Big Whale, Little Fish
A rather awful thing happened the other day, and it really lit a fire under me to change how I do business on my short-term rentals.
I'd like to preface this by mentioning that I wrote a book on Short-Term Rental Success a couple of months ago. I wanted to be the voice talking about how to run an ethical, guest-centric short-term rental. Hospitality is key, something that a lot of new hosts (and sometimes seasoned ones as well) seem to forget. Above all, providing a place that is safe, comfortable, and thoughtful should always be on our minds.
So imagine my shock and consternation when my entire account was shut down for a week by Airbnb. Here is how it all unfolded...
Earlier this month, on a Friday evening, just as the sun was setting and we were cooking dinner, our Airstream guest contacted me saying that there was water on the floor and a pipe seemed to have burst.
Airstreams, like most RVs, are small and well, cramped. The closet containing the water heater also contains the electrical panel, so when I saw we had a burst pipe and it was spraying water near the panel, we pulled the electrical and water connections immediately.
I apologized to the guest and set about making sure that Airbnb canceled the reservation and immediately refunded the guest. The rep requested proof that there was a burst pipe, and I had to explain that I had cut the power in order to make sure everyone was safe and that it was too dark for a photo to show up as the sun was setting. That seemed to be enough for the rep, she processed the cancellation and refund, and after having apologized for the 20th time, the guest left for a hotel and I blocked the Airstream from being booked for the next week. We knew it would be an easy, quick fix, since we have had these happen before (winters can be brutal here!), and I expected it would be done the next day, but wanted to be make sure no one booked right away, at least, not until the Airstream was good to go.
Less than 45 minutes later, I received a message from Airbnb stating that "due to a security/safety issue, [they] were suspending [my] account." It wasn't until I got off the phone with this new rep (who called a few minutes later) that I understood the full extent of what had been done. The rep had suspended not just the listing, but our entire account, preventing people from booking either the Airstream or Cottage West until "the issue had been resolved" and then she left for three days!
No matter who I called or complained to, no one would countermand the hold. I had provided proof of the repair less than 12 hours later, but my entire account remained frozen, no new reservations, nothing, for one, two, three, four, five, six, SEVEN DAYS. I sent multiple messages, called at least half a dozen times, and every single rep I spoke to could not understand why she had put a suspension on the entire account instead of just the listing. It made no sense.
We actually get a fair amount of last-minute business, especially at Cottage West. So to be offline and dead in the water for a week was beyond awful. Worse, all of the other platforms we are on - Booking.com, VRBO, and TripAdvisor - all of them use interconnected calendars. So when Airbnb blocked us from accepting guests, I had to cut the links to all of the other calendars because Airbnb had also basically blocked the calendars from now until, well, forever.
There is nothing quite like feeling a boot on your neck to motivate you to change. As an author, I've been wide for several years now. I sell through Amazon, but also dozens of other bookselling platforms. Because Amazon, like Airbnb, is a big whale of a company. I had heard plenty of stories of Amazon suddenly swooping in and suspending an author's account or freezing sales of their books, until they could "prove the books were actually theirs."
And sure, I'd heard plenty of stories of Airbnb doing much the same thing to a host - whether it was justified or not, I didn't know. Well, now I knew how it felt firsthand. I had spread myself over multiple platforms, but I hadn't pursued the other platforms as much as I had pursued Airbnb. It was easier to simply learn one platform, one system, instead of expanding my knowledge to the others. In other words, I got lazy.
I spent today updating my listings on the following platforms:
Glamping Hub (for the Airstream only)
Houfy (handles direct bookings and I have the links to it on this website now)
I hadn't been updating the photos, descriptions and rates on the other sites as often as I did on Airbnb, so I fixed that. I also slashed prices, and instituted some special seasonal pricing. The best rates can be found by going to Houfy, the direct booking site. But Booking, Glamping, TripAdvisor and VRBO are close in pricing. And they are all well below Airbnb's prices.
I understand Airbnb's wish to provide a safe place for a guest to stay. I understand it better than they think, because it is at the top of my list as well. What I don't like is their heavy-handed approach. If I had had five listings, or ten, or twenty, would they have suspended my entire account like that? I don't think so. But I'm a small fish, and someone (i.e. that 2nd rep) was either ignorant of the difference between suspending a listing vs. an account or on one hell of a power trip.
Having our account suspended was a wake-up call. Avoid the big whale, little fish! I will continue to do right by my guests. Their safety, their comfort is always front and center in my mind. But it is time to diversify.
So that's my tale of woe. More importantly, it's an opportunity. I'll be competitively pricing Cottage West and the Hedy Lamarr this year in order to meet a new goal...I want to move away from Airbnb wherever possible.
In 2021, I received 6.2% of my earnings from sources other than Airbnb
In 2022, I managed to see that figure rise to 8.12%
In 2023, I'd like to see my non-Airbnb bookings rise to double last year's figures, if not triple. And I hope to continue to raise that percentage in the years to come.
So come see me at Houfy. I'll give you a great discount, and the same amazing hospitality and comfort I always have. Hope to see you soon!