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Q&A with China expert, Donald Kim, VP of Business Development at Cozystay

Unless your vacation rental’s calendar is full every day of the year, you will be looking to increase bookings. There are a myriad of platforms out there to list your rental – such as the big ones like Airbnb, VRBO or Homeaway or Flip Key. However, even though you are present on theses pages, are you really reaching all potential guests out there?

Donald Kim CozyStay

A lucrative market, which remains largely untapped, is the large number of Chinese tourists travelling abroad. From 2016 to 2017 the number of vacations Chinese citizens were taking outside the country increased by 7% to 131 million occasions, for example. With that comes a huge spending power. In 2016 alone it amounted to over USD 261 billion for Chinese tourists abroad. So how do you reach Chinese travellers with an interest in staying in vacation rental?

CertiStay had an opportunity to speak with an expert in the Chinese market, Donald Kim. Donald is VP of Business Development at Cozystay, which operates a platform for short-term rentals targeting Chinese vacationers.

1. Donald, thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions for us. Could you introduce yourself and tell us a little bit more about what Cozystay does?

Hi, it is a pleasure to be here. I’m the VP of Business Development for Cozystay and I’ve been working with the company since its launch in early 2015. The idea started with Galen, CEO/Founder, who initially looked at providing student housing for Chinese students in North America and then decided for a model similar to Airbnb but targeting the emerging Chinese tourism market. China has surpassed USA and Germany for outbound travel and will be the largest market for the next 10-15 years. What is fascinating is that China leads outbound tourism, but only 6% of the population holds passports compared to 46% of Americans. Also, Chinese tourists have been the top spenders when travelling since 2012. Galen and I knew that there is a big potential market to capitalize on and being the first Chinese online travel agent (OTA) with headquarters outside of China has an advantage.

2. How are you promoting your Cozystay in China?

We haven’t done a lot of direct marketing in China, because we are still onboarding inventory and developing our technology. Most of our marketing has been through WeChat and attending travel large conferences in China. Because we have an established office in Beijing, we work closely with Chinese OTA’s and local travel agents. We have agreements with Ctrip, China’s largest OTA, and Quanar, China’s second largest OTA, which was acquired by Ctrip. We also have a partnership with Tujia-Sweetome, China’s largest domestic vacation rental platform which recently invested into Cozystay. What a lot of westerners do not realize is that most bookings are still done through travel agents in China especially in the tier 2 and 3 cities. Which is why, working with travel agents in China is imperative.

3. Are short-term rentals a popular concept in China?

Short-term rentals are very popular in China and the country is being inundated by new players entering the market with slightly different approach to the business. Tujia remains to be the largest in China followed by Airbnb. However, new companies such as Xiaozhu, which just raised $300M last October from the Jack Ma fund, are trying to position itself to be major players in the vacation rental industry in China. Other companies such as Zhubaija.com, Onehome.me, Mayi.com, Munaio.com are all fighting to position itself in the market. Ctrip now offers short-term rentals on their platform along with Qunar, and Elong.com

China’s domestic tourism market has expanded rapidly in recent years, driven by a fast-growing middle class and the proliferation of online travel services. As more and more people are travelling domestically, the appetite to book a vacation rental has exploded.

Short term rentals chinese

4. What do Chinese guests expect from a good short-term rental?

Cleanliness is very important. To ensure a good guest experience, our property management division supplies simple items in all our accommodations such as chopsticks, soy sauce, rice cooker, instant noodles and a hot water dispenser. For example, Chinese do not drink cold water even if it is very hot outside. We also provide disposable slippers since Chinese do not where shoes inside homes. Our call center provides customer service in English and Chinese through WeChat. In North America, there are several apps to communicate with guests such as iMessage, Text Message, Whatsapp, Viber, Facebook Messenger. However, Chinese only use WeChat. So if a host wants to communicate to Chinese guests, he should download the WeChat app.

5. Speaking from your experience with Cozystay, what can vacation rental owners do to attract more bookings for their listing?

