New morning! New guest!

Over the past 3 years, I’ve hosted thousands of guests from hundreds of cities around the world in the homes I manage. I’ve had an overwhelmingly positive experience, but a few very bad experiences. Nothing colossal, just very unpleasant. People lie, they bring more guests than they booked, they throw parties, they treat your home as a disposable commodity and then refuse to take responsibility for their actions. It can be quite anger-inducing and very disheartening, especially if you are someone who seeks to see the beauty and good in all people.  

I’ve learned to look out for the red flags that may indicate someone will be a bad guest, I’ve learned what policies to outline in order to communicate my expectations for guests, and unfortunately along the way, I’ve let my heart become a little less trusting in the process. Some of this is called wisdom, some of it is cynicism, but regardless, I have developed a motto that I seek to operate by:  “Treat every guest as a new guest.

The quality of your hospitality and your spirit as a human being depend heavily on giving everyone the benefit of the doubt. I know, I know, you’ve been asked 300 times if someone can check-in early because they have an early flight. Why can’t people read the rules!? However, you must again put yourself in the guest’s shoes. I am not advocating that you ignore a guest’s previous reviews, by the way. Be wise, but is this the same guest who soiled your valued rug?  Is this the same guest that threw the raging party a few weekends ago? Is this the same guest that had a laundry list of complaints at a property that doesn’t normally draw complaints? In all likelihood, it is not the same guest. Remember that. Respond again with the same generous patience. Be grateful you have another guest. Remind yourself this is someone’s vacation, which they probably spent many hours working to take! Be kind, be merciful, and tell yourself it’s a new day! Hospitality requires renewed kindness each day for the long haul.   


 

The tone of hospitality: how to make your guests feel warm & fuzzy in the digital age

There are all different sorts of vacation rental hosts, from the distant and hands-off to the ever present host in residence type, but most of us share a desire to provide a level of hospitality that goes far and above a generic hotel experience. The challenge is that many of your guests will actually not want you to be physically present, therefore much of your conversation will be through text.  

It’s much easier for your guests to enjoy a keyless and self-guided entrance to your home than have to coordinate schedules with the host to retrieve a key and go through the awkward exchange of travel-weary pleasantries. That said, how do you give guests the sense that you are personally invested in their enjoyment of your place?  

It’s all about your tone! Be sure you go almost overboard with the excitement in your written voice. Think about the fact that your business won’t survive without their patronage. Think about what it’s like to be in their shoes after a long day of traveling and speak to them in a way that shows empathy. You may not be an excitable person, but exclamation points in your text will greatly emphasize the warmth of your tone. We all know how it feels to receive a reply of “Ok.” versus “Ok!” It’s not uncommon to feel overwhelmed or inconvenienced by your guest’s questions or conversation over text, but it is critically important to the enjoyment of their stay that you remain graceful and positive. You never know what someone may be going through. Everyone has a story, and if someone is difficult to deal with there’s usually a reason for that. It’s incredible the change you can take part in by simply responding in a way that is the opposite of what you feel they deserve. This is paramount in showing true hospitality.

No bnb is an island: love thy neighbor

When I started the Air Butler, I decided to let my business be driven by three principles: relationships, hospitality and beauty. I firmly believe that many of the world's largest corporate entities have failed to retain some of the aforementioned key components of being human and have done serious harm to their consumers in the process. Today, I want to talk about relationship as it pertains to being a good neighbor. 

In Nashville, where we do business, vacation rentals exist in the middle of family neighborhoods, some of which are populated by longstanding citizens. The success of your vacation rental may be highly influenced by your neighbors, and it is of utmost importance to be the kind of neighbor you want to have. I have learned the hard way that when trouble goes down, it is far too late to be introducing yourself and your business to the neighbors. Be the first person to cross the street, knock on the door, and introduce yourself and your intentions. Give them your phone number, and assure them that you desire to be a good neighbor. Get to know them, and listen to their concerns. If your bottom line is more important than the well-being of the world around you, it might be time to reevaluate that your humanity will define you more than the money in your wallet.

