Airbnb hosts' latest trick to draw more bookings: $0 cleaning fees
- Airbnb guests griped last year over cleaning fees added after they picked a place but before paying.
- In November, the short-term-rental giant started showing total nightly prices to guests browsing.
Last year, Airbnb guests complained on TikTok, Twitter, and Reddit about what they said were exorbitant cleaning fees.
Outraged guests griped about hosts, saying they charged too much for the customary fee for turning over a rental after a stay, along with what they saw as tediously and inappropriately long requests for pre-checkout chores.
"It's the principle that really bothers me," a TikTok user, @melworeit, says in a 50-second "rant" about a $700 two-night stay that required guests to start the dishwasher and a load of laundry. The video has attracted 550,000 views and 4,750 comments.
Airbnb customers felt even more aggrieved because the cleaning fees were added after they had selected a place to stay but before paying — sometimes finding that it made their choice cost-prohibitive.
Hosts, for their part, countered that a whole house took longer to clean than, say, a hotel room. They added that cleaners charged the same fee whether a stay was one night or one month. (The national rate is $64 for a one-bedroom rental and $116 for three-bedroom one, according to the rental-cleaning startup TurnoverBnB.)
Still, guest concerns, conveyed in viral TikToks and tweets, traveled to the very top of the organization. In November, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky said the company would change its displays of nightly prices to be more transparent. Now, guests can opt-in to view the total cost of a stay, including cleaning fees.
More than two months after the change took effect, some Airbnb hosts told Insider they still saw resentment lingering among travelers. Three hosts told Insider they had responded by raising their nightly rates, dropping the cleaning fees, and then broadcasting the $0 cleaning fee in the bold font that tops their listings. The hosts told Insider it seemed to generate interest in their rentals and even increase bookings during a tough time for some short-term-rental owners.
Short-term-rental owners are up against a record glut of units nationwide, according to analytics firm AirDNA, and the rate at which guests book vacation pads is expected to dip slightly in 2023. It's become even more important to stand out among the competition to attract bookings.
Simply seeing a headline that proclaims "$0 cleaning fee" can influence a traveler to believe they are getting a good deal, one host said.
It's "the way the human mind works," Jon Edwards, 38, who owns a ski condo in Utah, said.
'It's kind of like a game of chicken'
Edwards, who works in the airline industry, operates an Airbnb in the ski destination Brian Head, Utah, a three-hour drive south from Salt Lake City. This winter, he baked the cleaning fee into his total price, raising the nightly rate to $110 from $70. He then changed the title of his listing to lead with "$0 cleaning fee."
Last year, Edwards said his occupancy was about 90% during peak months. This year, he said, he's had a stronger-than-expected season, hovering between 60 and 70% occupancy each month. He had been predicting a heavy dip from the heights of pandemic-boosted travel.
Edwards has not changed what he pays his cleaners — $80 for a turnover — and attributes the bump to the psychology of giving guests fewer fees to be shocked by at checkout.
Having a lump sum nightly rate, he added, is "more like when you go to a hotel."
Melissa Hughes has never imposed cleaning fees at her goat farm in Tallahassee, Florida.
"I never could wrap my mind around them," she said. "It's like going to a hotel and getting a cleaning fee on top."
Hughes said her bookings were very slow during the summer. Many hosts were worried headed into the season about the lack of supply across the US. About the same time, hotels capitalized on guests' discontent with cleaning fees and chores, running ad campaigns or making cheeky social-media posts. One Hilton ad showed a couple dismayed at a long list of rules, including "no whistling" and "no cookies."
After Hughes went three weeks without any bookings for one of her two $65-a-night one-bedroom cottages, she decided to add "no cleaning fees" to her listing title. Within a week, she said, her weekends were fully booked again.
"Correlation doesn't equal causation, but it did make a difference pretty quickly," she told Insider.
This week, Jennifer Lloyd, a Los Angeles host, dropped her cleaning fee to $0, added the news to the heading on her listing, and saw an immediate spike in interest. She charged $164 a night.
"I don't think I've ever had 57 page views in one day," she told Insider. (Lloyd did say she had tried dropping her cleaning fee before without the same increased interest.)
Most guests search using the map view, which shows only the total nightly rate of a property, not the listing heading touting the $0 cleaning fee, Lloyd said.
Hosts trying out this tactic hope that when a traveler clicks on the listing, seeing the no-fee claim is enticing enough to book even if the rate is the same as nearby properties.
Lloyd said, "It's kind of like a game of chicken."
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