Cozystay operates a property management company, so we understand a high occupancy rate throughout the year is important. To obtain more bookings, vacation rental owners should be listing on as many OTAs as possible but targeting new markets – especially the Chinese market. During the slow season in North America and European, property owners can expect to get bookings for Chinese New Year which is in February and China’s National Day which starts October 1st and lasts for a week.

6. How important is safety for Chinese guests?

A report from China Tourism Academy and Ctrip launched in March 2018 stated that ‘safety and security’ is the number one concern for Chinese tourists. As more and more Chinese tourists are becoming younger with Chinese millennials being the driving force, they are traveling in smaller groups as FITs (free independent travellers) and they all want to be safe and secure starting with the accommodation they are booking.

7. Thank you, Donald. Where can we find out more about Cozystay?

The best place to start is our website. You can also follow us on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

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Do you have any more questions? Let us know via our social channels – FacebookTwitter or Instagram – and we will try to answer them. 

Make your vacation rental stand out

Get Your Vacation Rental Noticed on Listing Sites

As a short-term rental host, you are probably facing some competition. There are exceptions, of course. Maybe you are in a very special location or catering for a specific niche with a highly unique listing. However, the average location rental is a small mackerel in the big sea of fish of other offerings. So how do you get yours noticed? How do you make it the rainbow fish of vacation rentals with 100% occupancy and plenty of booking requests? Here are 5 easy-to-implement tips to make your vacation rental stand out on listing sites like Airbnb, HomeAway or VRBO.

Make your airbnb stand out

Get Picture Ready

To get good pictures taken for your STR must be the most common advice to give hosts who want to improve their listing. However, I still see a lot of listings especially in the lower price segment with blurry, dark pictures. Photographs like that give me the impression that the accommodation is more likely to be a comfortable home for some supernatural beings than my family on holiday. Most smartphones are equipped with cameras fully capable to take good shots of your vacation rental. Make sure the bed sheets are crease-free, add some colourful touches (like bright cushions or a vase with flowers) and take the pictures during the day with as much natural light as possible.

Professional pictures are of course preferable but can be costly. One tip would be work with local influencers on Instagram. This can be two-fold. As the first option, the influencer gets free accommodation for one or two nights in return for talking about the STR on his or her social channels (usually with images). As a second option, you could invite an influencer to stay with you for free in return for some professional photographs. On a side note, make sure you agree beforehand what each party’s commitment is and that you will have the right to use their pictures.

Emphasize Safety and Security

Accidents happen but they should not happen in your short-term rental. Airbnb has been in the spotlight a lot lately with devastating fatal accidents making headlines. Therefore, a host’s priority should be to assure that his vacation rental is safe and secure. Airbnb provides some handy pointers in their Responsible Hosting guide.

On top of that, operating a safe rental can be a selling point as well, as vacationers are looking for a place which they can enjoy without worries. Be certain to include information about your safety provisions (like fire extinguishers, first aid kit, pool gates and so on) in your vacation rental’s description. Alternatively, get certified by CertiStay, who provide third-party safety and security certification for short-term rentals, and then advertise your well-earned certification on our listing. Finally, you can add some photos to your listing of the features which make your offering particularity safe and secure.

Make your vacation rental stand out

Offer Breakfast

You might think that your short-term rental is not a B&B, but you don’t have to offer an extensive breakfast buffet in order to state that you are providing breakfast. Stock the cupboard and fridge with a carton of milk, a bottle of fruit juice, a loaf of bread, some cereal, jam and butter before each guest’s arrival and you have got your continental breakfast. Most of these items can be bought and bulk, don’t perish quickly or can be frozen if you have the storage space. Then place the item in the rental before the guests get there or have your turnover staff place them for you.

With two similar listings with identical prices, people will most likely prefer the option with breakfast. It provides additional value to the guest with limited effort from the host.

