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Safe Outdoor Spaces and Minimizing the Risk of Liability Claims

Providing some outdoor space can really add value to your vacation rental offering. However, they can also add some risk in terms of guests hurting themselves and for which you can be held liable. We have discussed liability insurance already on the blog. Read it here!

Consider the example of someone using the swing in your garden. Imagine the swing’s seat comes loose, the person falls and breaks their arm. You can now be held liable for this and the bodily injury they incured and if you do not have the right insurance this can be costly – costly enough to ruin your business. Therefore, it is firstly important to have appropriate liability insurance which covers you as a short-term rental host and secondly to do everything in your power to make sure your property is safe. With the help of Steve Watt, Chairman of CertiStay’s Safety & Security Committee, we have compiled a comprehensive guide on how to keep your outdoor spaces safe for your guests. Read on to learn more…

Pools and Hot Tubs

  • Fencing off pools and hot tubs prevents unauthorized use and can increase child safety.
  • Ensure all doorways/gates accessing a pool or hot tub are lockable, preventing unintended access by children.
  • Small children should only use the pool and tub with adult supervision.
  • Ensure all pool components, slides and other accessories are in working order and/or safe to use.
  • Make sure the water is tested regularly and that chemicals are safely stored.
  • Non-slip decking can reduce the risk of injury.

Waterfront access

Waterfront Access

  • Young children accessing the waterfront should be under adult supervision.
  • Ensure all water based equipment is in working order (canoe, kayak, power boat, etc.) and that personnel flotation devices are available, as required.
  • Provide guidance and directions for use of water borne equipment.

Airbnb BBQ

Grills and BBQs

  • Ensure that outdoor cooking appliances are safe to use, clean and in working order.
  • Fuel/propane tanks should be full and ready for use with spare tanks available for guest use.
  • Provide guidelines for use of grills and BBQs.
  • Have a fire extinguisher nearby in the event of accidental fire.

Airbnb balcony

Balconies, Decks and Patios

  • All access to balconies, decks and patios should be lockable.
  • Ensure all balconies, decks and patios are in good order and safe to use.
  • Perimeter alarms can deter unintended guests or indicate when a guest enters the balcony, deck or patio from the residence.
  • Installing a non-slip surface can increase safety during and after wet weather.
  • All outdoor furniture must be in good condition and safe to use.

Airbnb garden

Gardens and Natural Outdoor Space

  • Make sure the outdoor space is safe for guest use.
  • Provide warning signs for any dangerous areas or poisonous plants or remove the latter, if practical.
  • Stairways should be non-slip and those over three steps should include a handrail.
  • Any playground equipment (swings, slides, etc.) should be checked on a regular basis and safe to use.

Airbnb secuirty

Security

  • Installing alarms and outdoor cameras can provide guests can provide guests with a more secure vacation experience. However, if you do have cameras installed, make guests aware of where they are located. Read more about ensuring security of your vacation rental here.

Rather have the experts check whether your property is safe and secure? Contact CertiStay today

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

Insurance for short-term rentals

Understanding Liability Insurance for Your Short-term Rental

Chief Insurance Officer CertiStayAs the Chief Insurance Officer of CertiStay, Yvonne Chan is the go-to expert to answer any questions regarding vacation homes and insurance. Yvonne holds impressive qualifications such as Chartered Insurance Professional (CIP), Canadian Risk Management (CRM) and Canadian Association of Insurance Brokers (CAIB) designations. She has been working in the industry for over 20 years and specialises in modelling proprietary insurance solutions.

Also read our interview with Steve Watt, Chairman of CertiStay’s Safety & Secruity Committee.

1. Yvonne, thank you for answering some questions for us today. Could you briefly describe your background in the insurance industry?

Today many young insurance professionals are graduates of a risk management program at post secondary institutions – many of my peers of my generation either fell into insurance by accident or it is a family business. I fell into insurance by accident when I was trying to figure out what to do after school. In my very first insurance job, I met a wonderful mentor who continues to be a mentor and friend to me to this day. She was knowledgeable and kind. However, she was a tough teacher, which I admired and wanted to emulate.

My first job was with The Dominion of Canada Insurance Company, which was the oldest Canadian Insurance company prior to Travelers acquiring it. I was a Claims Assistant before being promoted to an In-house Claims Adjuster, adjusting homeowners’ claims. From there it was a natural progression to learning how to create insurance programs to meet the needs of different insured operations so that when there is a claim that the policy would respond. I went on to become a Placement Specialist with several global insurance brokers to continue to develop my craft. I was extremely fortunate to have many wonderful mentors along the way that encourage my curiosity and passion for the insurance business.

