No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.
When I think about what makes for a world class host, I cannot help but think ofGary Vaynerchuk. I am a huge fan, no more so than because of his continuous emphasis on kindness as being the most important quality in either life or business.
What I haven’t yet heard him talk about, but is absolutely true, is how his belief is actually proven out by scientific research.
Research has indeed proven that acts of kindness have chemical reactions in our body.
An act of kindness releases the hormone oxytocin, which in turn forces the release of nitric oxide which dilates the blood vessels sending more oxygen to your heart, and thereby reduces your blood pressure. Reduced blood pressure protects your heart, and so kindness literally keeps us alive.
It is for that reason that in our business with San Antonio Stays our number one rule is to BE KIND.
As an Airbnb guest nearly 50 times over the last eight years, I have been introduced to so many outstanding super hosts who were kind to me.
I previously shared one such story about Paolo Manzone, who while not one of my hosts, exemplified what being kind to a stranger is about.
I will share a few more stories below of my time with exceptional super hosts, like my stay with Patricia in Barcelona, Spain who worked to find me new accommodations with one of her friends in the aftermath of a terrorist attack.
Or Nadia in Poggibonsi, Tuscany in Italy, who along with her parents stayed up late to ensure I found their beautiful home in the remote hills of wine country, and later invited me to their dinner table to share a meal with them.
Or Nacho in Sevilla, Spain, who tirelessly worked with my confusion with the directions to safely and successfully navigate me to his place.
These were hosts I learned from, and who rightfully deserve their status of super host, not the least of which because of their devotion to kindness.
Killing them with kindness
It’s Not a Weakness
When kindness is considered to be a weakness, it is always by those who are weak.
I’ve met people who believe kindness is something to be avoided with strangers, believed to be a strategy for protecting themselves. I’ve even had conversations with other hosts who believe avoiding kindness protects their homes and their business from unscrupulous guests.
But while I have been kind to guests who returned my kindness with damages, theft, and negative reviews, I believe the quality of an individual should not be measured by who they are only when times are good, but who they are consistently and independent of the outcomes of their actions.
And we believe that being kind to not only our paying guests, but to anyone who reaches out to us, is not only good business, but good humanity. We have faith that our consistent kindness to all will prove the better strategy.
That said, it hurts to have our kindness unappreciated and unreturned. But it hurts more to believe we are protecting ourselves from unkindness—by not being kind ourselves—and find that we missed an opportunity to be kind to someone who deserved it.
Like when you assume someone is out to hurt you, and ends up surprising you with kindness, and you feel bad for not being more friendly? A missed opportunity that costs so much more than the false protection you believed you created by not extending kindness to them.
The “New Yorker” Hesitation
I am originally from New York City, and a popular comment I hear when sharing that is how unfriendly New Yorkers are—something that is quite the opposite of my 20 years of experience living and working in the city.
What I did experience from New Yorkers, as well as unfortunately practiced myself, was a hesitation to be kind until there was some assurance that the kindness would be returned.
A New Yorker is someone who nearly 40% of the time was born outside of the United States, and nearly 60% of the time lives in a household with at least one person who was born outside of the United States1. That makes New York City the second most immigrant-populated city in the world (just behind London).
A byproduct of that statistic is that when you don’t know anything about the person standing in front of you, it is natural to be cautious, a biologically driven habit hardwired into our DNA after hundreds of thousands of years of evolution. But once you get past that, evolution has also created an innate need to to be kind.
Kindness On Full Display
And I can think of no more interesting an environment where kindness is at the same time required, sought after, feared, mistrusted and under the social microscope than in the host:guest relationship.
So whether as a host or a guest–or as just a simple human being–our number one rule should always be to BE KIND.
Kindness costs nothing, and delivers more value than all of the money in the world. Delivering it to your guests can make the difference between their remembering their time in your home as something to never be repeated, or something they want to share with every friend they have–twice.
And if that is not enough, know that it is just plain easier.
So without further ado, in addition to being kind, here is a short list of what I have found are table stakes behaviors to being a great host (Pro Tip: they also seem to work remarkably well when just interacting with other human beings).
Follow these tips and you’ll be off to a better than good start at your business as a host. And next time we’ll dive into what makes for a world class guest.
Communication as the key to any successful relationship is no different here.
Before sharing two contrasting stories of good and poor communication, let me share communication basics every host should have with their guests. Most of this can and should be automated, to both make it easier for you to manage as well as ensure consistent and thorough communication.
