Every now and then, you get a guest who seems impossible to please and you wished you had never accepted the booking. Most often these guests have really not read the listing properly and come with some very random expectations which have nothing to do with how you have described it. How do you avoid these guests as they often come with a polite and friendly introduction and a bunch of great reviews?
Having been stung by a particularly rude, unpleasant and incredibly demanding couple a few months back, I'm trying to spot the red flags whenever I can and put more time into doing the research, especially reading the reviews the guest has left for others.
Yesterday I got a polite enquiry from a lady with four very positive reviews. However, the fifth one said, "She respected my house rules, was easy to communicate with, but she was not so friendly and a bit intolerant." So, of course I looked for the review she had left for this host, only to find an essay of complaints. She even got cut off mid sentence because she had gone over the word count!
To summarise only a few of the points made:
Next, I checked out the host, who is a superhost with lots of excellent reviews, and a very clear listing that describes a small villa. Plus, I think it's probably obvious that if you book somewhere in one of the most expensive parts of Italy in high season, it's going to be "pricey" and busy. I have visited this area and you have to climb steep steps wherever you stay. That's just the geography of the place. The only mistake the host made in terms of accuracy was including a bottle of wine in the photos!
The next reviews were a bit more positive but also very detailed and even when she liked a place, she seemed to need to find fault:
- There’s no lift to the apartment, but three flights of stairs, bathroom is small, shower in the bath but no separate shower, it was busy/noisy, but okay, that’s Naples.
- There is a elevator but the location is still noisy. Couldn't use the fireplace so it was a bit chilly (really, you need heating in Southern Italy in the Summer?), there was a very small problem with the hot tub (she declined the host’s offer to fix it the same day), and on and on until she gets cut off by the word count again!
I even went as far as to look at the listings on the guest's London Wishlist. They were all fancy, in very central, expensive areas of London. I knew that this guest was not going to like my 'small' bedroom, up three flights of stairs, facing a busy road, in a well connected, but less central and not posh part of the city. So, I sent her a polite response explaining that I didn't think my listing was a good fit for her based on the above.
Today she responded with a long lecture and told me "I'm not sure its appropriate to assume someone is not suitable based on one review." She went into further complaints about the listing in Capri, saying they had booked a private beach and got a public one. Well, the listing doesn't say anything about a private beach. It says the villa has private access from the beach (which is clearly shown as busy in the photos). She had obviously seen the words "private" and "beach" in the same sentence and jumped to her own conclusions.
Now this seems like a lot of research for me to go through for one enquiry, but I feel so grateful that I did. I feel like I have dodged a bullet with this one!
It would be interesting to hear from others as to what level of research you go into before accepting a guest.
I've tried to think how to word it. Currently, it reads:
It is an urban, multi-cultural neighbourhood, with a wide range of income groups and housing, which is very typical of London. Please do not book if you are uncomfortable with this!"
Maybe I should move this up a bit and make it more explicit, but struggle a bit with implying that an area that I have felt safe in for the past nine years and where not a single guest experienced any issues no matter how late they came home at night was 'dodgy'. I live on the main road very close to the tube, so there are no secluded areas to wander down, making it actually very safe to get home.
Yes, you encounter drunks here too, most commonly late on a Friday or Saturday night. We have the famous Swan Tavern opposite the tube, which is a last pit stop for party types that get kicked out of everywhere else! They are pretty harmless. If I bump into a lost one in the early hours, I don't mind stopping to give them directions. But daytime drunks? Not so much.
PS @Helen I will check out your listing and hopefully get a few pointers!
By the way, do you think many guests read the Location section of the listing? I get the feeling (based on the questions they ask) that they don't.
Okay, thank you. I'm going to take your cue and add it to the Other Things to Note section of the description near the beginning of the listing and include something similar to 'scruffy around the edges'.
Unfortunately, I think a lot of guests don't even read that far. Many that do read the description (and you can also reiterate stuff in messages too to no avail), just stick to their fantasy vision regardless. People see the photos of my nice decor and furniture and just assume the area will be Chelsea because that's what they WANT it to be, regardless of the non-Chelsea price they are paying!
By the way, I think we are not allowed to include web links in our listings, but what if they are links to Airbnb pages? Can we do that? Airbnb has local guides, including one for my area, and I think it might be useful to include that in the lising.
PS, that's because if they are getting the 'description' from Airbnb rather from the host, I think they might be less inclined to ignore it/rate down for accuracy or location...
I just realised you mentioned Streatham. I don't live in Streatham, I live in Stockwell, but coincidentally, I did grow up in Streatham and my mother still lives there.
I would say both Stockwell and Streatham are pretty typical areas of inner London. You get all income brackets (some super expensive flats with a Marks & Spencer have just been built in Streatham) as well as a huge range of ethnicities. That is what I love about London.
Unfortunately, a lot of people from overseas are not expecting that at all. I am originally from Pakistan and have light brown skin. So many times whilst I have been travelling abroad and told people I was from London, they didn't believe me, because they thought everyone in the UK was blond and blue eyed. What can you do?
@Huma One thing I find odd is the way this woman tried to make herself feel safer walking home at night, "head down". To me that would give the impression of someone who's afraid, not the message I'd want to be giving- it'a victim posture. As a single woman, I do the exact opposite. Head up, walking as if I'm confident, and if I see men approaching, walking in my direction, I'll call out "Good evening" and keep striding along. I've noticed a few guys look a bit taken aback, but return the greeting. I got the distinct feeling that they expected me to try to scurry by silently and not make any eye or voice contact, and if I had, might have tried to engage me in some way.
