Has 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.
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?
Be 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 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.
Create 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?’.
Create 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!!