To begin, upon booking a new reservation:
Immediately send a message to your guest confirming their reservation details.
Provide important information such as your house rules, what they should know about your neighborhood and getting around.
And if you have created one, share a link to your online house manual (we have a Google doc we send to each of our confirmed reservations, an example of which you can see here).
A few days before your guest’s scheduled check-in:
Ask them if they have any questions or needs you can address prior to their arrival.
Share exactly how they will be able to access your home upon their arrival, such as their personal entry code if you have a smart lock, or how they are to secure keys to your home.
Inform them of how and when you will be available to them throughout their stay with you.
On the morning of their check-in:
Wish them safe travels (a super easy way to practice BEING KIND).
Provide a short list of your address, check-in time, wifi details, and their access instructions (putting the most important details all in one place and at the top of their message feed for easy access).
The night before their check-out:
Thank them for staying with you.
Provide them with your check-out instructions.
This could be a good time to ask your guests to follow you on social media.
Remind them to rate you, and offer them a discount for a future stays as well as one for any referrals.
Every guest will have their own frequency and approach to communicating with you, but what should never be unique is you being prompt, courteous, and professional with any and all communications before, throughout and after the reservation.
This is how you build your reputation as a super host.
Now, let’s look at examples of communications we had with two of our hosts, one to be followed and repeated and one to be avoided.
I’ll let you decide whether this first one should be followed or avoided.
I Have My Own Plans, Anthony
It was my last day in Paris, and I spent it enjoying the palace at Versailles before making the roughly three-hour drive to Tours in the Loire Valley of France.
A month earlier I messaged my host my itinerary, including asking her if I could check-in around 8PM so that I was not rushed at Versaille. She agreed.
The night before my check-in I again confirmed my estimated arrival time, to which my host again confirmed she would be waiting for me. At around 3PM on the day of my check-in, while touring Versailles my host messaged me asking if I had left yet. I responded that I was planning to leave at around 5PM, still expected to arrive at my previously shared and agreed to time of 8PM.
That’s when she replied: “I need to leave for my weekend holiday, Anthony. We agreed you would be here by 8PM, and I think you are going to be late. I cannot wait for you to give you the key, and I don’t leave my key with anyone. I am afraid you are going to have to cancel.”
The next several messages involved me being confused, then pleading with her to make arrangements for my check in and that I had no place else to stay being a foreigner in her country, followed by some extreme anger.
She insisted I would have to cancel the reservation on my end (not wanting the negative repercussions that would follow her canceling my reservation on the day of my check-in) and that she wished me luck on finding another place.
I stayed in a hotel that night.
What’s Your Clothing Size, Anthony?
Here is another story that is perhaps the polar opposite of the one above, how an exceptional host defined great communication (as well as humanity) for me.
I previously shared my time in Barcelona in 2017 on the day a terrorist murdered 17 people in an attack on La Rambla, the most popular street for tourists in Barcelona and where I sat just hours earlier.
My host, Patricia, reached out to me immediately after the attacks to see whether I was ok. She continued to communicate with me as I struggled all day to reach her apartment which until after midnight was blocked off by police conducting a search for the terrorists.
At the same time, she was making arrangements for me to stay with a friend elsewhere in the city should I not be able to return to her apartment, as well as inquired about my clothing size to have a change of clothing available for me (knowing I likely was not touring the city with my luggage).
Not only was her communication with me kind, selfless, and comforting, but Patricia is an example of what the host:guest relationship is supposed to mean and why she has justly earned a super host status. [While writing this I disappointingly discovered she is no longer offering her apartment for rent, else I would have shared her listing with you.]
2. Care for your guests (like family or friends you actually like)
It helps to be a guest in a foreign country to truly understand how your guests may feel staying with you.
But until you have that exciting opportunity (something I wish for you, as it is gloriously fulfilling), then think about a time when you were most afraid and how much that fear would have been tempered had you a guardian angel on the payroll.
Our job as hosts is to make our guests feel safe, to not suffer struggle that is within our means to alleviate, and to create an environment in which we allow them an enjoyable time.
Not every guest will have the same needs, and some are far more needy than others. What would you do for a friend in this situation, is a good place to start when your guests present a problem or concern to you.
It doesn’t mean you are going to drive them to the airport at 3 o’clock in the morning, but rather, it’s a place from which you start and then adjust based on the individual guest.
Both Paolo from Serralunga d’Alba and Patricia from Barcelona are always the first examples I think of when someone asks me what a good host looks like, but hardship and tragedy are not the only times when treating your guests the way you would friends and family should be your starting point.
