able to make investments in your space that give you a nice return on your money. Let's say you invest $10,000 and as a result you end up making $5000 a year extra, you would make your money back in two years.
Is this possible? Potentially. That hair dryer that I bought cost me $10. Pretty sure I got my money back in a few days. So what are some other things you could invest in that might be worth it? A new mattress? A new flat screen TV? Or what about an airbed that will allow you to host an additional guest?
Here's how to think about this. Ask yourself this question: how much extra would I be able to charge for my space if I had a the extra item? Let's say a new mattress costs $1000 and allows you to charge an extra $5 per night. If you rent out 200 nights a year, you'd be making your money back in one year. Surely that's worth it.
Creating your Airbnb listing
Your Airbnb listing is the sales page for your home. This is your main marketing channel. Your listing can make or break your business, so please be sure to implement the advice in this section. It's essential to your Airbnb hosting success!
In this section I will break down step by step what the anatomy of a stellar Airbnb listing looks like. To understand which part of the listing is most important, let's take a look what the decision process of the typical Airbnb guest looks like.
The Airbnb search result snippet consists of four parts: photo, title, type of listing and reviews. This search snippet determines the user's first impression of your space, and as we all know, first impressions are important. If the user doesn't find your search snippet appealing, you've lost the opportunity.
Note that the user can scroll through your photos in the search results. This means that some users will also look at some of the other photos before deciding whether to click on your listing or not.
The title and the photos are the two parts of the snippet that you can control, so let's start with these.
Time to take some photos!
Once you've prepared your space to receive your first guests, it's time to request a free professional photo shoot of your immaculate home. Yes, this is free. Airbnb offers this service in most markets, but not all.
It may take a while before a local photographer has time though, sometimes up to a few weeks. Once the pictures have been taken, it takes up to a month before they will be uploaded to your Airbnb listing. That doesn't prevent you from taking your own pictures and creating your listing of course.
from my mistakes
I didn't really put much thought into preparing my space well before requesting the Airbnb photo shoot. I didn't even make my bed properly. As a result, the beds didn't look particularly inviting in the photos. I realised how painful this mistake was when I found out you can only request the photography service once. Ough.
Here's how to prepare your space for the Airbnb photo shoot:
While you wait for the photographer, go ahead and take your own pictures so that you can start building your Airbnb listing. If you have a decent camera, great. If not, see if you can borrow one. If you have no idea how to take great pictures, I recommend you take this free online photography course.
I recommend you take at least two or three photos of each space, including each bedroom, living space, toilet, bathroom, any other spaces and outdoor areas. In addition, take a few shots that show your entire house or apartment from the outside. Finally, add some photos of your favourite local spots in your area, tourist highlights and activities that your guests can enjoy in your neighbourhood.
Note: If you use a smartphone, don't take vertical pictures because they don't display well on Airbnb
How to create an outstanding Airbnb photo section
Once you have your photos, it's time to upload them to your Airbnb listing. One thing I didn't realise when I started hosting is the importance of the order in which you put your photos.
When you did the exercise of selecting an Airbnb to stay at, you probably scrolled through the first few photos of a bunch of listings in the search results. This is how most guests make a pre-selection of the listing they want to check out. If your first few pictures don't look great, you probably lose your potential guest.
Therefore it's very important to put your most appealing picture first. Ask friends and family to help you select your best photo. I recommend you put your most appealing photo of each space first. It could also be the photo of the best aspect of your listing. Remember I had you think about your listing's best assets?
Your goal is really to use the first five or six photos to provide an accurate but appealing overview of what your home looks like. It should spike the interest of the viewer enough to entice him or her to check out the rest of the photos and your listing.
How to create an outstanding title for your Airbnb listing
The title is displayed in the search snippet and is therefore the second most important part of your listing. The title is somewhat overlooked by most hosts in my experience. Most Airbnb newbies come up with a very generic title, such as "Nice two bedroom apartment in a good location," and so did I when I started out.
Your title should be about 40 characters. You can make it longer, but then it won't fit in the search snippet so it will be cut off. To construct your title, start out with writing down the two best features of your space that you want to include.
You can use special characters like ★ to make your title stand out. My title for example is:
★Couple’s Getaway★ Patio | Walk Everywhere | 2BD
You can get creative and use different special characters of course.
