Aug. 27, 2019
In a perfect world, we would only host quiet and considerate guests, who respected our property, neighbours and community. But unfortunately, that’s not always our reality—property managers see everything from noise violations and property damage to chargebacks and criminal activity.
As savvy and experienced operators, we understood the importance of guest screening. We collected personal information, researched the guest online and focused on deliberate interactions—we thought we had a solid process in place. But even with everything we were doing to protect ourselves, we were targeted by criminals, who booked our suites for illegal activity.
After processing thousands of reservations, and wasting time and money on unsuccessful guest screening, we had a rude awakening. Our best practices weren’t enough and we needed to do better.
To fight back against troublesome guests, we built Autohost, an intelligent guest screening software. No more bad guests.
Every host and property manager has seen it before: a seemingly normal guest books through an online travel agency (OTA), throws a party, trashes the place and causes thousands of dollars in damage, or worse. By now, we know there’s much more to hosting than crafting a perfect guest experience.
Proper guest screening is the responsibility of every short-term rental operator. To keep our neighbourhoods and communities safe, property management companies need to set expectations with guests, assess risks, enforce house rules, and most importantly, hold guests accountable for their actions.
Autohost was built to solve a major problem in the short-term rental industry: It’s impossible to manually screen every guest while running and growing a property management company. Our team was wasting 70% of their time on a penetrable guest screening process. Like us, property managers everywhere deal with safety and security gaps in their operations.
With experience in the industry, we’ve seen the struggles property managers face on a day-to-day basis. At the beginning, we had just a few check-ins, so it was pretty easy to get a handle on who we were hosting. With less turnover, we had the time to invest in guest screening, vetting and communications. By having longer interactions with guests, we were able to learn more about their travel plans, set expectations and, as a result, decrease the risk of damage, noise complaints and house rules violations.
But as our check-ins increased, so did the risks to our business. We moved to instant book and expanded to platforms beyond Airbnb, meaning we suddenly had less control over who booked our suites.
We were hosting tons of people from all over the world, and though most were great, a few bad apples kept us on edge 24/7. As topline operators, we knew it was our responsibility to prevent unnecessary nuisances in our neighbourhoods by monitoring our guests’ behaviour. Our team desperately needed an accurate, systematic and non-discriminatory way to protect our clients, properties, business and community against bad guests.
What We Were Doing:
To safeguard our operations, we developed a manual process for screening new guests. This involved looking at different parameters from a checklist and researching the guest online.
Our agents would comb through various pieces of information, searching for anything that made us suspicious of the guest or their reason for travelling. We would look at everything—cost of reservation, length of stay, the number of guests and even which suites they booked.
After manually examining every piece of information associated with the booking, we would check out the guest’s online presence. To validate identities, we’d spend hours googling guest names and phone numbers, scrolling through photos on social media and carefully examining booking profiles. This wasted a lot of time, and left a huge margin for error. Often, our searches didn’t yield any results, or worse, gave us a false positive.
We’d keep a closer eye on high-risk reservations and guests—like the 21-year-old man who booked a 3-bedroom condo “for him and his girlfriend” to “see the city”. If something raised a red flag throughout the screening process, we’d reach out to the guest for additional information.
Guests would be asked to confirm their reservation details and agree to our house rules. We’d send out warning messages to higher-risk guests, ensuring they understood the consequences of any violations. Before sending out check-in instructions, guests had to provide us with a copy of their ID and credit card. If we were suspicious of someone, we’d get them on a phone call to better assess the situation. Sometimes, we’d even go as far as meeting guests in person to verify our previous interactions. In cases where we couldn’t confirm the guest’s information, we’d cancel the reservation.
Since starting out, our reservations have skyrocketed. With new guests checking in and out everyday, guest screening became way too time-consuming, incredibly expensive and highly inaccurate. This made it easy for troublesome guests to slip through the cracks, particularly when we had our guard down, even if it was temporary.
To keep up with the influx of bookings, we expanded our team and increased the hours dedicated to processing reservations and screening guests. Sometimes, agents would spend 70% of their shift worrying about safety and security, taking away from the goal—providing a world-class experience for guests.
A bigger team helped with volume, but made it more difficult to manage guest screening. Even with procedures in place, every agent to join the team increased the likelihood of discrimination and human error. With hundreds of factors to consider and an increased number of bookings, it was easy to overlook details. Missing information could lead to wrong decisions, resulting in disrespectful guests, rule violations and unhappy neighbours.
To make matters worse, the only details we got from the reservation were from the booking site, not the guest. We had no control over what information was provided and lacked a platform for the guest to disclose additional information.
Details like names of extra guests, time of check-in and reason for staying are required by some municipal and building by-laws and mandated by insurance providers. To get these missing pieces, we had to collect them ourselves, causing friction in the booking process, massive headaches and overhead expenses, all while exposing us to privacy issues.
We did our best to prevent house rule violations through strict screening, but this ended up deterring bookers, causing us to lose out on amazing guests and higher revenue potential. When we were more lenient, we came across issues of noise complaints, chargebacks, fraud, property damage and even criminal activity.
It was more instinctual to focus on customer service instead of security, which meant we were more reactive than proactive. If we booked disrespectful guests, we shifted to damage control. And when things went south, we’d have to dispatch our security team to lockdown the suite, resulting in unnecessary costs.
As our company evolved, our guest screening process got more and more convoluted. With too many small details and judgment calls at play, it became essential for us to systemize. We knew there was a better way to protect our communities. We just needed a system to accurately assess all factors associated with a guest’s reservation in order to screen them properly. It was time to eliminate the decision element.
With Autohost, we created a systemized way of screening all guests. Upon booking confirmation, guests are sent into a dedicated portal. From there, the intelligent guest screening software builds a risk algorithm that examines hundreds of parameters, including IP addresses, device type and cell phone carrier. As an extra layer of security, we verify IDs, collect security deposits and have guests sign a rental agreement.
With our dynamic verification, we provide property managers and their teams with easy-to-interpret results. Based on these results, Autohost suggests actions, so agents can be confident in their responses to all types of reservations. With Autohost’s recommendations, we’ve eliminated the judgment call—removing the possibility of personal bias and discrimination. In with the good guests and out with the bad guests.
How Autohost Helps:
Autohost scans every reservation that comes into your system and automatically generates an intelligent risk score, which provides your team with actionable outputs. With these, you understand the risks and know exactly what to look for. Whether it’s sending the guest a warning message, reiterating house rules, or even calling the guest on the phone, you know how to proceed.
Before confirming the guest’s stay, wait for their response. They can either accept the conditions for booking or cancel—it’s as simple as that.
Since creating Autohost, we’ve seen a 15% increase in revenue. With a higher risk tolerance, we can remove stricter booking restrictions from our OTAs. Fewer restrictions = more bookings. At the same time, we’ve decreased noise complaints and property damage, and reduced the risk of fraud, chargebacks and criminal activity. It’s a win-win.
By removing the decision factor from guest screening, we crafted a simple, transferable process that’s easy to pass on to new agents. We started making better use of our time, while saving thousands of dollars by reducing chargebacks and processing costs.
Thanks to Autohost, our team and clients have more confidence in our operations. Through each dedicated building portal, owners and property management companies can see every guest who has been successfully verified. With every risk-free check-in, we’re able to prove our dedication to responsible hosting. In turn, we bring in more properties under management.
The best part? With the time and money we save on tedious guest screening processes, we can focus our attention on what really matters—5-star hospitality.