If there is one phrase guaranteed to send me into soap box mode, it is ‘It’s just a cottage’. This usually comes from a veteran cottage owner whose property has been in the family for generations and who was brought up with the view that getting away to the cottage was a return to the simple life. This meant reclaiming the cottage from a variety of bugs and critters on arrival; not bothering about the state of the furniture or beds; playing traditional family games long into TV-less evenings, and embracing long-held traditions of ‘being at the cottage’.
Please don’t misunderstand me here – there is nothing wrong with valuing memories of summer vacations at the cottage, and recreating them each year with old and new family members. My own early memories of family vacations were of packing up the tent and heading off to Italy to a tiny campsite on a lake near Como. The facilities were rustic and minimal; the same campers were there each year from the Netherlands, Germany and Italy; and my children grew up as I did, creating their own fun and activities, without any technological input. Today though, if I was recommending a place for a first family camping trip, Lago di Pusiano would not be the place I would send them. What was acceptable to me because I grew up with it as part of family tradition, is unlikely to attract anyone but the most backwoodsy of campers. Similarly, what has suited your family for decades of vacations at the cottage, may not be suitable for offering as a rental experience without some serious upgrading.
The ‘just a cottage’ mentality doesn’t cut it anymore. The days of folks paying $500 for a week of roughing it, have all but gone. Renters are more demanding; they expect minimum standards to include spotlessly clean accommodation, good quality furniture and furnishings (and that includes mattresses and bedding) and up to date equipment in working order. I don’t think this is too much to ask, but the feedback I have had from many people this past summer points to the belief that some owners are still not ‘getting it’.
Last year I visited a cottage after a request from the owner for a valuation for rental purposes. He was already renting with an agency but they had cancelled the contract after several complaints from rental guests. The owner was mystified about this and could not understand why this had happened. ‘What could renters not like about my property’, he wondered. Here’s the list:
- Dirty floors, walls and doors – the cottage had not seen a thorough clean since the day it was built
- Countertops ingrained and crusted with dirt
- A bathroom I would have had to wash my hands after washing my hands if you get my drift.
- Mildewed and lumpy mattresses on broken home-made frames with bedding covered in dog hair
- No doors between bedrooms and the living areas
- Kitchen cupboards dirty and full of crumbs and debris
- Mismatched, cracked and broken dishes
- Pots and pans blackened and greasy
- 1960’s TV with rabbit ears antennae
- Stained and threadbare carpeting
- Stained polystyrene ceiling tiles
The list goes on and on and quite frankly I walked away in disgust and didn’t even follow up with the owner, beyond saying he should listen to the comments his ‘guests’ were making. This owner had no idea that what he found acceptable, would not be loved by everyone who went there. After all, the view of the lake was fabulous, the waterfront idyllic, and the privacy was unrivalled. But times have changed and the vacationing public are becoming more discerning about what they will spend their hard earned money on.
I appreciate that this example represents the poorest accommodation conditions a renter might find, but even so, just one like this can damage the reputation of our industry. And sadly this is definitely not the only example I have.
You may have realized I am on a mission to improve standards in our vacation rental cottages. Let’s be really fair to our guests and not only meet, but exceed their expectations. Over the next few weeks and months, I will build on this theme and present a strategy for raising standards – one that doesn't necessarily have to impact on your bottom line, and my indeed increase it.