The launch of short-term rental websites, such as Airbnb, has rapidly disrupted the hotels market creating an entirely new economy practically overnight. Not only are there now over 168,000 active Airbnb listings within the UK, but there is also a range of new businesses that are offering management, laundry, cleaning and other services to make hosting easier.
It is still early days for the short-term rental market. Many hosts still advertise on a single website and rely on manual processes to manage their bookings. Industry experts believe that the short-term rental market will gradually become more integrated into the wider accommodation market as time goes on.
This has already started to happen on some online travel agent (OTA) websites, such as Expedia and Priceline, where short-term rental properties are listed alongside hotels and hostels. This trend started when Expedia bought short-term rental website HomeAway for $3.9bn back in 2015. It was clear that the OTA giant had long-term plans for the industry.
Short-term rentals differ significantly from hotels and hostels. But if they are to compete in the future they will need to offer the same level of service and flexibility as large hotels. This is almost impossible to achieve with manual processes and can lead to double-bookings, failed payments, and guests showing up without a confirmed booking. Automation will be key to earning an income through short-term rentals.
Some automation already exists. Hosts can use channel managers to centralise their booking calendar and provide instant bookings on multiple websites. A property management system (PMS) works with a channel manager to help keep track of multiple properties. And solutions such as Homeit can provide secure entry remotely, eliminating the need for hosts to be on-site to greet guests.
Great progress has been made but we’re a long way off hosting being fully automated. So, how will the short-term rental market be automated in the future?
Smartphones are becoming an increasingly important part of our lives and the technology they incorporate is getting ever more sophisticated. Location-based services are already being used by retail businesses to suggest offers, for example, but similar services could help automate short-term rentals.
A guest may book through an app, for example, which could then be configured to recognise the wifi network within the property. When the guest approaches the property, the app could activate lights, music or even unlock the door - almost like being greeted personally by the host.
Combine these controls with a property management system and the property could automatically adjust based on the user’s preferences and the host’s booking calendar, creating a customised service that is both secure and effortless.
Saving with smart utilities
While Google and Nest’s smart heating products don’t seem to have taken off, they could be invaluable for short-term rental properties. Hosts could synchronise with their channel manager so that properties are nice and warm for guests’ arrival while ensuring pipes don’t freeze when properties are vacant.
In the future, it may be possible for guests to select their temperature preference, ensuring that the property is not too warm and not too cold, without the guest having to touch the thermostat at all. When they leave for the day, to sightsee or attend a business event, for example, the temperature could be adjusted down to save money.
Additionally, hosts will be able to control the maximum temperatures and utility spend to ensure they aren’t hit with an expensive gas and electric bill at the end of the month, which would otherwise eat into their income.
The self-cleaning home
It’s going to be a while before we have robots that can change the bedsheets (humans still struggle!) but we already have robot vacuum cleaners and automated air fresheners. Programming these and future cleaning technologies around the guests’ schedules will ensure that the property is always smelling fresh and looking great without paying a fortune in cleaning fees.
It’s not implausible that the future will bring even more robotic technologies, such as self-emptying bins and robot mops, allowing hosts to automate even more aspects of their cleaning.
Keeping the kitchen stocked
Hosts aren’t expected to feed their guests, but it is always appreciated when hosts provide some essentials, such as tea, coffee, milk, bread and butter. Devices that monitor the levels of refrigerator items, sending automated purchase orders to supermarkets, already exist. It’s easy to imagine that the ‘smart fridge’ concept could be extended to other kitchen items, monitoring the stock of tea, coffee, salt and pepper, and bread, for example.
As guests get down to the last ten teabags, the device storing them could send an automatic notification to the host, property manager or straight to the supermarket. A fresh box of teabags then arrives the next day, ensuring that guests are never left without.
The AI home
As artificial intelligence (AI) becomes more sophisticated, we will begin to integrate all of the above automation features and allow the AI to take control. We won’t need to configure wifi networks or synchronise our smart locks with our channel managers. An integrated AI will control the lot and eliminate the need for human intervention in any of our systems.
André Roque is founder of Homeit, a smart access technology for the sharing economy’s short-term rental properties booked online on platforms like Airbnb or Booking.com. Homeit enables hosts to rent properties without delivering keys to guests or service providers, and enables guests to check-in at any time of day. It removes the need for copied keys (and therefore the possibility of lost keys), and the system works with every door, internal and external, whatever the physical lock, and integrates with the property’s booking calendar. Guests have instant access to the property, and hosts have transparency, and therefore peace of mind. They know who’s coming in, who’s going out (whether it’s cleaners, workers or guests), and when.