Airbnb – The Good, the Bad & the Ugly

Welcome to 2020 and the wonderful world of Airbnb. Or so many people think. The holiday season was abuzz with guests from around the world and as people love to share their experiences of the homes they rented, some very interesting stories were told – a number of which left me somewhat aghast, amused and perplexed.

The stories once again highlighted the fact that if homeowners are going to list their properties on Airbnb or the other portals, there are some absolute minimum standards that must be met in order to get good reviews and ratings and thereby be positioned higher up on the platforms when people search for accommodation.

There is no doubt that there were many new visitors in town and the word is certainly spreading globally about what great places Hermanus and the Overberg are to visit. Some visitors even made their bookings for December 2020 based on how amazing they felt their Overberg experience was.

Some homeowners surpassed the minimum Airbnb standards by a mile and others clung to the belief that they could “make a quick buck” and tried their luck by offering less than the minimum expected by guests. As expected, the approach of the latter backfired and, in some instances, the guest reviews were so bad that owners had no option but to delist their properties with a wistful “this Airbnb thing didn’t work for us”.

So what is really at play here? As a host myself for client properties, it is amazing what a difference there is between owners who are serious about this income-generating option versus those who see it as nothing more than a way to make money. Some guests who were paying anywhere between R2 000 and R3 000 per night were met with properties that literally provided the bare minimum or less.

In many cases there was a lack of basic amenities, such as an iron and ironing board, bath mats, a dish drying rack, spare dishcloths, a big garbage bin, and enough dining table chairs for the minimum number of guests. With not a floor rug or carpet in sight, not a picture on the walls and only enough cutlery and crockery for one meal, only one towel per guest and beds and pillows that would not even provide well-heeled campers with a comfortable night’s rest, some guests were in for a bleak experience and in some instances a ruined holiday.

At the opposite end of the spectrum are those house-proud hosts who love to welcome guests to their properties and go the extra mile in terms of décor, bathroom supplies, basic kitchen supplies (after all, this is self-catering) and the best quality in terms of linen, beds, pillows and other amenities that guarantee their guests’ comfort. These efforts are more than appreciated by guests.

This profile of owner fully understands that you have to make some kind of investment to bring a property up to spec in order to get good reviews and regular bookings, within reason. They maintain their properties and ensure that their guests will want for nothing during their stay.

These are people who understand that at least a bath towel and a hand towel should be available, in addition to a full set of spare linen and towels when bookings exceed seven days. Needless to say, the reviews these hosts receive at departure are so positive that they elicit an immediate booking for a future date.

Airbnb hosts are well acquainted with the phrase “expect the unexpected”, as unforeseen glitches can happen even in the best-prepared circumstances. From glass breaking to electrical blowouts and large appliances packing up, to septic tanks overflowing, this season had its surprises for many a host – and the run-around to attend to these issues on behalf of guests and owners is not for the faint-hearted. Fortunately, Hermanus has some incredible service providers who once again jumped in over the public holidays and throughout the season to help hosts deal with unexpected crises.

One of the most amusing stories for me, however, was when a guest at one of the properties complained about the fact that there was nowhere to sit outside where it wasn’t windy. This is, after all, a town that attracts wind from all sides and if you are lucky to find a space outdoors where there is no wind, enjoy it in the moment, for it won’t last long!

Here’s hoping that those out there who want to be serious participants in our hospitality industry do so by providing accommodation and amenities at the level that will make guests want to return, rather than leaving with a bad taste in their mouths.