Like many hosts, my husband and I faced some tense days when COVID19 began to disrupt the travel industry. Our 2020 started well, but hit the skids for a bit in February, March and April, especially when Airbnb granted guests carte blanche to cancel their reservations--no questions asked and all money refunded--regardless of the host’s cancellation policy.
The tide turned for us in the summer and fall months. Our 3 units were often full. By year’s end, we were delighted to discover that we were on our way to earning a very high occupancy rate on Airbnb--despite the pandemic. In 2020 the combined occupancy rate for our units was just a bit under 90%.
Why 2020’s high occupancy rate on Airbnb matters
Occupancy rates matter anytime. They drive income. They indicate that hosts are doing something right. Our occupancy rate was particularly significant in 2020 because:
The pandemic caused US Airbnb usage to plummet. By midyear, eMarketer estimated the drop would be 60%.
The average occupancy rate for Airbnb in the US was 48% in 2019. I haven’t seen an update for 2020 yet, but it’s certain to be lower.
Our occupancy rate was substantially above average for our market. According to AllTheRooms.Analytics, the average occupancy rate for our specific market (Greer, SC) was 26% for the 2nd half of 2020.
One of our units is a camper. It’s clean, cute and comparatively cheap, but it’s not for everyone--especially in the winter.
This was our highest occupancy rate yet--in over 4 years of hosting on Airbnb.
Why did our high occupancy rate on Airbnb occur in the topsy-turvy year of 2020?
Aside from the fact that God answered our prayers for a steady stream of good guests, here are some key factors.
Location, location, location
It seems that location is just as important to short-term rentals as it is to regular homes. We’re located within 3 miles of Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport, and within 5 miles of a large BMW manufacturing plant. If you’re a travel nurse working at the Prisma Health center in Greer, you could walk to work from our apartments. We’re really close to locations that matter to a significant number of people who visit the area, and that helps. We convey that location information to any prospective guest. You don’t have to read any further than the titles to know that our places are within just a few miles of GSP, BMW and PRISMA.
It turns out that our location on the outskirts of Greenville, SC was a huge plus in 2020. In a recent article, NAR (National Association of Realtors) notes that “the hottest cities are the smaller population centers, including several state capitals, that have not yet seen the dramatic price increases.” NAR’s figures reflect home purchases rather than short-term rentals. However, before people move to an area, they often visit it for a few days or weeks. Greenville is one of those smaller population centers. It has a temperate climate, a solid economy, a robust housing market, and varied activities. We not-infrequently host folks coming to scope out the area to see if they would like to move here. This happened at least a handful of times in 2020.
Small Separate Units with a Kitchen
In addition to a 20-foot camper, we also have 2 efficiency apartments. None of our units is
larger than 360 square feet. None has a separate bedroom. However, they all are separate spaces with separate entries. They all have a stove and at least a small oven. All have refrigerators with freezers. Both apartments have a dishwasher. Although these places are quite small, they are also comfortable and private. Guests who want to bring groceries and self-quarantine can do so.
An Emphasis on Cleanliness
The listing for our upstairs unit starts with “Clean Cozy Studio.” The downstairs unit is the “Clean, Convenient Studio.” The camper is our “Clean, Cozy Camper.” It’s no coincidence that each listing starts with the word “clean.” We do our own cleaning. We work hard to make sure things are really clean, and we want prospective guests to know that they can expect a clean place.
When COVID hit, we added extra cleaning steps--before Airbnb mandated its cleaning protocol--that included plastic bags over the remotes, new bed pillows for each guest, and a bleach/water wipe of hard surfaces just prior to when guests arrive. We include that information in our listings. Guests have said those things played a factor in their booking decision.
Like most hosts, we provide all the items that Airbnb lists as essentials. We also provide some extras. I set out a home-baked item for guests to enjoy. I make soap; I leave a sample-size bar or 2 in the bathroom. We stock a small bowl with packaged snacks. We allow guests staying a week or longer to use our washer and dryer; they just provide the soap.
We also have a small flock of chickens, some fruit trees and a small garden in the backyard. Many guests enjoy watching the hens. Guests who stay longer than a week often receive complimentary eggs, or some garden produce when it’s in season. We’ve been told that these extras make our places feel like home. Mission accomplished!
If we had followed the advice given by many hosts on Facebook groups, we wouldn’t allow stays longer than a couple of weeks. Fortunately, we didn’t read those pages before we listed our first apartment. We’ve always allowed longer stays, and have hosted dozens of folks who stayed at least a month. We’ve had a few issues, and we’ve made a little less money per night because we discount our longer stays. However, we have to clean less often and provide fewer essential supplies and treats. We’re happy with the trade-off.
The current holder of the “Longest-Staying Guest” award is Kim, who spent 9 months in our camper. We felt like Kim was a family member by the time she left. She and a handful of others have relocated to our area permanently. We still keep in touch with most of them. They went from being guests to being friends.
Quick response to problems
Most guests enjoy their stays enough to provide 5-star ratings, but obviously, we’re not perfect. A few guests have experienced problems. When that happens, we apologize quickly--usually in person. Most of the time we can rectify things quickly, since the units are located beside or behind our house. We find that most guests are understanding if they see you working to resolve the problem.
In a nutshell
Earning a high-occupancy rate on Airbnb (or VRBO, HomeAway, Booking.com) really isn’t rocket science. Some factors are beyond our control. We try to keep tabs on our results and on trends in our area, but we don’t spend hours analyzing the statistics. We simply try to treat others like we would like to be treated. That probably is the biggest factor of all, but it’s really hard to quantify.