Want to win at AirBnB? How changing guest expectations are driving the need for new technologies, and how Hosts can stay ahead of the curve.
What's happening with changing guest expectations?
Hospitality is an old fashioned industry, barely touched by new technologies, right? Wrong! Of all the technological advancements and developments in mobile interfaces over the past few years, none are going to be more impactful to the AirBnB industry than conversational AI and the proliferation of smart assistants such as the Amazon Alexa into vacation rentals and AirBnB’s. Most of our team here at Home Service AI has been involved with hosting on AirBnB for many years, and we’ve noticed a number of trends in the vacation rental world which we’d like to share with you.
One of the most important trends we’ve noticed over the past two years is that guests are becoming more and more demanding. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it goes to show that guests are expecting the same level of engagement and service from an AirBnB and from a hotel. What used to be an experience analogous to couchsurfing has morphed into something more business, vacation, and high-expense oriented.
Travel attractions such as ski resorts, and business destinations like New York still represent the majority of AirBnB’s, and over 300,000 companies are engaged with AirBnB to manage their accommodations and travel. This is an incredible level of growth and maturity for the vacation rental and AirBnB industry.
Equally important is the rise of ‘Experiences’, a more hands-on approach to engaging with guests and managing stays. In essence, a host will not only provide an apartment or house, but will be active as a guide, making sure that their guests have incredible, memorable, and culturally eye-opening experiences. Experience hosts tend to devote most of their day towards guiding guests, and are consequently better compensated.
Here’s the deal - most hosts just don’t have the time or bandwidth to provide guests with this level of engagement, and it’s very likely that sooner or later, they’ll suffer for it. As these expectations are getting more and more demanding, anything which falls short of them is going to result in potentially unsatisfied guests. Being an ‘experience’ host and ensuring your guests have a great time is basically a full time job.
It’s easy, then, to overlook the fact that most of what these types of hosts do can be automated relatively easily. Conversational AI and dynamic content can provide guests with almost all of the information they might want in a way which doesn’t involve any of the host’s time. A virtual concierge of sorts, with which guests can talk to on devices like the Amazon Alexa or Google Home or text with through a chatbot do a great job of providing an intuitive interface for guests to interact with.
A little bit of background
I’ll be honest - I’m coming from a tech and software background, so I’ve been exposed to AI products and technologies for a very long time. Most people, however, hear ‘AI’ and assume that it’s either something which FaceBook or Google do to figure out how to sell things better, something which car companies are doing to make self driving vehicles, or business tools which huge companies have at their disposal to make things run more smoothly. In particular, most people think that implementing AI into something they deal with on an everyday basis is difficult, daunting, or only reserved for people with a significant amount of technical know-how.
I want to dispel the idea that AI powered tools are beyond the reach of hosts and property managers, and show how a product I built to solve some of my own problems with AirBnB hosting can be used by everyone, everywhere, to become a supremely efficient host. And not only just an efficient one, but one who’s able to provide all those experiences and all that knowhow only a local could have, to guests who are coming from all over the place.
I’m a very social person, and since the day I started hosting on AirBnB and VRBO, I made a pretty dedicated effort to make sure my hosts had an amazing stay, and were able to experience all the best things my city - Boston - (shameless city plug here), had to offer. I was working as a software engineer at the time, so my ability to do that was limited to off hours, or by the guides I’d write and leave for my guests to play around with. I tried to give them all the types of local experiences I had while couchsurfing, without actually being there to show people around and take them to cool places.
To my surprise (and slight chagrin), my guides weren’t read all that often, and I’d frequently get text messages and calls from guests inquiring what they should do next, or what they should see. I also got tons of text messages asking me about apartment related details like parking, towels, food supplies, blankets, etc.
About this time, I got my first Alexa, and Amazon had finally opened up their developer program so people could write apps for Alexa. I decided to build a virtual concierge to answer the top 50 questions I’d get from guests. This took about a weekend of work (there was no web interface or platform or portal or anything like that), and I put a few devices in the rental for the next set of guests.
