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What does Airbnb's new policy mean for property managers?

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Last week, Airbnb released its new “Off-Platform Policy.” With this rule change, hosts are expected to keep all guest communications on Airbnb, minimizing outside interaction between the host and the guest. 

To quickly summarize, here are the behaviours Airbnb is now prohibiting: 

  • Asking guests for feedback off of Airbnb

  • Asking guests for contact information prior to booking

  • Asking guests for contact information after a booking or misusing contact information provided by Airbnb

  • Asking guests to create a separate account or install a third-party app in order to access their listing

As you might already know, trying to keep communication within the platform isn’t foreign to the booking giant—but it does stir up some questions: Who is most affected? And what does it mean for property management companies?

While some hosts seem unphased, saying these are not much different from any other online travel agency (OTA) policies, others have suggested breaking up with the platform altogether—a risky and costly move.

With so much uncertainty surrounding this topic, we’ve decided to break it down with some industry experts to figure out how property managers can overcome policy-related setbacks.

The impact

After waves of COVID-19 cancellations and refunds, this new policy feels like a further injury to property managers, says James Lemon, founder and CEO of the Growth Works. But the policy won’t have a significant impact on all businesses.

As Lemon explains, the effects depend on the size of the operation and how they’re handling their business. “You also have to recognize that hosts are on a spectrum from individual part-time owners to, quite frankly, giant multinational hospitality businesses, so not everyone is going to be affected or frustrated in the same way.”

For small-time hosts and mid-size companies that are still largely managing their business on-platform, this will pass by with minimal impact. The bigger issue is with larger property management companies that have integrated creative tech into their workflow. It could potentially undo layers of innovation, disrupting the tech ecosystem in the short-term rental industry, says Lemon.

“It’s a tough thing for people who are trying to innovate in this new digital hospitality when the biggest player in the room is saying you can’t touch that anymore,” he says.

One of the biggest gripes surrounding the policy is the restriction on information collection, which creates new challenges for direct booking. Without the ability to request external reviews and use guest emails for future marketing campaigns, property managers might struggle to increase brand awareness.

And as more and more property managers pivot their focus to direct booking sites, this comes as a major blow. But the reality is, you can’t force people into direct booking, nor can you force them into using your tools just because it’s more profitable for your business.

The traveller comes first

In hospitality, whether you’re a property manager or hotelier, you need to put the traveller first. If Airbnb is making guest communication simpler and safer, this could drive more confidence on the platform, which could result in a surge of bookings, says Lemon.

By complying with the policy and enforcing a seamless guest experience, you could earn your property and business more credibility. Rather than ditching the platform, the better option is to leverage Airbnb to maximize revenue for your business.

What can you do?

As Lemon explains, it’s important to avoid knee-jerk reactions. There’s no sense getting angry with the distribution channel that is providing a big chunk of your revenues. Instead, develop strategies for managing the new policy.

Be omnipresent

There are ways to work around these new rules, explains Mark Simpson, founder of Boostly. The first being to maximize exposure for your listings and business. Don’t just rely on Airbnb. The businesses that are omnipresent and visible on multiple channels, and have a website that can take bookings are not only surviving these difficult times, but thriving, he says.

“A key aspect in any business is to never build your house on someone else’s land,” says Simpson. “There will be many hosts around the world who have over-relied on Airbnb to bring in their bookings and they are the ones who are now hurting the most.”

Tailor your marketing

Targeting your email list is not the only way to communicate your brand. Instead, make your brand apparent through your listing. Consider adding your company name to your listing name or have it mentioned in your description. Savvy travellers know how it works—they understand they’re likely to get a better rate by booking directly, so let them find you.

Be transparent

If the collection of certain guest information is required by law or building management, you’re allowed to do so according to Airbnb’s policy. So, in respect to guest screening, there is wiggle room, Jon Bell explained in the most recent Vacation Rental Machine podcast.

To ensure you act in compliance, be fully transparent in your listing. If guests need to provide additional information or need to download an app, whether for smart locks or another third party app to gain access to the property, this needs to be noted in the description. Otherwise, there are alternatives to automate processes. Bell suggests looking towards other vendors that will adapt to these restrictions to create a new workflow.

Follow the rules

The last thing you want is to be penalized for acting outside of the policy. If you play your cards right and comply with the rules, you’ll be able to generate max revenue from Airbnb while securing more direct business and increasing your brand awareness.