Yes, you are right. I also thought that when I read the review!
As a young woman, I received self-defence classes and advice on how to act when walking alone at night etc. This included:
- Look confident. Wall tall and straight, head high at a steady speed. Look as if you know where you are going even if you don't.
- If you feel unsafe/like someone is following you, get out your phone. Either call someone or pretend to be talking to somone, fairly loudly, e.g. "Yes, I'm just heading down XYZ road now and should be there soon!"
Of course, if you are more concerned with your phone being stolen then maybe you shouldn't do the last bit but, as precious as phones have become to us these days, your
personal safety is ore precious.
I like your tactic of calling out a salutation. I have never tried it! I can see how guys would be a bit taken aback, but I'd be worried about encouraging random men to talk to me. Some of them don't need much encouragement from a woman! Sorry to any guys reading this who are not like that, but it's true...
- Look confident. Wall tall and straight, head high at a steady speed. Look as if you know where you are going even if you don't.
- If you feel unsafe/like someone is following you, get out your phone. Either call someone or pretend to be talking to somone, fairly loudly, e.g. "Yes, I'm just heading down XYZ road now and should be there soon!"...
Well, then we are very different ages! No phones back when I was advised about "street" behavior at all. We used our house keys between our fingers so it appeared that we had metal knuckles. We learned where to punch and knee. And we practiced piercing and concentrated screams, which was an antidote for much tension.
Back when I lived in "that" neighborhood, a place you couldn't buy a condo for less than a million now, I actually found that befriending the pimps who hung on all the stoops worked quite well. They watched out for me as I came home from gigs, carrying my violin, well after midnight. Creepy to befriend them, but since they controlled the streets, it was to my advantage.
It truly pisses me off that so many years later, we are still having to have these types of safety discussions.
@Susan well, not such different ages. Mobile phones were very new back then and they were the size of bricks, so you could probably use them as a weapon!
Yes, we got the carry your keys as a weapon, where to hit back, how to throw someone and all of that. I was just mentioning the stuff that related to the lady's review and agreeing with @Sarah977 about how to hold yourself when walking late at night.
As for screaming, I was told that it's not much use screaming 'Help!' People do not want to get involved. Apparently, you should scream 'Fire!' instead, as people will get involved if they think it might effect them. Sad, really.
I do think you were very brave to befriend the pimps. I once lived in a neighbourhood in Cape Town notorious for the number of prostitutes. Weirdly, I never saw any pimps, but I never felt in danger anyway.
My neighbourhood is not so rough. There are no prostitutes nor pimps nor pushers on my streets. There is sometimes a guy begging for change at the station. There is sometimes a beggar by the cash machine. I sometimes get asked for a cigarette. The kids can be a bit noisy when they come out of the high school. That's as far as it goes in my own personal experience.
I have never been faced with any kind of aggression, threatening behaviour or sexual harrassment in the nine years I have lived here. I have been sexually harrassed just about everywhere else in London though, including 'posh' areas like Notting Hill and Putney, and frequently at Piccadilly Circus, but weirdly that's always been by foreign tourists!!
So, that's what annoyed me about the lady's description of my neighbourhood. She makes it sound so seedy and unsafe!
@Huma I started calling out a greeting when I lived in San Miguel de Allende in Central Mexico, it was about 20 years ago, I was still relatively young and cute :-) I used to stay out late in town by myself, go dancing, etc, and it was a walk through town, then a 15 minute bus ride, and another 5 minute walk through a barren area to get back to where I lived. Mexican men like to chat up women, they'll even snake an arm around your waist if given the chance, it's kind of a Latin thing, but they're not scary aggressive in general, they just like to try it on. It's quite normal, when a woman is introduced to a man, even if they are both in a relationship, with their significant others standing right there, for the man to shake the woman's hand and lean in for a cheek kiss. If a woman were to recoil from this, the man would be quite offended.
So I felt that if I walked by, late at night, when I saw a couple guys approaching from the other direction, and said nothing, they'd try to engage me in conversation- by being vocal with a greeting when they were getting close, while not changing my pace, it actually stopped them from trying to talk to me, other than to say Good Evening back.
@Huma I’m booking with you just for Joanna Lumley!
The location rating is all over the place. I’ve had people ding me because I’m 20 minutes from anything, ditto because I’m not remote enough. More dings because of location of the cabin on the property itself. I’ve done my best to list accurately . I say the same thing 2-3 times throughout the listing, and included photos (since people don’t read the listing or look at all the photos). I end up feeling like I’m shouting or actively trying to deter visitors. I’d like to think people book intelligently and Book having looked at a map! My solution has also been to create a really thorough guidebook, and I think that has made a big difference.
I have so many first time users that only now and then I have to look at the reviews of a guest with 5 stars usually shown. But twice I did it with great care as these guests were making request for a longer stay.
And I looked at their reviews mainly because they were not only guests, but hosts as well. They rented terrible properties - with many complaints, the first one I accepted, the second - did not, and I still regret for that. The first one left me very good review - and so did I, although she was a bit over demanding, but people are different - so I was glad I accepted her.
I still wonder did I make a great mistake refusing the request from the second host - I think, I did as he wanted to book all four low bookings months - I lost money, and in that case that was me who was over demanding, I did not allow him the 30% off he asked me for, and now I do not have any bookings even at 50% off... Well, London is not an exotic island, but our capital is not London...
If I were you - perhaps I would have written her that she should expect to travel ...time to Picadilly circus, and she has to climb stairs at the flat, and that I will be glad to have her as my guest...