Why Average is Over in the Airbnb and Short-Term Rental Business




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January 2, 2014

We are living in The New Era of Aesthetics. It is the 21st century and expectations of beauty have dramatically increased.

Excellent design is everywhere. It invites us into an enticing, diverse, stimulating, gorgeous world. Our smartphones are as sexy as supermodels, the typeface and photography of our favorite blogs compel us to procrastinate; a car seat’s aged leather piping invites us to sit back and take a quick jaunt to the country. Even our neighborhood coffee shop looks like a spread from Elle Décor Magazine.

Nowhere is this more clear than in the Airbnb and vacation rental market. The choicest digs win the most bookings. Hands down every time.


Because beautiful design is intoxicating. It enlivens all five of our senses. It allows us to dream of fantastic futures and imagine a better present. It promises happiness. Beauty is no longer the property of the rich and famous; all social and economic classes expect it. Demand it.

And smart Airbnb and short-term rental owners know this. They realize in order to succeed in an increasingly competitive environment, they must provide low-cost, comfortable and convenient homes, while simultaneously making them beguiling to spend time in. People are becoming more and more design savvy. Not only do they want life to be easier, but they want life to be beautiful. They have come to expect it. They feel they deserve it. After all, vacations are precious and people want the jaw dropping, not the ho-hum.

To illustrate my point, check out the photos below. Each represents an Airbnb in the same town of the Great Lakes area of Michigan. Both rentals charge about the same nightly rate of $350. Both are relatively the same size and both are about the same distance to the beaches. However, one is booked a full six months in advance and the other has wide open vacancy. Can you guess which is the more popular option?

Photo One

Photo 1

Photo Two

Photo 2

If you are like 95% people, you will have guessed the rental in Photo 1. The first house is inspiring! It’s blowing viewers away with its chic, modern farmhouse appeal. The furniture is fetching with a slight mid-century feel and its layout is inviting for socializing or kicking back and reading a book (look at the amazing reading light right next to the sofa!); the color palette is neutral and the light color makes the room look light and spacious; the artwork is interesting and thoughtful. The overall vibe is upbeat and it’s obvious the owner has put a lot of time into making it special.

The second house – Photo 2 – is unappealing. The furniture looks old, tired and “donated”; the room is gloomy despite all the windows. The dark wood ceiling is oppressive and clashes with the pine paneling above the mantel. Knickknacks are scattered about haphazardly, with little thought to use or appeal.

Let’s face it. It’s average.

All the promotion in the world won’t make this Airbnb appealing. It’s only going to book when guests don’t have better options, most likely because they are booking last-minute. And to make themselves feel better (and not bitter about paying the same price as the chic place in Photo 1 – that booked up months ago), they will tell themselves, “well, it’s only a place to sleep after all,” or the all too common, “we will be out most of the time anyway and not be spending much time in the house.”

That’s what guests tell themselves when they book a dumpy vacation rental.

The Airbnb owner in Photo 1 is savvy. He knows what guests want and is delivering it on a silver platter. Consequently, he is doing really well.

Really well.

In fact, he is building another short-term rental as I write this blog post.

He has seen the writing on the wall.

Growth in chic short-term rentals is exploding. In an interview in the New York Times, Jon Gray, HomeAway’s senior vice president, said the company’s internal studies show that travelers consider “the most important element of making a vacation luxurious is the accommodation.” In response, the company has recently launched a purely luxurious rental site,, wherein guests can search only upscale rentals. No dumpy digs allowed.

Two more rental sites catering to the purely chic are Britain’s One Fine Stay and Los Angeles-based Boutique Homes. One Fine Stay was founded in London in 2010 and has expanded at a breathtaking pace into New York, Paris, Los Angeles and Miami. Although most properties are on the high-end, it’s possible to find smaller homes in the range of $200 to $300 per night as well. Boutique Home’s clever tagline is “temporary housing for chic nomads” and indeed, all their vacation rentals are gorgeous. The company hand-picks truly stunning homes and offers them at darn competitive rates.They also feature small, intimate hotel choices in the same vein.

One Fine Stay on 1 Chic Retreat

The bohemian vibe in this stunning Coconut Grove beach house can’t be beat and it’s featured on One Fine Stay.

Although many of the homes listed on these new kinds of chic-only rental sites are indeed geared for the upper crust of income brackets, that they exist at all tells us that good design in vacation rentals is an emerging trend and we will continue to see more of it as the industry expands. As more homes are listed on HomeAway, VRBO, Airbnb, Pandabed and other sites (new ones are popping up all the time), it will be harder and harder to be average and still get bookings.

So don’t do average.

Average vacation rentals are all over the web. Don’t waste your time creating them. There are already 10,000 other vacation rentals doing that.

Consumers of all income brackets want beautiful retreats in which to spend their precious vacation time and if given the choice, will reject “average” every time. No mercy. No prisoners. No treaties.




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