All great vacation rental guidebooks begin with this simple premise: guests want to have an exceptional stay, full of memorable local experiences that can’t be found anywhere else.
Chip Conley, former Head of Hospitality at Airbnb, recognized that Airbnb hosts are perfectly positioned to untap these unique experiences. As he told BusinessWire in 2016:
“When an Airbnb traveler heads to Hammerbrook in Hamburg or Brickfields in Kuala Lumpur, with the help of hosts, they are able to see these places through eyes of a local, and embrace the culture in a completely new way.”
The Airbnb Guidebook: What Is It? Is There a Better Way?
From that core philosophy described by Chip, Airbnb created its own native guidebook feature, which hosts can use to categorize their favorite local spots right inside their Airbnb listing.
But, in our view, the in-app Airbnb guidebooks have some real limitations.
I’m a host myself, and I’ve tried it for my guests. On the plus side, it’s powered by Google Places and it’s simple to use. However, it’s missing the flexibility and well-rounded features of a truly ideal Airbnb guidebook.
After all, in addition to seeking the best happy hour spot, guests also ask practical questions: How do I find your place? What’s the Wi-Fi password? Where do I get the keys? Which college degree is required to operate the smart TV remote?
These questions are usually answered in a house manual. And there is a house manual box in your Airbnb listing, but it’s limited to a single text box. No surprise that, from my experience as a guest, it rarely has more than a couple of basic pieces of information.
So maybe the answer is two separate guidebooks—one for house rules/info, and one for destination tips and info?
Ugh, that can get awfully unwieldy and overwhelming for guests. One or the other will end up being ignored or forgotten.
And no one wants that.
Alternatives to the Airbnb Guidebook
The good news is there are many alternatives to pick from.
Our own product, Touch Stay, is one option. And you can share this with your guests (via email or SMS text) once you have their contact details (after the booking has been confirmed). Nothing for the guest to download, it’s a simple web link which they click and they’re in. Like this demo book.
But the alternatives aren’t limited to Touch Stay. We’ll cover the following 4 options in this post, ranging from dead simple to a little more tech-savvy:
- A simple Word document
- Custom designed welcome guides from Vacation Insiders
- TINE: Video and audio messages
- Independent digital guest welcome apps
If you stumble upon other guidebook options that we should mention here, please let us know in the comments below. We’ll periodically update this post with your additions!
1. Keep it Simple: Word as an Airbnb House Manual
Okay, it’s not the most sophisticated option for the 21st century. Nor will it necessarily fit the brand of a trendy loft apartment. However, a Microsoft Word guidebook is still simple and free to create—and equally easy to share with guests.
With a few tweaks, such as fonts and photos, you can have a polished finished product.
To help you over that hurdle, we’ve created a free Microsoft Word template with some simple styling and all the headings your guests might want. Simply add your own photos and text in the relevant places!
Tip: Once you have your Word doc, save it as a PDF and then upload that PDF to Issuu.com for it to be rendered in an easy-to-read, mobile-optimised book. Then simply send your guests your Issuu link. Done!
2. Custom-Designed Guidebooks
Prices start at $100, and everything is produced in print-ready format, so you can create a physical copy or send it as an email attachment. Bonus: it can also be used to sway guests on your local knowledge before they book.
The downside is that it’s less of a functional welcome book and more of a coffee table area guide. However, it could be printed and placed in the same binder alongside a more more functional “how to” welcome book (like the Word document above).
Tip: You can also mock up something like this (albeit not to the same finish) using Adobe InDesign. It’s not straightforward, but if you have design skills and time (or a friend who does!), you could use InDesign to take your Word doc to the next level.
3. How About Leaving Your Guests a Video or Audio Message?
The creative minds over at TINE have created a solution that involves placing small QR code stickers around your home. After your guest scans a QR code sticker, they’ll see a video of you right on their phone (or audio of you, if you’re camera shy!).
We spoke to Nedda, one of TINE’s co-founders, and her enthusiasm for their product is infectious. In fact, after the call with her, we had a dozen different ideas of our own for using TINE—and not just for vacation rentals.
For example, you can add a TINE tag to precious possessions so that, if lost and then found, the finder can quickly reach you. Genius!
And in the Airbnb world, hosts you can stick TINE to a coffee maker, washing machine, or remote control and add a video explaining how each item works. Guests will appreciate not having to bug you for instructions, and you’ll appreciate not being bugged!
Tip: Place a sticker on the cover of your guest welcome book or house manual to add a personal video or message for each guest—not so much an alternative to a welcome book as a complement!
4. Independent Digital Guest Welcome Books
Seeking a digital option for your welcome book? There are good reasons to go this route: by opting for a digital solution, any changes you make will instantly update on your guests’ devices. It also enables you to make those changes wherever you are, rather than having to print pages and swap the in-home paper book out.
If you list your properties on HomeAway, you might have noticed the new Hospitality Manager feature, a native app that guests can download before their stay. This is one digital option.
[A brief explainer of the tech lingo: a native app simply means that it is downloaded from the App store or Play store—unlike a mobile web app which connects directly to a website that is optimised for mobile viewing.]
But, like Airbnb’s guide book, a listing-site-branded digital guidebook has its limitations—especially if you are listing properties on multiple sites and find the prospect of having multiple digital welcome books a bit maddening.
Alternative digital welcome book solutions that are totally independent from the listing site platforms, like Touch Stay, are certainly more flexible because you’re not tied to being with Airbnb, or HomeAway, etc.
Tip: don’t get hung up on the choice between native and mobile. You’re far better off basing your decision on ease of use and the feature set that each solution offers.
No matter which option you choose, remember the golden rule of any welcome book: If the quality of your content is excellent, your guests will read—no matter how it’s presented to them!
If you’re looking to go digital, check out our article comparing a few market-leading digital guest welcome book solutions.
NEW FOR 2019:
With Airbnb’s growing menu of experiences and local recommendations, it is more important than ever to fine-tune your skills as a local guide. Your guidebook provides the ideal platform to being a trusted local advisor. And, if you play your cards right, you may even see benefits beyond the glowing reviews that praise your helpful local recommendations.
Your guests won’t be nearly as impressed by a comprehensive list of every business in the area as they will be in your narrowed, personal suggestions. Take the overwhelm out of their visit. Recommend a favorite dish at each restaurant you mention, or suggest a community event like a farmer’s market – where Miss Jean can always be relied upon to deliver the freshest fruit!
Create partnerships with the businesses you recommend. Dazzle them with your impressive guidebook presentation, and since they’re in the fine company of your carefully selected favorite local spots, they’re bound to see the value in your authentic recommendation. Perhaps they’ll be interested in offering your guests a deal, and you can probably negotiate a commission for your referrals.
Many attractions are more than willing to enable property owners or managers to sell tickets on their behalf as well. Effectively, this enables you to offer a valuable and convenient package option to your guests, while promoting your local business partners. We call this a win-win!
The Airbnb Guidebook: Conclusions
We imagine the marketplace for personal guidebooks—Airbnb and otherwise—will continue to expand, so we hope you’ll alert us when you discover other alternatives. Share your own creative solutions for communicating with arriving guests, or tell us about what other hosts you know are using. We’ll update this post with our thanks!