Why Don't Guests Read the Cottage Guide?

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I was talking with a cottage owner this weekend who remarked that he could not understand why renters cannot seem to follow the simplest of instructions in the cottage guide. One explanation could be that they follow them too closely and my experience after my Christmas renters supports this.

We ask our rental guests to leave the cottage as they found it. By this we mean clean, tidy and with all the furniture, books, games etc returned to the rightful place, and there is a cleaning checklist to remind them what has to be done. However, when we checked on the cottage the day after the renters left we were a little annoyed to find that the heating was still turned up, the lights on the Christmas tree and the fireplace garland were still switched on, and the music was still playing on the entertainment system. We couldn't understand this since our checkout list clearly asks for the heating to be turned down and all lights switched off. Then I noticed the table was laid up just as we had left it, although the place settings were slightly different.

Well, I guess we had thoroughly confused our guests, because when I thought about it, they had left the place exactly as they found it – a welcoming place with lights on, heat up and music playing. How can I complain when we have left conflicting instructions for them to follow, so this has been another learning moment!

My cottage guide covers a lot of things that are unique to my cottage. For example, there is a limiter on the water pump, so once a certain amount of water has been run, the limiter kicks in and the water dries up until the well is replenished to a certain level. I realized my guests don’t read the cottage guide when the third set of renters called me up to complain they were out of water. A few polite questions usually draws out the information that they had run the washing machine and dishwasher at the same time the kids had a bath, and then grandpa took a shower (which was when the water ran out). Oh, yes, and the hot tub needed more water so they found the garden hose and filled it up with well water!

The guide is quite explicit about overuse of water and the consequences of it, although to be fair, we hadn’t mentioned we top up the hot tub with river water and our guests shouldn’t be tinkering with the levels, so that is a learning point too. Hmmm….and this wasn’t the only rule/instruction/guidance note that was ignored.

I remember a great quote from my favourite course in the Psychology of Marketing – ‘The meaning of your communication is in the response you get’. Simply put, if you don’t get your message across loud and clear, your guests will not hear it! But that’s not all. Hearing is not the same as listening; looking isn’t the same as seeing, and leaving the cottage guide on a side table is not the same as tying the guests down to chairs on arrival and making them read every word!

Last summer I had a call from an annoyed rental guest who couldn't find any information, and was adamant the owner hadn't left any instructions for garbage disposal. It turned out his wife had seen the Cottage Guide as they arrived and tucked it away in a kitchen drawer because it was ‘in the way'. They had never thought it might contain all that information they were looking for.

For this year, I'm adding some sections of the cottage guide to the Terms and Conditions of rental I send my guests in their pre-arrival pack. I’m asking them to sign to say they have read and understood the instructions and have no claim against me (the owner) if they decide not to comply. I’m also reworking the Guide to make it easier to read; using a binder with tabbed sections with the first one saying  in large letters IMPORTANT INFORMATION; and peppering the main content of the guide with reminders about the things they really need to know.

Another suggestion is to create a neatly typed instruction sheet, laminate it and tape it to the fridge or a wall in the kitchen. Include the most essential information such as the time they have to depart; pre-departure instructions and garbage disposal details. I'm a little uncomfortable with this as I don't like the idea of ‘rules' being plastered everywhere. But, it's really a case of whatever works.

Keep in mind that when your guests arrive they are in full vacation mode and may have left some common sense at home. Some may have never been to a cottage before, so don't leave them guessing about anything. If your information is neatly organised, clearly written and presented in a prominent way, you will have done your best. Just don't expect them to read it!

Does anyone else experience this and what do you do to encourage more readership of this most important document?