(Spoiler alert: We don’t.)
A common question we get from homeowners, especially ones not yet fully immersed in the sharing economy, is “Do you background check all guests?” Often that question is accompanied by a sentence along the lines of “XYZ company I looked into does it.”
Our answer to that question is a simple “no,” usually accompanied by a sentence along the lines of “And neither does company XYZ.” Let me explain:
It’s 2018, and all platforms are trying to make the booking experience for guests as frictionless and simple as possible. One big step to making that happen is instant book – the ability to simply book a property, without having to go back and forth with some sort of inquiry process. Booking.com only ever worked like that, Airbnb prominently introduced it a few years ago, and by now even HomeAway and TripAdvisor encourage hosts to activate instant book, with the promise of everything from increased exposure in the extended network of sites to higher placement in search results.
Increased exposure and higher placement translate into more visibility, and likely more bookings. That means to make the most of your property, you must enable instant book wherever you can.
But, by enabling instant book, you forgo the option of doing any kind of background check or vetting of the guest. Anyone can book your property instantly without you having any say in it. And cancellations (say you have a bad feeling about a guest that just instant booked) are often punished by the platforms, which means you’re stuck with a guest once they book.
However, there are criteria and requirements you can put in place to exercise at least a little bit of control over who can instantly book your property. Airbnb offers the most options, while booking.com offers close to none. Let’s have a look at who offers what:
Agreeing to the house rules is the most basic requirement, and it’s offered as an option by all platforms except booking.com. On booking.com, there is no place to even write down custom house rules – which in some cases (e.g. properties with very specific requirements) can prove to be a bit challenging. (Funny, they say hosts can add house rules – but that option is nowhere to be found on the policies page for any of our properties).
Also, as usual, TripAdvisor is lagging, having just introducing house rules recently – and still not making accepting them a requirement to book (as of August 2018).
When it comes to contact information, all platforms provide both phone number and e-mail address to get in touch with the guest. That might not be much of an assurance when it comes to feeling secure about a guest, but it does help to have a way to get in touch. Both Airbnb and booking.com mask the e-mail address, meaning they’ll reroute it through their system to keep tabs on conversations.
And while both a verified phone number and e-mail address are requirements for Airbnb, TripAdvisor and HomeAway, booking.com tries to push into a more anonymous direction, with the default setting asking as little information as possible from a guest:
Unless changed, this means that you could get a guest from booking.com whom you don’t know anything about – not even the (real) e-mail address. Also, booking.com recently rolled out a pilot program where they removed all phone numbers from the information visible to the host – we had to insist to be excluded from that pilot in order to see the phone numbers with bookings. Booking.com does, however, have a new option to only allow guests to book who’ve stayed at another booking.com property before.
That’s pretty pointless, to be honest. Since guests cannot be rated on booking.com, the mere fact that they have booked a property before carries zero weight. Yes, there is an option to call booking.com and file a complaint about a guest, but we assume few people go that far, and even that is not guaranteed to prevent them from booking the next property.
Airbnb has chosen a much more reliable way:
The “Recommendation from other hosts” actually carries weight: Hosts are asked to rate every guest, and one of the questions is “Would you recommend this guest to other hosts?” By enabling this check, you should in theory be able to prevent “bad” guests from instantly booking your property. Also, Airbnb is the only platform where you can require the guest to have a government-issued ID (which is actually checked by Airbnb) on their account, making sure you know their real identity.
To sum up, there are options on all platforms to set some kind of guidelines as to who can book. However, they don’t qualify as “background checking” or “vetting.” Case in point: We’ve had a party of six book one of our properties, for which all requirements were checked on Airbnb (including the recommendation by other hosts) – and they had a wild party, damaging a door and leaving residue of drugs in more than one place.
The problem is that even if we did do a background check of sort – the above-mentioned case could not have been prevented. The party was a group of lawyers from the East Coast, with no indication whatsoever that they would not be perfect guests.
Fact 1: Disabling instant book leads to fewer bookings.
Fact 2: Even manual background checks offer no guarantee for a pleasant guest.
Fact 3: Any owner/company that enables instant book is not vetting their guests.
So next time you come across a service that promises “maximum revenue” and “guest vetting,” please do ask them how they deal with the above-mentioned facts.
At GoNitely, we explicitly do not background check or vet any guests. We strongly feel the lost revenue and additional (useless) work to vet guests is not worth the slim chance of a damage. We let everybody book, and rather make sure that owners are covered in case something does happen.