Optimising your Vacation Rental for Airbnb bookings

How do you get listed higher in the Airbnb search results?

Airbnb doesn’t publish its ranking algorithm, but in general it rewards hosts who do the kinds of things that guests appreciate.  Mostly it is common sense.

Guests appreciate things like: good reviews, accurate description, clean property, accurate calendar, up to date, quick to respond, no cancellations, able to book instantly, accept most bookings, able to stay 1 night, easy cancellation, ability to stay with a superhost.

Tactics that Airbnb likes for ranking

Flipping this around gives the kinds of behaviours that get hosts rewarded by a higher search listing.

Good reviews.

The average host review score is 4.5 out of 5.  You need to get a consistently high review score.  To do that you need to give your guests a good experience.

Accurate description

Guests are asked in reviews if the experience matched the description.  If not, you will be marked down.

Cleanliness

Airbnb knows that guests rate cleanliness as essential.  You need to get 5 out of 5 for cleanliness in ratings.

Up to date

Every 30 days, Airbnb checks to see that you are logging on, and updating your calendar. It even likes changes to description, updates to photos etc.

Quick to respond

You need to respond to messages within 24 hours.  Earlier on average is better.

No cancellations

If you cancel, you will be penalised.  Airbnb understands that guests hate cancellations by hosts.

Instant book

Turning instant book on will help you rank higher by the algorithm.  Guests can also choose to only look at listings that have instant book on, so this is a double weighting.

Accept bookings

Airbnb expects you to accept bookings, with one exception.  You can reject bookings that you are uncomfortable with if there is something in the guest profile or if their comments lead you to believe they will not keep to house rules. To reject others will mark you down.

Short stays

If you accept 1 night bookings, you will get more bookings as some guests will want them.

Easy cancellation policy

Some guests will give preference to listings with easier cancellation policy.

Superhost

Guests can choose a filter to narrow searches to Superhosts, so Superhosts get an advantage with extra bookings, as well as a boost through the Airbnb algorithm.  Airbnb say Superhosts earn 22% more than other hosts.  Around 20% of hosts are Superhosts according to Airdna.

To qualify as a Superhost, you need to satisfy the following criteria over the past 365 days:

  • Host at least 10 stays per year
  • A 90% response rate to enquiries within 24 hours
  • A 50% review rate or higher
  • A 4.8 average rating
  • Zero cancellations, except those under extenuating circumstances policy

Are you forced into instant book and short stays?

No, everything is voluntary.  For many VRs it is bad business to allow instant book, for example larger remotely hosted properties where there is a risk of unsocial behaviour by large  groups. For these properties, it is advisable to go through a screening process before booking, even if it is just via messaging.

Similarly, short stays and one night bookings are not practical where the cost of cleaning is high and it is logistically hard for cleaners to come daily.  You need to set your minimum nights to suit your operation, even if you lose a few bookings in the process.

Similarly, you can set your cancellation policy any way you wish.  It is a compromise between giving your guests easy cancellation options, versus your need to avoid last minute guest cancellations. If you are getting lots of bookings, a strict cancellation policy would be appropriate.

Name

Include your VR name in the title to maximise your chances of guests finding you and booking direct on your website .

Pricing

It is a good tactic, as recommended by Airbnb, to offer lower prices when starting out, to get more bookings and a solid base of reviews.  This should be temporary and you should revert to normal prices when your reviews are solid.  You will probably find that Airbnb suggests that average prices in your area are lower than yours.  Check but feel confident to ignore the suggestion.

If you have a premium VR, stick to your guns and price to the external market rate for a property of your quality. You are better off getting bookings by standing out from your competitors than just discounting your price!

Again, ignore the Airbnb suggested pricing model, especially if you have benchmarked your prices yourself.

Boost for new hosts

Although not explicitly acknowledged by Airbnb, there is strong anecdotal evidence to show that new hosts are given a ranking boost  by the Airbnb algorithm to get some bookings early.  If you are starting out, get everything ready including pricing and some good photos and exploit the early surge in booking enquiries if it occurs.

Keeping within the Airbnb system

Some Airbnb enthusiasts claim hosts should use Airbnb exclusively.  This is nonsense, and smart VR owners wanting to maximise occupancy will list on multiple websites, putting more of their effort into operating the listings that give them the best returns.

Get to know the neighbours

It is more than courtesy to get to know your neighbours, it is in your interest.  You can tell them you want responsible guests and you’ll fix things if there is anything like loud noise.  They can let you know if they have any concerns before they become legitimate complaints.   In the first rental of my Richmond VR, the guests had an unauthorised gathering of 20 visitors, but fortunately I was on side with our neighbours who tipped me off.  I spoke to the guests, who arranged for the visitors to leave quickly – much to my relief and the relief of the neighbours!

Working with neighbours has been particularly important for Airbnb VRs because of the astonishing pace of Airbnb growth.  Early owners often operated outside the official local regulations without telling anyone.  The neighbours would find a rental next door and feel blindsided with no one to talk to, resulting in exaggerated complaints to authorities, and blanket bans.  It is far better to work proactively with neighbours and keep them on side, as my example above shows.

Stay tuned into Airbnb innovations

Airbnb is characterised by their constant innovation. In recent years they have added Trips, Business, China, Unique, B&Bs, Plus and Hotels. Some of these like Business are an opportunity. If you can satisfy the criteria for Business listings – like a CO2 monitor, wifi and a desk – you will be ahead of your competitors.

When I was at the 2015 Airbnb Paris Open, I wandered into their labs area and it was quickly apparent that they were simultaneously testing a dozen new products, several of which staff tested on me.  They also spent an hour with me challenging suggestions I made until they got to their very essence.  A fellow visitor was VP Data for a major multinational and was trying to understand how Airbnb could be innovating on such a scale and pace.  She was very impressed.

In coming years, Airbnb will continue to innovate in ways we can’t predict now, so keep tuned into their changes, and exploit!

Airbnb servicing

In recent years, there has been a surge in new businesses servicing Airbnb owners.  Some provide a full service: organising your account, taking bookings, organising the key handover and arranging the clean, all for a fee.  Airbnb even makes it easy for a service to manage multiple accounts with the owners’ permission.   For time-poor owners, this may be a useful option for a while.

The catch can be that such services thrive in an overheated market where demand exceeds supply, and a lot of overheated markets grow too fast, leading to short term rental bans in places like New York and Barcelona.  Always do your due diligence before starting.

KEY POINTS

·        Be prepared to capitalise on an early boost in the first weeks of listing

·        Qualifying as an Airbnb superhost will mean you are doing well with most factors in the Airbnb ranking system

·        Instant book gives you an advantage in ranking but comes with operational risks

·        Include your VR name in your title to maximise leakage via direct bookings to your website

·        It is important that your VR stands out in the listings and is not just another cut price Airbnb commodity

·        Keep tuned for Airbnb innovations and exploit them ahead of your competitors

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The above tips are taken from chapter 35 from my upcoming book – Vacation Rental Mastery

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