How Airbnb hosts are adapting to the smart home

The worlds of Airbnb and smart homes collide

How Airbnb hosts are adapting to smart homes
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Smart homes are booming. People are buying smart speakers like Amazon Echo and Google Home, and that's acting as a gateway for a lot of people to invest in smart lighting, thermostats and more.

But not everyone is building out their home just for themselves. Airbnb allows people to rent out their own homes or apartments for others to use, and like other parts of the gig economy, Airbnb hosts are going above and beyond to give guests great experiences, making them super hosts and earning them more money.

Read this: The do's and don'ts of smart Airbnb homes

But how exactly are they adapting to this new smart home world – if they even feel like they need to adapt to it in the first place?

Smartening up: How Airbnb hosts are adapting to the smart home

To be smart or not to be smart

Back in 2016, August conducted a study to see how smart home technology affected short-term rentals (basically, Airbnb). 80% of holiday renters and 92% of business travellers said they were more likely to choose a location if smart home technology was available in the rental.

In fact, 60% of renters said they would pay more for smart home technology in their Airbnb. Smart home technology often makes a home seem more desirable. Real-estate agent Angel Piontek explained this effect to New York Magazine.

"If I walk into four houses in the same neighbourhood, and one has a Nest thermostat and the agent has educated me that it could save 10 to 12 per cent in my heating and cooling, that’s going to stick out in my mind. While the other houses maybe I’m going to forget about."

Similarly, if you're browsing through Airbnb and all the rentals are "dumb" houses that you're used to, and then you see one that says it's got a smart lock to make check-in quicker, it's an added service that separates it from the pack.

Not all smart home devices make sense for Airbnbs though. While smart speakers and smart lights are arguably the most popular smart devices for people to buy for their own homes, hosts tend to go for something different: smart locks and video doorbells. In fact, over 74% of guests and 80% of hosts believe smart locks and video doorbells will be on most – if not all – Airbnbs one day.

The reasons are simple: it's more convenient and it's safer. 75% of guests are worried they'll lost their host's keys, while 61% of hosts are worried guests will lose their keys. Smart locks provide a key-free way for guests to gain admittance to a host's rental.

The smart home market is still young, however, and people are just now jumping into all the smart home devices and ecosystems. One of the most common questions on Airbnb's own community forums and on its Reddit page is asking other hosts whether it's worth upgrading to smart home technology.

Smartening up: How Airbnb hosts are adapting to the smart home

Locking it up

On paper, adding things like smart locks to an Airbnb sounds like it'll make things easier. Unfortunately, putting technology into practice can sometimes result in some growing pains.

Because of the range of people that Airbnb serves, not all smart devices work for everyone. Some guests, for instance, don't do well with being told to download an additional app and signing up for a brand new account.

Smart home manufacturers like August, which is a part of the Airbnb Host Assist program, have expanded the number of options hosts can give guests to check in. In lieu of making guests download the August app and create an account, Airbnb hosts can now simply provide a custom PIN code for the August Smart Keypad.

This option simplifies the process for guests. They just have to show up, type in a four-digit PIN code and then the lock will unlock. The code is automatically generated once the booking is made by August, and sent out to the guest. The host doesn't have to do a thing. There's also a third option that gives the guest a PIN code for the Keypad and app access.

Using a smart lock with a keypad seems like a surer way to success. One Reddit poster uses a Schlage smart lock with a keypad – and creates a four-digit code based on the last four digits of the guest's phone number. He messages it to the guest the day before they arrive.

Once those growing pains are gone, however, smart locks do make it easier for guests and hosts, Airbnb host Lindsey tells The Ambient. "Guests appear to like it, because when coming in and out, I don’t have to wait around for them and they don’t have to wait around for me," she says. "It makes things a whole lot more convenient."

Smart locks aren't the only way hosts are adapting to a smarter world. They're also looking at other ways to improve the guest experience. Smart speakers can be useful, but largely if guests leave a note explaining how to use them.

Reddit user McComb says he created a little guide that explains what his rentals' Echo devices could do. He even tells them about a ski resort skill he enabled so that they could check out the snow conditions before they head out. And of course, there's music.

"My homes all have Alexa devices and guests seem to love them. A lot of people have them at home and know how they work. I also have Amazon Music Unlimited for them to stream music," he says.

Smart TVs or streaming boxes with Netflix are another popular option. This is something hotels have actually been doing it for a while now, though some hosts have had trouble adapting to how guests use Netflix. Some of them prefer to log in to their own accounts while others much prefer a guest account tied to the Airbnb host, says Reddit user Bob Peck.

Smartening up: How Airbnb hosts are adapting to the smart home

The future of smart home rentals

Airbnb hosts are only just starting to experiment what makes sense for their rentals. But as the smart home market grows, and people bring smart home technology into their own homes, the adaptation will have to accelerate at a quicker pace.

Airbnb has seen this coming for a while, as it launched its Host Assist program way back in 2015 with partners like August, Nest, Yale, Schlage, Kwikset and more. In fact, it regularly teams up with hosts to offer discounts on smart locks and similar technology. Over the years, more companies have joined the fray to make life easier for hosts, including Vivint, which goes as far as monitoring your rental 24/7.

Speaking of monitoring, with the rise of smart devices lining homes Airbnb has had to set up rules to keep hosts from secretly keeping an eye on guests. If you're a host and you have anything that records video or audio, you have to disclose it in your listing – even if it's turned off.

This includes baby monitors, smart cameras, video doorbells, desktop computers and more. It does not include smart speakers, which are constantly listening for a wake word to activate, and aren't continually surveilling like the other devices are.

While Airbnb declined to participate in this feature, Mike Curtis, Airbnb's VP of engineering, told TechRadar in the past about how smart home technology could be used to provide better guest experiences from the moment they enter a home.

“We have this incredible context that because of the app we know where you are geographically. As you’re walking up to your listing it could present you with information on how to get in, when you walk in, the smart home devices automatically know you’re there and switch to your account, welcome you, and give you the Wi-Fi password. Wi-Fi passwords are critically important for when you’re staying at an Airbnb.”

So is Airbnb thinking about deeper integrations with companies – especially smart lock companies – to potentially create an Amazon Key-like system for hosts and guests? Well, not really, as Curtis said that initial tests about such a system didn't work out so well and that smart locks aren't for everybody.

And there's the rub: Airbnb can't push smart home technology on its hosts because, at the end of the day, it's their own homes, and they can't be forced to install tech they don't know or understand. Instead, Airbnb adapting to the smart home is all about a technological waltz between hosts and guests, figuring out together what makes for a better smart rental.

TAGGED    smart home

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