How the Airbnb iCalendar (iCal) changes will affect you and how to avoid disruption

airbnb Sep 24, 2019
As part of Airbnb’s ongoing efforts to minimise exposure of guest information, exported iCal events will no longer display reservation details. These changes will take effect on 1 December 2019.

Airbnb recently sent an email to hosts explaining they are removing the majority of guest information (including guest names) from their iCalendar links. This change takes place on December 1st 2019.

iCalendar (or iCal for short) is the standard Internet format for exchanging calendar information.

What information does the Airbnb iCal contain, currently?

The Airbnb iCal currently contains a wealth of information you, and any software providers you use, may utilise in multiple ways. The information includes:

  • Guest name
  • Reservation code
  • Listing name
  • Check in and out dates
  • No. of nights
  • Guest phone number
  • Airbnb guest email address

When adding your Airbnb iCal to Google Calendar (or any other calendar tool), each guest booking will look something like the image below.

Information included in existing Airbnb iCal events
Information included in existing Airbnb iCal events (as seen on Google Calendar)

What’s changing to Airbnb iCals?

According to Airbnb:

The iCal calendar sync description for reservations will display only the last 4 digits of the guest phone number, along with a link to the reservation details page. The guest name and reservation code will be removed from the event titles, and the calendar sync will export listing calendar information for future dates only.

The following information will be provided for each reservation exported via iCal moving forward:

Summary: Will appear as “Reserved”
Description: Will include a “Reservation URL” section with the link to the reservation details page and a “Phone Number (Last 4 Digits)” section with the last 4 digits of the guest’s phone number

What information will the revised Airbnb iCals contain?

These changes are great for guest privacy. Entire phone numbers and guest confirmation codes shouldn't be exposed on iCals. However, Airbnb are making quite drastic changes by removing information that is helpful to you and your work processes. The majority of this information is not a concern from a guest privacy perspective.

The new Airbnb iCals include the following actionable information:

  • Status (ie. Reserved)
  • Date range
  • Link to Airbnb reservation
  • Last 4 digits of the guest phone number

As you can see from the image below, the available information is much less.

Information included in new Airbnb iCal events
Information included in new Airbnb iCal events (as seen on Google Calendar)

What does this mean for hosts?

As Airbnb say, if you rely on the Airbnb iCAL to sync availability across different bookings sites this will work as normal.

These changes won’t impact iCal’s syncing functionality – your calendar will continue to prevent multiple guests from booking the same dates.

However, if you utilise any reservation information (aside form the last 4 digits of the guest phone number), you'll need another solution. Airbnb mention alerting your software partner to make changes, however, there's nothing these providers can do to retrieve information (like your guest name) that's not accessible on the iCal – if the software provider relies on iCal alone.

Note: Uplisting does not rely on Airbnb iCals, instead we interact with the Airbnb API to retrieve much more detailed information (like price breakdown), as well as the ability to hold guest conversations and sync rates, availability, messages, bookings and other information in realtime.

If you rely on detailed information from the iCal calendar sync descriptions, you may need to make updates or alert your software partners to the changes above so they’re ready when they take effect on 1 December 2019.

What do the Airbnb iCal changes this mean for you?

The good news

If you only list on Airbnb and use Airbnb for all your guest management (ie. you don't rely on a third party service for anything) – you most likely won't experience any issues.

The bad news

These Airbnb enforced changes mean you can't rely on the Airbnb iCal alone for a number of operations you may currently perform.

If you rely on either a software provider (who syncs via iCal), third party service (like a smart lock who utilises any of the information on the existing iCal that's no longer provided) or a calendar like Google Calendar to manage your operations (and information like the guest name or confirmation code are valuable to your operations) then you will need to seek alternatives.

Here are a few examples of how you may be affected:

  • Check-in and check-out management
    Do you share your Airbnb iCal link with your cleaning team who then provide a welcome note for your guest on arrival? They wont be able to personalise this message to your guest as the guest name will no longer be provided.
  • Managing your bookings in one place
    Do you use calendars or software providers which rely on the Airbnb iCals to provide contextual and helpful information for your bookings? All Airbnb reservations will be displayed as 'Reserved' rather than "Guest name'.

    An example is using an iCal based channel manager who syncs reservations from Airbnb, Homeaway/VRBO and Booking-com. This service is not going to be as helpful in future.
  • Automated guest messages
    Do you use software which rely on the Airbnb iCals to send automated guest messages? This will no longer be possible as the guest email address is not provided anymore.

What's the solution?

You have a couple of options:

  1. Manage all Airbnb bookings directly on Airbnb
    Rely on Airbnb and invite all your stakeholders (eg. cleaning team) as a member of your team on Airbnb.

    A couple of downsides are:
    1. that this is not as simple as iCal which allows your operational team to manage in their own way, using their favourite tools.
    2. You can merge multiple listings from multiple accounts into one single calendar using iCal. If you use multiple Airbnb accounts it means you and your team now need to continuously log in and out of each Airbnb account.
  2. Upgrade your software provider for channel and property management
    Software providers such as Uplisting are not affected by this change as they interact with Airbnb in a much more beneficial way (via API). The Uplisting iCal provides all the key information you need (and not just for Airbnb) so you can continue undisrupted.

    Not only will you not experience any issues, you will benefit from much more functionality than you have before. Such as:

    - Unified Inbox and Automated Guest Messages (for Airbnb, Booking-com, Homeaway/VRBO and direct bookings)
    - Realtime availability syncing across multiple booking sites (no double bookings)
    - Automated cleaning scheduler
    - Lead time rate rule automation (maximise occupancy at optimal prices)
    - Booking windows for all booking sites
    - Advanced multi-calendar and much more

    This is how the Uplisting iCal looks on Google Calendar 👇
Uplisting iCal on Google Calendar

Vince Breslin

I'm one of the founders at Uplisting and am obsessed with helping property managers solve problems and grow their business. Join us at Uplisting and we'll do whatever we can to help.