2. What is your role now at CertiStay and what does it encompass?

My title is Chief Insurance Officer. I believe that everyone dreams of having an opportunity to apply what they have learned throughout their career and to implement products to specific business needs.
CertiStay’s business is unique and one of a kind as there is an urgent need to address safety and security of short-term rental properties by an independent third party. The clients that seek us out are therefore savvy and exceptional business operators with specific insurance requirements.

My main role at CertiStay is to create insurance product offerings to address their specific business requirements. Insurance that will stand the test of claims that are unique to this class of insured.

3. Diving right into the topic, what is liability insurance and why should operators insure their short-term rental?

Vacation home owners can be sued at any point in time – whether there is wrongdoing or not. This is a fact. It is also a fact that our society has become more litigious. It takes time and money to defend yourself or your business, whether it is your fault or not. Liability insurance therefore is a financial protection against bodily injury and property damage sustained by others for which you are found liable.

You and your business can attract liability for things that you have done or may not have done. Consider the example of someone tripping down the stairs at your short-term rental. If the injured person tripped over their own feet, you are not in any way at fault. However, if they felt that that the unfortunate accident was due to some faulty treads on your stairs, you can be held liable for their injuries. So at the very least, you as the operator would want the peace of mind to, either be able to pay for the damages or to have the ability to defend yourself against nuisance claims.

4. Do popular short-term rental listing sites like Airbnb or HomeAway include liability insurance? Why would operators consider seeking extra insurance beyond that coverage?

Short-term rentals are not like a hotel or a bed and breakfast. Many operators operate either from their principal residences or have property that is strictly for short-term renting. As a result, insurance programs have to be tailored for these unique business operations.

Some of the larger listing sites do provide some liability coverage for operators or hosts, but generally the limit of coverage is too low for a business operation. Should a serious accident occur – the limit may be insufficient.

Operators should not only seek additional insurance coverage but they should make sure that they have the right coverage. They run a business, and in order to thrive as a business, they must operate profitably and without loss due to liability claims. Therefore, financial protection and the ability to transfer the risk to an insurer should be key considerations of any business operations.

Find out more about CertiStay and how it works.

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

2018 VRMA International Conference

Join Us for the Biggest Event of the Vacation Rental Industry in Las Vegas in October

The must-attend event of the year for all vacation rental managers, the 2018 VRMA International Conference, takes place from 27th to 30th of October 2018. It is held in Las Vegas at the MGM Grand Las Vegas Hotel & Casino.

The conference is being organized for vacation rental managers, owners and executives. Therefore, you will be able to network to your heart’s content with fellow operators and industry peers. The evening receptions will provide a relaxed atmosphere allowing you to network a bit more and to reflect on what you have learnt during the day.

A wealth of suppliers will be exhibiting at the conference. There will be over a 100 exhibitors present. You will find big fish such as Booking.com and Airbnb as well as smaller companies, who provide a range of industry services. Visit CertiStay Inc. at Booth 347!

Most importantly, over the 3 days plenty of useful workshops will await. Join 60+ demonstrations, roundtable discussions, presentations and education sessions focusing on all things important for STR operators. Beyond others subjects, business strategy, guest and owner relations, marketing, international issues, human resources, finance and legal operations, sales, technology and property services will be covered.

CertiStay Inc., one of the lunch session sponsors, is organizing a lunch & learn focused on vacation rental safety and security. This will take place on Monday, the 29th 12.15pm – 1pm and will be presented by Terry Jones. Impressively, he was the founder and CEO of Travelocity and founding chairman of Kayak.com.

Want to join the fun? So get your tickets here for the 2018 VRMA International Conference. If you already have a ticket, we look forward to seeing you at Booth 347.

Social media for Airbnb

Using Instagram and Pinterest to Promote Your Vacation Rental

It is no news that digital marketing is becoming more and more important for the hospitality industry. Especially social media takes up a huge part of it and mastering feels more complex each day. So which social media channels should you use to promote your short-term rental? All of them or just a selected few? We have taken the time to take a closer look at the four biggest social platforms. In our previous blog post we talked about Twitter and Facebook specifically. Find our expert guide Social Media for Short-term Rentals – Part I here.

In this blog we are sharing some advice on utilising Instagram and Pinterest for your vacation let. Read on to find out more!

Instagram for short-term rentals

Instagram

After Facebook, Instagram is the second most popular platform of the big social media clients. Users flock to it to show off the holiday snaps, to get inspired as well as to keep in touch with friends and family. Big brands use Instagram to show of their products and offerings and many short-term rental operators have discovered it for themselves as well. For example, a 2018 report by Netbase found that the majority of public conversations around Airbnb happen on Instagram (40%). This is compared to other channels such as forums (16%), blogs (13%), Twitter (12%) or Facebook (5%). This means potential guests are on Instagram, but your competitors is as well. So how do you stand out, get more likes and create an impressive following on Instagram? It is a more or less an easy answer: provide content people are interested in.