It costs us nothing to welcome our guests with a hand-written note, or a bottle of wine, or their favorite coffee (once we learn it).
Stopping by and checking in on how a family is enjoying our home, or sharing a drink with someone whose entire party cancelled on them at the last minute but they decided to come alone nonetheless, well that’s just being a good human.
3. Be clear about house rules and special requests
If you are going to host guests, you need house rules.
These are not meant to micro-manage your guest, but to ensure your home is still in a condition to rent it to another guest after the current one checks-out.
There is no definitive list of appropriate rules; they are specific to what you need and want for your home (such as whether you allow smoking or not, whether you allow pets or not, or whether you allow your shower curtains to be moved from left to right (yeah, google it, it was a thing).
Whatever your rules, write them down, include them in your listing description, and place them somewhere accessible inside your rental.
Then, share them in your communications with your guests.
And for the love of all things that are logical, please include directions when there is something that is entirely unique to your rental and that your guest should under no circumstances be expected to know about.
Like this story about my time in Marseille.
The Most Interesting Washing Machine In The World
Marseille was my eighth city on my 25+ city tour of Europe in 2017, and my first in France. I arrived on the day the Tour de France was passing through Marseille, and my host hadn’t communicated it was happening or just how difficult (turned out to be legally impossible) it would be to reach his apartment that day (perhaps I should have done more homework, but then him sharing this information with me would have been good host etiquette).
Marseille police would not allow me within a mile of my destination (despite my 90 minutes of circling a city I had never been to in an attempt to get within walking distance). I finally found a parking space, hoped it was legal…
And walked the 1.3 miles with my luggage to my Airbnb.
Upon arrival my host met me, an hour after he said he was “just around the corner”. He gave me a tour of his apartment, bragging about how unique the art was and that local artists enjoy showcasing their art in his apartment because of how much money he is able to get for the artist selling their work.
Cool, I thought, now get out so I can take a shower and eat since that walk you didn’t tell me I would have has me sweating like a piece of cheese on the sidewalk.
I stripped off my sticky clothes, tossed them into the washing machine, and proceeded to take a shower before heading out to find dinner.
Upon my return I noticed that the washing machine was still running (at least 90 minutes since I started it). I stopped it and attempted to open it to see what was going on with my clothes. I opened the lid and found the inside sealed off by a wall of metal.
Despite washing my clothes for 20 year in the United States, and across ten cities in Italy throughout the prior month, I didn’t understand what I was looking at. I had lifted what I identified as the lid to find what appeared to be a second lid.
Yes, the washing machine had two sets of doors.
Thinking because I stopped it mid-cycle (after it was running for as long as a feature-length movie), and that maybe just resuming it again would do the trick, I closed the lid I had just opened and started it back up.
Another 90 minutes later it was still running. This time I reached out to my host to ask him what I wasn’t understanding.
This was his full response:
Ok. This is bad. The machine is probably broken. And I don’t know what happened with your clothes but it’s probably not good. Please put the machine back on 0 and don’t touch anything. I’ll come in the morning. I’m quite pessimistic anything can be saved. Let’s try not to make it worse. Good night.
I’ll let you sit with that one for a minute.
The next day my host arrived in a state of anger and frustration. He lifted the lid (that I had now lifted multiple times) and exclaimed, “I don’t understand how you could break my washing machine. We have nice things here. Look at the television and art we have. We don’t have shitty machines here. How did you not know to close the inside doors before closing the outside doors.“
It seemed that this man had the only washing machine in the history of washing or machines that had a set of inner doors and an outside door, and that because I failed to know this, and therefore failed to properly slide the inner doors closed before closing the outer door, I came close to breaking the washing machine that in addition to being the most interesting washing machine in the world also had the privilege of sitting in the same apartment as his incredible television and local art.
I just wasn’t grasping how lucky I should have found my situation.
Over the next hour he stripped off his shirt (why I am sure I do not know) and proceeded to disassemble the washing machine, growing ever more frustrated and telling me I would be responsible for paying for a new machine.
Fast forward an hour, and after he left to get additional tools he thought essential, I picked up his tools seeing where I thought the issue was and fixed his washing machine before he returned about ten minutes later.
My clothes were fine. His washing machine was fine. His attitude and treatment of his guest was anything but fine. I packed my things that night and left two days earlier than my scheduled check out.
Provide your guests with special instructions if you know you have something that requires special care. I could not have been the first guest to not know how special this washing machine was, and if I was, then I think I deserve the title of “special” well before his washing machine.
