Automation that will support short-term rental businesses

Airbnb and other short-term rental websites have not only disrupted the traditional hotels market, the change has also created an entirely new economy. In the UK we now have over 168,000 active Airbnb listings, (with hosts earning  £3,600 per annum on average), and also a range of businesses have started offering services including management, laundry, cleaning which help make hosting easier and more efficient.

It is still early days for the short-term and holiday rental market, however. 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, allowing customers to choose between traditional accommodation, such as hotels and hostels, and short-term rentals.

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.

But short-term rentals differ significantly from hotels and hostels. There is no front desk, no 24-hour attendant, homes are very different in facilities and layout, and hosts often need to leave a long list of special instructions.

In the future, short-term rentals will need to offer the same level of service and flexibility as large hotels if they are to compete. 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.

Despite all these great solutions for short-term rental, there is still a long way to go until hosting is fully automated. Let’s look at other automation that will soon be with us.

Proximity-based Controls

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 (for eHomeitxample with )- 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 by using 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 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.

Robots and the Self-Cleaning Home

It’s going to be a while before we have robots that can change the bed (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.

Stocking the Kitchen

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 all of them, without requiring human intervention.

From the robots getting the prompt to start their work, to submitting the order for kitchen staples AI will make it happen. Allowing hosts the luxury of avoiding these chores and focusing on more productive aspects of developing their businesses (or even having time to put their feet up)!