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Interviewing an Airbnb host from Dubai

Max
(updated 6 months ago)
by Max

The host wished to remain anonymous.

1. First things first, how did you get started?

So, my wife had started doing short-term rentals before we met. And there were more platforms than just Airbnb, like Dubizzle, Booking.com, etc. Since we are running it together, it is practically just Airbnb.

So Airbnb was so much better than Dubizzle?

Yes, it was a hassle with the bookings on Dubizzle, and Airbnb just proved itself as the best and easiest platform.

So, apart from the Airbnb, we have two more businesses. I also run a music school, and my wife operates a fashion store. In that regard, Airbnb is convenient because you can handle it as a side hustle.

Wow, running three businesses is quite a lot...

Yes, you have to manage your time.

Which of them requires you to put in the most time?

It's quite balanced. In the grand scheme, it probably depends if we are in the main or off-season, then the Airbnbs become more or less demanding. But it's a very convenient business because it's very flexible in time regards.

2. Already running a music school and a fashion store, why did you decide to do another business, and why did it have to be Airbnb?

For me personally, I just enjoy the hosting experience. I like caring for guests, furnishing the apartments, and making them ready to move in. I like that a lot. I also like the interaction with the guests when they check in and everything else in the process.

Furthermore, I have lived in most of the apartments that we rent out myself. Therefore it's more than just a business for me. It's personal, maybe even a passion.

So it started for me like that, we lived in an apartment, and then we just tried renting out a room, then a whole apartment, and then one thing led to another, and suddenly we ended up renting out a few apartments on Airbnb.

3. How do you handle property maintenance and guest services? Do you manage it yourself or use a property management company?

As I said, I like to be involved in the whole procedure. I used to do everything myself, but now we have help. We have dedicated cleaners and someone who is basically an all-rounder handyman, and he can fix the ACs and everything.

But I have cleaned rooms and made beds if something had not worked out, too. You need to be able to do such things as a host or fix something else sometimes.

What about marketing or third-party listing management?

No, we have never done that. We have always managed that part completely ourselves.

Did you also take the photos for the listing yourself?

In the beginning, we have taken photos ourselves with our smartphones. We recently have had a photographer take professional photos, but only for a few of the properties, not all. So it looks better now.

Did those professional photos help you business-wise?

We did not analyze the numbers, but my gut feeling says it had a positive effect. But even if it's just for me, so I can look at my listing and admire nice photos, it's worth it.

4. What separates running an Airbnb business in Dubai from any other location, in your opinion?

Hmm, I only know how it is in Dubai, so I am missing a comparison. Intuitively, I would say how fast-paced and how easy and difficult at the same time the real estate market here is. It's a jungle.

What do you mean by "fast-paced"?

That many apartments are empty, and if you like one, you can move in within weeks. I don't know, but I could imagine renting or buying an apartment elsewhere is more difficult, and you have fewer choices in other cities.

Actually, that's something I have always struggled to understand. There are so many empty units, yet the prices still go up.

But another cool point is that you have so many tourists here, or even people coming here for a few months to work. It's a great mix. Dubai attracts people from all over the world.

That allows you to narrow down your strategy. For example, you could target only tourists who rent your Airbnb for a week at the beach or set a minimum stay duration of a month.

Have you tried both approaches?

We have never tried opening up for tourists because you have too many check-ins, check-outs, and turnover. We have always rented out for longer stays of at least a few weeks or months. I find it more pleasant, and it also originated from renting a room in the same apartment we were living in.

That makes more sense, indeed. After all, you have many apartments where you rent out single rooms. If you allowed people to stay for just a few days, you could say goodbye to your free time.

Yes, exactly. Then you would do nothing but check people in and out and write with them.

How long have you been doing Airbnb now, actually?

Around three years. As I said, my wife has been doing short-term rentals before, but that was not on Airbnb but on other platforms.

5. How has the Airbnb market in Dubai changed over the time you've been a host?

Yes, so I've gotten into it in Covid times. Back then, apartment prices for buying and renting were very low; they have relentlessly grown from there. So the entry was optimal. And prices are still increasing.

But that has also led to many more people doing Airbnb; you could call it oversupply.

6. In hindsight, what are your thoughts on being an Airbnb host from a business perspective? Have your expectations been met?

Yes, experience-wise it has been going as I expected. Financially, I didn't really haven't made specific assumptions. Because we started small, our only objection was to not lose money.

If you want to make a lot of money doing Airbnb, you must work a lot or get many more units. If you rent out only one or two apartments, that's a good side income, but you won't be able to live from that. If you want to generate substantial cash flow, you probably need about ten units. And then you open a company to operate them.

But for us it was just a side income. I never had big expectations, and I just do it for fun.

What do you mean when you say you "didn't want to lose money"? Did you buy the properties with a mortgage, factoring in the monthly payments?

Yes, that's what I mean. Those are monthly fixed payments you pay. And you also have the service charges. You also have seasonal variation to balance over the year. But it's possible that your income in the summer covers everything for the whole year, and you are even left with a little bit of profit.

7. What are your plans for the future? Do you plan to scale it up or down?

It will become too much work if I make it any bigger, but I also don't want to make it smaller. I am really enjoying the business the way it is now.

8. What challenges have you faced in managing your Airbnb properties in Dubai? How have you overcome them?

Mainly managing the cash flow, for example, when you have months with high vacancy rates in the off-season.

And also, it is a little bit of a challenge to detach yourself emotionally from the business. Because every time a new booking comes in, you get super excited, but when nothing happens, you get extremely anxious. And to get to the state where you take every up and downswing emotionally that's a challenge for me. So challenges are mostly financial since money is obviously involved, and emotional.

Have you found any solutions for these issues so far?

Not really. I guess what helps a little bit is, when Christmas comes around, to look at the dashboard and see that everything is booked and rents are up. And then, in the summer, you can just look back on the past experience and calm down, knowing there is no need to panic.

How about issues with the government, like complying with certain laws or getting licenses?

So far, that has not been a real challenge. Whenever we got in touch with official authorities, we always were able to find solutions. Or when you have to sort out issues with the management, you can always talk with them. So I think there were no challenges here.

9. Can you share any remarkable success or failure stories that have shaped your Airbnb hosting experience?

There was a situation with this guy during Covid times, and he refused to leave. He stayed for quite a long time, like, many months. And he didn't pay.

Out of protest, he even dismounted the handles of all the doors and drawers. But even he had to leave eventually.

10. What advice would you give someone considering starting an Airbnb business in Dubai? What are the key success factors?

It's certainly important to understand that it's not easy. You have to keep a certain standard. And also, you must be aware that you will sometimes have guests where you can do whatever you want, and still, they will end up dismounting handles in your apartment. You can't prevent it, and you certainly can't foresee it. Be prepared, and keep your composure in these situations.

Do you know other people personally who do this Airbnb business?

I don't think so, no.

11. Any last takeaways?

I enjoy the business a lot, and if someone can see themselves hosting guests from all over the world, I definitely recommend doing it.

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Max
by MaxOffplan-specialist since 2014
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