My target audience (the guest that I think appreciate my apartment most) is groups of two couples, which is why I named my listing "couples getaway" and I chose the patio and location as my listing's best features.
Further learning and title examples:
How to Craft an Outstanding Airbnb Title and Get More Listing Views
How to compose an awesome listing description
In my experience most guests don't read the entire description. One of the most common complaints that Airbnb hosts have about their guests is that they ask questions that are answered in the description. Some hosts even put a "secret" codeword in their description and ask guests to include this word in their inquiry message so that the host knows the guest has read the description.
The question that I ask myself is: why don't guests read the entire description? I think it's a combination of the short attention span that internet users have and the descriptions often not being easily readable. The former is out of our control, but we as hosts can make an effort to make the description more easily digestible. How?
Instead of adding a long stretch of text, use paragraphs of three to five sentences to improve readability. Make it more interesting to read by avoiding using generic words like nice, good, great and by focussing on describing an experience rather than stating the fact. When you do state facts, use bullet points to improve the readability.
Further learning: how to write a killer Airbnb description.
Optimal Airbnb settings to attract bookings
When you're starting out, it's essential to get momentum fast. The best way to achieve this is to get as many bookings as possible as quickly as possible. This gets the ball rolling and allows you to touch the ground running.
There are three listing settings that will make it easier for your guests to book your space. First of all, I recommend you enable instant book. This will allow guests that qualify based on your conditions to book your place without having to send a booking request.
Secondly, I recommend you choose the flexible Airbnb cancelation policy. This will encourage your potential guests to book your space, with the piece of mind that they could always cancel. You may worry about getting actual cancelations. In reality, cancelations tend to be very rare though and no booking isn't better than a cancelled booking.
Finally, set your minimum nights stay to one. I know those one night stays can be a hassle, but ten one-night stays will propel your business forward much faster than one ten-night stay booking. This is also the fastest way to attain Airbnb superhost status.
How to calculate the optimal prices for your Airbnb listing
Calculating prices is the most complicated task you'll face as an Airbnb host. Not surprisingly, it's also the task that you can get most help with. Airbnb provides a pricing calculator that you can use. However, I've found that Airbnb's pricing recommendations tend to be on the low side. That said, it's probably better than setting your prices manually.
My preferred way to calculate my prices is to use a third party pricing tool. Companies like Beyond Pricing and Wheelhouse use sophisticated pricing algorithms and vast quantities of data to determine what the best price for each day is. These apps automatically connect to your listing and update your calendar on a daily base, which also helps your listing rank higher in the Airbnb search results.
How to create a stellar Airbnb profile
The last piece of the Airbnb listing puzzle is your Airbnb profile. This is a somewhat overlooked section, but quite important, in particular for "hosted hosts," i.e. hosts who share their space with their guests. Guests who will be sharing a space want to feel like they know the host a bit before they book, and your Airbnb profile is where you provide that opportunity to your guests.
Protecting your identity on Airbnb
It's pretty unlikely you'll get your identity stolen as an Airbnb host, but there are a couple measures you can implement to protect yourself from that anyway. Make sure you don't have anything like passports, social security cards, bank statements, anything with your full name and address laying around your property. Put important documents in a safe, and use hard-to-guess passwords on any computers or devices around the property.
Protecting your property from squatters
Getting squatters in your flat is an Airbnb host's worst nightmare. Again, it's very unlikely to happen, but some steps you can take to proect yourself against squatters are the following:
- Avoid stays longer than 30 days
- Listen to your gut and refuse guests that give you a bad vibe
- Be wary of guests who refuse to give out contact info
- Keep all communication in the app
Further reading: How to keep your Airbnb property safe
Now that you have an outstanding Airbnb listing, you want to get those bookings and reviews rolling in as soon as possible. In this chapter I share exactly how to do just that. Follow the advise and you will be welcoming your first guests within no-time.
Your first job as an Airbnb host is to get more bookings. Bookings and reviews help your listing rank higher in the search results and as a result, get you even more bookings :).
Airbnb uses an algorithm to determine what listings to show to its users. When you’re just starting out, your listing will get bumped higher up the search results to give new hosts a chance. It’s essential to use this time window to get as many bookings as possible and get the first couple reviews in which will allow you to get even more bookings.
Here’s the most important things you can do to maximise the chance to get booked.
