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Thursday, Feb 09, 2023

A couple with 22 active Airbnb properties that bring in $1.3 million in annual revenue said on YouTube that they're planning to 'quit' the platform because they want 'more control'

A couple with 22 active Airbnb properties that bring in $1.3 million in annual revenue said on YouTube that they're planning to 'quit' the platform because they want 'more control'

Sara and Tony Robinson, California-based short-term rental owners, broadcast their advice on building an Airbnb empire — from how to deal with nightmare guests to renovating properties — to over 30,000 followers on YouTube and a combined 80,000 Instagram followers between two individual accounts. 

The couple, who call themselves the "Real Estate Robinsons," documented how they left behind jobs at Tesla and iHeartRadio in the last two years to manage their portfolio of 22 active vacation-rental properties — mostly in Tennessee and California — full time. The homes together generate $1.3 million in annual revenue, mostly from Airbnb. The revenue was verified by documents shared with Insider. 

But now they said they're turning their backs on Airbnb, as well as the competing vacation-rental site Vrbo. 

"We just want a little bit more control over how we operate our business," Tony told Insider in an interview after the couple posted a November 28 video titled "We're Quitting Airbnb." 

The move comes as hosts in some areas complain that bookings have slowed, Twitter chatters of an "Airbnbust," and market data shows an increased number of Airbnbs nationwide that has outpaced increases in traveler demand. Some hosts are responding by switching to medium- or long-term rentals. 

For their part, the Robinsons aim to have at least 75% of their guests reserve their vacations via their personal website instead of going through the popular platforms. That way, they can pocket more of the minimum 3% booking fee Airbnb takes from hosts on every transaction. 

The Robinsons also said they fear relying solely on big companies like Airbnb and Vrbo for their business because they could one day disagree with a policy or an algorithm change. The couple added that they will not delist their 22 active properties from Airbnb entirely, but rather embark on an aggressive push to lure direct bookings.

They broke down six of the ways they plan to do it.


The Robinsons left full-time jobs to pursue short-term rentals in 2019.

WiFi email capture: The first step for the Robinsons will be to purchase a WiFi system that captures guests' email addresses when they log on to use the internet during their stay.

Airbnb prohibits hosts from giving guests who book via Airbnb a direct-booking link, and bans moving conversations off the platform or embedding any links in instruction manuals. 

The WiFi-capture plan, which the Robinsons said is common in the industry, will circumvent the policy. They can use the email addresses captured to follow up with guests after a successful stay through Airbnb and offer them the chance to book directly the next time for a slight discount.

Influencer marketing: The Robinsons plan to offer influencers a free night's stay in exchange for social-media posts about their experiences that include the direct-booking link. In their YouTube video about quitting Airbnb, Sara said she briefly worked for the fast-fashion brand FashionNova and saw the engagement power of micro influencers, or people with under 50,000 followers, who posted photos and videos of the clothes. The Robinsons hope to replicate that success with travel influencers showing off their properties. 

Paid social-media advertising: The Robinsons will pay for advertisements on Instagram, Facebook, and Google that lead to their direct-booking website. The ability to "scale" this advertising is important to the couple, as it gives them the ability to "ramp up" advertising during slower times of the year, they said in their video. 
The exterior of a Joshua Tree, California, rental property that the Robinsons own.


New Instagram profiles: The couple plans on setting up a separate Instagram just to show off picturesque scenes of their rental properties. They'll post snapshots of interiors and the surrounding areas and tag local landmarks, shops, and restaurants. The account bio and other places within it would prominently feature the direct-booking link.

More YouTube channels: The Robinsons want to create additional YouTube accounts with content showing off activities in the local markets for their properties. The Robinsons said that because YouTube is a "searchable" platform, they can connect with users who might be typing in, for example, "things to do in Joshua Tree."

Blogs: The Robinsons said that because blog posts are also "searchable," they can direct internet users to their direct-booking site. Posts themed around "vegan restaurants" or "sunset hikes" could bring in future visitors searching for those topics.

Every short-term-rental host in the market could easily replicate these strategies, they said.

"Any business today is going to benefit from having some kind of presence on social media," Tony said. 

But the couple said it might be difficult for newbies to bypass Vrbo and Airbnb completely. 

The Robinsons said they have an advantage in driving traffic to their direct-booking website because of their already large social-media following. 

The couple said it would be "pretty difficult" for a newer host to get a "decently filled calendar right off the bat without using something like Airbnb and Vrbo." 

But they emphasized that any host could implement their steps at the very start. Hosts can "start thinking even earlier in their journey" about building a "platform you own yourself."

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