Skift Take

Some individual hosts feel the superhost program is too rigid, while others believe it’s overshadowed by listings-focused Guest Favorites.

Achieving Airbnb superhost status usually means more money in your pocket, and it comes with several perks. But some hosts are critical about the program’s current status on Airbnb. 

The main complaint: That Guest Favorites have overshadowed superhosts. Guest Favorites highlight properties most liked and booked by guests and superhost status highlights hosts who go above and beyond to provide excellent hospitality. A superhost badge helps profiles stand out, and guests can sometimes use a filter to find them. 

“Earlier, the superhost filter itself was very prominently listed,” said Matthew Orley, the CEO of Red Cottage, based in New York City. “In the update that they did in January, Airbnb removed that. And it was not really spoken to. But it was very clear that the new filters that are prominent at the top are Guest Favorites. So now you’re searching for the Guest Favorite, which is much more of a focus on the individual property, as opposed to the host itself.”

Airbnb said there are more than 1 million superhosts, or about 20% of all hosts around the world. 

An Airbnb spokesperson told Skift, “We’ve simplified some of our search filters and added a new Guest Favorites filter to help guests find some of the most-loved homes on the platform. Guests will still be able to see whether their host is a superhost on the listing page. Today, nearly two-thirds of Guest Favorites come from superhosts.”

Superhost Qualifications and Requirements

This is how it works: In order to qualify as a superhost, the owner of the listing must have an account and have fulfilled the following requirements:

  • Completed a minimum of 10 trips or 3 reservations totaling at least 100 nights.
  • Maintained a response rate of 90% or higher.
  • Kept cancellations to fewer than 1%, with allowances for cases covered by Airbnb’s recently changed Major Disruptive Events Policy.
  • Maintained an overall host rating of 4.8 or higher. 

Airbnb reviews a host’s performance quarterly, considering the past 12 months of activity on all listings. Hosts don’t need to have hosted for the entire 12 months to qualify. The assessment periods run for seven days starting on January 1, April 1, July 1, and October 1.

If they meet the requirements by the assessment date, they will become a superhost automatically without needing to apply.

Superhost Benefits

Airbnb superhosts are rewarded well: Airbnb claims it enhances the visibility and appeal of listings, builds trust with potential guests, and can lead to increased bookings and revenue. 

Superhosts earn more too — an average increase of 22%. Additionally, they receive a 20% bonus on host referrals and an annual travel coupon. They may also qualify for complimentary photography sessions to enhance the appeal of listings. Superhosts also get priority support from Airbnb. 

Some Hosts Feel The Checklist Is Rigid

Airbnb seems to have given heightened prominence to Guest Favorites, which often appear on multiple listings across the homepage. 

Skift spoke to some hosts who feel like the program can be too rigid, without consideration for special circumstances — especially when it comes to cancellations. 

Source: Airbnb

Nicki Hutchman, who runs vacation rental company Competa Escapes in Malaga, Spain, said the superhost program, though beneficial for visibility, is very strict about fulfilling all of the requirements. 

“The Superhost program is based on maintaining a minimum number of nights. You can be excellent at what you do and score very highly, but if you don’t get the minimum number of nights (perhaps like us due to a high percent of direct bookings) you may not make this quota,” Hutchman said. “Also so many guests now threaten to leave a bad review if you don’t give a discount, early check-in, late check-out that hosts can get a negative review score when actually they have offered a great service and delivered everything they promised. Blackmailing over reviews is a real problem in the industry.”

Airbnb acknowledges that it places a lot of emphasis on cancellations. An Airbnb spokesperson said that cancellations, whether last minute or in advance, can cause holiday anxiety for guests and break the trust they expect when booking a listing on Airbnb. 

The company also has made changes to reduce cancellations. These include adjusting default booking settings and reducing calendar availability to give new hosts greater control and flexibility before their first booking. New pricing tools allow hosts to easily see the price guests pay to prevent inaccurate pricing. Also there are firmer consequences and stricter policies for host cancellations that could have been avoided.

“Following these updates, in the final quarter of 2023, Host cancellations were reduced by 36%,” the spokesperson said. 

Can Hosts Opt Into Some Features?

Orley, the Red Cottage CEO, which provides vacation rental management for destinations around New York City, said that while traveling he only seeks to stay with superhosts to avoid properties that are not adequately vetted. But he noticed they’re not top of the search on Airbnb anymore. 

Orley also said that features like the host offering instant booking — where guests can book a place without host approval — give the property more visibility. 

“All of these mechanisms, through which Airbnb gives a property more visibility — there are a lot of different things at play,” Orley said. “And you as an individual or as a professional host, you’re still considering all of these things in tandem… We don’t do instant booking because we want more security and we want to vet our guests, that diminishes the standing within the search rankings.”

Orley also said that factors that are not within a hosts’ control can sometimes impact visibility.

“At the same time, there are things that raise a listing higher,” Orley said. “We also know that the recency and the frequency of reviews will push you higher, which is not something that’s necessarily in your hands, it’s just all of these things that helped the algorithm soar.”

Hosts like Orley and Hutchman, whose businesses don’t depend on Airbnb because they say they have a lot of direct bookings, feel like the superhost badge is an all-or-nothing proposition. They cannot opt into some features and opt out of others. 

“We know there are other things that we’re opting out of, we’re opting out of instant books. So we’re trying to figure out how we can raise, and improve your performance, while not necessarily even buying into the entire package that Airbnb is selling,” Orley said.

Airbnb’s Challenge

Some hosts understand that managing the superhost program can be a herculean task for Airbnb, especially at the rate supply is increasing. At the end of 2023, Airbnb said it had 7.7 million active listings, compared to 6.6 million at the end of 2022. 

“I think that’s a struggle the whole industry has had as more and more listings come on board,” said Wendy Qi, who along with her husband owns and manages eight Airbnb properties. “How do you differentiate? It’s very hard and I understand Airbnb’s position where it’s the arbiter of who makes a good host and who doesn’t. I have had to cancel reservations because of road closure, which was out of my control, and I think Airbnb allows for one cancellation without penalty.”

At the same time, Qi agrees that overall, the superhost badge is validation for a host that comes with certain benefits. 

“There is still something there for hosts in the superhost program. But when I saw that Airbnb came out with Guest Favorites, that also made sense to me because it’s both hard and easy to earn the superhost badge. Like you could be a superhost but guests may not favor you.”

Note: This story has been updated to reflect Airbnb’s requirements for attaining superhost status, and to point out factors that push listings higher in search results. 

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Tags: airbnb, dwell, guest favorites, hosts, online travel, online travel newsletter, short-term rentals, vacation rentals

Photo credit: A living room of a short-term rental in Lisbon, Portugal. Source: Airbnb.

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