How to create a stellar Airbnb profile
Response time is a crucial metric in the Airbnb hosting game. Airbnb encourages its hosts to inquiry with multiple hosts. The first host to respond is often the one who gets the booking. In addition, hosts who respond fast also get a better position in the search results.
In order to respond quickly, make sure to download the Airbnb app on our smartphone. Realistically, you won’t always be able to respond to a message, because you have a life.
The best way to ensure that you always respond instantly to messages (even when you’re sleeping) is to use an automated messaging service like Smartbnb. This app is the best tool for Airbnb hosts that I’ve seen and you can try it for free.
Be an active host
Airbnb likes hosts who update their listing often as they want to avoid declined booking request because the hosts’ calendar wasn’t updated. If you update your calendar daily, you’ll get a little bump in the search results. Smartbnb does this automatically for you by the way.
Accept as many bookings as possible
Airbnb doesn’t penalise you for not accepting bookings requests. However, it you want to get momentum quickly, it’s in your best interest to accept all bookings. You might feel uncomfortable if you’re just started out, I understand that. However, most people on Airbnb are good people so I recommend you give your potential guests the benefit of the doubt, while taking precautions to keep your Airbnb business safe.
Respond to your reviews
It's good practice to respond to your Airbnb reviews. Your response will show up below the review. As most of your potential guests will look at these reviews before they book, they'll also see your response. In other words, this is your chance to create a positive first impression on your future guests by writing polite responses.
If the review is positive, a simple "Thanks for staying with us, it was a pleasure to host you and you're always welcome to come back!" suffices. But how should you respond to negative reviews?
In any case, wait 24 hours before responding! Let your emotions cool down first. When the steam has stopped coming out of your ears, address the concerns that the guest had and share what you'll do to prevent them in the future. Don't be defensive and argumentative, you may win the battle but you'll lose the war.
If you have a lot of listings or don't have the time to respond to your reviews, you can also automate guest reviews with tools like Smartbnb. It will automatically send a review (which will help you get more reviews back, thereby boosting your listing). You can also automate a negative guest review, and it will wait 20 seconds until the review window closes to post so that your guests can't retaliate.
Airbnb hosting is about hospitality. It's about creating the best guest experience possible. As a host, you can make or break a guest's precious holiday trip. This is what separates you from a hotel.
When new hosts think of hospitality, they typically consider what they can do to help the guests during their stay and overlook the time before their guests have checked in.
Your job as an Airbnb host starts the moment you receive a booking. Communication is key here, so lets start with that.
Communicating with your guests before check-in
When you stay at an Airbnb, you're quite dependent on the host for your holiday experience. Your worst nightmare is to travel to the other side of the world just to find a closed door and a host who doesn't answer the phone.
You can make your guests feel comfortable and help them look forward to their trip (isn't that half the fun?) by re-assuring them that you are there to help them and do everything in your power to ensure a perfect stay. How? By communicating with them.
A good way to start is to ask some questions. Have you booked your flights yet? Can I help planning your trip? Are you visiting any other countries during your trip? What are you looking to do in my city? Asking these questions accomplishes two things: you show that you care and you get some information about your guests that will allow you to improve their experience.
Provide your guests with a guidebook
Your guests will want to know everything about your place. I’m always surprised at how little information hosts that I stay with during my travels provide. Airbnb provides the essential information like the address and phone number of the host, but I recommend you go beyond that.
There are third party apps like Hostfully that allow you to create beautifully designed online guidebooks for your guests for free. I think this is a no-brainer. I’ve had countless guests comment on how much they appreciated the information. Make sure to include detailed directions, local recommendations and check-in instructions.
Delegate, optimize, automate
When you start to grow as an Airbnb host, it won't only save you time and headaches to delegate, optimize, and automate some tasks, but it will make things run smoother and more effectively.
For instance, you can get a team to help you with cleaning, checking in and checking out. You can use tools to automate guest messaging, automate property management and automate pricing and guidebooks.
You can also download a list of my favorite tools here. They've been a lifesaver for me.
This becomes especially important or essential when you start to have more than one listing. Some hosts spend hours every day responding to the same inquiries. You can start automating property management early on, and tools like Your Porter and Smartbnb are really affordable for beginner hosts. They let you sync your calendars over multiple platforms, automate messaging and more.
Tip: iGMS is a property management software that's free for hosts with under 5 listings. There is no reason not to start automating already!