Last year, when Dawn Joyal began welcoming Airbnb guests into her Santa Monica guesthouse, she had no trouble figuring out which amenities to offer. That’s because she had plenty of personal experience to draw on. “I traveled Airbnb for years before I was a host, so I knew what I was looking for,” she recalls. “And I put everything that I never found, in mine.”
During last year’s Airbnb Open 2014, in talking with her fellow hosts, Dawn realized that she was a bit of an anomaly: Most of those she met were hosts before they became guests—the opposite of her situation. She first heard about Airbnb five or six years ago, in an article in the New York Times. Soon after, she booked places to stay through the then-startup. It wasn’t until last year that she started toying with the idea of hosting.
“The previous owner had converted the garage for their nanny,” she says of the separate unit on the property she shares with her husband. “The décor was really, really bland. It was all the color of sand. It had sand drapes, sand walls, and sand carpet.”
In spring 2013, ahead of her parents’ two-week visit, Dawn decided that a makeover was in order. She incorporated color and pattern, yielding an interior more in line with what one might expect in a beach town in Southern California: sun-kissed yellow walls; a swath of Kelly green in the kitchen; a long table, topped with a vibrant print, that functions for reading, dining, or doing work; a lime-hued bathroom; and cheery polka-dotted bedding. But it’s easy to see why guests are often charmed before ever setting foot inside: Just beyond the blue-and-white cottage-like structure’s Dutch door is a deck with a view of a pond and a garden that includes a Meyer lemon tree.
After her parents’ stay, Dawn thought to herself: “Well, I’ve got this room that’s completely remodeled. What should I do with it?” She approached her husband about putting it on Airbnb. He was hesitant at first; in part because in order to get to the guesthouse, you have to walk right by the couple’s own residence. So they started out with just single (one-person) bookings before allowing pairs. “Now he’s a bigger social person with my guests than me,” laughs Dawn.
As of mid-November, when the Open took place, Dawn’s listing had generated $23,000 in revenue this year. And she is now an Airbnb Superhost. Over time, she has learned quite a bit about being a good host, and also picked up more pointers at the Open. (Of the event, she says she most enjoyed connecting with individuals in corporate, as well as appreciated hearing about the addition of liability insurance, Airbnb’s efforts to work with local governments, and the Superhost hotline.) Here, Dawn shares some of her best advice, including little ideas that can make a big difference:
- Bed size matters: Dawn’s property initially offered a double bed. She found that European travelers had no qualms about the size, but domestic ones preferred a queen or a king. Based on the feedback, she upgraded: “This year,” she says, “my big splurge was a queen-sized bed.” She made sure to note the change in her listing.
- Improved online visibility: During the first day of the Airbnb Open, Dawn attended a session led by Glenn Cooley, an independent consultant for hosts. “He’s amazing because he really knows how to manipulate the website to maximize your visibility,” says Dawn. “He had really specific, clear tips.” Among the key takeaways for Dawn: “He changes his pricing and title of his listing constantly—and keeps a database of what works and doesn’t work. He’s always experimenting.” For instance, he tested a header that announced a Fall Sale with 10 percent off. Adds Dawn: “He adjusts the pricing depending on how busy or slow it is.” She plans to try out this tactic, since summer is the peak season in Santa Monica and she can likely garner more interest and money during that time.
- Look around: Dawn spends time reviewing Airbnb listings in her area. “I look at what other people charge, their descriptions, their amenities, their décor,” she says. “If someone else has a garage conversion with no windows, I highlight that mine does have windows.” It’s a simple way to give yourself a leg up.
- Must-have amenities: There are two important elements that Dawn believes are frequently overlooked by hosts: a magnifying mirror for doing makeup and hooks—lots of them. “Hooks for your purse, hooks for the key, hooks for your dirty clothes when you’re getting in the shower,” she says. “They’re really handy and people use them all the time.” When it comes to comfort, she recommends accessorizing with a throw/lap blanket (“They’re great for sitting or napping, when it gets a little chilly but you don’t want to get in bed”), and enough pillows to fashion a makeshift backrest in bed (“Especially if there’s no big, cushy upholstered chair”). To lend style to utilitarian things, Dawn framed the emergency contact info (including the wi-fi passcode) and directions for the TV (including channels).
- Neighborhood guide: Dawn created a binder filled with neighborhood essentials, like a map she devised and a list of go-to spots for coffee, yoga, groceries, etc. The latter includes a key detail: hours of operation. “They know which direction to walk, and know how much time they have before the business closes,” says Dawn.
Thank you, Dawn!
And now, your turn: What are some of your best host tips, culled from first-hand experience and from others? We can’t wait to hear them!