Outstanding Content

Firstly, high-quality pictures of your short-term rental are a must. Most smartphones now take awesome photos, but make sure the lighting is good, the image is not overfiltered and you add a splash of colour to your pictures. For instance, if you are taking a picture of your Airbnb kitchen, add a vase of flowers. It is also useful to commit to a couple of hours to ‘shooting’, so you get a few different shots. These you can then post at a later time as well. Also, make sure to capture the quirks of your short-term let like a reading nook or the novelty clock in the living room. You can highlight also your facilities on your Instagram like a boat pier or billiard table. Bonus tip: If your offering is pet-friendly, get those four-legged friends into the spotlight. Instagram loves animals! Finally, do not be afraid to advertise the security and safety features of your short-term rental as well. As an example, mention the pool gates in the caption of a beautiful picture of your swimming pool.

However, do not just post about your vacation rental on your account. Provide inspiration why people should visit the area you are located in. And do not worry if you do not have a lot of nice pictures. Repost talented Instagrammers’ work as long as you give them credit. You can also use your account as a source of information for potential and future guests on what to do in the place you are located. Give some advice on where to eat, the most instagrammable photo spots and what to do. There is a local adventure farm nearby? Publish some pictures of it and more information about the local attraction.

Hashtags and Tagging Accounts

That you can use up to 30 hashtags for your Instagram post and that you should, too, is not novel advice. It is crucial for getting your content discovered by Instagram users. However, this year the concept of the shadow ban has been looming over people’s heads. Especially if you use Instagram for business with a business account and repeat the same hashtags over and over again, you might no longer show for these hashtags. Therefore, mix it up. Use different hashtags each time and sometimes more or less. Also, from my own research I have found that business accounts are more like to be affected by shadowbans. If you do not plan in investing money in Instagram ads just yet, remaining with a personal account might be a better option for you.

Secondly, tag relevant accounts in your pictures. For example, if you are posting about the destination, tag your area’s travel pages, for example @visitcalifornia. As well, depending on the type of accommodation you offer, there might be certain Instagram accounts dedicated to it. For instance, @thecabinland for cabins or @delightfulspaces for cottage-style interiors. They might repost your content and you can reach a much bigger audience.

To increase your audience further and grow engagement on your posts, you can use pods. Pods are groups of similar Instagram accounts, who support each other by liking each others’ content and commenting. These are usually organised through personal messages. Sometimes they are hard to find and you need to know someone who is in it already to be added. Nevertheless, there is a really helpful Facebook group for short-term rental hosts where you can share your Instagram content for mutual support. At times, pods will be advertised there, too.

Pinterest for short-term rentals

Pinterest

With over 200 million users in 2018, Pinterest is worth a thought. Especially because many consumers use the platform for holiday inspiration. Users create boards like “Bucket list” or “Dream destinations” to remember places and travel tips for later. There are a couple of ways you can utilise Pinterest for your short-term rental. However, keep in mind that it is more of a useful tool to provide valuable info for future guests than a converting channel.

Showing Off Your Short-term Rental

First of all, you can create a board with pictures of your Airbnb. Always make sure to go into detail on what your pin is showing in the description. This helps getting your pins discovered on Pinterest. If you have a particularly good-looking Airbnb, who knows, people might save your pins for interior design inspiration.

In addition, I have seen boards which are a visual representation of the accommodation’s facilities. Through pins you can provide a good overview of all the short-term property has to offer – for example, pool, balcony, flat-screen TV and more. You can then cross-link them on our social channels to give more information on your Airbnb.

Extra Info for Future Guests

Lastly, you can use Pinterest to create boards for sharing handy content for future guests. For example, create a board with blog posts about fun activities in your STR’s area. Or make your own board with your favourite local attractions. Another idea would be to fill a board with recommended rainy-day activities guests can try when they stay with you. Post links to these boards on Facebook and Instagram or link to it in your pre-stay email and confirmations. E.g. “Check out our Pinterest board of the best things to do in Ohio.” This establishes you as a knowledgeable host and provide extra value to your guests. Finally, if you are offering any upsells – such as early check-ins, breakfast, parking etc – you can have a Pinterest board as a menu of additional services.

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About the Author: A digital native, Susann has been working in the hospitality industry for over two years and has been consulting short-term accommodation operators as well as the Association of Serviced Apartment Providers on digital marketing. 

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…