Laptop-friendly workspace airbnb

Provide a Laptop-friendly Workspace

It is a growing trend to work location-independent. And at an advantage for the short-term rental industry, the so-called digital nomads took a great liking to Airbnb. Why? Because compared to a hostel, they can have their own space to live like a local in a place, rest and work. Furthermore, especially on Airbnb you can filter listings for laptop-friendly workspaces. What does that mean? A comfortable chair, a desk without clutter and a desk light are usually recommended. Take a picture of your set-up and post it with your listing, so your guests know exactly what they can expect.

Besides having a work desk in your rental, high-speed Wifi can also be a big selling point. Test your internet speed online and publish its results on the listing description or as a screenshot.

Airbnb description get noticed

Highlight Main Selling Points in the Listing Heading

I get it. All vacation homes are comfortable, beautiful and amazing but that is probably not something that is going to help your listing get noticed. You will want to advertise what makes your short-term rental extra special. So instead highlight your main selling points in your listing title. Your guests have access to a pool? Great! Stick it in there. Air-conditioning? Located next to main landmark? Balcony? Identify what makes your listing different and what sells it and then shout about it.

Anything to add on how to make your vacation rental stand out? Let us know on our social channels – FacebookTwitter or Instagram

local regulations airbnb

How to Find out about Laws and Regulations in Your Area

Navigating local regulations regarding short-term rentals’ safety and security can be a confusing minefield. With laws constantly changing on a national, regional and most frequently city level, hosts have to put in increased efforts to keep up with the latest requirements. Most of the time not fulfilling these requirements can mean not only putting the safety of your guests at stake but also risking being banned from running your Airbnb, HomeAway or VRBO. For example, as stated in an article by Justin Ford on VRMintel, “many localities around the United States […] require vacation rentals to have smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, emergency exit lighting, and fire extinguishers in place.”

Additionally, some places also ask STR hosts to follow certain procedures in order to avoid health issues. These can, for example, involve linen sanitization or pool and spa maintenance.

So where do you begin? Not to worry! We’ve compiled a guide on where to look for your area’s safety and security requirements for your short-term rental or vacation home.

Consult Your Local Government

Firstly, your local government will be able to provide materials on what safety standards need to be fulfilled by STRs or even if safety inspections are required. However, which department of the government is responsible varies a lot. Generally, you will be able to obtain information from the city hall or the city’s general website. At times, it is also worth checking with the housing department or the licensing department, since running an STR can be considered a business. For example, to obtain a Short-term Rental Licence in Denver the “STR must have an operable smoke detector, carbon monoxide detector and fire extinguisher”. Find this information on the city website under the Business Licensing Center section.

Check the Airbnb Website

Secondly, the Airbnb website provides some great guidelines on how to be responsible host in the US.  These recommendations proof useful even if your not in the United States or if you use other channels than Airbnb to promote your STR. Further down the page, US hosts can find the regulations specific to their city. For example, in Seattle, WA, the Rental Registration and Inspection Ordinance requires certain rental property owners to register with the city. In Seattle short-term rentals need to abide by certain standards, which include safety and security variables, in order to legally welcome guests.

safety regulations short-term rental

Join Facebook Groups

In addition to the above, Facebook groups, where fellow short-term rental hosts come together, can provide a great resource. It might not give you the most reliable answers but will provide a great starting point for your own research. Find our short-list of the 5 most useful Facebook groups for hosts to join here.

Ask CertiStay

We are experts when it comes the safety and security of short-term rentals. We work with a Safety & Security Committee of renowned experts in the industry. Furthermore we’re constantly providing recommendations to hosts on how to keep their guests and property safe. This is why we’re always up-to-date with the latest regulations and are happy to share. Get in touch!

