Meeting Vacation Rental Guest Expectations

em_picHas anyone noticed that guests seem to have much higher expectations?

I remember when the most asked question was, ‘Does your property have running water and electricity’, and feeling amused and slightly smug saying that not only did my vacation rental have the luxury of an indoor toilet, but it also had a TV.

Now, some of the most frequently asked questions are, ‘What size is the TV and does it get the sports channel?’, and ‘Is there hi-speed internet with wi-fi?’

Going the extra mile to not only meet but exceed your guests expectations will reap you rewards in bookings and return guests for a long time to come.

Just a few weeks ago, I heard a complaint from a guest who had completed their vacation at a cottage on a lake close to us. The cottage has grass to the shoreline then shallow water with a hard sand bottom with a few rocks. I would say water shoes are advisable but then I’d recommend that anyway. The listing for the cottage said:

Sandy, shallow walkout to the water, deepening gradually toward the end of the dock”.

The guest complained that the ‘beach’ that was advertised was not there and her daughter was unable to play in the sand. Apparently, using the word ‘sandy’ in the listing gave the impression that there was a portion of Bondi Beach on the shoreline, dunes stretching in every direction, and an expectation her children of the family spending happy hours building Buckingham Palace type sandcastles.

tweet#vacationrental guests expectations are rising! @cottageguru has some great points about keeping on top of them!

I read through the complete listing and I couldn’t see the word ‘beach’ anywhere. Yes, there is a walkout to the water that is fairly sandy and shallow – I would perhaps have mentioned the rocks – but contrary to the guest's accusation of misrepresentation, I felt the listing portrayed the shoreline and water access, accurately.

In another property, the complaint concerned a washing machine that was located in the crawl space. It was accessible enough, but apparently not located in the sterile environment of the ‘laundry room’ the person expected when they read the words, ‘Washing Machine’, on the listing.

Top of the list of expectations in any year is cleanliness. Now I have no arguments with that whatsoever and it’s the first aspect I consider when doing a cottage inspection and review, but taking some of the comments I’ve heard over the last few years, many first time renters are fully expecting hotel style environments. Spider webs, bugs in window frames, dust bunnies under beds, and the occasional mouse dropping in a cupboard are enough to send some rental groups hotfooting it back to the city, and demanding an immediate refund.

To be fair, on this subject I believe there are a lot of properties whose owners are not as cottage-clean proud, as they are cottage-theme proud. These are the people who grew up vacationing in rustic properties where the first task on arrival was to reclaim the cottage from the wildlife population; throw a few covers over the mouse chewed sofas, and snuggle down onto hard and mildewed mattresses at the end of an idyllic day spent on the water. To some, that is traditional cottage living and is just the way it still should be.

My recommendation to them is, don’t rent it out. Today’s high demand clients will not accept it even at the lowest rental rate. So, how should you manage these expectations?

lets_be_honestBe brutally honest in your listing – if there are weeds to one side of the dock, mention them; if the walkout is sandy, but there is no beach, say just that; if the only way to get cell phone reception is to stand on the end of the dock on one leg, you should note that as well. You can always use hypnotic language to help steer your potential guest away from the negative connotation of any drawbacks to your property.


educate_your_guestsEducate your guests – find out if they have ever stayed at a vacation rental before and if not, create a welcome book that includes everything they need to know. Just because you know how the septic system works and what you can and cannot put down the toilet, don’t expect them to. A comprehensive guide can address most issues guests need to know.

faq_lgCreate a list of frequently asked questions on your website or listings – here’s a few I’ve encountered recently ‘Is the water drinkable?’, ‘Can my kids jump off the end of the dock?’, ‘What size is the freezer compartment?’.



vacation_rental_guest_trustCreate a relationship with your guests – when they make the first enquiry, find out what they look for in a vacation; ask them what makes a place special, and answer every question honestly. This will create trust! I know an owner who regularly swims in the weedy water around her property because she has done it since she was a kid. Her listing says she swims there, but doesn’t mention the weeds. It’s not unexpected that there have been many complaints about her waterfront description in her reviews.

Notify your guests of change – when someone has only a brief description and some photos to go by, their vacation expectations will be based on that. If you make any significant change, let them know. For example, if you decide to remove the DVD and replace it with a PVR or Digital Storeage Device and your guests arrive with all their favourite DVD's, they will not be happy. Or, if you change bed configuration, share that information promptly.


The bottom line is to be honest, keep your guests educated and informed, and to share any changes you made since you listed the property. Knowing what your guests’ expectations are, then not only meeting them but surpassing them, is the key to a happy rental group. And happy rental groups mean happy owners!!