We all understand the basic principles of being a good neighbor, but what about when things get tricky? What about when you're renting out a new construction home in a gentrifying neighborhood? What about when your neighbor is involved in illegal business activities that he has asked you to turn a blind eye to in exchange for peaceful cooperation? What about when your neighbor's anger towards your business is unjustified and stemming from deeper pain in life?  

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about poverty and crime and how they are related. I believe that being a good neighbor means seeking to understand what it's like to be in the other person's shoes before you decide how they should fix their behavior. Gentrification brings a lot of nice benefits to neighborhoods, but it can also ignite deep tensions around inequalities in wealth. Thinking you can simply "clean up" a neighborhood is missing the history of things entirely. The bottom line is that many current neighborhood issues stem from a long standing history of injustice. Unemployment leads to despair and low self worth, which leads to brokenness in all forms, including crime of varying degrees.

If you are doing business in a gentrifying area, ask, "how can my business positively affect the lives of my neighbors?" That could mean strategically hiring from the local area, getting involved with your local job training program or entrepreneur center, or volunteering your time at a community center with young kids who will grow up to be the next generation of the neighborhood. I would highly recommend the book, "When Helping Hurts" on this topic.

Great wisdom is needed to navigate the path to being a good neighbor, but the failure to seek understanding is sure to end in a negative outcome. Is it possible you have more to learn from your neighbors than the other way around?

Why your prices are not working

As a manager of bnbs, I spend a lot of time looking at rental prices. Once you have a great place for your guests to rent, your prices are one of the main variables that decide whether or not it stays booked. Pricing is much like fishing, and there a several questions you need to know the answer to before you put a line in the water. Who is my ideal guest? What is important to them? How is a weekend guest different from a weekday guest? What's my price floor? This last question is very important because there's a point at which you begin attracting guests who may end up costing you more than it's worth to book them.

Once you know the answer to these questions, it is important to understand that the most successful vacation rentals don't "set it and forget it" with regard to prices. There's always work to be done. One of the biggest mistakes I see owners make is setting a flat price for their rental.

I suggest an inverse bell curve model as the most successful pricing model. Weekends will always be your premium price. Thursday and Sunday nights should be your second tier and then Monday through Wednesday should be your lowest price available. The larger your space, the more variance you should have between these price points. During the week you aren't generally going to be attracting large groups of guests. The weekdays are generally going to be business travelers and couples. Where are they looking to stay? Generally a one or two bedroom place, but if you have a larger space, you'll want to compete with those one and two bedroom prices!  

In structuring your prices over time, charge a premium for booking far in advance. Being booked 4 months out is not necessarily a sign that you're doing things right, but more often a sign that your prices are too low. You want to be booked for the month ahead and 50-70% booked 2 months out. Set your highest price for the farthest date out on your calendar and your lowest price for the date closest to the present. You'd also be amazed at the bookings you'll get if you keep adjusting prices as unbooked dates approach. Don't tell yourself "it's just not very busy this month." Work at it. Lastly, make slight adjustments. Decreasing your price by even $20 can sometimes be the trick.  

 

Why guests are picking the other place over yours

I sit down with homeowners and investors all the time to give consulting advice as they are preparing to rent their homes on vacation rental sites like Airbnb and VRBO. Whether the owner is a bare minimum kind of person or a design junkie, many people are missing a key component that will help their listing stand out among the competition: a unique feature. Your potential guests want more than a good deal on a place to stay, they want to have an experience they can't have anywhere else. They want to have their eyes opened to other people's sense of style and personality. What feature or features are you offering your guests?  

At one home I manage the decorator and homeowner decided to purchase an inexpensive shuffleboard table to put in the open kitchen layout. It's in our main photo and a lot of our guests book because of the table! Maybe you want to give guests the ultimate outdoor fire pit experience. How can you make something as primal as sittings around a fire feel special? I recently heard about a vacation rental owner who refurbishes old arcade games for a living, so his Airbnb includes a full-on arcade! The key is not to spend a lot of money, but to make sure you have some aspect of your rental that separates it from the competition.

Your guests are choosing your home over a hotel for more than just money. They want a unique experience. Be yourself.