Tips for Airbnb hosts

From someone who has lived exclusively in Airbnbs for years

I’ve been living permanently in Airbnbs for years. I have 250+ Airbnb stays all around the world, from Tokyo to small villages in Mexico, from small towns in Poland to San Francisco.

In many cases the stay was needlessly spoiled by things the host didn’t think of. Many of these are easy to fix and seem to happen again and again. I therefore thought I’d write a guest’s perspective on what makes for a good Airbnb stay.

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What’s outside the window? Oh, the floor of a ventilation shaft full of garbage where the neighbor rummages around in the morning.

The listing

All communication benefits from being concise but unambiguous. An Airbnb listing is no exception.

When choosing an apartment I frequently spend hours trying to figure out basic things about the apartment. Is this photo the other side of the living room or a separate room? Does that mean there are two rooms? Is that a tree outside the window? So it’s on the ground floor? Is there a router anywhere on a picture or might it be in a different apartment? Is that the door to a balcony?

Save the guest that time. Consider including a drawing of the layout of the apartment among the listing pictures. Make sure the pictures are labeled. Is it a lobby? The living room of the host? A photo of a nearby hotel you found on Pinterest? Pay particular attention to making clear which photos are of the apartment itself and which are of any shared spaces.

A recent listing included a photo of the neighbor’s door for reasons I still can’t understand. Fortunately, I never tried opening it. Labels help (in fairness, it was labeled, but in Czech).

I come from a cold, dark country and therefore have a strong affinity to windows. When they turn out to not exist, be covered up with intransparent plastic or some kind of netting, I’m disappointed and I will say so in a review.

I once stayed in an apartment in Mexico City that turned out to only have windows facing tiny ventilation shafts filled with trash. It was otherwise a nice apartment. For many people, this is not an issue, but to me it was a major problem and I considered moving out early. It’s better to avoid the guest feeling disappointed and describe the situation as it is.

One of the few bookings I left again directly after checking in was a “studio” in Santiago de Chile that turned out to be a room in a courtyard. On the plus side it had large windows; on the minus side they faced the living room of the host, giving it the feel of a doll house. The host thought that this situation was explained by the phrase “shared entrance.”

Some guests probably don’t mind passing through the host family’s dining room / kitchen; I did and canceled the booking. Avoid these situations by having a clear listing.

Do not adds lots of photos of nearby places in the listing; focus on the building. The guest will research the destination themselves.

On the other hand, including a picture of the apartment door is useful for check-in. A photo of the building from the street is appreciated, but if there is no caption there will be confusion as to what that building is. A photo of the lobby / entrance area can be helpful to convey the style of the building.

Make very sure the location of the apartment is correct on the listing map. Even if it’s just a few blocks away from the real location, this can make a big difference in terms of walking distance to say subway or tram and will result in lower scores for “accuracy” in the reviews.

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Translation: “This is the neighbor’s door. Do not try to open it.”

Communication

In all communication, precision and conciseness is important. The more information you send, the higher the risk that the important parts go under. Therefore, limit yourself to the essentials, but make sure those are clear.

Some hosts spam the guest with long automated messages, resulting in huge blocks of texts. The Wifi password was probably in there somewhere among the restaurant recommendations and house rules, but where? Or was that a different host?

Long series of copy/paste messages are hard to overview. If they are about check-in instructions, put them in the appropriate field in the listing instead; this is where the guest will look for them. The same goes for house rules.

A short welcome message after booking is appreciated, but an automated message is not. What do I do with that clearly automated welcome message? It’s both weird to answer it and impolite not to.

Some hosts immediately ask to move to a different communication channel. What they don’t understand is that guest are likely to have many different bookings. Remembering which host wanted to use email, which one had added you WhatsApp and which one preferred SMS creates confusion.

And who was that Carlos in your WhatsApp again; was that this week’s booking or next one? And that long phone number with country code 47 who sent some link on WhatsApp; is it safe to click it?

Therefore, keep your communication to the Airbnb app.

When communicating via messages, reread each message before sending it to check if it is unambiguous. Does “at 9” refer to a.m. or p.m.? Does “meet at the apartment” mean inside the building or on the street? When you write “I’m here,” where are you?