Isabela Beachfront Penthouse

So many great points in this article! I make a point of explaining our location and the nearby sites and attractions on our website (and our listings on the ‘big’ sites) as well as anything else we think would be valuable. I try to look at everything as if I’d never been to our property before. Being honest is really the key. It does no one any good to overstate or be misleading about what your property offers, you just end up with a disappointed guest. Why be in business to disappoint people, when it’s so easy to please them?

    Heather Bayer

    You are so right. Owners can create issues that never need to happen if they would only pay a little more attention to detail, and be upfront about any shortcomings there may be. I’d far rather say the water is weedy and fabulous for fishing, than try and encourage a family who loves swimming to stay there, by being less than truthful.


Sorry Heather, but you are way off base here, and not even following your own advice.
In introducing your story you describe the actual setting by stating “The cottage has grass to the shoreline then shallow water with a hard sand bottom with a few rocks,” yet your listing says “Sandy, shallow walkout to the water, deepening gradually toward the end of the dock.” This is not the same thing. If you are trying to be honest, why don’t you state it clearly as you do in the first example? Instead you say “Sandy, shallow walkout TO the water,” which says that there is sand BEFORE you reach the water (not grass) which is typically referred to as a beach! You continue; “deepening gradually toward the end of the dock.” After having established that there is sand before the water, the reader is lead to expect that you mean the sand gets deeper before the end of the dock, and thus the only end of the dock you can mean is the end on shore! Your familiarity with the setting seems to be blinding you to how your writing appears. What I can’t understand is why you can clearly describe the situation here for your readers, but you don’t in your listing. If I was the guest I would feel mislead too. No, you don’t use the word ‘beach’, but you certainly do suggest that this is what the guest can expect. Your derisive description of the guest’s reaction reflects an attitude that I find surprisingly non-customer centric for someone who claims to be offering expertise to vacation rental owners, and in particular advice on how to manage guest expectations.

    Heather Bayer

    Hi Rob – I really appreciate your feedback and comments. What I hadn’t mentioned was the longer description of the waterfront that was actually in the listing together with several photos, however I understand your perspective and will of course review both the listing and the semantics used. I had not intended to be derisory; rather to inject a little humour, but recognise it may have been a little ‘off-base’ for you.


      Just like people viewing a vacation rental listing, we only have what is provided to go on. Perhaps the listing does provide other information, but as you are aware, different people place more or less value on the written/spoken word vs. photos, and the magical thing about guests is that no matter how clear and specific you try to be, if it is possible (and even if it isn’t) they will find some way to misinterpret something or screw it up. One of the greatest dangers for vacation rental owners is what I call VROwner blindness – meaning they don’t see their property, their advertising, their communications, their ‘anything’ the way that most others do, because they are personally too close to the subject. Every six months I reread all of my templates, web site and other promotional information, and I ALWAYS find some ways that it should be improved upon. (Or even a rare spelling error to fix – still, after all that proofreading!) In a similar fashion, guests can get blinded too. Sometimes they WANT a place to be so perfect for them (because of some particular aspects they REALLY like about it), that they become blind to or overlook other things about it that become a source of frustration during their stay. All of which supports your contention to under-promise and over-deliver. An owner needs to be aware of these issues and always bear them in mind in all aspects of advertising, promotion, and customer communication.

        Heather Bayer

        I fully agree – it is one of the reasons we ask all our guests to tell us why they chose a particular property – this often flags up a perception they may have that was driven by something said (or unsaid) in a listing.


I wouldn’t feel mislead by the description, but I am not familiar with you particular lake and it’s bank area.
If there are no environmental restrictions surrounding the lake and I were the owner of the cottage creating a beach area would be a “priority” improvement on the list.
Seems the term “meet and exceed” guest expectations has become the normal hospitality speak. It’s our goal to “EXCEED” expectations. Educating our guests is the first priority and the second is to educate ourselves about the guest. Our cottage isn’t for everyone and it’s important the two personalities match well. I’ve found when we do our hospitality job on the front end the rest takes care of itself.

Joan Talmadge

Terrific article, Heather. There’s nothing worse than having guests show up at a rental home and be disappointed or feel that they’ve been misled. It often leads them to look for additional things to complain about.

We advise our homeowners to be open and honest with potential renters about their home and its setting. Is it on a busy road? Does it have a spiral staircase that might be difficult for young children? Is the “fourth bedroom” really a loft? Disclosing any potential issues gives vacationers a greater sense of trust that they won’t encounter any surprises when they arrive, and they are usually very grateful for the honesty.

Guest reviews have given vacationers newfound power. They have contributed greatly to the exposure of rental homes that aren’t in good condition or are misrepresented in the online listing. This takes away the ability for homeowners to fly under the radar and get a whole new crop of unsuspecting tenants every year.

As I read the guest reviews that come in for our homeowners, I always love to see the ones with this title: “Surpassed Our Expectations!”

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