It's March in London and we just put the clocks forward one hour which means only one thing - spring is on the way. We are now out of the worst of the Airbnb low season and things are already picking up. I've had several bookings as far in the future as August but still most of my reservations come in less than a month before the actual booking date.
Its December in London and the weather has been unusually mild for this time of year. Bookings have dropped off since the autumn and I've reduced my prices again for the new year. I'm now charging £28 a night for a double room for two people - this time a year ago I was hoping to be able to charge £35 a night by now, so its very disappointing. I have 200+ reviews and most of them have been positive but my five star review rate is still languishing at 64% and has been for about a year. I have noticed more listings in my area and they are mostly double rooms at prices barely above the price of a single. Airbnb has been around a little while now in the UK but I'm seeing some very obvious mistakes with some listings such as:
- Messy rooms in the pictures especially the cover image
- Not using a real picture of yourself in your airbnb profile (hiding your identity on a website built on trust is not clever)
- Unrealistic prices
Airbnb price tips are handy if your not sure what price you should be charging but I don't find them very useful. The obvious problem is that if everyone is using the airbnb price tip then you will all be charging the same and therefore have as much chance of being booked as everyone else. I like to be full at all times even if this means selling at a discount (I would rather lose £2 than £20). I see an empty room as money lost so any sale is a good sale.I would say on average most of my guests are very nice. They tend to be young, employed, and most come from Western Europe but occasionally from Brazil, USA, and East Asia. Surprisingly many are female which might say something for the level of safety I provide in my accommodation (lockable rooms and live-in hosts). Over the Christmas period I do have airbnb guests staying at my house. I still had my usual family Christmas and the guests were out of the house most of the time. I did have to explain to some of them that Christmas day meant that there would be no public transport in London which they found surprising for some reason. I did get some guest enquires about arriving on Christmas day which I had no problem with but I quickly explained to them that getting from Heathrow airport to my house on Christmas day would mean a taxi and and a very expensive one at that. It makes no sense saving money on a airline ticket because it arrives on Christmas day only to loose all your savings on the taxi trip from the airport.
I’ve noticed a reduction in the number of bookings coming through. I’ve got quite a few empty slots from the end of August through September and beyond (in my experience people tend to book only a few weeks in advance so it’s no surprise December is still empty for example). A quick look on the Airbnb Groups discussion page for London hosts and many of the comments there are saying the same thing – not enough bookings.
What to do if your not getting bookings?I price my listings cheap and to have an empty room now and again is disappointing but no big deal for me. Those with expensive big listings (such as whole apartments in the city centre) are missing out on big money if they have any vacancy. The question is what can you do (if anything) to solve the problem? The obvious answer is to cut your price – better less money than no money. But this does eliminate the possibility of getting a last minute booking at a good price.
“it was as if a light switch went off in final part of July. Suddenly enquiries and bookings just stopped across all my listings”- airbnb host in London groupsA similar thing happened in January I recall and this didn’t really pick up until April. I also noticed more listings appearing in my area at a discount to even my low prices so that’s not helping. My only solution is to keep my prices low and ride it out. I often get last minute bookings – the big advantage of operating in a major city like London. I assumed August and September would be the high season when I would clean up but this is clearly not the case.
Getting one star ratings from guestsMy star ratings have been getting worse and worse lately. Most guests leave very nice written reviews but when it comes to the stars they often give a 3 or 4 with some even putting a single star. My biggest problem is one I simply cannot change and that’s my location. I live in Newham east London, one of the worst areas for poverty in London but it’s not dangerous (no gangs on street corners etc) and it’s reasonably central (zone 3) and has decent transport connections and plenty of shops/fast food. My biggest draw card is my price – I’m very cheap and my property is fully refurbished and still has the ‘new’ feel. I would have thought someone might say "well the location isn’t perfect but what do you expect at this price." But it doesn’t seem to work that way.
“I would have thought someone might say well the location isn’t perfect but what do you expect at this price”
How to get rich on AirbnbI’ve just come across a listing where the host has put two double beds in the living room and another double bed in the bedroom and charges £150 a night, sleeps 6. Now that’s a way to make money on Airbnb!
From the start of the year my star ratings have gradually gotten worse. In January I had 79% 5 star reviews, just shy of the 80% required for Superhost status. Since then my five star reviews have dropped to 66%. For a while I was very unsure why the ratings had dropped so much. Almost all my guests had written in their reviews that they were very happy with their stay. The only negative review I recall said the “bathroom was too cold” which was true because my wife had left a window open in the room across the hallway and we didn’t notice for two days (whoops!). [caption id="attachment_114" align="aligncenter" width="653"] Airbnb now give you a breakdown on your star ratings by category[/caption]
Room For ImprovementRecently Airbnb have introduced a tool on the dashboard giving you a breakdown of the categories for your star ratings (previously these were aggregated). So you can now see how many stars you got for ‘Cleanliness’ for example. My breakdown for each of my listing highlighted my problem – the location. I had been marked down on location several times (some reviews only giving my one star) which explains my ratings dropping of gradually. Frustratingly location is the only area I can do little about. It true the area I live in is not considered the best part of London (to put it mildly). But It is located in zone 3 (of a possible 6) and my low price reflects the unattractiveness of the area. If I was located in a leaf part of central London then you can bet I would be charging much much more.
