Managing a listing on home-rental service Airbnb is great fun for some hosts, and a total burden for others.
Airbnb is well aware, which is why it's been testing a way for hosts who dislike or don't have the time to respond to messages from prospective guests, help them settle in, and take care of any problems to let someone else handle the details for them, according to an Airbnb webpage. The program, first spotted by Airbnb fan blog All About Airbnb, lets so-called Superhosts (hosts who meet certain criteria including high ratings) take care of a nearby host's listing, like greeting the guests and helping them when they lock themselves out, in exchange for a cut of the earnings.
A source close to the project confirmed to Fortune that the company has indeed been testing this program since the spring, first in Tokyo, and now in a handful of other markets globally as well. According to the program's website, only “Superhosts” are eligible to manage listings for other hosts.
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Enlisting a third party to manage a listing and guests is nothing new. An entire cottage industry of management services for short-term rentals, along with cleaning and other maintenance services, has sprung up in recent years. Startups, including Guesty, Pillow, MetroButler, Keycafe, and Co-Pilot, among others, offer a variety of options for hosts who can't (or don't want to) deal with greeting and taking care of guests, from a simple key pickup location, to a full property management service.
But Airbnb thinks it could create a better solution, according to our source. For one, Airbnb handles splitting the earnings between the host and Superhost, eliminating the need to use a payment system outside the service.
Then there's also transparency. Through Airbnb's program, the co-host is added to the listing's profile page, making it clear to guests who they'll be interacting with from the start. This may not always be as clear when hosts use outside managements companies.
It's not hard to see other potential benefits from the program, such as helping with language barriers between guests and hosts, for example.
While the program's website says that only Superhosts can qualify to manage others' listings, there's still the potential that professional management companies or other commercial operators of rentals could try to take advantage of this. Airbnb is often accused for enabling greedy landlords to turn their properties into hotels, and this option could make it even easier. But according to our source, Airbnb intends for this to be only for individuals, and will closely keep an eye on how the program is used.
Still, because it's still early, it's impossible to know how the experiment will evolve and what Airbnb will eventually allow. Last year, Airbnb built software to make it easier for vacation rental property managers using the service to market their listings, though it's been made available only to a limited number of companies in a few markets.
“We're always looking for ways to give our hosts and guests around the world an even better experience,” an Airbnb spokesman told Fortune about the pilot program for co-hosts. “We know that many of our hosts already use friends, family and people they trust to help them host. We are doing a small scale trial in a few markets to look into ways to make this even easier.”
Earlier this week, Fortune reported that Airbnb had debuted a new program that lets multifamily building owners and landlords better monitor and take cut from tenants who rent their homes to others. By allowing their tenants to list their homes on Airbnb, within certain limits such as the number of units and the length of stay, they can receive regular reports about their tenants' activities from Airbnb as well as a cut of the earnings.