Or what a guest knows from being a host - An Airbnb Experience
Recently we traveled to Japan during a school break. I had planned four nights in Tokyo and three nights in Kyoto and was excitedly looking with Airbnb for some awesome places to rent. I was overwhelmed about how many people are renting out private rooms, apartments, penthouses, entire houses or traditional ryokans in both cities. It almost looked like there is an airbnb around every corner.
To reduce the sheer amount of options it did not help much entering the number of guests, playing with the price range and the amount of bedrooms. Even when narrowing the location to a certain district it seemed more airbnbs popped up. So the question was:
How does a guest select a rental?
I decided I need to use the filter that is offered to guests on the airbnb platform. It allows to search for more than just location, date, amount of guest, price and bedrooms. I selected we want:
- WIFI - a must, for soccer game results of the Italian league for my husband and occasionally business emails, as well as for my gaming teenager, and of course for me as a traveler to consult about opening times of museums and restaurant phone numbers.
- English speaking host - wheather the host is on site or not, I wanted to be able to communicate with my host before and during our stay, especially in Japan where all might be a bit more confusing when you are staying at someone's apartment in a residential area and not at a well-known hotel with a concierge that can help answer your questions and that can be found by a taxi driver.
- Super Host Status - yeah, I tried that, because being a superhost myself I thought that - beside a 5 star rating - it is a sign of quality and reliability (no surprise cancellation). Our first airbnb experience should be a great one.
The rentals I found were awesome. But "awesome" and "spacious" in Tokyo come with a price tag. And my husband not convinced of trying an airbnb in a city suggested to check hotels if we need to pay these amounts per night. I laughed first, as I knew the price tags for hotels in Tokyo, having worked there a couple of times, would be about two times higher (not talking about the small rooms). Nevertheless, I checked on expedia and - wow - what a surprise, my favorite hotel ranked first with an incredible low rate (they were about to demolish the main building, but I decided, regardless possible renovation side effects, that I wanted to be back staying at this legendary hotel). So Tokyo was booked - not with airbnb. And we appreciated the breakfast, the concierge and that taxi drivers knew the way a lot!
Last chance for my very first airbnb experience during our Japan trip was therefore in Kyoto.
Using the above filter, and reading carefully all reviews by previous guests and the profile of the host, I booked a place that sounded a lovely mix of traditional Japanese (tatami room) and modern design. I did some small talk with the host to get a feeling for each other, as I used the direct booking function, but that seemed not necessary. Probably because the host did not plan to interact much with guest as he did not live on site (which I only knew from another guest review that I studied). After having booked our train in Tokyo, I did what I expect from my guests: I informed the host right away of our arrival time at the train station. I used the airbnb communication system which worked well for me as guest and I was happy that the host replied always within 1 or 2 hours. Thanks to the profile picture, I recognized him waiting in front of the house and asked our taxi driver to stop. He gave us a brief introduction to his neighborhood from the roof terrace and showed us the apartment. At the end, when we thought all initial questions were answered, he said we could check out ourselves by slipping the key below the door. At first, I was a bit disappointed that we would not see again our friendly host, but totally understood that this was convenient for him since he lived a 20 minutes drive away.
Then he left and we were alone, on our own. In a not familiar apartment, in a house we did not know, in a neighborhood I had hardly glanced at through the taxi's window. It was a strange feeling. It was really quiet around us. No reception to go to ask for directions or to call a taxi.
Somehow I pictured the neighborhood between the Kyoto university and the Philosopher Path - there was no picture of it in the listing - and the listing being above an art gallery as lively and full of little restaurants. That was a bit of a wrong assumption.
When we walked down the street in the direction the host had pointed out a supermarket, I realized we were in a very, very quiet, purely residential area. And that felt fantastic! Adventurous! It was living like a local! That is what airbnb is all about. It's true. It works.
But the bike shop the host had vaguely indicated on the main street, was nowhere to be found, initially. This was a bit of a disappointment as I had not many questions with my booking some weeks earlier - just to organize a third bicycle for our son and to provide information about two festivals taking place the next day.
