Building a vacation rental business involves a lot of moving parts. From staging the property, taking photographs, and sourcing the right linens and towels, to choosing the best reservation system, communicating with guests, and everything in between — it can be tough to manage it all. Occasionally, something will slip through the cracks, and when it does, the potential for a negative review looms large.
Yes, we do have to sweat the small stuff
The idiom, Don’t sweat the small stuff … and it’s all small stuff doesn’t apply to our business because it’s not OK to cut corners. We don’t have the luxury of adopting a that’ll do attitude or crossing fingers and hoping for the best. For our guests, a simple dripping tap or a burnt-out lightbulb can be enough to impact a vacation, and if something of greater consequence occurs, the subsequent fallout could be considerable.
Here’s just a sample of what could happen out of a lack of forward planning:
- Your cleaner calls in sick, and there’s no backup.
- The hot tub isn’t checked between rentals.
- A lightbulb goes out, and there are no spares.
- Smoke alarms fail.
- You didn’t send taxes on time and get fined.
- A listing shows an amenity that’s no longer there.
- There’s no spare propane tank for the BBQ and guests run out.
- The door code is incorrectly set, and guests cannot access the property.
All of these issues and the myriad others that happen every day in vacation rentals around the world could be avoided by implementing a few some simple systems.
Changeovers and maintenance
The days of expecting guests to be tolerant of any property shortcomings are long gone, so overlooking anything on a changeover could open up a conversation about refunds, rebates, and negative reviews. Not giving guests anything to complain about is the goal.
Most of the mistakes mentioned above are the result of simple things being forgotten by a housekeeper or caretaker.
There are three ways to reduce the risk of incomplete housekeeping:
- Train cleaners thoroughly. Never expect a new cleaner to understand a vacation rental changeover, unless he or she has experienced it before. There’s a vast difference between residential cleaning and the type of work required to bring a rental home to readiness for the next guests.
- Explain how you want your guests to react when they arrive. When service staff buys into the idea of hospitality their level of attention to detail rises.
- Use comprehensive checklists that need to be completed and signed at the end of a clean. There are a number of digital resources available such as Properly.
If you use a housekeeping company that manages the supplies for your property, this may not be an issue. However, a local cleaner or caretaker is responsible for making sure there’s enough toilet paper, the BBQ propane tank is refilled, and spare light bulbs are replaced as well as replacing all the other stuff that will run out … usually at the most inopportune times
- Keep a separate locked cabinet stocked with paper products and cleaning supplies.
- Maintain a running checklist on a simple platform such as Wunderlist that’s shared by you and your cleaning team.
- Always keep at least two propane tanks — one on the BBQ, and a full spare — it’s helpful to have a third for emergency replacement too.
- Have a regular maintenance routine that includes keeping supplies well-stocked.
There are plenty of ways to keep track of things to do, but invariably things get forgotten or set to one side to be taken care of later.
Consider the case of the owner who decided the bunk beds in a bedroom were too challenging for their cleaner to make up and replaced them with two twin beds. It made no difference to the bed configuration in the home; the room looked much better with the singles, and the cleaner no longer had to climb up to the top bunk and struggle with getting the sheets on. Everyone was happy with the new setup, except the seven-year-old boy who had been excited about sleeping in the top bunk for months, and was hugely disappointed when he and his family arrived on their vacation.
The owner had forgotten to make the change on the listing, take a new photo, or let her incoming guests know of the newly configured room.
The resultant unhappy guests and three-star review could so easily have been avoided.
Keeping amenity lists, photographs, and listing text up to date is a big task if you use multiple platforms to advertise … and have your own website. But the importance of accuracy across the board can’t be overstated.
An effective method of keeping everything current is using a spreadsheet that records everything related to listings and includes the photos being used. Resources such as Trello or Airtable can help to maintain all the data in one place, so you have an at-a-glance reminder of what visitors to the listing or website are seeing.
Overlooking the administrative aspect of the business can be costly too.
- A listing site can change their terms of service, and if you don’t incorporate those into your house rules or rental agreements, you may find you’ve been penalized. At worst the site can take a listing down for failing to comply with their terms.
- If you’re bound to collect and pay lodging taxes for one, or multiple local authorities, and forget to meet the quarterly deadlines, the resulting fines can be high. In many states and cities, Airbnb completes collection and remittance on your behalf, but when you take bookings directly or via local listing sites, that tax payment responsibility lands on you. Using Avalara MyLodgeTax can ease the burden of recording the payments, meeting deadlines, and keeping current with changing regulations and legislation in your area.
- Using multiple listing sites can increase the risk of double booking, so accurate record keeping is essential. Using a simple but robust reservation management system such as OwnerRez can alleviate the stress of managing different advertising channels.
Being in the vacation rental business is so much more than just providing a welcoming space for travelers. It requires good organizational skills and attention to detail. This comes naturally to some people, but for most of us, some help is necessary to keep all the plates spinning and not come crashing down. We’re fortunate there are so many resources available now to help with being proactive and not reactive, so do the research and find the ones that work for you.