This is a question we hear occasionally although it's not one of the most common ones our rental agency receives. When I ask the potential renter what they mean by ‘family friendly', there's often a vague response asking about the waterfront and if it has shallow entry. We rarely get questions about safety issues or what baby/child items are included in the rental which surprises me, given the potential risks in rentals in our area of Canada where all the properties are on water. So it was interesting to talk to Wendy Shand, founder of the UK-based vacation rental company, Tots To Travel, and find out what guests in UK and Europe are looking for when vacationing with their children in a holiday rental.
Wendy is a mom of three children under 7 whose experiences of renting vacation homes included a near-disaster when one of them fell into an unenclosed pool. This was the catalyst for starting up Tots To Travel and the avoidance of issues such as this are at the forefront of the company's search for ‘family friendly' holiday homes. On the website she says:
“I – and other mums and dads like me – need a holiday home that truly caters for their family, from the basics that we take granted at home such as stairgates and electric socket covers, to having a really safe swimming pool.? So I set about sourcing child-friendly properties and personally vetting them, asking the all important question, "is this place nice enough for me to come and stay with my family?"
When I spoke with her, my focus was on what owners should consider before they begin using the words ‘child friendly' on a listing, and how they could look at their property from the perspective of a parent searching for a suitable place for a family vacation. What do parents look for?
The last thing a tired mom and dad want to do on vacation is to be constantly monitoring for hidden dangers. Although they will undoubtedly be on alert in a new place, if safety features are provided, and the risk of accidents lessened, holiday time will be so much more relaxing for them. Indoors, stairgates, socket guards, non-slip bath mats and night lights are a few of the ‘must have' items.
Safety outdoors is to a large extent, a parent-responsibility. When I look at some of the waterfront cottages we represent, there is no way of enclosing 200ft of waterfront, or putting railings around a dock so we do rely on parental control to minimise the potential for accident. However, providing information on those aspects of the terrain or location that may cause risk is an owner-responsibility so parents can make a decision on renting based on the detail provided. I particularly liked the ‘Parent Points' shown on each listing on the Tots to Travel web site that identifies areas of potential risk. Here's an example:
The garden in The Manor house is mainly enclosed but there is an access point that parents need to be aware of.
There is a stream beyond the garden in The Manor which is gated off with a lock on the gate.
The swimming pool is enclosed but parents need to be aware that there is no shallow end.
In many countries there are regulations for swimming pool and hot tub safety; building codes for decking and stairs and other location-specific safety rules. For example, in Ontario, boating safety regulations require children to wear life jackets or personal flotation devices and these must be fitted correctly. A good ‘Parent Point' would be to include details of the size of any children's life jackets provided along with a link to the Boating Safety web site.
If in doubt about the safety features of your vacation home, seek advice, as no waiver of liability will help you out if you've willfully ignored laws and regulations.
When I looked at some of the listings on Tots to Travel I was in awe at the amount of equipment some owners were supplying. Here's a list from one property:
Childrens` Toys (age 1-5)
2 Cots with sheets and blankets
Cupboard safety locks
2 hand held blenders
lots of plastic crockery
Childrens` swimming towels
Childrens` swings and slide
(I laughed at the 2 hand held blenders! Is this for the real multi-tasking mom?)
Having seen a few of these lists I've added some items to my own property because we want to attract guests coming from the UK and Europe who could not bring them all when travelling by air, and I will be including an inventory on my listing. What you provide for families is up to you, and is dependent on the age groups you are targeting, but it seems that filling up low season weeks could be easier if you can accommodate small families with babies and toddlers who are more likely to vacation out of the school holiday season.
This post is getting lengthy and the more I write the more I think of to include. The information Wendy provided has spawned a lot of ideas for future posts, so watch out for those under the new Family Friendly category.
As always, comments and suggestions are welcomed, so if you have ideas or are a fully-featured-family-friendly property, just add them here.
My thanks to Wendy Shand for her time and a great conversation! We'll be talking some more soon, I'm sure.