Just 20-some-odd years ago, many vacation rental companies would offer you a discount if you brought your own sheets. If you instead opted to pay extra for their sheets, the company would provide them by leaving a fresh set on your door, but you still had to make your own bed. While that may seem like a shock to some of the modern Airbnb generation, we should not forget that even in 2008 the “Air” in Airbnb stood for “air” mattress.
In today’s constantly evolving multibillion-dollar vacation rental industry, it’s almost unthinkable to not provide linens or to offer an air mattress as the main sleeping accommodation.
In the face of increased guest expectations, growing competition in the space, and heightened regulations, there is a new minimum standard for success in this industry. While it may have been hard to miss when setting up a vacation rental unit in the past, nowadays, while there is still a ton of opportunity out there, hitting the mark requires a bit more aim.
Increased Guest Expectations
Guests these days have much higher expectations when it comes to renting. This is in part because guests now consist of a much broader spectrum than the forgiving millennial who was a beta user of Airbnb a decade ago.
For example, because short-term rentals are starting to compete more directly with hotels, guests are starting to expect better communication, amenities, and quality control. After all, picking up a phone and calling the front desk with any issues is the alternative. Vacation rental hosts should focus on being professional in their tone, have clear guest instructions for check-in/check-out, offer basic essentials and amenities, and maintain a consistent level of cleanliness and quality with the home. Most importantly, the home itself should look and feel like the photographs on the listing. Purchasing contract/commercial grade furniture (which is meant to last), restocking and replacing damaged or worn linens, and using quality products and amenities in your home have become essential.
As the space has become more and more crowded, creating a unit that stands out in search results has become increasingly important. The data is clear—listings that feel local and emphasize sustainability are more likely to get booked than ones that feel generic or unintentional. Some ways to accomplish this would be to purchase from brands with a focus on sustainability, and to create home interiors that emphasize local travel with art, amenities, and guidebooks geared toward where the home is.
This became painfully apparent during COVID-19. When the demand for travel decreased, homes in supply were paired up against one another fighting for a scarce number of bookings—especially in major metropolitan markets. Owners, hosts, and property management companies should understand that while many of us are basking in the current resurgence of travel demand, the market is not future proof. The ability to stand out by creating quality listings now is the best insurance policy you can take out.
Perhaps the biggest existential threat to our industry comes in the form of short-term rental regulations. Burying our heads in the sand or operating in the gray are not viable long-term options. There are a ton of great groups and associations out there fighting the good fight for us all in local municipalities, and even on a statewide or federal level.
The new normal here requires us all to contribute to those causes both directly and indirectly. Contribute directly by joining a local association, voting when you can, and being vocal about our industry. Contribute indirectly by being a good neighbor to those around your homes, monitoring for problematic bookings, and addressing issues when they come up before they escalate. Many cities have already reached fair regulations that allow for rentals to operate in a regulated and safe way. The worst regulations are occurring in areas where short-term rental operators have not been able to voice their side, educate the public, or show how vacation rentals can coexist in that city.
Overall, the short-term rental industry has gone through many changes since the days of paying extra for renting linens. Today’s guests know what they want and will not settle for less, and they are choosing from a bevy of options, including rentals and hotels. This means the bar for vacation rentals has elevated and subpar units are destined to be phased out. Moreover, the need for community, collaboration, and unified efforts to create fair and consistent regulations is more important than ever.
Jeff Iloulian is the CEO and co-founder of HostGPO, a buying group for vacation rentals hosts. HostGPO offers members access to exclusive deals from top brands for furniture, linens, amenities, and more.