Airbnb recommends me to better describe my area in my listing description so to give guests a fair warning of what to expect. I’m hesitant to do this as this would surely put guests off. I’ve added into my description ‘ethnically diverse part of London.’ My area Newham is about at ethnically diverse as you can get as it attracts the poorest people of London, mostly new arrivals in the UK from Eastern Europe, and has a large Muslim community from the sub continent.[caption id="attachment_115" align="aligncenter" width="745"] To reach superhost status you need 80% five star reviews[/caption]
Your only as good as your last reviewPotential guests do look at your star rating when choosing a listing but the most emphasis is on your most recent review. A recent review (ideally very recently, no more than a couple of weeks old) is the best advert for your listing. If you’re unlucky enough to have a very bad recent review then this could explain a significant drop off in bookings. My chances of reaching Superhost status are looking very slim. My booking have not suffered since my ratings decline mostly I believe to the general increase in demand during the summer and keeping my prices well below the London average.
So you want to be an Airbnb host and your looking forward to making some money. Well here is what you should do.1. Register an account with Airbnb. Register here and get £16 free Airbnb credit. 2. Add a new listing under your profile. Write a detailed description of your room/whole place. Try and describe factually and keep in mind what a traveller will be most interested in. [caption id="attachment_133" align="aligncenter" width="781"] Create your Airbnb listing and start making money in the sharing economy[/caption] 3. Your going to need to upload pictures for your room. Get the Airbnb professional photographer to take some pictures of your listing. This is a free service and more importantly having verified pictures on your profile should push you up the search rankings. You can apply for the free photographer here. 4. Make sure the room is ready for your first guest. Obviously the room should be as clean as possible with fresh sheets (think what you would expect from a hotel). But also your going to want to remove as much clutter as possible. A guest is not going to be impressed by your nick-naks and family heirlooms filling up all the draws and wardrobes. Take them out and put them somewhere else. 5. Make sure you are available to greet your guests. Now is a good time to mention any house rules. 6. I try to leave my guests well alone during their stay. If I happen to see them I might say "can i get you anything?" but thats it. I don't provide an 'experience' I leave the great city of London to do that for me. [caption id="attachment_134" align="aligncenter" width="758"] Make sure your listing is has clean sheets, towels, and free wifi[/caption] 7. You may want to enquire with your guests at what time they will be checking out on their last day. Some do need to catch a flight home and may need to leave at a very early hour. I do allow guests to leave luggage with me if they are getting a late flight home. 8. Re-set for the next guests. Make sure the room is adequately ventilated and the sheets are fresh. 9. You will need to leave guest feedback. You should do this as soon as Aribnb allows you so your guest feels they should do the same.
New listings get a boost in rankings so you may find that you a few enquires on the first day or two. You mat then find that enquires drop off suddenly and then you will need to work on your ranking.
How many of my guests are first time Airbnb users?Airbnb is still relatively new to most people in the UK and Europe despite being very popular in the USA and some other places for a few years. Consequently many of your customers will be using Airbnb for the first time and will not have any reviews from previous hosts (I estimate that about 50% of my guests are Airbnb Virgins). So you get an enquiry from a potential guest asking to stay a few nights but there is not profile picture and almost no information on their profile. I always ask them to upload a profile picture and to tell me why they are coming to London and if they can tell me a bit about themselves. This puts you in the driving seat and lets the Airbnb newbie know what is expected of them as a bare minimum. Anyone who refuses to answer or upload a picture I decline. You don’t want to be unreasonable as get too intrusive in other people’s business but some basic information like this can reveal a lot about somebody’s intentions and how they might behave in your property.
Declining a guest request to stayI had a potential guest who actually had a reasonably complete profile and actually had a good review from a previous host. I asked him why he was coming to London and he said to meet up with some friends. The booking was for one night (a Saturday) and his profile said he is a student. I said it was ok to stay but reminded him that check-out is 11am. He wrote back and asked if he could have a late check out and even offered to pay any extra. I got the impression he wanted a late check-out as he planned to stay out late in to the night with his friends and most likely this would mean some medium to heavy drinking. I wrote back to the guests saying that I didn’t think it was appropriate that he should stay with us as other guests might not appreciate him coming home at a late hour and declined his request but wishing him all the best. It’s a shame as he probably is a really nice man but our listing just didn’t suit his purposes and it was unfair on everyone to accept his reservation.
Mention your house rules up frontIt’s probably a really good idea to mention certain house rules when guests first enquire about a booking. I always mention that there is no use of the kitchen allowed. This does put off some guests but better that than them get really disappointed when they arrive. It’s worth doing this as many guests don’t completely read the profile before enquiring.
When a guest arrives it is another chance to mention the house rules to them. Be clear that this is their bathroom, this is their bedroom, do not go in this room, etc.