VRS280 - The First 10 Minutes – How to Delight or Dismay Your Vacation Rental Guests

First impressions have lasting effects.

We are wired in a way that allows us to more easily recall the first and last impression of an experience than anything that happens in between. Think about the last time you flew to a vacation destination and got delayed. If it was stressful, annoying, and was dealt with badly, you are more likely to remember that than the great time you had when you finally arrived. So it is with your rental guests. And it is often the first 10 minutes they spend at your place that can have a longer lasting impact than the rest of their stay.

If you’ve already spent time making sure your booking and the pre-stay process has your guests anticipating a wonderful vacation, you are well on your way to a five-star review. So, it’s really worthwhile to continue the focus on hospitality and target the first impression they will have on arrival.

That arrival starts the moment they park and get out of the car. Assuming, of course, your directions were spot on and there’s a clear and welcoming sign to show they’ve arrived at the right place!

The Approach

Let’s start with the approach.

If your place is a condo or has an HOA that looks after landscaping and maintenance you’ll probably be OK on this one. But if you have a driveway and parking space and have to independently take care of the property surrounds, take some time to assess the impression it gives your guests when they arrive.

Unkempt landscaping including broken tree branches, un-mowed areas, builders debris….and yes, old cars, trailers, and bicycles aren’t uncommon. Also, keep in mind the route your guests have taken to get there. While you cannot control the way your neighbor's places look (unless of course, you belong to an HOA), you can go above and beyond to make sure yours looks beautiful. Shrubs, perennials, window boxes, planters, rock gardens, benches, and even statuary can transform an ordinary property exterior into something beyond stunning.

Doorway to Heaven

Your guests are charmed by the approach to the property and have arrived at your front door.

  • Is it freshly painted?
  • Is the door handle clean and shiny?
  • Are there spider webs around the frame?
  • Is the welcome mat welcoming?

We can often pay so much attention to the interior of the home that the exterior gets left out, but it’s one of the first things guests will see and take note of. Look at the entire area around the door your guests will enter, and address anything that’s a cause for concern.

If it doesn’t look welcoming, clean and free of insect debris, judgments will be made, then every time your guests come back in from a day out, they will notice again.

Getting In

Touch Stay founder Andy McNulty tells a story of arriving at a vacation rental in London late at night. It was dark with poor street lighting and there was no outside light at the property.

Oddly enough, he wasn’t carrying a flashlight for the purpose of finding the key – who doesn’t do that?!!

On top of that, the instructions said the key could be found in the blue box to the side of the door. Of course…no blue box. However a little further to the right there was a small blue door set into the wall – lo and behold the key was there.

In retrospect Andy says had it been daylight and not after a long and fairly stressful journey with a tired and frazzled group, they may have found it more easily, but the experience has stayed with him for a long time. In fact, it became part of a presentation we have done several times discussing guest experiences.

We are so used to automation such as walking up to doors and having them open so you don’t have to pause. While that’s not an option yet, gaining access to a vacation rental unit needs to be a pain-free process. There’s no excuse for not having easy access anymore whether it’s a keypad, keycard, or even a lock box with a physical key. What doesn’t work is getting a guest to go through multiple processes to gain access to a property.

There should always be back up systems in place as well. Batteries fail, human error gets in the way and codes are input incorrectly, and keys and cards go missing. Every minute a guest has to wait to gain access to a property will count against you in a review.

The Goldilocks Dilemma

Your guests are in!

They’ve pushed open the door and they are all piling through. One of the first things they will notice is the temperature.

If it’s super-hot outside, they will want to feel the cool of AC (providing you have it available), and if it’s a winter rental, it should be warm and toasty.

“Let's get the AC on”, or “Keep your coats on kids until we get this place warmed up” are not the words your guests should be saying. You want them to be paying attention to the décor and furnishings and all the beautiful staging you’ve done, not to how hot and steamy or cold it is.

This might seem like a no-brainer but we still hear from owners in our management company who don’t want to spend the extra dollars having a place pre-cooled or pre-heated while they wait for the guests to arrive.

Getting it ‘just right’ is not always easy but as long as you make sure you’ve made the effort to do so, your guests will appreciate it.

What’s That Smell?

“Odors have a power of persuasion stronger than that of words, appearances, emotions, or will. The persuasive power of an odor cannot be fended off, it enters into us like breath into our lungs, it fills us up, imbues us totally. There is no remedy for it.”
? Patrick Süskind,
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

The best smell to greet you when you walk into a vacation home is no smell at all. Guests do not want to be greeted with any of these offensive odors:

  • Powerful toilet cleaner that one owner told me was essential so show guests the place had been cleaned.
  • Air fresheners of the spray or plug-in variety which are generally vile and don’t make a place smell fresh at all.
  • The mustiness of a place that’s humid and damp.
  • Leftover food odors from the previous guests.

