Putting together an interesting and effective hosting manual for your property is easier said than done. Gone are the days where you can stick a few takeaway menus and local area map into a plastic folder and be done with it! With the rising popularity of sites like Airbnb, more and more hosts are opening their homes up to strangers, and so it is becoming infinitely more important to ensure that they not only let their guests know where the closest pizza joint is but also inform them of the do’s and don’ts of the property itself. That being said, while it is important to make sure you fully outline what is and is not acceptable as far as your house rules go, it’s also important that you don’t make your guests feel like they're reading some boring document that’s taking the fun out of their holiday. So, with all that in mind, what SHOULD go into your hosting manual? We asked 2,000 hosts and guests what they thought and these came out on top...
The first page of your manual should include:
Following this, it’s best practice to have your emergency page. Keep in mind there’s a high likelihood that many of your guests will be foreign and may be completely unaware of how to contact the available emergency services. Contact numbers for the police, the fire department and the hospital should be clearly stated for each service (even if it’s the same number for all of them!). You should also provide information on where any fire protection equipment is located (extinguishers and blankets) and clearly state the best way to evacuate the property in case of an emergency.
All of this information can also be added to your Airbnb listing by selecting ‘home safety’ from the dashboard. You can input a safety checklist, emergency exit instructions and emergency phone numbers, all of which will populate on ‘The Safety Card’. We advise that you print this card out and put it up in your property to ensure the emergency details are as accessible as possible.
Once you’ve got all the necessary safety information out of the way, you’re free to dive into your potentially extensive list of house rules, liability agreements and general do’s and don’ts.
Common house rules include:
If your property has distinctive features such as a swimming pool, hot tub or thatched roof, it’s likely that you won't have been able to get liability insurance for any guest incidents that occur relating to these features. At GUARDHOG the big question we get is about swimming pools - i.e. do we cover them? Who’s liable? All that fun stuff.
From our point of view, we can cover our customers for any damages done to the pool, but if a guest uses the pool and ends up with an injury (or worse), that liability is not covered. As a host, by stating clearly that the pool is usable at the guest's risk, it is then the guests that are accepting liability should anything go wrong. If the pool is not part of the area being rented, make sure you state that it is out of bounds for guests. It is incredibly important to make guests aware of these risks and their liability, and we advise that you put signs up around the pool to state this information as well as having it clearly highlighted in the house manual. The same rules apply to the lighting of fires in thatched properties and smoking or having BBQ’s outside of them. It’s worth speaking with your insurers (and maybe even a lawyer for formal legal advice) to get a clear picture about what you could be liable for, and what is required of you to pass that liability onto your guests.
The home essentials section is all about your home, the quirks of it and any little details that seem obvious to you but should probably still be highlighted just in case they are not to the guest, like if the hot water tap is actually the cold water tap or you need a special key to open the windows.
It is very frustrating being a guest in a property where nothing works intuitively and you spend the first 24 hours trying to work out the most basic things. Equally, as a host it is very annoying to be continually disturbed with questions about light switches and how to use the dishwasher. Spending half an hour detailing all the quirks of your home will ensure a much better experience for both you and your guests.
You should also detail any information regarding your kitchen policy (if you have one accessible to guests!), for example, any recycling information, if they need to take out the rubbish, if they need to run the dishwasher before they leave… even down to if the water is safe to drink. You can even detail if you provide linens, towels (extra towels) and where all of that can be found as well as if you provide any kind of housekeeping service.
It is also good to detail any appliances in the property and how to use them, such as your TV, stereo, iron, hairdryer, air conditioning, cookers etc. Basically, if something is available to use, instructions should be left on how exactly to use them. Even better would be to include the instruction manual for big items like the cooker or washing machine. I once spent an entire week battling with an electric hob that turned itself off every 10 minutes.
As a final reminder, you should also clearly state your check out instructions, because if they booked well in advance, they’ve probably forgotten. And who can blame them? If they’re having an amazing holiday in your lovely home, the last thing they want to think about is having to leave! But the reality is, they do have to leave and as a host, you can definitely go the extra mile to ensure that the process is as painless as possible for both you and them. Perhaps think about leaving them a checkout to-do list with things like if they need to do the laundry, strip the bed, set a security alarm, empty the fridge… basically, anything that should be done before they leave to ensure the quick turn around of the property for the next lot of guests.
Once you’ve given your guests all the relevant information about the property, you’re free to give them the low down on your local and the surrounding areas. Remember, most guests aren’t letting out your place just to stay in your place the whole time, they will want to go out and explore!
If you’ve got any favourite restaurants, cafes or takeaways, be sure to provide information such as their name, address, phone numbers, website, opening hours, the type of food, if they’re best for breakfast, lunch or dinner, and the distance from your property. You can even leave a little note about why you recommend them if you’re going for the super personal approach. Just be sure to give enough options to cater to the tastes of as many as possible. And if you’re sending customers their way on a regular basis, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t try and negotiate some kind of discount for you and your guests!
Other things you can detail are where the best pubs are located, if there is any live music or other entertainment going on in the area, where the closest supermarket is, if there are any local bakeries for those with a sweet tooth, if there is a spa or hair/nail salon for those that might be visiting for a wedding, event or party, where the closest gym is, where the best place to change currency is and where the local post office is for those that like sending postcards!
If your surrounding areas have more lively tourist attractions, it’s likely your guests will want to venture out a little further to see them as well. You should think about leaving information about any zoos, parks, theme parks, cinemas, ice skating rinks in the winter months and hidden beaches in the summer… that kind of thing. You could have one page for the main tourist attractions and another for the more culturally inclined and If you’re feeling really productive about it, you could even put together a tour guide or itinerary for however long your most common stay length is so that your guests can make the most out of their time with you. Remember that your guests are already non-traditional by staying at an Airbnb property, so you could take that mentality further and make their stay extra special.
Once you’ve got all the information together, you should be ready to start thinking about how you’re going to present it to your guests.
It’s still always nice to give your guests something physical to read through once they arrive. There will always be something very charming about going into your holiday home and flicking through a well-used binder full of information - a cheap and effective solution that really has no rival! Leaving a visitors section for guests to leave their own tips is also a nice touch.
But because of the new digital era, it is also best practice to produce a digital copy that you can send your guests once they’re confirmed their booking, maybe a week before they’re due to stay and then again on the day, just in case. If you want to create these documents yourself you can do so using Microsoft Word or Google Docs, but if you just want to add your information and pictures into an already fab looking template, you should check out these websites:
Some of the services are free, some are paid for - YourWelcome, for example, provides their customers with a custom built tablet that runs their proprietary software, allowing them to upload their host guide information into the relevant sections. Directly from the tablet, their customer's guests are able to make reservations in those recommended restaurants, check out how far away those tourist attractions are on a fully interactive map, watch tutorial videos on how to work your more complicated than it should be smart-home system and go through any to-do lists that you left for them in a more fun and interactive way. Basically, the tablet becomes their interactive, live-in tour guide. On top of this, you’ll gain access to a whole host (no pun intended!) of cool features from the host side of the software, and this will allow you to better manage your bookings, stats and services. But it should be no surprise to hear that this isn’t the cheapest option… Prices start at $219.99 per device, per year (or £176.46 give or take), and while we’re confident it provides a great service, it may not be the right thing for you just yet.
In conclusion, it is worth investing time in preparing a thorough hosting manual. Not only will it ensure a more pleasant stay for the guest and hence better reviews, (leading to more bookings). But it will also prevent persistent contact from guests with questions about the property and, perhaps most importantly, make it clear what is and what is not allowed in your home, protecting both you and your home from any liability or damage.