Small investment, big returns: Hosts’ favorite welcome baskets to set the tone

Airbnb hosts use low-cost welcome gifts to boost positive reviews and long-lasting connections.

In the hospitality business, a little goes a long way. Many Airbnb hosts have found that by putting a small amount toward preparing small welcome baskets for guests, they receive a much larger return — deeper connections, positive reviews and loyal customers.

“When their journey begins with a welcome gift, it becomes even more delightful,” said Rick Cancelliere, a five-star host in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. “You want people to be delighted in your property.”

Free gifts can lead to extra sales

  • Listing location: Englewood, Chicago
  • Listing type: Entire apartment, 14 guests
  • Rate per night: $185
  • Basket budget: $20-$25
  • Basket contents: earrings and other trinkets she sells at her store, keychains, Chicago sports swag
  • Additional gimmick: Guest Wall of Fame
  • What Joann says: “I always try to find out if there’s anything I can do to make their stay better.”

Joann Smith, also known as Lady Jo, wants her Airbnb to be a “home away from home” for travelers in Chicago. She says her place was booked solid for five months straight once she listed it last June. A 62-year-old woman with a silver mane and contagious smile, Smith runs an online store selling handmade items that she constantly gives to guests for free as welcome gifts. For women, she usually prepares earrings and other trinkets; for families traveling with children, she gives out Chicago sports memorabilia or board games.

Smith says sometimes guests will buy more earrings and jewelry from her because they like the gifts. Since her listing houses big groups, this provides a new way to boost sales in her store.

Smith has another gimmick to make guests feel welcome. On one of her walls, she pasted frames for them to sign their names. Her own Airbnb “Wall of Fame” preserves the memories of guests and has received only praise, she says.

Joann, in the middle with white hair, made friends with her latest guests.

“Everybody loves to sign the walls,” Smith said. “The little things make them feel special.”

Smith’s generosity and warm-heartedness helps her build long-lasting connections with guests. Past guests have rebooked with her when they visited Chicago again.

Welcoming guests and supporting local businesses

  • Listing location: Delray Beach, Florida
  • Listing type: Entire house, 9 guests
  • Rate per night: $127
  • Basket budget: $14-$15, $24 for kids
  • Basket contents: Local wine, water, snacks, pineapple, toys for kids
  • Additional gimmick: Instagram page, local business partnerships
  • What Katie and Kevin say: “Every guest that has given us a review has highlighted the baskets as personal touches.”

Katie and Kevin Reese are not your typical Chicago Airbnb hosts — the couple live in the Windy City, but their listing is down South on a Florida beach. They bought the beach house last December to use on Airbnb because Delray Beach is a hot vacation destination, Katie says.

They listed the property in early March after finding a co-host to take care of the day-to-day operations while they continued their day jobs in Chicago as national account managers for telecom companies.

Since they can’t always meet the guests, the Reeses add a personal touch by designing customized welcome baskets.

“We try to find out a little bit about our guests ahead of time, understand why they come to Delray, what are they trying to do here, and tailor our baskets to their needs without breaking the bank,” Kevin said.

The couple partnered up with local wine and beer companies to supply quality beverages in the welcome baskets and support businesses in the community, Katie says. The wines each cost $10-$12; throw in bottles of water and a couple of candy bars, and their basket budget is usually $15 for a typical stay. When guests bring their children, the couple may spend $10 more to invest in things kids would enjoy, such as coloring books, jump ropes and toys.

Sometimes, vacationers may even find a pineapple in the basket. Delray Beach is famous for the Pineapple Grove Arts District, and, as Katie learned, the fruit also symbolizes “Welcome” throughout the South.

Even $3 makes a difference

  • Listing location: Wilmore, Kentucky
  • Listing type: Entire house, 3 guests
  • Rate per night: $49
  • Basket budget: $3
  • Basket contents: K cups, bottled water, snacks and personal notes to guests
  • Additional gimmick: Theme experiences
  • What Bud says: “[The basket is] pretty simple but it adds a nice touch for low cost.”

Bud Simon welcomes Airbnb guests to a quaint apartment in Wilmore, Kentucky. He says he doesn’t charge much for the space because it’s a small college town, but he still tries to go the extra mile to make guests feel at home. He called his typical welcome gift a “budget basket” — the K-Cup coffee pods, bottled water and chocolate squares he puts together cost him only $3. Simon also leaves muffins and granola bars for guests who check in late at night. When he learned that one guest was in town to run a local 10K, he also left a note of encouragement.

Simon recently closed a deal with a nearby diner that would provide coupons for free coffee or soft drinks when guests eat there. These coupons will be included in Simon’s basket.

Simon has another Airbnb listing in the works — he plans to call it the “Narnia Experience” or “Aslan’s Country,” offering a two-bedroom full apartment with the complete Narnia theme featuring movie posters, theme decorations and other fun things.

Guest experience should match listing price point

  • Listing location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • Listing type: Entire townhouse, 9 guests | Private room in townhouse, 7 guests
  • Rate per night: $540 | $114
  • Basket budget: $15
  • Basket contents: wine and snacks
  • Additional gimmick: chocolate croissants as parting gift
  • What Rick says: “If you’re in the hospitality industry in any shape or form, you want to try it in a way that commands a bit more effort.”

Rick Cancelliere, the founder of a healthcare technology company, is also entrepreneurial about his Airbnb gig. He’s had a professional team to help manage his two luxury townhouses in Pittsburgh since 2009. The team also puts together $15 welcome baskets, filled with wine and snacks from nearby supermarkets and organized nicely for guests to feel welcome the moment they step through the door, Cancelliere says. He likens the baskets to care packages that parents send their kids at summer camp to make them feel love and support from afar.

The basket budget costs a small fraction of the revenue he’s receiving, but he says it gets a great bang for his buck by making them feel like they belong. “It’s the little things that matter to people.”

For an entrepreneur like Cancelliere, making sure guests enjoy their visit from the get-go is not only a nice addition, but a must-have for the price point of his high-end property.

“You want to make sure that you’re justifying and delivering on your product,” Cancelliere said.

“When the person walks in the door, you want them to have an experience that sets the tone for the whole visit.”