It’s not all about AirBnB
Air BnB is the site that everyone has heard of and everyone knows. It’s the common phrase to describe serviced accommodation in Belfast and beyond. I’ve often heard people talking about ‘AirBnB’ing’ their flat! However, there is a whole host of other (and better) sites that are essential to get on to when you enter the luxury apartment rental/ BnB industry. So where should you be listed? Booking.com is by far the biggest player in the BnB market. It is a juggernaut and brings us the vast majority of our OTA (Online Travel Agent) bookings. There’s also Expedia, an umbrella site for other well-known serviced accommodation sites like Expedia.com, Hotels.com and others. Slightly less well known are Tripadvisor and Homeaway. They are also useful and are similar to the AirBnB model of enquiries. Getting your own website and being able to take direct (commission free) bookings is crucial.
Common sense is not that common
It’s obvious how the front door on your holiday rental locks, right? It’s obvious how to work the oven in your holiday apartment, right? It’s obvious how to turn on the bathroom light, right? Wrong. It’s obvious to you because it’s your door, oven and light switch but to a foreign visitor these can all seem completely alien. Guests need detailed instructions or pictures of these things in a guest handbook or you will be completely tortured by emails and phone calls. (I have personally had to explain all these things at least once)
Chances are that toilet rolls rarely enter your head if you don’t currently run a serviced apartment in Belfast or anywhere else. But you will become intensely aware of toilet rolls once you start in this game. How many to leave? Where does the cheapest? Should we just leave enough for them to get started or for every visit to the toilet during their stay? They can’t have used them all already can they?! Toilet rolls and towels are very similar in this regard. They become coveted items that you hate to part with. You’ll wonder whether a toilet roll almost half used is ok to leave for the next guests. You’ll have a calculator out trying to work out how many towels each guest should get for a 5 night stay. You’ll be overjoyed when you find out a guest hasn’t used every towel you left. And if they’ve bought some extra toilet rolls during their stay then even better!
If you meet and greet guests you will become extremely familiar with the local airport arrivals website. Most guests assume that, “I’ll be there about 2” is enough for you to deduce exactly how they plan to enter the country and at what time, then exactly which method of transport they will take to your property to enable them to arrive at 2pm exactly. Or maybe it’s 2am?!! If you’re lucky you’ll get a flight number or landing time. Or if they’re driving from somewhere a time they’re setting off. What you can then do with that time is forget it because they won’t arrive anywhere near it. Flights are delayed, public transport is missed and car journeys set off later than expected. All you can wish for is that they have whatsapp and roaming enabled so you can contact them for updates throughout the day.
How dirty a flat can get in a few days
Very dirty. Filthy. Disgusting. All from 4 happy, smiling, butter-wouldn’t-melt guests. There are several distinct groups of guests that can cause carnage in an apartment but I won’t name names here and we don’t discriminate. The point is that your flat can look like a scene from the hangover in just a few days with just a few guests. I’m not talking about a mad party or 50 people squeezed in. The 4 friendly people who checked in from Tuesday to Thursday can create stains you can’t identify and in places you can’t imagine.
When I started my first property I used to clean it myself after each check out. Why pay someone else to do it I thought?! Well I soon realised that unless I got some help in that I was never going to grow beyond a few properties. And I would also be physically tied to them because if I didn’t clean them then no-one else would. Getting a cleaner in seemed life changing at first. It freed me up to work on other aspects of the business. Unfortunately the honeymoon period never seems to last long…. After a while you start to notice the creased duvet covers and messy pillows and hairs in the plug hole and fingerprints on the TV and clumps of dust under the sofas and the rotten carrots in the back of the cupboard. I could go on and on. Yes as soon as you think you’ve fixed one problem another one appears! I soon came to another realisation: No-one cares about your business as much as you do. A portion of the time saved needs to be re-invested into managing the cleaners, checking their work and correcting any mistakes. It is arguably one of the most frustrating aspects of this business but it is a 100% necessary. Guests will not accept dirty accommodation and there is nowhere to hide in this review driven industry.
Bad guests will slip through the net.
No matter how many vetting processes you go through before you let someone into your property, bad guests will always slip through the net once in a while. There are 3 main groups of bad guests. Partiers, prostitutes and people using stolen cards. There are specific procedures and systems that can be put in place to deter these types of guests, along with warning signs to look out for before you accept them. However, it is not an exact science and human error will lead to things being overlooked. On top of that, these systems can be extremely strict and you can easily turn away genuine bookings who can’t/don’t pass your criteria. For that reason, you might give someone the benefit of the doubt or convince yourself that a high value booking is genuine. And generally they are. Until they’re not.
You now run a hotel
Instead of a having the best lucrative property investment strategy you thought you were getting, you now in fact run the one of the best hotels in Belfast City. A hotel where you do every single job. Housekeeper, maintenance, receptionist, general manager, revenue manager. You end up facilitating everyone else’s holidays and now there’s no time for you to get one! You need skills ranging from re-siliconing a shower to replacing a lightbulb, effective complaint handling to developing competitive rate matrixes for the coming year. You’re glued to your phone and effectively become your guest’s PA for the duration of their stay. They need a taxi? They ask you. They want a box of Kleenex? That’s up to you too. Where’s the nearest supermarket? No point in asking Google, it’s easier to just ask you.
Guests can be fickle beings. Some will tell you the whole way through how amazing the apartment is and how wonderful and helpful you are as a host then mark you down on a review because it rained during their trip. Others will ignore every email and text you send them asking how their stay is then will complain that they couldn’t work out the washing machine. In my opinion a perfect review is almost priceless. I say almost because if a guest asked for a full refund in exchange for a perfect review they would be shown the door. But in general I think it’s worth doing anything within your power to achieve a good review or salvage a bad one.
It can be so rewarding
I really believe that the best part of this work is meeting people from all over the world and hearing a bit of their story. I really didn’t expect to enjoy this aspect as much! Most people are really excited to be on holiday and are looking forward to starting their trip. People who regularly stay in apartments see the same basic standard everywhere so if you can offer them a little bit more, they really appreciate it. This is a guest-focused hospitality business so the customer is (almost) always right. If you can offer excellent customer service and have the time/energy to deal with all the weird and wonderful things that crop up, then it is a great business to get into.