Rental guests come in all shapes, sizes and from a great variety of backgrounds. Similarly, they all have varying preconceived ideas about what to expect from their vacation rental. Where people are used to city services – water, sewage, garbage collection and of course snow removal, it’s important to let them know the differences they will find when renting a property in winter.
Winter and cottage roads – a new experience for renters
Think about it for a moment. As a cottage owner, you are used to the journey from home to the cottage – you probably don’t give it a second thought, except to curse the traffic out of the city! In winter, you’ll have your winter tires – probably a 4WD vehicle – and there will be a snow shovel and perhaps some sand in the back. Of course you will be dressed for the weather in cottage country, with good boots and a warm coat. You wouldn’t dream of leaving the highway and turning onto the cottage road without making sure you are gassed up for the return journey. After all, you know only too well that a widespread power outage after a winter storm could mean there is no gas available between the cottage and Barrie. You’ve packed enough food and water for a few days because if it snows a lot you might not be able to get out to re-stock. Oh yes….you’re prepared, because you know what cottage country can be like in winter.
So, now take your thoughts to your potential guests. They have been on your website, or seen your listing and like the pretty photos of the snow piled high on the cottage roof, and the great shot of the log fire. Filled with romantic notions of a winter wonderland and hot chocolate in front of the fire after a day in the snow, they call and book a few days. You send them an agreement, collect their money and give them instructions on how to get there, and trust they will have a great time. The problem is that most condo dwellers haven’t a clue what to expect an hour north of the city, and if they are first-time winter renters, you will soon know about it.
To keep the potential for problems to a minimum, here are a few pointers to help you to educate your winter renters, and prepare for guests with limited experience of winter in cottage country.
Provide comprehensive pre-arrival information
The information you send to your guests can help prepare them for their journey to your cottage and should be really comprehensive. Let them know what to expect from leaving the nearest main road to arriving at your Cottage. Is it possible to navigate the route in a Toyota Echo fitted with summer tires or is an H3 Hummer with 12-inch ground clearance the minimum requirement? Can they expect to drive right to the door or might they have to snowshoe-in the last mile carrying in their supplies and offspring? Similarly, if there is significant snowfall during their stay, how long will they normally have to wait before their exit route is ploughed out?
Make your cottage directions winter-proof
This may seem like stating the obvious, but in winter guests may be arriving after dark or in bad weather. Using small or indistinct objects as landmarks may be OK in summer but could easily be missed in winter whiteout conditions or at night; therefore it’s a good idea to use accurate distances between significant points whenever possible. ‘Turn right at the cottage with the blue roof’, or ‘Watch out for the rock with the yellow paint mark’, are not the most user-friendly of winter directions!
Provide winter basics
There are a few essentials you should consider making available to your winter guests. These include; at least one snow shovel, salt, sand, an outdoor extension lead and instructions where the nearest external power outlet is located.
Make arrival preparations
Having finally arrived at the Cottage, what can your guests expect to find? Will there be any lights on? Will the Cottage be warm and cosy or will guests have to spend their first hour collecting firewood and kindling for the fire? Will there be hot water available “on tap”? Obviously it would be nice for guests to arrive to a warm cottage but, if this is not possible logistically, at least you can prepare them for this. However, it would be nice to have some form of external lighting, on a timer if necessary, to assist your guests find their way in. Better still, if you have a neighbour or local caretaker to put some heating on before guests are due to arrive so much the better.
Will your guests be warm enough during their stay?
How is your cottage heated in winter? Is there sufficient fuel provided for the duration of your guests’ stay, including any possible enforced additional time in the cottage caused by bad weather delaying departure? There is also a judgement call here, especially where firewood is concerned. We have learnt from experience that if you supply unlimited firewood, some guests will (apparently) take the opportunity to spend the duration of their stay stripped to the waist feeding firewood in to the wood stove like stokers on an old-fashioned steamboat! Leastways that’s the only conclusion we can draw from the amount of wood they have managed to get through. To this end we now provide a reasonably-sized wood pile for guest’s use but keep the bulk supply under lock and key. We also explain in the Cottage Guide that the woodstove is highly efficient and really does only need a maximum of 2 logs at a time to provide sufficient heat.
How will your guests cope following an extended power outage?
Following on from the question of heating, an extended power outage may also provide a challenge to guests. If your cottage relies on baseboard heating only what back-up method of heating is available to your guests? What other services will guests lose? Do you provide any flashlights, spare batteries or candles? Your cottage guide should address all of these points and give clear instruction on any workarounds for getting fresh water, flushing the toilet (or not!) and indeed who to contact. Your guide should also have information on the Hydro-One power outage toll-free contact number, details of your Hydro-One account number or the Cottage hydro meter serial number (these are requested by Hydro-One if the caller is the first to report an outage) and any other information on what should be done to any Cottage systems, either following a power outage or after power is eventually restored.
What other important pieces of information do your guests need to know?
The following is not necessarily winter-specific, but is still the sort of important information that guest may need to know and should be included in your Cottage Guide and perhaps the emergency details duplicated and kept on or near the Cottage telephone:
911 Information, if applicable, or alternative Fire, First Response and Police contract numbers where a 911-service is not available. Information on expected response times should also be included.
Directions and phone numbers for the nearest Emergency Room and Walk-in Clinic
Details and contact numbers for nearest neighbours for emergency use only.
Contact details for you as the owner, any nominated local caretaker or representative.
Hydro-one power outage and emergency contact numbers.
Local plumber, electrician, heating engineer, snow plough provider together with instructions stating whether guests should contact you first before contacting any service provider.
Is your local areas tourist information up-to-date?
Many owners are kind enough to provide local area tourist information for their guests. However, we frequently get feedback from guests to say that the information provided is out-of-date, sometimes by several years. It can be frustrating for a family to see a local attraction or restaurant advertised at the cottage or recommended in the cottage guide and to drive there to discover it is closed for the winter. If you take the trouble to provide guests with local area information please take time to ensure it is kept up-to-date and that seasonal attractions and venues have their operating/opening times clearly published.
How do you expect your guests to leave the cottage?
Clean and tidy is the obvious answer and yes that goes without saying; however, in winter there may be additional considerations. Most guests would probably close all the internal doors prior to departure, whereas you would probably prefer that they be left open to allow air to circulate. Likewise you will probably want some residual heating left on. Experience has shown that simply putting such information in the cottage guide may not guarantee that a guest remembers a particular piece of information at the often hectic time of departure. We recommend the use of a pre-departure checklist, which lists all the actions you want your guests to complete and which can also serve to allow guests to note anything that was broken, didn’t work as it should or they would have appreciated being provided.
Have you played at being a guest in your own Cottage?
If played out to the full this can be an educational experience. Do your directions to the cottage still work if followed to the letter or has last year’s road improvement near the cottage changed everything? You may know exactly where to hit the pine-panelling to get the bedside light to work in the master bedroom or that you need to run the cold water tap in the bathroom to get the toilet cistern to refill, but will your guests. If there are quirks to getting things to work, make sure you explain them somewhere, or better still get the problem fixed. If the water pump is on its last legs then replace it rather than having a future guest inconvenienced. Remember a happy and contented renter may want to come back to your cottage time after time and will hopefully rave about his experience to friends and family, all of which serve to maximize your rental income.
In conclusion, making sure your guests have a trouble-free stay, regardless of the time of year, is the ultimate aim. There’s a lot of things to consider when transplanting a family of city dwellers to a remote part of cottage country where being just a short distance from the cottage could constitute a winter survival situation.