Do you know another great way to find out about local regulations that you would like to share with us? We would love to hear from you on our social channels – FacebookTwitter or Instagram

airbnb safety security

Tips & Tricks on How to Keep Your Short-term Rental Secure

As the Chairman of the Safety & Security Committee of CertiStay, Steve Watt can look back on over 35 years of experience in policing. Starting his career in Northern Ireland with the Royal Ulster Constabulary, he quickly established his career in police, law enforcement and private security training not only in Canada but internationally as well. A recognized expert on policing matters, he has been consulting for the Province of British Columbia and Public Safety Canada since 2007. With this impressive CV, there is really no better person to ask a couple of questions on how to keep your Airbnb and short-term rental safe and secure. Let’s get started!

Note: Short-term rentals are referred to as STRs.

1. Having summarised your experience a bit above, could you tell us about a highlight that stood out in your career?

While there many are highs and lows in policing, my main focus has always been helping others; whether that was a police officer in training, the victim of a crime or someone struggling with life’s challenges. It’s all about reaching out and touching someone in a positive way. My role with CertiStay carries on that philosophy to ensure individuals and families can experience safe and secure business and vacation short-term rentals.

2. How did you become a member of the Safety & Security Committee of CertiStay?

Happenstance! A colleague of mine introduced me to Wolf Worster in April 2017 and the rest fell into place after meeting with the CertiStay team.

3. Getting onto the subject of security in STRs, which are the 3 most important issues in terms of security to consider when setting up your Airbnb, VRBO or Homeaway?

There are two interrelated issues to address here, the security of your rental property and the safety and security of your guest. Take steps to target harden your property from break and enter, theft and vandalism. That includes secure doors, windows, lighting and visibility to and from the street; and as an additional step, exterior cameras and motion sensor lights. By increasing the security of your property you will also enhance the safety of your guests as a result.

4. What is an easy thing an short-term rental host could do just now to increase the security of their vacation home?

Generally welcoming someone into your home or rental unit and especially as they are paying, increases your responsibility for their safety, security and overall experience of their stay. As the owner, make sure your property is secure from unauthorized entry: door locks are secure; keypads are reset with each new guest; door chain locks are installed as a secondary step; and windows are secure. Also, ensure that your property is well-lit at night and entry ways are clear allowing your guests to safely enter and exit the dwelling. On the inside make sure everything is operating as promised and that emergency information is available for your guests. Finally, make sure your guests can easily exit your property in case of an emergency.

5. What do you think that most hosts forget that is important to keep their STRs safe and secure?

Make sure your rental unit meets the standards expected by the general public and the safety and security guidelines provided by your municipal government and/or crime prevention and community based policing practices. Also compare your rental to others being offered, including hotel rooms and suites. Identify your problems and correct them. Just because you have the space to list a short-term rental, doesn’t mean you have acceptable accommodation. Most importantly, put your guests first.

6. You help put together the audit CertiStay performs for STRs/vacation homes to certify their safety and security. Can you tell us a little bit more about it?

The CertiStay audit template is quite comprehensive including some 24 categories covering a wide range of rentals from single family homes, laneway homes, basement suites and condos. An example of some of the categories are: security and surveillance; doors; windows; fire suppression; smoke and CO alarms; electrical; emergency preparedness; communications; and individual rooms (living room, kitchen; bedrooms; and bathroom). Each category has multiple questions to ensure the rental unit meets the base requirements for certification by CertiStay.

Furthermore, owners who go beyond the basics will be recognized as ‘exceeding requirements’ and can achieve Smart Home certification were smart components are in place. Regardless of the foregoing, should a rental unit score ‘below requirements’ on a category that would potentially be life threatening (absence of smoke and CO alarms), that element would require correction before being certified. Mainly, our goal is to collaborate with the owners to enhance the safety and security of their short-term rentals.

7. Is the audit automated or is it performed by an auditor?

It’s both. Gone are the days of paper based audits. The CertiStay audit template will be accessed by our auditors via the CertiStay App on a tablet. The tablet application allows the auditors to walk through the audit questions, category by category. While the questions have been developed to eliminate subjectivity, the auditor will be able to comment on any element of the audit and also embed photographs, as required.

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Do you have any more questions for Steve? Feel free to join our Facebook community where safety and security experts and STR hosts come together! Join now…