f you have ever stayed at a vacation rental you will know that one of the first things you look for is the book that tells you where everything is, how to work certain appliances, where to find the local grocery store, and what to do in an emergency.
Well, maybe not everyone is like me because it's the first thing I would look for since I like instruction manuals. But, if you are the type of person that gets the box home from IKEA and starts putting the cupboard together before you even get your coat off, then you might have no interest at all in the bit of paper that tells you how to do it. And if it goes wrong, and that's almost a sure thing, you'll eventually, if a little reluctantly, fish those instructions out of the garbage and take a look.
Having a well prepared manual that guides your guests through the quirks of your cottages systems, and advises them of the best restaurants and local attractions is an absolute must if you want to reduce your rental worries. Here's a few pointers on getting it right.
What to call it
Personally, I hate the expression Cottage Rules, or Rules of the Cottage, or anything similar that smacks of being told what to do. This is just my thing and I appreciate not everyone feels this way but all you need is one renter who does and there may be a problem. Giving the information a softer title is more likely to encourage readers, and you can emhasise that information in better ways than the ‘Rules' method. Try Cottage Guide; House Manual; Essential Cottage Information, or simply The Guest Book.
What to put in it
Is there ever too much you can tell your guests? From my perspective, no, because there will always be a question they have about something obscure you have never thought of. And do you really want the late night phone call asking where they can find batteries for the remote?
What you include depends on your property and whether the systems are straightforward or not. I remember staying in one vacation rental home where the toilet wouldn't flush unless the tap was on and water was running in the wash basin! That wasn't included in the guide and the owner seemed surprised we hadn't tried that trick when we called and asked how we should get the toilet to work. Remember that your guests may be unfamiliar with plumbing systems in country locations – limitations of septic systems, and noises made by the water pump are some of the issues we mention to our guests.
I heard from a vacation rental owner about a call he got from a renter at 11pm one night because they wanted to make popcorn and didn't understand how to use the microwave and couldn't find the instructions! You don't need to put the manuals for all your appliances in the Manual – keep them all together in a box or envelope in a drawer, and simply refer to the location in the guest guide. You should also put a note in the important information section on the times you are available for guests to call you – unless it's an emergency.
This section should cover use of watercraft and bicycles, firepits, barbecues, and outdoor furniture. Include instructions on how you want these treated in high winds or bad weather. For example, if you want boats brought out of the water; umbrellas and soft furnishings stored away, and bicycles covered up. You cannot complain about guests not looking after items if you don't instruct them on what you want done.
Create lists of things to do in the area, local attractions and events, and perhaps descriptions of some day trips they can do from the property. Just make sure all the information is kept up to date and is relevant. Details of the local dog sled Derby may not hold much interest for summer vacationers. Keep a basket of tourist literature, maps and event information.
Safety & Emergency Contacts
I have a laminated list in my guide that describes what to do in the event of an emergency and lists all the contact numbers. It also asks guests not to call any of the main contact numbers after 5pm or before 9am unless there is a real emergency.
Our Cottage Guide has a section at the front called Important Information and is a brief summary of the things we think are really important. For example, our water comes from a well and there is a limiter on the pump to allow the well to refresh when it goes below a certain level. At this point the water will quit running, so the guide reminds our guests of the consequences of overuse.
Whatever you put in your guide, make it as comprehensive as you can. There is never any guarantee that anyone will read it, but they may just consult it before calling you out for something trivial.
What do you put in your manual or guide?