Owners Making your guests feel welcome when they arrive is the key to creating happy clients who will return and refer their friends. They are more likely to respect your property and to leave it in an as-found condition if you have provided them with some pleasing touches that will enhance their cottage experience. These are a few of the ways successful cottage owners create ‘raving fans’1 Provide linens and towelsMost owners are content to have their rental guests bring their own linen and towels, and this is fine. There is a heavy workload associated with providing linens as they have to be laundered after each rental, and the beds made up again. I have a mini-rant each week as I struggle to change the sheets on the bunk beds, and vow that next season, guests can bring their own, but in the end I like the idea that when my guests arrive, they don’t have to start making up beds, and can simply enjoy the cottage. Of course, if you want to attract international, US or out-of-province guests, you’ll need to supply sheet sets anyway. If you do this, make sure they are of good quality, and that the comforters are laundered regularly. If you use duvets, change the covers on each rental changeover.Buy good quality towels as they will last longer. I buy from Home Sense as the quality is good for a reasonable price. One tip though – do not supply any bleach products in your cleaning cupboard, particularly bleach-based bathroom cleaners. I have had so many of my bathroom towels spotted with bleach marks and have to assume it is because the renters have not been too careful with their use of the bathroom cleaner. Since there are so many more environmentally friendly products now that do not contain bleach or other corrosive and damaging ingredients, using these will lessen the risk of towel stains.2 Create a comprehensive Video/DVD/CD and paperback collectionWhen I have stayed in cottages, my favorites have been the ones that have a decent library of paperback and a good movie collection. I’ve seen some great films and reconnected with old favorites and classics. For my own rental property, I often pick up videos and DVDs at yard sales or movie rental outlets. I have a big collection of books at home so just chose a selection of different types to appeal to all tastes. My cottage guide suggests that renters take a book if they are still reading it when it’s time to go home and to leave one in its place. This means my cottage library is constantly refreshed.3 Provide a range of board games Board games are a staple of cottage life and hopefully will not be pushed out by more and more cottages coming equipped with satellite TV. Nothing bonds a family more than a fight over armies in a long game of Risk, or a guys versus gals epic Trivial Pursuit challenge. Just make sure when providing board games or jigsaws, that you check all the pieces are intact and you replace missing die or pencils/paper for games such as Pictionary. Because board games don’t get the respect you may give them at home, it is a good idea to replace them regularly. Buy a new game or jigsaw every few months – I buy several in sales after Christmas but don’t put them all in the cottage at the same time. Just add in a new one every so often. Have a look at Boardgames.ca for some ideas.4 Supply basic fishing equipment Fishing from the dock is an integral part of the cottage vacation dream, but not all your guests will have their own equipment. Supplying a couple of rods and reels with basic tackle is a nice addition to your rental package. It helps to include a note in your departure checklist asking that the rods and tackle box are left neatly in a cupboard or basement. Your guests will also appreciate a map of the lake showing the best fishing spots and a note in your cottage guide indicating the closest store where they can buy bait.5 Provide a source of drinking water Many owners advise their guests to bring their own drinking water if the water supply to the cottage is from the lake. Even where the source is a well, it is safer to recommend bottled water unless you have it tested regularly. Add some value by providing a water cooler which you can purchase in WalMart or Canadian Tire at around $100. Then provide a complimentary 80 liter container for each rental booking.6 Internet connectionHi-speed internet is coming to cottage country and if it’s not already in place, or planned for your area, it probably will be over the next few years. Providing this facility opens your rental potential to more offseason opportunities as the people who work from home, or have mobile offices can remain in contact with their business while at the cottage. If there no chance of a hi-speed connection, but you have a landline, then your guests will be able to connect with a dial-up connection. Do the research as if you were going to connect via dial-up, probably with Sympatico, then write a set of instructions for your guests to follow. Many people don’t have any experience with this method of connecting to the internet as they have only ever known broadband (I wish!!) so you’ll have to do a bit of handholding, but it is worthwhile if you attract guests who absolutely have to check on their emails every day.7 Leave a guest gift and goodie bags for childrenI can’t repeat enough how important a first impression is, and if your guests arrive and there is a small gift for the adults and a goodie bag for the children, that memory will stick with them. We’ve had more repeat customers and referrals since we started to do this. I found a wonderful store in Belleville that sells unique candle holders at ridiculous prices, so I buy one of these for each rental group, add in a scented candle and package it in a small box. For less than $10 I have a lovely little gift that guests can take away with them when they leave, as well as enjoy while they are at the cottage.A neat gift basket with local produce is a nice idea too. Perhaps a jar of jam or a small bottle of local maple syrup; a pack of butter tarts from the nearby bakery, and a bottle of wine of course.8 Write a really good Cottage Manual Your cottage guide will include all your instructions on how to use cottage equipment and appliances, care guidelines on septic tank and water usage, and will have contact information. These tend to become ‘rule books’ and can alienate renters despite the focus on providing sufficient information for a trouble-free vacation. Softening the message can really help and take away the ‘ouch’ of being told what they can do, and what they can’t. This is done by providing a wealth of local information – recommendations of places to visit, attractions in the area, local amenities and restaurant menus. Include discount vouchers for golf, entry passes to parks, and special offer leaflets. Provide a rack to display tourist information and maps of the area too. Just remember to keep the tourist info up to date.9 Create a welcome to your pet packageIf you accept pets, your guests will love it if you welcome them too. A recent VRMA (Vacation Rental Managers Association) survey indicates that occupancy can be increased by accepting pets, and supports my view that the majority of pet owners are very responsible people who will clean up very thoroughly after themselves. Write a ‘Welcome to your Pet’ letter that details your pet policy; remind pet owners about cleaning up after their pooch and provide a couple of stainless steel pet bowls and a little bag of treats. This is guaranteed to wow your guests.10 Pay attention to the little extrasYour guests will love the little things that show attention to detail. This could be adding a few more small appliances in the kitchen, like a slow cooker or panini machine. Providing a coffee machine that has a grinder attachment like the Cuisinart Brew and Grinder will delight coffee lovers; if you have a bread maker, then add a bread machine recipe book to your kitchen collection; supplying a range of herbs and spices will appeal to the cook in the family. In short, give your guests the feeling you really want them there.I find it troubling to hear about rental cottages where the barest minimum is provided. The ones that echo because all but the absolute basics have been removed, and those that just feel like a hotel room. Creating raving fans and guests who want to return over and over again means working at it and really enjoying making your cottage a truly wonderful experience.