Owners This week saw a landmark for us as the 50th Review was posted for my own Osprey Cottage on Flipkey, I’m bowled over by the success of this because:· We don’t promote the cottage· We don’t have an active website for as it’s advertised on our agency listing site· It’s not on Facebook· I don’t blog about itIn fact, I’ve never really got around to marketing it at all although I do just about everything else we discuss here on the blog to make it a comfortable and attractive place to stay. I just don’t have the time to promote it because of all the other demands on time, but it seems to run on rails and achieves occupancy for about 85% of the year.42 of the reviews were given five stars which is great and the occasional lower rated testimonial has usually supplied very useful feedback. The only ‘poor’ rating was from a guest whose 3 teenage boys damaged the hot tub cover to the extent it had to be replaced entirely, and it was the one occasion in seven years of rental, we have made a charge on a damage deposit.There is so much value in reviews in terms of the information they deliver on what guest like (and what they don’t) so we spent a little time going through them all in some detail and exploring what we’ve done that works and what we could do better. There’s three big learning points – Return guestsOsprey Cottage gets a significant number of return guests, some of whom stay several times a year. Flipkey doesn’t allow multiple reviews from the same guests, but it seems that comments from guests saying they are repeat clients has an impact on the appeal of the cottage.Reviews beget reviewsI know from my own experience in renting property that if I have been influenced to book by a review on a website, I am more likely to write one of my own when I get back from vacation. Unless guests really have an axe to grind, or their expectations have not been met, they seem more likely to match the ratings, in their own feeback.Always rental-readyI’m not sure of the actual figures across the industry, but in our experience, only 20% to 30% of guests will take the time to write a review, so the more reservations there are, the more chance there is to build a solid archive of reviews. Our place is always rental-ready and can take last minute bookings up to hours before guests arrive. We ensure a changeover takes place within hours of the last guests leaving, so all that is required if we get a late booing is a quick check and freshen-up, and our secret sauce to ensure a great first impression.Here’s a few things we believe have contributed to the success of the cottage and I’ve included a few snippets from the reviews to support our own evaluations. 1. Warm Welcome (This is the Secret Sauce)When guests arrive, it’s to a welcome that makes them feel they are expected. There’s a personally addressed letter; cold drinks in summer and fresh coffee in winter ; the stereo is set to a softly playing classical music station, and either the fans are on in warm weather, or the wood stove is lit to provide an appealing warmth in winter. There’s also a seasonally themed gift basket that may include fresh baked (gluten free) cookies or squares, home-grown or local herbs & fresh eggs and tomatoes.“When we arrived, we were surprised at how spacious the cottage was. We received a warm welcome, as music was playing on the stereo and the owner had made a pot of coffee for us. We walked through the cottage and loved everything about it, especially the wood burning stove.”“We especially appreciate the exceptional service provided by Phil & Heather who get every detail just right from the surprise basket of baked goodies and fresh blueberries upon arrival to their check in phone call to make sure everything is OK & to your liking.”“We really appreciated the fact that it was warmed up and had a nice fire going in the stove and classical music playing when we arrived. Made us feel at home right away”2. Hot tubHaving a hot tub has always contributed to great reviews, particularly for our fall and winter guests. It is well-maintained so the water is always sparkling and clear for guests’ arrival. Many of the reviews mention this as a feature that contributed in a big way to their enjoyment of their vacation.3. InternetA couple of earlier reviews mentioned that the lack of internet and a decent cell signal had impacted their overall enjoyment of the cottage. The cost of installing it (quite high in our rural location) and the monthly fee, is more than covered by the increase in low season bookings, which went up by 15% after the install.4. Amenity filledI love to see the comment, “This place was better equipped than my home”. It means guests have not felt they are missing anything during their vacation, and it’s one reason why vacation rentals are growing in popularity. We include a section on our check out list that asks for comments on anything we may have missed, and the last time someone filled in something was in 2011 when we were asked for an ice cream scoop and a salad spinner….now supplied.“Other than the groceries we brought with us, pretty much everything we needed was supplied at the cottage.”“The home is absolutely beautiful and overflowing with amenities.”5. Updated furniture and furnishingsThere is wear and tear in a vacation rental and it’s important to maintain the standard you have set with continual upgrades and replacement of items that are wearing out. Osprey’s living room furniture was starting to look tired after 5 years of use, so was replaced before it could generate any negative feedback. Our next big expense is to replace or paint the kitchen cupboard doors as they are getting a little scratched and showing signs of wear.6. Great bedsWhen I stay at a vacation rental, the quality of the beds is of primary importance – after all a holiday is about getting rest and relaxation and a good night’s sleep . We’ve been complimented on the standard of our beds in many of the reviews so it is worthwhile upgrading your mattresses to enhance the overall experience.7. Quality linensMoney spent on creating beautiful looking beds is often returned in praise. It is really worth it to get a comment like this one:“What I liked the most? - the bed sheets and covers in the masters bedroom 🙂 Wow…just marvellous, beautiful white embroidered and thick like a cloud. Perfect for those who love to sleep.”8. Picture perfectNo-one wants surprises on their vacation – guests want to find the place looking just as they imagined it and several of the reviews mentioned they were impressed that it was exactly as they expected. This just points to the importance of showing a lot of photos, and letting guests know if anything has changed.“Website pictures are extremely accurate, with no surprises once you arrive!”9. ReviewsOf course, the reviews themselves contribute to more interest and increased occupancy. With more guests relying on reviews to support their vacation decisions, their value as a marketing strategy is growing in importanceAm I blowing my own trumpet? Heck, yes – of course I am. We should all be proud of the great reviews we get, and always remember to learn from them, particularly the negative ones. Great reviews generate more interest and the time is coming (if it’s not already here) when properties without them will be passed over in favour of those that do.Post your best review here and let us know what you do to generate even better ones.