By Pat Mitchell,
Director, Data Visualization, Clarity Insights. Patrick leads the Data Visualization Service Line at Clarity Insights, which is focused on client delivery around the tools, process and capabilities associated with traditional and self-service business intelligence solutions.

Bang for your BUNK

Today we’re going to sort through a massive amount of data to produce a data story that truly catches the listener’s attention. By taking a look at short-term rentals and answering a common question—how do you get the most “bang for your bunk”?—we’re going to highlight the approach you should be using to leverage data visualization to answer real world questions. But along the way we’re also going to discover even more: the parallels between short-term rentals and data storytelling.

There are, without a doubt, many challenges to creating a compelling data story, and for the uninitiated it can be quite intimidating. The same could be said for the business of short-term rentals and the task of creating a posting that leads to new guests. We set out to examine what drives short-term rental success and found that many of the same principles apply to telling a data story. Our end product? A Tableau dashboard that both enlightens the consumer and highlights our process for design and function.





Defining your objective

The first step to unlocking your potential in both data storytelling and short-term rentals is to determine the objective. Are you trying to find a weekend rental or are you looking to buy a property you can rent out when you’re not around? We decided to focus on the latter and answer this question: where is the best place to buy if I’m looking to use it as a short-term rental? As with any data-centric problem, the key is to then identify your inputs and data.


Wading through a bunch of data

This is where things can go awry. There is so much data in so many forms, and the same could be said for short-term rentals—there are so many listings and so many features. The question is, where to even begin? Starting with a defined business question will make this answer easy: define the inputs needed to support your business objective.

We chose to start with occupancy rate and revenue as the drivers of defining a successful posting. From there wading through massive volumes of information is far less intimidating. Of course this should not gloss over the challenges of data preparation, as this is where Tableau Prep and Alteryx  are very useful, but first you need focus for your efforts. The combination of the process and the tool takes what is a potentially daunting task and transforms it into a fun technical challenge.

We knew we wanted to be in a big city, so we limited our search to the top 10 cities with the highest occupancy rate. So what’s next? Where do you go from here? As with a successful short-term rentals listing, you need to know your target audience. We wanted to determine what makes a posting successful, so we decided to see what keywords are most influential. This was a challenge, as all of our data was in long text strings, but we were able to parse amenities so it could be ranked in a proper fashion.


Alteryx was used to first blend the data from the 10 selected cities, then to parse out the text strings for more robust attribute analysis:

Alteryx data

Designing and refining your data story

Once you have a defined business question and have identified inputs to address those, the question then turns to function. No matter how solid your data and analysis, and similarly, no matter how cool your place is, how you represent that to the consumer matters. We have a number of principles that we follow, but in simplistic terms, rapid perceptions and drawing focus to what is important are the keys.


We organize our data from top left to bottom right in terms of importance
The consumer moves from high-level KPI’s by city at the top of the dashboard, into more detailed information about each neighborhood as they move further down the dashboard:

Tableau dashboard


We make it clean and organized so as not to overwhelm
The top city bar charts are evenly distributed over the top of the dashboard, using white space between each chart to maintain clean separation. The dark, bold text of the city name labeling the light gray bar, keeps the focus on the top cities:


city bar charts



We make it pop by adding in color that is meaningful
Using color to show revenue for each attribute adds another measure to the visual:

common attributes



We leverage the tool to make it interactive and interesting through visuals in tooltips, filters, and images.
This viz in tooltip is a bump chart that shows the selected city’s rank in occupancy rate over time. The selected city is highlighted in dark blue:

viz in tooltip


Selecting a neighborhood in the map will filter all of the visuals to the right and below, giving the consumer more insight into a specific neighborhood:

tableau neighborhood selection

Telling a data story through design 
and function

Once the user is drawn in and engaged, the key is turning those insights into action. The same goes for a listing. Getting the user to click on your posting is one thing, but getting them to actually become a guest is another. Coolness and “wow” create engagement, but as it turns out, the basics are what seal the deal.

Selection dropdown Tableau


To create actionable insights, in this instance we set out to create a story that shows what amenities are expected, allowing a user to ensure they are included in their short-term rental. To share this correctly, it means providing proper context and presenting the right level of detail. Something as simple as a “data through” date allows the user to know the data is fresh. Similarly, the common feature among high-occupancy listings was addressing the basics: wifi, heating, air conditioning and kitchens. These are not flashy features, but rather utilitarian, and the same could be said about what makes a data visualization successful: the marriage between design and function.


Tableau data visualization


Here are the keys

When we set down this path to design a dashboard on successful short-term rental postings we knew there was a certain level of subjectivity inherent about what constitutes a good dashboard or a good place to stay. However, as we worked through the data and our process for design, the overlap became clear: a solid understanding of objectives and audience, enough aesthetics to draw a consumer in and the right detail to create action are the keys to a successful listing and a successful data story!


But wait—curious to see what we learned about short term rentals in the process? Read on:

Nashville gives you the most bang for your bunk!

Regardless of where you are renting, these amenities will increase your chances of success:

  • Air conditioning, wifi, and entire apartment or home listings are the surest bets for a high occupancy listing in any of the cities we considered.

Nashville is our winner:

  • Over the last two years, Nashville is averaging the highest occupancy rating and the second highest average monthly revenue among the 10 cities we considered.

Count on District 21:

  • North Nashville is located just northwest of downtown and the popular Broadway area.

  • North Nashville short-term rentals are almost $100 cheaper a night on average than Downtown.

    • Despite the lower average listing price, North Nashville is still averaging the second highest monthly revenue.

    • District 21, or North Nashville, has the highest occupancy rating within Nashville. This is most likely for two reasons:

Bonus insight:

  • Spring and Summer are the most popular seasons in North Nashville, making it no surprise that air conditioning is one of the most popular amenities among high occupancy listings.

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