During the stay, checking up once if everything is ok can be a nice touch, but just make sure not to spam the guest. As a guest you feel obliged to answer each message from the host nicely; that can be exhausting if you’re receiving a daily message asking if everything is alright.

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Airbnb offers fields in the listing for the address, check-in instructions, check-out time and house rules. That’s where I expect to find this information. If it is in two places, my first action will be to compare the two. All too often, they’re different. Sending long, automated messages just creates confusion.

Check-in

Some guest want more contact, some want less. Personally, I’m definitely in the second category. There are frequently delays while traveling and it can be stressful to try to keep a waiting host updated while standing in line at an airport or trying to second-guess when the traffic jam the bus is standing in will clear up. When you’re new in a country you might not have any data connection and have to search around for Wifis just to update the host of delays. Therefore, a self-check option is almost always better than being met by the host.

It’s surprisingly common that the apartment address is not in the listing. Include the full address – including apartment number – in the listing and make sure it’s correct.

Guests have Google Maps; there is no need to give directions to the apartment. On the other hand, if the map location in the listing is wrong, there will definitely be confusion. Try searching for the address you give on Google Maps and check that the result is correct.

If you send some other location, e.g. a meeting place for a key handover, the most unambiguous description of the location is a link to a Google Maps location. It is much more convenient than a long text explaining “exit the subway towards the big mall, then turn left” etc.

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“Let’s meet at San Juan”

Make sure it’s completely clear where the apartment is located in the building. Which floor, which building, which elevator? Note that “second floor” means different things to people from different countries. Not all countries have apartment numbers. If you say “to the left”, does that mean as seen from the elevator, from the stairs or from the front of the building?

Consider adding a sticker or something unusual to the apartment door to make it unambiguous. On several highly embarrassing occasions I’ve tried opening neighbors’ doors after getting unclear instructions.

On one occasion I’ve checked in to the wrong apartment and been very annoyed when the host then barged in with other guests.

If your building has a reception make clear what the guest is supposed to tell them. It’s very common as a guest to receive the instruction “say you’re a friend”; it ensures the guest will feel nervous on any encounter with the neighbors during the whole stay.

Sending a series of photos showing the way to the apartment can be a great way to communicate, but put these in a single Google Docs document and send a link, rather than sending masses of pictures to the guest.

Make absolutely sure that any codes to doors, lockboxes etc are correct. Also make sure you are reachable when the guest checks in, in case of problems.

If you have two guests it’s likely they will want to come and leave independently; they will therefore need two pairs of keys.

Amenities

There are many common needs that guest have that can be hard to anticipate if you haven’t done a lot of traveling yourself. Ideally, try staying in the apartment for a few days yourself to discover what is missing.

Here is a list of very commonly missing items, in the order they are typically discovered.

Bathroom

After arriving late, I frequently will just take a shower and go to bed. At this point, the following things should be present:

  • Hot water. If the water heater is temperamental, explain the procedure for getting it to work during check-in. Make sure it’s unambiguous how to get cold and hot water in the shower. On many occasions I’ve been standing naked and cold in a shower for minutes while turning taps in different directions and thinking “can it possibly take more than 30s for the hot water to arrive? Maybe it’s the other direction? And what is that other tap for?” Consider adding stickers saying “hot” and “cold”; otherwise I will do it for you.
    By the way, did you know “M” means “hot” in Polish? It’s 暖 in Japanese.
  • Shower gel, shampoo and conditioner. These are bulky to carry around, so I don’t. You can buy these in huge containers and so they don’t need replacing much
  • A shelf in the bathroom that is large enough for a toiletry bag. In at least half of all Airbnbs I wind up putting mine on the floor
  • A power outlet, ideally two. I have both a blow drier and an electric toothbrush. Btw, it’s great if you offer guests a blow drier, but please throw it away once it starts giving guests electric shocks (not a made up story, unfortunately).
  • On the subject of power outlets: offering a travel adapter for common international standards is much appreciated. They will probably be stolen from time to time, but they are not expensive. Even better are multi-standard power outlets.
  • A washing machine is great. If it’s labeled in anything else than English, consider adding stickers with translations. Guests will definitely not travel with washing liquid; spare them having to buy it anew on every stay.
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Right is Kold and left is… Medium?

