I live in a modest little two bedroom apartment in a much coveted area of East London. My apartment is situated within a block of flats where there is a strong sense of community so security is good. We have a large outdoor patio with a BBQ, two bedrooms, two bathrooms, as well as a cosy combined living, dining and kitchen area. It is just my husband and I living here and whilst it is great to have a spare room for guests, I found the extra space was turning into more of a walk-in wardrobe than bedroom, so a few months ago we decided to try letting it out on Airbnb.
Principally, Airbnb is like booking a hotel but the rooms are in people’s houses. Since becoming a host on Airbnb we have had many different guests. The main type of guest we receive are people visiting London for the weekend. Of this type, most often they come from France, Belgium, or within the UK. Our very first guests were two French university students from Paris who came on a Friday evening to party all weekend in nearby Shoreditch. Although they just wanted to have fun, they were actually pretty low maintenance and we barely saw them. From this group of traveller, we also welcomed a mature Belgian couple who were down in London to visit their daughter who worked here. The husband spoke English very well and was passionate about London, and we had some good conversations about the differences between living and working in the UK and other European countries on the eve of the Paris attacks.
Sometimes we receive visitors who are here for a longer holiday. A friendly, humble Spanish couple who were the same age as us once stayed for a week. They had a very busy itinerary and were out and about sightseeing during the days. During their visit, they spent some evenings with us in our living room and used our kitchen to prepare their dinner. We had some good chats comparing life in our respective countries and agreed if we were ever to visit Spain, we’d stay with them. Another time, a Chinese family consisting of mother, father and young daughter stayed with us for a week. They were quite shy at first and did not speak a lot of English, but they would wake up early to use our kitchen to prepare their breakfast, which was an interesting kind of Chinese soup with egg. They preferred to eat their breakfast in the bedroom at first, but I tried to make them feel comfortable enough to eat at our dining table. They showed me their Chinese guide book to London and I was surprised to see it mentioned many restaurants, shops and galleries in the area where the locals usually go.
A third type of visitor we receive is the contractor; people who live elsewhere in Europe and are in London temporarily on assignment. There is one contractor who has stayed with us a couple of times, he lives in the UK and he is very fond of our area (especially witnessing the rapid gentrification occurring here). We often have a cup of tea and a chat during the evening. IT contractors are the most common, and once we even had two visit together all the way from China. They were surprisingly confident and encroached on our living space a little by hanging around on the couch speaking loudly in their native language on the phone.
When you’re an Airbnb host, you need to remember you are not simply renting out a room but you are welcoming people into your whole home and offering them a very different experience to just simply staying in a hotel. You need to be friendly and polite and offer them some advice about the area that they would not necessarily see in a guide book.
We have had a mixture of positive and negative experiences hosting through Airbnb but we have learned some key tips along the way, which I have boiled down in to 4 key categories:
The Bedroom Should be Comfortable
For every Airbnb booking, ensure there is fresh linen on the bed and a minimum of two pillows per guest. I suggest opting for linen that is brightly coloured and looks new so the bed seems more inviting.
The walls and surfaces of the room should be dusted and a bedside lamp should be available in case the guest wishes to read in bed. You might also put down a rug on the floor to give the room a more cosy feel.
As an extra touch, spray some nice fragrances into the room prior to the guest arriving. You can also lay out some useful and luxury items such as a Tube map, Wifi access code, paracetamol and an assortment of chocolates or biscuits.
I have found the most important thing for guests is access to a clean and functioning bathroom. To impress guests, make sure the bathroom is sparkling and smelling strongly of bleach when they arrive, so they can feel confident it is hygienic. You need to really scrub the shower, toilet, sink and floor with bleach to achieve this.
Offer one clean towel per guest and one hand towel and put down a mat for the bathroom floor.
As an extra touch, guests like it when you can provide shampoo, conditioner, soap, body wash and toothpaste.
Think Twice about Parties
I have found having personal visitors whilst you are hosting Airbnb guests may not always a good idea. If you plan to have a couple of drinks at home with friends, feel free to invite the guest to join you for one drink. Otherwise ensure that noise levels are reasonable, smoke any cigarettes outside, and keep the living room door closed. If you decide to continue drinking past 11pm then go to the pub instead of staying at home.
Think twice about having a house party whilst hosting Airbnb guests. Sometimes when you’ve had a few drinks, you can suffer from bad judgement about acceptable noise levels and your partygoers might inadvertently wander into the guests room whilst the are sleeping. If this occurs, it is polite to offer the guest a discount.
Make your Guests feel Welcomed
This is the most important one. London apartments are small and some visitors who come from suburbia might be surprised just how small the living spaces are. They can be too shy to come into the common household areas or try to whisper so as not to disturb you.
Try to put guests at ease by engaging in some conversation with them. Ask them about where they come from and what plans they have in London. Suggest good local restaurants they can try. You should show them where they can find coffee, tea and cups in the kitchen in case they’d like a hot drink, and point out the dining table to them so they can sit down if they wish.
Throughout your guests stay, try not to be too noisy even if it means adjusting your normal style of living. Avoid doing any laundry during the evening if the washing machine is loud. Do not shout and argue with your partner or talk loudly on the phone, but rather conduct these activities outside instead.
Being an Airbnb host is a great experience, and you get to meet and speak with people from many different walks of life however if you want to hear about the dark side of hosting, please read my next blog. Feel free to share your own experiences as an Airbnb host or guest.