There are some very simple natural solutions for odor issues providing there are no underlying causes such as mold. Baking soda, kitty litter and vinegar can be used to neutralize many different unwanted scents.

Missing or broken amenities

Guests book our homes for a variety of reasons. Firstly because it’s in a location they want to be; it has the right size of accommodation to suit the group, and it comes with the amentiies and features that combine to create a perfect vacation environment.

When the reality doesn’t match the photos, description and hype, there will be trouble.

Take the seven-year old who has spent months since the place was booked talking about the top bunk bed he’s going to sleep in.

He’s never had one before and his anticipation of the vacation hasn’t been based on any activity that’s planned – he has been entirely focused on the photo of the bunk bed on the listing.

He’s talked about it incessantly and when asked what he’s looking forward to most and has even promised his little sister she can come up to the top bunk once or twice. It’s a big deal.

When the family arrives, the first thing that little boy does is look for the bedroom with the bunk bed so he can claim it for his own. Then he finds that the owner, in a bid to keep a cleaner happy because she hated to make up the top bunk, has separated the beds out into a double and a twin.

There is no top bunk any more.

The upset that ensues will guarantee an emotional call from the guest – after all, he or she now has to placate that child and use the first few hours of vacation time trying to make it up to him.

This is just one scenario.

Anything and everything that is shown in a listing, unless clearly stated that it is not available for use, has to be there. If something breaks and isn’t replaced, guests need to know, and if necessary given the option to cancel.

Don’t overdo the show-around

Years ago, we arrived en-masse at a beautiful vacation home – our group of 12 had just flown the Atlantic and were tired and hungry by the time we got to the villa. It was February so the snow was deep, and it was cold, but we’d stopped on the way for groceries and there was beer and wine waiting to be enjoyed. We were ready to relax.

We were being met by the owner who was delayed so we had to sit outside in our vehicles with engines running to stay warm for over fifteen minutes until he arrived to open the door.

He then spent an hour and a half showing us every bedroom (there were 6), opening every cupboard in the kitchen to show us what was in there; explained the operation of the entertainment system; demonstrated the coffee machine and microwave, then sat down on a couch as if he were an invited guest and jovially asked if we had any beer.

It was one of my earliest experiences of renting homes and my earliest lesson of how not to do it.

If you must be there to welcome your guests – say hello and get out as soon as you can. Your guests don’t want to hear your stories, they just want to get on with their vacation – without your input! A good welcome guide with videos will be much better at explaining how your home works.

Logging on

The first thing most guests will do is log into the wifi.

Ideally, they will already have the password as it was in the information packet they received. If not, it should be readily accessed – don’t make your guests search around for it.

Laminate a card with the user name and password and leave it on the fridge and have one in each bedroom. Tip: use one of the Perspex business card holders from Office World to put the Wifi info in the bedrooms – it’s usually the first night when a guest gets into bed and wants to fire up a tablet and looks for the log in details.

The little things that matter

Guests are in the house, someone is unloading the car, and others are putting things away in cupboards and drawers. They are beginning to feel at home.

There’s a few more things that go a long way to ensure the great first impression you’ve worked so hard at is maintained.

  • Provide plenty of space for their stuff – this means empty drawers and cupboards. If you use the property yourself, make sure your personal things are kept private when you have guests. A lockable cupboard is the best place for your stuff. Remember that every part of the house will be explored so put away everything you don’t want to share or be seen.
  • Ensure all kitchen equipment is clean and in working order. Pots and pans (hopefully stainless steel and not peeling non-stick) should be shiny and orderly arranged. Inside the oven cleaned and ready for use.
  • Supply plenty of paper products – at least 3 toilet rolls per bathroom, and a couple of paper towel in the kitchen. If you send an inventory list to guests before they arrive, they will know what to expect in the way of supplies, and what they are expected to bring.
  • Someone will start looking for information on what to do, where to go and where to eat. Your digital welcome guide should have all that, but if you aren’t on the digital bandwagon, make sure there’s recommendations and suggestions, at least for the first night and following day.

So, a lot has happened in that 10 minutes from guests pulling into the car park or driveway.

You’ve given them a great welcome from showing cleanliness and attention to detail to ensuring the place is as advertised and ready for their stay. Your goal is for them to sit down after they’ve unpacked, opened their first beer or made the first-holiday cocktail, and have them say – “That was easy – now let’s enjoy our vacation!”