Airbnb, an online marketplace for arranging or offering lodging and hostel, now covers more than 191 countries and 81,000 cities worldwide. This means that more and more people are renting their homes to others who are looking for accommodations. For the hosts, participating in the platform allows them to earn extra income from their property and it can be relatively inexpensive for guests compared to availing of a hotel room. But how do Airbnb hosts establish trust with their potential renters? What is it that impacts the renter’s decision to avail of the service?
The two main criteria that determine the hosts’ trustworthiness
A new study that appeared in the journal Wiley Online Library has described the visual trustworthiness of Airbnb hosts to potential renters. Professors Eyal Ert and Aliza Fleischer from the Department of Environmental Economics and Management in the Hebrew University of Jerusalem said that the hosts’ characteristics, such as facial expression and gender, are some of the first criteria that determine the visual trustworthiness of the host. The second main criteria are the quality of the photo itself, and whether it is clear or blurry. The study quantified these qualities that define the attractiveness that shoppers are looking for when considering a place to stay via Airbnb.
Professors Ert and Fleischer analyzed a total of 320 Airbnb listings in Sweden for their study. They said that hosts who are perceived as trustworthy have more frequent rentals and enjoy higher prices for their space compared to hosts who are deemed less-trustworthy in their photos. Race was not a factor in their study since 98% of the hosts are Caucasian.
Importance of profile pictures in online commerce
Just like how product images are so important in eCommerce, the same applies to the profile picture of hosts in Airbnb listings. In the abstract of their study, the duo said that that visual characteristics of the hosts’ profile pictures affect their trustworthiness indirectly and directly. Even the photograph quality, which is not directly related to the traits of the host, also plays an important role in trust inference but many hosts are not even aware of these effects. It is like establishing mutual trust between sellers and buyers. This complements the previous study in psychology, which shows that people can make instant inferences with the stranger’s traits based only on brief exposure to their photos.
Airbnb itself published on its site that they look at nearly 100 different factors for every listing in every search that affects how the hosts’ listing appears in their search results. At the top of the list of factors is the guest's needs. This means that they present those that are related to the needs of guests, such as where they are searching from, their previous travels, and the listings that they previously clicked on or have added to their Wish List.
The Airbnb team also considers the listing details, such as the price, how quickly the hosts respond to the request, location of the listing, and the five-star reviews. The trip details also matter, such as how long the trip will be, how many guests are traveling, how far their future trip will be, and if the potential render has set a minimum or maximum price. Ratings and reviews left by previous guests also matter but a small number of negative ratings from the guests do not necessarily have an impact on the hosts’ ranking.
Landlords and local property management guide iPropertyManagement shared that Airbnb now caters to more than 150 million users worldwide and more than 2 million people stay in an Airbnb place per night. The countries with the most Airbnb listings include United States (660,000 listings), France (485,000), Italy (340,000), Spain (245,000), and the United Kingdom (175,000). For inbound guests, the top destinations include the US, France, Italy, Spain, UK, Japan, Canada, Australia, Germany, and Portugal. For outbound guests, the top destinations are US, France, UK, Germany, Australia, Canada, China, Spain, Italy, and the Netherlands in particular order.
Meanwhile, the most popular cities for Airbnb booking experiences are Tokyo, Paris, Osaka, New York City, London, Rome, Orlando, Miami, Sydney, and Lisbon. The trending spaces in 2018 are nature lodges (+700%), Ryokans (+600%), Yurts (+155%), and RVs (+133%). The majority (54%) of Airbnb guests are female while 46% are male.
In Europe, Airbnb is about 8% to 17% cheaper compared to regional hotels at an average daily rate. About 60% of Airbnb guests are millennial as most are looking for a comfortable and spacious accommodation that is also functional and affordable. Nearly 90% of Airbnb guests said they were “very satisfied” or “satisfied” with their stay and the popularity of the platform is starting to outshine its competitors in the hotel industry.
American general-interest magazine Reader’s Digest has likewise published that there are several ways to look more trustworthy in networking photos or professional platforms. The first way is to crack a smile. It’s a “no-brainer,” the magazine reads. The upward curve of the mouth signals that the person trusts the brand they use if it’s a product they are promoting. A photo with a light that points toward the phase instead of coming from behind also matters. If the eyes of the person are dimmed out by darkness and shadows, it is like screaming the words, “don’t trust this person.”
Reader's Digest also cited a New York University study, which finds that people with v-shaped eyebrows appear less trustworthy compared to those with ^-shaped brows. The reason is that v-shaped brows are associated with hard feelings and anger. Color experts also emphasized that to create an aura of trust in photos, wear blue, whether that be a blazer, blouse, or dress. The color red also gives off a disciplined and professional vibe. For females, they are encouraged to wear their makeup in neutral shades as it makes them more capable and trustworthy than sporting a glamorous look. For men, rounded faces with larger chins and bigger mounts were considered more trustworthy compared to those with slim faces. Although this can’t be fixed physically, a photographer can help by using a camera angle that adds more dimension to the face.
People are increasingly relying on social platforms to initiate professional and personal relationships. This is also why trustworthiness impressions matter in forming these relationships.