I immediately noticed the number of messages I was getting had decreased, and when they left, I got some awesome feedback both through a message and through the AirBnB review that the information I provided and the intuitive way by which it was available was a great addition to the rental, and that they had a much more pleasant stay because they were able to navigate the area like a local, and find everything they needed or take advantage of all the amenities of the rental.
Long story short, I continued working on my AirBnB automator, and soon enough was ready to launch to the public - Home Service was born! Early response was absolutely terrific we were able to raise some money, and really focus on doing this full-time and creating the best possible engagement automation platform for vacation rentals and hospitality.
Being the first in this space, and easily the most technically capable and innovative, we are able to learn and adapt quickly, and get an amazing understanding for what the industry really needs. Thankfully, this need sat at an amazing intersection of what hosts were willing to implement and do, and what guest wanted and were expecting.
What Home Service does to help Hosts keep up with changing guest expectations.
Completely replicating the usefulness of a live, human guide was always going to be impossible, but we figured that covering 95% of what a guest might want to know and experience would be more than good enough.
Since guests generally need information about the rental, and would love to have a local guide during their stay, the best thing I could do would be to expand on the early versions of Home Service I’d developed, and make it amazing at a) dealing with rental related inquiries, and b) being an interface guests can use as a really knowledgeable local guide.
Once a guest has booked their stay, Home Service takes care of all of the communications which you, as a host, would otherwise need to deal with. Our AI will proactively interact with guests before they check in, to make sure they have all the instructions and information needed to find the rental and get in easily. Once their in the rental, our Virtual Concierge answers whatever questions they might have. Some of the most frequent ones we get are related to internet and TV information, house supplies such as towels, cleaning supplies, dishes, etc., and miscellaneous information like parking and check out time.
Guests can also text with Home Service, and take advantage of all the expertise, tips, and information a host might have about their local area. The experience for guests is incredibly smooth, and they often feel like they’re having a conversation with a friendly guide.
Automating these two critical parts of the guest experience is possibly the best way to keep up with these growing expectations, and be supremely competitive when compared with hosts and property managers who offer no guaranteed engagement at all.
In a nutshell, here's how the process works:
1. Hosts and property manager create a profile on Home Service, and create as many properties as they’d like.
2. During the property creation process, you’ll be asked to answer all sorts of questions about the rental and area. These range from specific, i.e. the WiFi password, to more open-ended ones such as your favorite restaurant.
3. Most hosts decide to use a smart speaker in their rental. Once your property has been created, you’ll link that device to the property you created on our portal. This process usually takes around two minutes.
4. You can also send guests a link or an auth token which they’ll use to text with Home Service when they’re away from the rental.
5. Guests talk, text, and interact with Home Service. Instead of talking to you, they’re talking to the AI, and instead of feeling intimidated by a new city and area, they feel empowered to experience and explore.
6. In many cases, an answer might contain more information than what a guest is looking for. We dynamically create answers based on the information you’ve provided, and augment that with internet available local data to give hosts exactly the information they’re looking for. No need for you as a host to think of all the ways to answer a question - we do that automatically!
7. You’ll be able to check into the portal to look at all the insights and reports we’ve generated on what guests enjoy most, what you could improve in the rental or experience, and what sorts of time-savings and review boosts you’re getting.
When we brought our investor/advisor onboard, he had a very pointed piece of advice for us: you’ve got the best black shoes on the market. Focus on selling those black shoes and making them better. As such, we’re not a company which claims to cover every aspect of the AirBnB hosting process, but we are a company which is making the most capable and intelligent virtual concierge and travel assistant for guests staying in vacation rentals and short term rentals.
And as a tech-first company, we wouldn’t be true to who we are if we weren’t constantly measuring the data we’re seeing to gauge the level of impact we’re having. Since we built this platform, we’ve saved the average host around three hours a week for each property they have Home Service deployed in. For hosts and property managers who manage multiple rentals, this scales up very quickly and is genuinely an incredible return on the minimal amount of time and resources needed to get it all set up.