Rude guests, broken wi-fi and a lot of floor scrubbing – this is what it's really like to be an Airbnb host

Rosie Millard
The need to make Airbnb rentals into hotel-style sanctuaries is a strain on hosts: Getty

The secretary general of the UN World Tourism Organisation (I know, me neither) has news for hotels. Shut up about Airbnb: the sharing economy is here to stay. The hotel industry “should realise that it is not going to go away,”

Taleb Rifai said at a Tourism Global Summit this week that “instead of weeping and moaning and yawning and saying ‘no no no, we don’t want it’, [the industry] must find ways of coming to terms with this phenomenon.”

Well, I have news for hoteliers. Airbnb clients miss your style. They miss it so much they want you to be replicated in the Airbnb model. Yes, I know the “Air” in the brand means “Air bed”, but if you dared to offer an air bed these days, you would be hounded off the internet.

Airbnb guests want a hotel, in the shape of your house. They want the spirit of Ian Schrager to inform each room. They want deluxe. I say this with confidence, having had a couple of bruising encounters with Airbnb guests at Millard Towers.

“There too many stairs in your house,” wrote one reviewer, who was clearly expecting London terraced houses to all have lifts. “And your furniture is old.” What? Don’t they know an antique chair when they see one? Don’t they understand the whole notion of shabby chic? Nope. In the Airbnb world it’s lifts, minimalism and Philippe Starck all the way.

This Easter we were ready for the challenge of once more turning our characterful family home into a simulacrum of a hotel, thanks to a looming and (it must be said) financially exciting Airbnb booking.

On Good Friday my husband could be found crawling across the kitchen floor. “We are not,” he muttered as he painstakingly scrubbed the thin lines of grout in between each tile, “going to have any complaints this time.” Meanwhile I pulled on a pair of rubber gloves and walked solemnly upstairs, bearing three bottles of bathroom cleaning fluid. Prior to the arrival of five people from Dallas, we would not be thwarted. Everything had to either be new or look new, hence new linen and towels upstairs and downstairs, a Victorian approach to the kitchen floor.

The children were awed into semi-silence by this industry. “Wow,” said one. “I never knew the kitchen floor was originally this colour. Makes the whole room look mahoosive.”

“Yes, well,” I snapped as I scoured the bath. “Go and tidy up your rooms.”

The Airbnb family arrived and we – hiding far away (in Cornwall) – held our breath. Sure enough, the first complaint was filed about six hours in. “Your Wifi is broken. We are in email isolation.” Quite nice when you are on hols in London, one might think. As it happened, I had to return to London for work, and (with their permission), I popped in to check on the errant wifi. All was working fine. I scoped the house. It was immaculate. Perfect. Shiny. Boutiquey, even.

“If I stayed in a house like this I would give it five stars,” I announced when I returned to Cornwall. Sadly, our guests did not. A miserly three stars, grumbles about the wifi and a nasty comment about mystery canine “odours” in the kitchen was their legacy (although they did say the bathrooms were very clean, which was gratifying).

If you are going to attempt Airbnb, here are some tips. First, visit a hotel to get your eye in. Second, if you don’t live in a bungalow, point out the stairs. Deep clean your house. Add obvious Starck stuff (that table light, that lemon squeezer, that kettle with a bird on it). Don’t bother with buying new sheets/towels. We did and they went unmentioned. Just wash yours, stack them into a beribboned pile and place them at the bottom of each bed, a la Brown’s Hotel.

Make sure the wifi, burglar alarm, Sonos and anything else electronic is failsafe. If you have a dog or indeed any sort of pet, hide all traces of it, including photographs, and spray its living quarters with industrial amounts of air freshener.

It’s a learning curve. It’s the sharing economy, Ian Schrager style.