Day 21: Filled with Joy - The Guest Book
Years ago, before I became a host, I was a first-time guest at an Airbnb in Paris. I extended a business trip so I could visit with my daughter while she studied abroad. But I had not taken into account how much two extra weeks would cost me in hotel fees. I considered an adult hostel, but the idea of bunks in a shared room wasn’t appealing and the price was high for what I would get. After searching I found two solutions: a two bedroom apartment in London not far from Victoria Station, and a beautiful two-bedroom Airbnb apartment in Paris near Montmartre.
The London apartment was marvelous but I never met the person I was renting from. All communication flowed though a rental agency. They were polite and made sure everything I needed was available. At checkout there was no option, to my knowledge, to leave a review. Instead I left a thank-you note in the hopes the owner received it. The following week I took the train to Paris to meet my daughter and was greeted at the apartment by a marvelous woman who gave me a tour of the apartment and stayed to chat. Before I booked she asked to “friend” me on Facebook so she had a better sense of who I was - something I still think Airbnb should consider. From that request I also learned of her travels and things we had in common. At the end of the trip, she returned to wish us safe travel back to the states and helped me get a taxi when my "high school" French accent wasn't understood by the taxi company. She wrote the most lovely review - my first - on the Airbnb platform.
I thought back on that experience when I found myself using my old apartment only part time. With a dose of healthy skepticism, my husband supported the idea of using the Airbnb platform to test out short term rentals for days when we didn’t have friends or family using it. Within 24 hours of going on “live” we had three bookings. So my husband came up with an idea - a guest book. Now “I” was skeptical. I doubted anyone would see it, let alone use it. But on the table it went, with a handwritten sticky note asking guests to leave comments.
Little did I know how much joy that book would bring. I use self-checkin because I travel a lot, but also because I’m never sure if meeting the owner of an apartment enhances, or takes away from the magic of a vacation. What I do know is how many people were surprised at how much space the apartment provided. Guests left compliments and helpful suggestions. Some write quick notes about the things they’d done. Some write an entire page on their adventures and how having access to the apartment had helped them.
Our first guests were teens from out of state - I know, I know, we’ve all said that renting to teens should be an automatic “no.” But I was a new host trying to build ratings and the mother assured me the teens - coming from out of state for their last hurrah before college - would be polite and well behaved. You know what? They were. I remember fondly getting a panicked call during a torrential rainstorm so bad there were rivers flooding down the street. The teens were 30 minutes away at an major outdoor concert and no Uber or Taxi would come get them. So off my husband went in our four-wheel drive in a storm with little visibility. We’re parents ourselves and we understood the emergency. For that weekend, they were our kids too. The note in the guest book and memories of soaking wet teens who asked us to bring towels so they wouldn’t get our car wet - brings back smiles every time I read it. When they left, the apartment was meticulously clean.
I’ve hosted guests from out of the country and found little gifts left as thanks. I’ve hosted guests who had family undergoing life saving medical procedures nearby hospitals. I’ve hosted guest who were attending weddings, and guests who wanted an apartment so they could cook a meal for their children while visiting from out of state. There’s the mom who left the note that she moved all the breakable items out of her children’s reach and how her son was thrilled I had included kid-friendly games in the cabinet. I hosted a family was visiting for the unveiling of their daughter’s mural at the local zoo and how much it meant to be able to sit at the dining room table and play board games. And now I’m getting requests from repeat visitors who think of our place as a home base.
Yes - I have also had a handful of guests that had me tearing my hair out. You know - the ones who expect the Four Seasons hotel but only want to pay the equivalent of a Starbucks coffee. A friend who works at a local hotel made me feel better after sharing stories of corporate and convention guests who left with the towels, pillows, sheets and irons (who does that?). Those bad experiences are few and far between and pale in comparison to what hotels go through.
What makes Airbnb unique is that we’re building community. I have developed long lasting friendships with two hosts whose homes I booked when traveling this year. One has stayed at my place as well. Her note in my guest book still makes me smile.
And on those days when those rare difficult guests make me ask myself, “Is it worth it?” I read the comments in our guest book. There are so many that we just bought refill papers. Our most recent page currently reads “Thank You! Thank You! Thank You! We want to come back.”
So my tip: Get a guest book. Most hosts don’t think to do it. Certainly there hasn’t been one at any of the apartments I’ve rented. But while reviews on Airbnb are great, having a tangible memory in the guest’s handwriting - with their flourishes and personal touches means everything.