Bedroom

Many cultures seem to relish very strong, white light as a sign of modernity. This does not go for most northern Europeans or Americans, who do not find relying on a blueish-white ceiling-mounted fluorescent lightbulb pleasant in the evening. Include a bedside table with a lamp. Two if the apartment is for two people. The lightbulb should be yellowish, not white.

Do I need to mention that all lightbulbs should work?

Personally, I’m not very picky about the details of the bed, though there should be a solution both for people who prefer it colder when sleeping and those who prefer it warmer. A thin cover with a blanket on top is a good solution.

Kitchen

If you want to make me completely lose it and start shouting, the best way is to make it impossible for me to shower in the morning. The second best way is to make it impossible to cook breakfast.

  • If you have a gas stove make sure there is some way of lighting it. If this involves spark lighters, make sure they work. Having three broken ones is not helpful; there should be a single one and it should work.
  • If you have an induction stove, make sure your pots actually work with it. If only some of them do, why not get rid of those that don’t?
  • I fry eggs in the morning. For this I need a frying pan; a pot does not work. Non-stick frying pans wear out after a while and need replacing. Eggs attach fantastically well to a worn-out frying pan and are essentially impossible to get off despite intensive scrubbing (that removes whatever remains of the non-stick coating). I frequently just buy a new one, but I might carry it to the next apartment, so don’t count on me leaving it in the apartment.
  • By the way, if the frying pan comes with a lid there will be less cleaning in the kitchen and less smell (I often cook Indian food).
  • I sound like a frying pan fanatic, but this is the point that almost no-one gets right. When frying you need a spatula. A wooden one will work, but a plastic one is much more convenient.
  • Pots and frying pans should match the size of the burners of the stove. If it’s a tiny two-burner stove, don’t provide a huge frying pan and an enormous pot that don’t fit on it together.

Other things that are useful in the kitchen:

  • Two pots of different sizes, each with fitting lids
  • A general-purpose knife (cutting meat with a bread knife is really hard) and a cutting board, unless you want cutting marks on the countertop
  • Scissors; opening packaging with knives is dangerous
  • Can opener and cork screw; yes, there are alternatives to these, but they are also kind of dangerous and frequently involve the contents splashing
  • A water kettle
  • A microwave oven
  • Some way of making coffee, not necessarily fancy. Personally, I like French press
  • Dishwashing liquid, a sponge and a towel for washing dishes
  • A microfiber dusting cloth
  • Salt. Under-salted pasta is no fun
  • Cooking oil
  • A large bowl
  • Tupperware containers are useful for people who cook

If you have any equipment in the kitchen that is broken, just throw it out. It’s much better to have no blender than to have a broken blender. Particularly when the broken one explodes hot soup into your face when turned on. The burn marks took a week to go away.

Oh, and those kitchen items you inherited from your grandma? It’s not helpful to leave them around just to fill the cupboards. Items should either have a purpose or at least be decorative, otherwise it’s just clutter.

Wifi

I work out of the Airbnbs I stay in. I frequently have work-related video calls and therefore a stable Internet connection is important. A router in the neighboring apartment might seem like a smart way of saving money, but it is highly likely not to work well. That Netflix evening becomes a frustrating nightmare of hanging playback, that job interview is scuppered by sequences of “can you hear me now?”

The routers offered by cable companies are frequently terrible; adding a new router from a quality brand can drastically improve the connection and shouldn’t cost more than $25.

Change the network name and Wifi password to something that can be easily typed (not “49AB31EE0512BC9153CC”). I carry four devices I need to enter that password on.

Put the password in the listing and also on a sticker on the fridge. Update both listing and sticker when you change the password. Mentioning the name of the Wifi network saves a lot of trial and error.

If your Wifi is good, advertise it in the listing; it’s a big plus! Mention the type of connection and the up and downstream speed.

Check-out

Finally, the best way of finding out if there was anything your guests were missing is just asking them. An open-ended “was there anything you missed?” shows that you care and can give help you improve for the next guest. Sometimes simple things like scissors or a coffee maker make all the difference and how would you find out if you didn’t ask? Strangely enough, I’ve never got this question after any of my stays.

Conclusion

This turned into a bit of a rant, but my point is not to say how bad my stays have been; in fact the vast majority of my stays have been great. Hopefully, though, I can contribute to fixing some of those small irritations that spoil otherwise wonderful stays.

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