4. Keep a clean home (it should sparkle)
The first impression your guests will have of their experience with you is the neighborhood and specifically the street your home is on.
You have, obviously, no control over this.
Their second impression, and the most important impression of their entire experience with you, is on how they find your home in the first five minutes they are inside.
Is it clean? Is it tidy, neat? Does it smell good? Is it welcoming? Does it have the things they expect need?
This, you have total control over, and should manage the **** out of it.
You have heard the expression that you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression, well, the impression they have of your home upon opening the front door is your first and lasting impression.
It will remain with them through their review of you upon check out.
Here another (hopefully entertaining) story will communicate the importance of having a clean home, aside from the universally understood fact that a dirty home is just plain wrong.
This Place Is Awesome, You’re Going To Love It.
It was Fernanda and I’s first vacation together, and we decided to spend our holiday in Mexico City.
It was also the first time I ever had someone other than myself choose my accommodations.
Fernanda is an artist, and has a keen eye for what makes the inside of a home beautiful, functional and inspiring all at the same time. So I deferred to her on choosing our Airbnb.
“This place is awesome; you’re going to loveit,” she said. And she was right, the listing photos had me excited.
When our taxi pulled up, however, I thought that the driver had arrived at the wrong place.
“We are not staying here,” I said aloud, and in English. The driver laughed, and said he wouldn’t stay here either, also in English.
When we got out I was already checking my pockets that nothing had been stolen from them. My head was on a swivel, making eye contact with everyone who was within 20 feet of me. I was putting myself in between Fernanda and any movement on the street.
I was being very “New Yorker”.
I had arrived with the expectations I created after viewing the listing’s photos, and the street I was on and the neighborhood we had just driven through did not align with my mental expectations.
“I’m going to look for another place,” I said, before we had even reached the sidewalk.
Thank god Fernanda’s perspective was more patient than mine. Because not only was the inside of the Airbnb everything the listing photos showed, but it was better.
A well-known artist had designed it, and his use of the space was brilliant. He managed to include fountains and gardens and terraces, none of which I saw on the listing photos, nor would you ever expect to find behind the door on the street we were on.
And the neighborhood, well, it proved to be completely safe.
What’s That Thing About When I Ass-U-Me?
I had jumped to unfounded conclusions, was judgmental before logic reasonably allowed for an opinion, and nearly set our vacation on the wrong path before it started. Had our host’s place not be as clean and welcoming as it was, as unfounded as my opinions were of the street and neighborhood, they may have remained my “truth” for the duration of our vacation.
His home, however, and his taking total control over what he had total control over, changed that.
I was ashamed of myself, having what I thought was quite a bit of experience as a traveler and guest. And years later, after becoming a host myself, realized what a disservice I had done to my host.
He had no control over the street or neighborhood, and no control over the preconceived notions his guests brought to his front door. But what he did have control over he managed with precision, professionalism, and perfection.
And the impression he left with the interior of his space, substantively influenced my impressions of the exterior of his space. He turned out to be an artist with more than just the space he controlled. He used his influence to shape the impressions his guests would have of his city, his country, and the culture of its inhabitants.
That kind of responsibility changes minds, and changes the world in ways we as hosts will never fully see, but can and should fully appreciate.
5. Automate everything (you can)
It doesn’t matter what others tell you, or what you read online, being a (good) short-term rental host is a full-time job. It has to be, or you are short-changing your guests.
And unless you are consistently profitable (not nearly as guaranteed as you would like it to be) and have a team of plumbers, electricians, carpenters, cleaners, landscapers and administrators, you are going to have to be those things at times of day and night you would prefer to be doing something else.
American billionaire software developer and founder of GitHub, Thomas Preston-Werner, said “you are either the one that creates automation, or you are getting automated.” While not strictly examples of automation, the following three must-haves serve to outsource some of your responsibilities (and problems) to smart-technology…so that you can focus on more creative, more enjoyable and yes, more profitable, activities.
Smart Locks A smart lock will eliminate you having to wait around until after midnight for a guest who failed to communicate their arrival time to you. It will also eliminate your having to leave your home to bring a spare key to the guest who lost the one you handed to them when they checked in.
A smart lock allows you to set unique check-in codes for every guest, and retains a history/log of every access time which may be helpful in the event of issues (such as theft).
Smart Thermostats A smart thermostat can help eliminate a very costly HVAC expense.
