People love Air BNB. Well, they love the idea of it. They think they are getting a better deal. They think they have stumbled upon a gem of a unique hideaway that makes their trip special. Sometimes they are right. Sometimes they are stuck in a poorly cared for the spot with a green pool. Frequently, they are hiking up the hill with their luggage searching for the spot on an island with no street signs.
Occasionally, they run out of water and can not get the Air BnB system to load so they can communicate with the owners leaving them without showers and toilets for the night.
I get the call all of the time. “um yeah, hello, we are on St John right now and are wondering if you have any availability for the next three nights…” Eventually, I pry as to what happened that they ended up here without a place to stay and get the stories above. Stories like Jake from last week. Jake flew in on a balmy August night to find him self-waiting on the ferry dock for his Air BNB host. The person decided to text him directions rather than assist in finding the place. That was just the beginning. Jake then proceeded to arrive at the villa to find damaged screens allowing mosquitoes to eat his girlfriend’s tasty fresh skin. Then the internet went out; the hot tub was not working. Again, trouble communicating with the host, due to the Air BNB method of managing the conversation between guest and host. Eventually, Jake gave up called us and checked in.
Not all Air BNB hosts are bad. Some are great. But there is a real difference between a professionally managed or operated vacation rental and an Air BNB property looking to catch extra cash through casual, friendly business (supervised of course by a large corporation). For me, these un-vetted rentals are an issue. They degrade the quality product that many vacation rental properties have strived for decades to do well. The homes that we manage are run like well-oiled machines. That is not to say issues don’t occur. But rather, that when, or if an issue arises, it can be solved instantly, and we can be reached immediately on the phone for good old fashioned personal service.
Reviews are not enough.
We have terrific reviews from guests, hundreds of them between all of the homes – Don’t base your decision on them. Don’t choose a home based on anyone else's reviews either. In the hotel business, the guest experience is extremely personal. One guest dream room is a nightmare for another. I suggest a direct phone call with the property manager or the owner. Air BNB discourages this; they are wrong. From an owner/manager perspective, this is ideal for me.
I can tell if the customer is right for a home or not, and if not, lead them to the home that is better. Communication, in advance of booking, is crucial to satisfaction upon arrival. Having a corporation in between an owner/manager and a customer is a barrier to success. For the guests, this phone call will allow them to ask critical questions about the property and get honest answers back.
Texting and emailing eliminate inflection and tone. The call is key.
Here are some samples of questions travelers should ask to help them better understand the property and the management of it before they arrive:
1. Is someone available if we have an issue? How long is the typical response time? Can we contact you directly? - This will tell you a lot about how the home is cared for and how you will be cared for as guests.
2. Is everything on the property working right now? – If something is wrong, its probably been wrong for a while and won't be fixed before you arrive. Deferred maintenance results in adjacent failures I can assure you.
3. If we arrive late, will someone meet us? For me, when people ask this, I can give them the comfort that I am there for them 24 hours a day if needed
4. How often is the pool cleaned? - If it is less then weekly, you know your dealing with a casual program.
5. Do you own or manage any other properties and if so, are you licensed for business? Knowing this will differentiate between the casual operation and a professional company. Technically, anyone taking bookings and collecting money, especially advanced deposits should be a licensed Virgin Islands Realtor.
Overall, especially on St John, you will probably be taken care of either way. St Johnians have pride in our island and want you to have a great trip. However, professionally managed and cared for properties can provide a far better experience, while still offering you the extensive benefits of staying in a Vacation Home rather than in a hotel. On St John, people had been renting vacation homes professionally for more than 30 years before AIR BNB came along. Take the time to find out who your hosts are and how they care for a place before putting down a deposit.