It doesn’t have to be fancy. Just use a journal or small notebook with refillable papers.
You won’t be sorry. If anything, it will fill you with joy.
It may be cultural differences. I attend a retreat that has a guest book in every cabin. One day a well known author sent me an email saying she was staying in the same cabin and saw my note and those of other colleagues. Very serendipitous. But I wasn’t sure if would work for out place until my husband put the book in the table. Only 3 people have left without writing in it.
So far so good, though :-)
I second everything she says. Plus guests leave wonderful suggestions for your future guests.....and they don't have to write in it if they elect not to. We have probably a 75% write in rate.
Christine, I would love to have a guest book....actually I do, Airbnb sent me one but I don't use it!
Because Airbnb are so driven by the review system I don't want to do anything that may give the guest the impression writing in the guest book is fulfilling their obligation and they don't need to respond to those annoying prompts!
If the review system was more honest and more relaxed I would put the guest book out there in a flash....but Christine I respect what you are doing and thank you for taking us on a little tour of your hosting life. You get a thumbs up from me!
That’s exactly what I was thinking Rob. I think if I was a guest and already wrote in a book 📖 I might be less inclined to write a review, or perhaps it would be just a short one.
We get 75% guests writing in our book and 99% do an AirBnB review....often reiterating the thoughts they already expressed in the book .
I’ve only had one guest write in the book but not leave a review. I sent a message to ask if they would. But I’ll see if that trend holds :-)
Why? Prior to Airbnb, I use to have international homestay for students of English. They were all young adults with degrees etc, building their English at the local university. They use to write in a book at the end of their stay... and it was delightful, like your stories.
However, my very first Airbnb guest, happened to be a superhost, who had just lost that ranking. (She gained it again not long afterwards.)
I remember anxiously asking her for hosting tips and the most obvious was “get rid of the guest book!” When I asked why, she stated that she had received lovely notes and presents from guests, who loved her space, but then left no review....
Other guests who wrote in the guest book, felt that it was adequate positive response, and then they chose to also not review.... hence her momentary loss of status.
The other main advise was to raise my prices! I was too cheap! Lol..
So I took her advise, and although it would be nice to have stories like yours to look back on, I really do need the reviews in a six months of the year opportunity only for STR.
I to have a Guest book from my days as an English language school host.
it's filled with many funny stories and fun memories.
I used to encourage my guests to write a little about themselves in their langauage and then translate it in English.
It sure helped break the ice and cultural barriers.
I'm with you, @Christine, on the value of a guest book. Although I've only been hosting for 1 year (my anniversary date is this week), it has gone extremely well. I purchased a guest book with prompts so that visitors would be encouraged to share information from their stay. There are questions about the weather, how the guest traveled here, favorite restaurants, and special memories to name a few examples. There is also a blank section for open-ended thoughts or comments.
I have learned about new or undiscovered restaurants and stores. Read expressions of love or appreciation regarding friends and relatives. Enjoyed notes about special experiences (e.g. family game time) in the apartment. Kids have left drawings of the fun time they had while here. It is a joy to review the book following the departure of our visitors.
It is suggested that guests review the previous entries when they arrive to see what others have done that might be of interest to them. Signing the guest book is one of the tasks we list on the check-out sheet. Not everyone completes the item, but they are reminded to do so.
There is no correlation between signing the guest book and completing the Airbnb review. Many guests do both. I send a thank you message following check-out and remind guests to complete the review that Airbnb sends. Some do one and not the other; other guests choose not to do either. There are no guarantees with visitors.
Overall, the guest book option is worthwhile! I highly recommend that all hosts consider providing one.
@Christine I have a guest book, but it is seldom used. It opens up like origami and I think that intimidates guests. A few have ventured inside it and have left wonderful posts, pictures and a thoughtful poem. Because the pages unfold like origami, there is no obvious start or stop, so it has been fun to see how folks handle the foreign book as they figure out where to start and which direction to continue their words.
Those that signed also left great reviews, so I have not see a negative impact in having it, plus it is fun to look at later!
I'm jealous! We had a guest book for many months, and not a single person ever wrote anything in it! So, we took it out, and now people write us thank you notes on random scraps of paper, LOL. Weird. Maybe we will give it another try.
We got more responses when we put ours on the dining room table. Lately we’ve noticed some guests also write notes on our white board under our greeting. I don’t leave out markers so I’m thrilled they look for them.
its been a fun year so far. Glad to have a host community to share it with. :-)