You should strive to make your guests as comfortable as possible. But the AC set to 50 degrees for days on end because your guests like a chilly home will quickly lead to HVAC repairs (such as frozen and cracked coils) that will both inconvenience every guest until fixed, and set you back thousands of dollars.
A lockable (smart) thermostat is not meant to be an inconvenience to your guests, but a way to ensure every guest you host has a working AC/heating system, and where you won’t go broke fixing what an inconsiderate guest has damaged (and which neither your insurance nor travel site, such as Airbnb, will likely cover).
Just don’t be a jerk about demanding your guests have the same internal body temperature as yourself.
Smart Cameras Having external cameras (never internal…geez, that is not only illegal and unethical, but just…why?) can help you manage your property without having to be present 24/7.
What are you managing?
Guests booking your place for two people and sneaking in ten. Guests sneaking in a pet when your rules and listing clearly state “no pets”. Guests sneaking items out of your property (like your television and refrigerator).
And when your home is vacant, you are managing a break in, where you can be alerted to someone on your property when it is supposed to be vacant, and at the very least having video/photographic evidence of an intruder you can provide to law enforcement.
6. Avoid these DON’Ts
DON’T let your ego interfere with your business And your business is to make your guests happy.
Guests will be jerks. Guests will be unreasonable in their requests. Guests will ignore the communications you send. Guests will fail to appreciate the work you have put into making your home something you are proud of.
Don’t ever lose sight of your long-term objective: to always be profitable for as long as you want to be a short-term rental host.
That means having to learn how to, at times, swallow hard on your pride, apologize, and make things right with your guest even when they are unarguably wrong.
Don’t lie about your listing Want to kill your business before it gets started? Lie about your listing, show photos that are not accurate reflections of your home, and provide your guests with a false sense of what they should expect upon arrival.
If there is something about your listing you are embarrassed of or afraid to share, that’s an indication of something about your listing that you need to change, and change immediately.
And if it is something you cannot change (like your neighbors or neighborhood), then decide to be honest.
Your guests are more likely to respect your honesty, understand it is something beyond your control, and focus on what you do control and have made enjoyable and welcoming for them. At least that has been our experience most of the time.
And those times when our guests didn’t accept what we had no control over? Well, all you can do is just move on. Not everyone can be saved.
Don’t accept bookings without reading guest reviews Having a guest who you wish you never accepted into your home is not a matter of if but when.
The short-term rental community is exactly that, a community. We help one another not only stay in business, but thrive in business, when we enable our peers to learn from our own mistakes and experiences.
If another host had a poor experience with a guest, and took the time to share it publicly on the respective travel platform, then consider it valuable information with which you can and should leverage.
But don’t forget that as often as a guest can and will leave an unfair and untrue review of their host, so too is it possible a host has left an unfair and untrue review of their guest.
This is one of the 900 grey areas where you need to use your judgement, experience and a little discretion in deciding what information is important to you.
Just don’t ignore the free information readily available at your fingertips.
Continuing a 2000 year-old tradition
There is always something we can learn from others, whether they are good at what they do (teaching us our DOs) or they aren’t (teaching us our DON’Ts), and more importantly if you are looking for the lessons.
To find the lessons we need to have what’s called a growth mindset.
A growth mindset believes that talents and abilities can be developed through hard work, good strategies and input from others.
While a fixed mindset defends those talents and abilities as being innate and immune to improvement or development.
No matter our intentions, we all will suffer at some point with a fixed mindset.
Challenges, criticism, and being compared with others have the habit of forcing us to feel insecure and then grow defensive. And no growth can happen when we are here–in our fixed mindset.
Also, just having a growth mindset does not guarantee that good things are going to automatically happen.
We have to both continually challenge our understanding of our ability to do our task and accept risk taking, and then reward ourselves when we learn useful lessons from those risks taken as as we intentionally seek better ways to complete our tasks.
It’s how we guarantee we will always be positioned to get better at what we are doing. And it guarantees we will improve as a host, not to mention improve as a human being.
Following in the Footsteps of Gilgamesh
The oldest work of literature in the world is the epic of Gilgamesh, and among more things than this post has space for, it is about a king who serves in the role of both host and guest, and serves as the earliest written account of the intricacies and responsibilities of each role and of their relationship.
We love hosting, engaging with our guests; and we love being a guest and engaging with our hosts. Both experiences and interactions consistently teach us something new and allow us to grow not only as hosts and as guests, but as human beings.
And in so doing, we are allowed to continue a tradition born over 2000 years ago with Gilgamesh.
Not a bad gig at all.
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