We recently sat down with Ruthy, host of Lisbon’s Best Flavors, to chat about her journey launching and running a food experience that has over 1500 reviews. Ruthy, along with her co-host Rita, hosts two experiences six days a week and says she doesn’t stop thinking about her business until her head hits the pillow at night. Her goal is to help make Portugal known for its delicious cuisine and unique drinks, and to show travelers an authentic side of Lisbon they might not have otherwise found.
How has Ruthy hosted thousands of guests and inspired so many glowing reviews? Read on to hear more about what makes her successful.
How did you feel launching your experience? It seems like you’re a natural host––were you ever nervous?
Yes! I was so nervous wondering what the guests might be expecting from me and the experience. I try never to let my nerves show, and treat my guests like friends. I love meeting new people, so, from the beginning, I try to see this as a way to make new friends.
What helped launch your experience and get your first guests?
When I first started, I had available dates every day. Even if I only hosted one or two guests on some of these experiences, it was worth it for me in the beginning to get my first reviews.
I’d tell a new host to open up as many dates as they can, in the beginning, to try to get those first reviews. You might not open up a date every single day, but do what you can. Even if you have one or two guests, those can turn into your first reviews.
You’ve hosted thousands of guests; where do your bookings come from?
Most of my bookings come right through Airbnb, but word of mouth has been a good source of guests as well. I recently had guests tell me that they were discussing their trip to Lisbon in a cafe, and a couple in line next to them interrupted and told them they had to try my experience.
Having a lot of reviews definitely helps, but I think the quality of the reviews are very important, too.
Do you do anything, in particular, to get your guests to leave quality reviews?
At the end of my experience I take a group photo, and after the experience, I send it to my guest through an Airbnb message and ask them to leave a review if they had a great time.
Seems like they are leaving such great reviews because they have a really good time with you. Do you have advice for new hosts on how to make sure guests have a great time?
You know, the best advice I ever received was from a friend of mine. Early on he told me, “You might get burned out hosting every day, giving the same experience, explaining the same things. Keep in mind that even though this might be the hundredth time you are doing this, this is the guests very first time.”
That really sticks with me. Before every experience, I take a moment and think to myself, “This is the first time for these guests.” I try to put myself in their place. This allows me to see my experience through their eyes. As a host, I just can’t have a bad day––or I can’t let the guests know I’m having a bad day or that I’m stressed.
The great news is guests are in a good space and usually in a very open and happy mood. They’re usually on vacation, so if I stay upbeat and happy and treat them like friends, we’ll have a great time.
I also find most guests trust the Airbnb brand, so when they come to the experience they feel safe. Like they can trust this experience, and me as a host, and that if something did go wrong they could reach out to Airbnb to help.
But what about those days that are challenging? You must have them?
Well, yes, like for instance last week it was 44 degrees celsius, or 114 degrees fahrenheit, in the shade in Lisbon, or sometimes it will rain and we’ll all get soaked, but if I don’t make a big deal out of it, the guests are happy. In the heat, I make sure to serve the guest lots of water at each stop. When it rains, I just keep it light and fun and keep in mind that if I don’t make a big deal of it, the guests won’t either. You just keep going and stay upbeat and laugh about it!
How do you get your guests to connect with each other?
I ask very basic questions at first like where they are traveling from, how long they will be in Lisbon. If some guests are shy and don’t open up too much, I’ll spend a little more time making them comfortable and ask them questions about their job or hobbies. I try to spend time getting to know each guest, and I am genuinely interested in meeting new people and finding out more about them. Often when I’m asking questions about them, another guest might hear that they love to paint, and they’ll join in on the topic.
I try to keep things light and fun, and if I feel like the conversation might start to move towards politics, I let the guests know that there are a few topics that are banned. I try to do this in light way, and then steer the conversation to something else.
You now host nearly every day; do you have any advice for hosts that might also want to host this frequently?
This is a lot of work. I love it, and I get to meet new people every day. But I am also always thinking about this business––right up until I put my head down at night! It’s great to be my own boss, but I put a lot of work into this.
What’s next for you; where do you see your food experiences going in the next few years?
I want to launch a second food experience in another district. I used to host an experience in a touristy area of Lisbon, and it wasn’t as popular, so I am looking for another area that has a lot of authentic restaurants so I can show my guests what Portugal is really like.
What can Airbnb do to better support you as a host?
You know, the one thing I really wanted was the ability to change the number of guests on an experience. A restaurant might call me up and say, on this date we can only fit this size of a group in the restaurant. I was in the app recently and noticed I could now limit of the number of guests for just one instance!
I’d love to have more features with messaging, maybe separating the messages about inquiries from the messages sent by booked guests. But everything else has been pretty easy to use so far, and I love to see these updates as Airbnb Experiences grows!