By Oli Walsh
Managing Director at Revilo Properties
Hi! My name is Oli Walsh, and I run a vacation rental business based in Liverpool in the UK.
As a property owner, I’m lucky because Liverpool has so much going for it.
It’s a prime tourist destination, with visitors coming from all over the world to experience where The Beatles first found fame, and where the mighty Liverpool Football Club continues to go from strength to strength.
So in late 2018, I turned one of my 17 properties into a full-time Airbnb and Booking.com unit, bookable by guests all year round.
But as with any new business, you quickly discover what the repetitive processes are, and you look to streamline and automate as many as you can.
And that matters a lot if you’re looking to grow your business in the rental management industry and remain sane in the process.
I want to tell you about my experience with short-term rental automation, and give you some insight into my Serviced Accommodation business, as well as my take on using Smartbnb for the better part of the last year.
Put simply, the main processes to keep any Serviced Accommodation unit running smoothly and guests happy are these:
- Process 1 – Sales (getting bookings)
- Process 2 – Guest experience (ensuring the guest has all the information they need, where they need it, when they need it)
- Process 3 – Property maintenance and turnovers (cleaning and preparing for new guests)
If you’re reading this, chances are you already have at least one unit listed on Airbnb and perhaps other booking platforms as well. In my case, I use Airbnb and Booking.com.
With a well-designed listing, these platforms will take care of automating Process 1 (Sales), and I will be writing about how I do that in another article in the future.
That leaves us with Process 2 and 3.
Automating Process 2
Guest Experience with Smartbnb
Providing a consistent and repeatable guest experience is essential to running a serviced accommodation business.
I have found that the key to consistency is automation. Smartbnb gives me the tools I need to automate every interaction with a guest while allowing me to jump in and offer a personal touch when I need to.
There are several regular touchpoints (interactions) with any guest, all of which can be automated using Smartbnb. These will vary based on personal preferences, but mine are;
- Booking inquiry
- Check-in instructions (sent 3 days before check-in)
- ‘How is everything going’ message (sent on the first morning)
- Checkout instructions (sent the day before checkout)
- Thank you and review request (sent 4 hours after checkout)
Before using Smartbnb, and despite saving time by already having pre-prepared templates, I would have to remember to log in to Airbnb and send all of these messages manually for each guest. Easy enough when you have just one unit, but a real headache when you have multiple.
Once I got Smartbnb all set up and configured, and I saw the automated messages being sent, there was a real ‘oh my gosh it’s working!’ moment where I sat back, took a sip of my coffee, and felt a little clever about myself.
…Until I realized I configured the messages with the wrong lockbox code, and the guest couldn’t get into the property – true story.
Fail fast and consistently improve, as they say.
Many people I speak to assume (incorrectly) that they’d need to be technical to get property management software all set up and running.
The set up will take a few moments
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It seems that just the sight of a ‘%’ symbol can make some people think they need to be able to code to get this all to work.
Well, this is most definitely not the case with Smartbnb, their user interface is very intuitive and straightforward, and it actually becomes fun to use once you know your way around.
I think it’s that age-old fear of change and the unknown that can make it difficult for some people to take the leap and try it out, but I would strongly recommend that you do – what’s the worst that could happen?
I had the same fear when I moved my business’s accounting from spreadsheets to Xero. It was terrifying and chaotic to start with, but I’m so glad I did it. The efficiencies and time saved totally make up for the initial chaos, which was all just in my head anyway.
Automating Process 3
Property maintenance and turnovers with Smartbnb
Again, it was Smartbnb to the rescue for me.
A significant part of running a successful Serviced Accommodation business is ensuring the turnovers (cleaning and getting the units ready for the next guest) are done consistently and at the right time.
What I do, and what I strongly recommend that any Serviced Accommodation business, is to have a simple ‘turnover checklist’ for the turnover team to follow to ensure your unit is always well presented and the little things aren’t forgotten about (yes, have a checkbox for everything including ‘top-up coffee’ and ‘put water bottles in the fridge for the number of guests that will be staying next’).
Once the turnover team knows and understands their job, I use Smartbnb’s ‘Operations’ feature to notify them of new bookings and to send them check-in/checkout reminders.
I have it set up so that the turnover team is notified (by SMS or email) as soon as a new booking is made, and they are sent a reminder the day before check-in.
All my units are self-check-in (with keyless entry), so I don’t have anyone greeting guests when they arrive. But if you preferred to have someone greeting guests, you could use Smartbnb to send an SMS to the person who greets your guests to remind them of the day/time they need to arrive at the unit to do the guest check-in – super useful stuff.
Another feature that has saved me countless hours is their AI component.
You can train Smartbnb’s AI to recognize specific questions and reply to guests automatically. Several standard questions are already pre-configured (like responding to guests asking about the WiFi details), but where this feature really stands out is its ability to learn.
Even John Connor wouldn't guess he was texting with a robot
Lots of good stuff.
Many of my units are near Liverpool Football Club’s Anfield stadium, and as such many of my guests are coming to see the stadium or watch a football match.
I found I was getting many questions about recommendations for where to get tickets from, or if guests to get their tickets delivered to the property.
My response to these type of questions is always the same, so after manually replying a few times, I decided to give Smartbnb’s AI feature a go and trained it to look out for questions about football tickets. When detected, my standard answer will be automatically sent.
Of course, I’m always notified when an automated message is sent to a guest, so I can keep an eye on the communications and jump in if needed.
Smartbnb is just one of the tools in my arsenal. For example:
- I use a channel manager to ensure I don’t get double bookings between Airbnb and Booking.com (while I wait for Smartbnb to become compatible with Booking.com)
- I use a dynamic pricing platform, PriceLabs, to set prices based on demand in the area. (Check out Smartbnb’s integration with PriceLabs)
But to be frank, I would have no hesitation to go “full Smartbnb” if and when they move into those features as well.
All that’s left for me to add is that the business is thriving, the guests keep happily checking in and out, the football matches get their supporters, and I can rest easy knowing my company is equipped to scale and grow in the future.
Look out for my name on the Smartbnb blog in the future as I continue to write more about my insights into property management.
Oli Walsh is the Managing Director at Revilo Properties, a one-stop-shop property investment firm in Liverpool, United Kingdom. They offer services from sourcing and refurbing to letting and management.
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