Interestingly when we arrived, the host mentioned to be kind of nervous about hosting another super host! And I, as a guest, was surprisingly much more relaxed than I am as a host myself! It was exciting to see the apartment and discover the area though. However, when it came to check-out, I was very attentively tidying up and cleaning. I was nervous about the guest review by the host!
Overall, we were really lucky with my airbnb choice and our host. Very lucky also as our host was able to allow a (free) late check-out which was extremely helpful for a smooth journey home.
New lessons learned for hosting:
- Guest might not read completely the listing, therefore explain important things upon arrival and don't assume guest have or will study your house manual.
- Use a good profile photo that guest can recognize you. Mention if you live on site, and if not, how far away is someone who could assist. Guest will most likely read your profile as well as they read other guest reviews. It is not important if you are a local national or a foreigner living in the country as long as you know your city and what is happening around.
- Airbnb is sending the guest reminders before check-in to contact the host and provide arrival time. Also Airbnb reminds of check-out and review.
- If the host answer promptly and professionally your guest will feel taken good care of and looking forward to their stay.
- Upload photos from the neighborhood, including nearby restaurants and supermarket, indicating how far they are away when walking to avoid surprises.
- Add to your guest folder, or hand to the guest directly a small map of your area and mark the places where you can find food like a bakery, super market, coffee or noodle shop - and other useful things like a bike rental, bus stop etc., especially when you cannot show the guest around or do not live on site.
- Take notes of what guests mention in their first inquiries. Provide these information or things (extra bike, extra bed, taxi booking, festival itinerary etc.) upon arrival.
- Provide enough mineral water for your guest! They might arrive thirsty after probably many hours of traveling and don't want to go shopping in the first hour. (Remark: beer or wine is fine too, but not everyone drinks beer when thirsty).
- Providing some complimentary local snacks and sweets in an basket is a fun surprise and showing extra attentiveness. We liked that!
- If an extra person is booked and has paid extra then provide the extra bed ready made. Don't expect the guest to figure out the technique of your sofa bed.
- Don't ask the guest to strip off the bed linen at the end of their stay. If they do, fine. Stripping bed linen off is adding a bit of sadness to the departure... does that sound wired?
- Surprisingly, guests are less nervous than the host when checking in. But nervous when checking out. So keep cool, host.
- If you furnish and decorate your vacation rental make sure not to add too much IKEA stuff and add local unique things instead. Travellers want to discover typical local things.
- If guests arrive early or have a late departure flight, try to accommodate them as good as possible to make their journey smooth. Some guests will be really thankful (not all, I know).
- Clean the fridge after check-out by taking out expired / soon to expire food, vegetables, fruits etc. Through away or take home open packages of whatever food.
- Always put a new sponge to the kitchen sink and make sure basics last for a short stay (dish liquid, toilet paper, soap, shampoo etc.). No guest wants to go shopping for these things when staying only 3 or 4 nights.
- Letting the guests check-out themselves can add a bit of flexibility and convenience to both parties.
Although my husband still would have preferred a hotel, where you can have breakfast or a concierge to call a taxi or book a restaurant - I would say it depends. (On what it depends can make another post.) But I liked to be in an airbnb in Kyoto. It is a good alternative to a traditional ryokans (especially when those are already fully booked and sharing a bathroom with strangers is not so much your cup of tea.)
I enjoyed the entire experience of being with my family on our own, in our own apartment, in a residential area, living like locals and being adventurous at the same time. And for our own rentals in Italy I will organize a basket with local snacks and implement some other of the above ideas.
I definitely can recommend to stay in a vacation rental, especially with airbnb as there is in general a bit more of interaction between host and guest as it is usually on other platforms and therefore airbnb is probably even more suitable for a short city stay. Actually, this is how the idea was born. The founders of airbnb offered an alternative for accommodation seekers in the city of San Francisco during a busy fair. And finally, I can recommend every host to try the other side of the story. Even if your are an experienced host, maybe even a super host - it is really eye-opening to be a guest - and fun!