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AirBnB reinvents the concierge

The Nickel Tour: Airbnb has spawned a new industry. Find out how canny entrepreneurs are taking advantage of this revolution in hospitality.

Airbnb has a great DIY creation story. In 2007, the company founders, then college grads, made a bit of money to cover rent by letting people stay on air mattresses on their living room floor. It was a true peer to peer exchange that became the inspiration for a billion dollar business.

Seven years later, Airbnb has listings in 34,000 cities in 190 countries, and several competitor online platforms in the short term accommodation rental market. Mass expansion of the peer to peer rental industry has also increased the types of rental products offered. You can still stay in a spare room or on a couch and swap stories with your hosts, B+B style. But you can also rent an apartment (or a boat or a yurt or a castle) all to yourself, if you want to the privacy of a hotel room with a side of character. Growth in this second category has given rise to a new breed of property management companies that helps absentee hosts handle rental logistics.

Guesty is one of these companies, a virtual property manager for Airbnb rentals anywhere in America. Guesty will manage the host side of your Airbnb account, responding to inquiries, screening guests based on criteria you provide and making bookings. Guesty’s 24 hour telephone concierge service will handle all issues during the tenancy that can be resolved remotely, like directions from the airport or neighborhood restaurant recommendations. Guesty charges a very reasonable 3% per rental, much lower than full service management companies, because they don’t handle in-person tasks like key drops and cleaning.

Full service management companies for short term rentals do exist in a few cities. Proprly will arrange key exchange and cleaning services for Airbnb, VRBO and HomeAway rentals in Manhattan and Brooklyn, and Urban Bellhop offers similar services for rentals in San Francisco. TurnKey is active in several Texas cities and Airhostr is beta testing similar services in Washington, DC.

Airenvy, a short term rental property management company serving Airbnb, HomeAway and FlipKey rentals in San Francisco offers virtual and physical management services in the same package.  Airenvy manages online bookings, key-drops, on-site troubleshooting during the rental if needed, and housekeeping. Guests interact in person with Airenvy neighborhood managers, surrogate hosts that help bring the peer to peer element back to the experience.

There’s no doubt that these management companies make it easier for absentee hosts to rent their units. But some industry observers have asked questions about brand integrity, saying that running homes like hotels isn’t what peer to peer rentals are about. After all, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky said his biggest business development mistake was marketing the peer to peer platform up to conventional property management companies and “depersonalizing” the service.

The reality is that peer to peer rental platforms already sell two types of experiences. Guests will continue to choose between the hotel alternative and the not-quite-a-B+B, and management companies may help the home-that-runs-like-a-hotel category grab a bigger bite of the business travel market.

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