Short accommodation: Checks and balances that cut Airbnb revenue lossesTuesday January 31 2023
A fortnight ago, netizens were treated to copious amounts of laughter after a viral tweet indicated that some Kenyans book short-term rentals popularly known as ‘Airbnbs’ to use gas that is normally part of client offerings that come with furnished apartments to cook hard-to-boil legumes that take days on end to get ready.
The idea on the part of the client was to save on expenses by checking out with a whole week’s supply of ready-to-eat beans.
What most people did not know is that such an incident is just the tip of the iceberg of hundreds of lewd cases that hosts of the now popular form of accommodation go through whenever they host clients.
Read: Airbnb owners get a reality check after economic slump
Speaking to agents and hosts of short-term furnished rental units can make a great humorous novel on one hand and a painful read to anyone who has invested in such units.
Take the example of a case in Kilimani in Nairobi where a host was left in shock after walking into his unit only to find a broken television set, soiled beddings, missing cutlery and an apology note.
Needless to say, the client was gone.
Or another case in South B in Nairobi where a cleaner found face towels, soap, body oil, spices, an iron box and a host of other items missing after a client checked out with the items.
The cases are many.
In one incident, a host narrates how a disagreement among the clients lead to one of the clients falling to death in one of the most shocking of the incidences so far. The case was referred to the relevant security agencies.
But perhaps of the most painful of all in terms of returns for any investor is when a client cancels last minute or checks out without paying for the facility especially after staying for many days or months.
“In some cases, they just slither away in the middle of the night,” said Johnhenry Okulu of Supreme Residences who manages many short-term rental units in Kilimani, Nairobi.
“The hardest to deal with is when an individual assures and books a unit only to cancel last minute. The issue here is that often one has cancelled other bookings which may have been longer and fatter revenues. That becomes a case of lost business.”
Hosts and agents say that some clients are master schemers who plot well with the intention to scam the hosts.
There is a case in Mombasa where an individual booked seven different units with seven different hosts independently.
The scammer then asked each host to share some amounts so that they get cleared at the airport stating that they will pay back together with check-in fees when they arrive.
The client never arrived and the money sent was all gone and the booking reservation was a loss to the hosts.
According to Protus Nyamweya, director at Proam Real Estate, it is important that hosts and agents screen guests thoroughly.
“Check the guests’ profiles, reviews from previous stays, and communication history to assess their reliability,” said Nyamweya.
“Set clear rules and expectations. Clearly communicate house rules and expectations to guests before their arrival.
Nyamweya also advises that hosts get a security deposit from guests to cover any damages or theft during their stay.
In addition, a host should document the property's condition by taking photos before and after each stay to serve as evidence in case of any disputes.
Yusuf Mokaya of Ideal Properties reckons that it is important for every host to have their own strict cancellation policy and when a client books a house or unit the host should state clearly how it works.
“It can be flexible where a client can cancel one day to check-in date or 48 hours to check-in date,” said Mokaya.
“When a client is booking in advance they should pay a deposit depending on the days they are going to stay. This is refundable depending on the cancellation policy of the host. It can be half the deposit paid or zero refund if the client cancels at the check-in date.”
Hosts and agents say that in the event of theft or non-payment, the deposit acts as the security. This will make sure nothing is stolen or broken in the house. For non-payment, the policy is pay before check-in.
Other checks and balances that agents and hosts recommend include outsourcing cleaning and maintenance tasks to professional services to minimise wear and tear on the property and regularly communicating with guests during their stay to address any issues before they escalate.
Read: Kenya's Airbnb investors feel the heat of party ban
On the flip side, while other countries have specially designed insurance policies to protect the property and its contents against damage, theft, or other losses, in Kenya such insurance is only for those who own the units and not renters.
“Implementing these measures can help reduce the risk associated with short-term rental management and make the experience more enjoyable for both guests and hosts,” said Nyamweya.
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