Getting Started With Vacation Rental It’s that time of year again. The dock will be coming out of the water; the boat has gone to be shrink-wrapped for winter; and I’m going to clear the garage out in the vain hope that we can actually put a car in there this year And… with summer over, we are in full vacation planning mode for our winter break next February. In fact, we are already booked to go to Great Exuma again and it’s always interesting to go through the booking process and see how different owners manage it. Last year, as soon as we had paid our deposit Nathalie, from Thevine House, sent us a lot of information that was so helpful in the planning stages, but we’ve received nothing so far on this one. I am sure the information will come, and since we were on the island earlier this year, it’s still quite fresh in the memory, but if we were new to it, there is a lot of stuff we would need to know to get organized well in advance. How much information do you send your #vacationrental guests before they arrive? @cottageguru covers the basics This was what travel agents used to do in the dim and distant past when that was the way you planned a vacation. Booking a flight and a car was simple – you just sat across the desk from the nice lady who tapped away on the keyboard, made a few phonecalls and voilà – all reserved. She would have all the destination information at her fingertips, and had probably been there too, so could share her knowledge on the places to go and the things to do. You’d come away with a folder of information sheets, an intinerary, a calendar of events, and a list of what you needed to take with you. Ah, the good old days before technology made travel planning so much more time-consuming! When we visited Costa Rica for the first time, there was a lot to plan. For a start the property was 3 hours from the airport and we did not arrive until 4pm, so we needed a hotel for the first night. Easy, right? Well, not so much since I wanted a compete Costa Rica experience and not kick off with some cookie-cutter high rise where it’s impossible to know where in the world you are once the hotel room door is shut. Fortunately the owner of our villa had thought of that and provided a list of options so were able to book our authentic San Jose accommodation without too much effort. Then there was the car rental which would have been a challenge if we had not had the local knowledge helpful in selecting the right company. The drive from San Jose to Dominical is interesting once beyond the city confines, and we were delighted the villa owner suggested we stop at a bridge about half way to see the crocodiles on the riverbank below. If we hadn’t been given that nugget of information, we’d have driven past, none the wiser. Finally, a stop for groceries at the store recommended by the owner, so when we finally arrived, we’d had a great trip, seen a few sights, done our shopping, and already felt we’d been on vacation for a while. That experience could have been so different if the owner had not been so thoughtful and thorough in the information they provided. Know your demographic I’ll give you my take on this from 10 years of experience managing a rental agency and it’s just six words: Never assume your guests know anything The majority of our guests come from the greater Toronto area, and their average door to door travelling time is 2.5 hours. You might think the only information they would need would be driving directions and access details. Think again. We have a five page ‘pre-arrival’ document that gives general information on what they should expect when visiting cottage country. This tells them about all the things that are different from city living such as: Septic and plumbing systems How to light a campfire What wildlife they may encounter Boat safety Internet limitations Store hours Our assumption is that everyone is new to cottage country and many have never been out of the city before, so the more information we can provide the better. So, this is what I want to know when I rent a property Does your location require guests to fly into a smaller airport? If so, provide information on those airlines together with a rough schedule and a list of URLs so they can access the booking sites easily. For example, when we fly to the Bahamas, we land in Nassau and then have to book the shorter flight to the out -islands. There are several small airlines some of which are more reliable than others. Our selection would have been wiser if we’d had this information. What should I know about arrival and departure? This is such useful stuff to share. Again, when we go to the Bahamas we generally take some food that is more expensive on the island such as cheese, sausage and steaks. I generally pack a cold bag in my check in luggage. Of course, I could not do that if we staged through the US, but it is generally considered OK for landing in Nassau. How long are the line-ups usually? How far is it from the arrival terminal to the shuttle departure lounge? Are there places to get food there? One really useful piece of information we found by searching Trip Advisor was that on the return leg, the only flight into Nassau is early morning getting in around 8am – our flight out to Toronto is not until 1pm. That is enough time to check in the luggage then get a taxi out to a local restaurant for breakfast. It made a wonderful end to our stay to have a leisurely meal overlooking the Caribbean before a 10 minute taxi ride back to the airport. When I buy my Bahamas place, I will be sharing that information with my guests. What about driving? We tend to take our driving culture for granted. After all, we do it every day and don’t think twice about it. But think about guests coming from another country. They may not only have to contend with driving on the other side of the road, but also to obey unfamiliar rules and customs. For example, in the UK, you do not have to stop for a school bus if it stops coming toward you; you cannot turn right on a red light, and there is no such thing as a four (or three) –way junction. You really don’t want your guests to arrive at your place having just been ticketed for a traffic infraction they had no clue they were committing, so take the time and tell them beforehand. In our pre-arrival guide for international guests there is a full page on getting out of Pearson Airport in Toronto; which route to follow to avoid the mad traffic, and tips on driving etiquette. Guests say it has been hugely helpful to them. Where is the nearest store? What does it stock? Will it be open when I get there? If your guests are driving, they may stop on the way to shop or be more organsied and have everything with them in the car. Or, they are arriving by air and have to stop and shop on the way to the property. Let them know where the closest store is…..and for my husband….where the nearest place is to buy beer and wine. His vision of the best start to a vacation is of relaxing on a deck or dock with a cold beer and it’s the first thing he wants to know. List opening hours. If your guests are delayed they will want to know if they have to shop on the way. Planning activities in advance Activities and events usually require pre-booking, so giving your guests a chance to get tickets will be much appreciated. All it takes is a calendar of events with links to the appropriate sites and they can take it from there. This can include concerts and exhibitions, boat trips and excursions, fishing and hiking guides etc. Even if no booking is required, knowledge of what is on allows the vacation planner in the family to organize their stay. Remember to include sporting events that your guests may want to participate in – triathlons, marathons, 10K and 5K runs etc. In your calendar make a note of any Are there any holidays/holy days your guests should know about. Where can I rent a car, bicycle, kayak, and pontoon boat, even a plane? Your guests will appreciate all the information you can provide in advance to help them make the most of their trip. If they simply arrive for a week, then see your Welcome Book that lists all the opportunities to rent bikes, watercraft etc., they risk these facilities not being available if demand is high. So, give them the chance to reserve in advance by supplying all the contact details, web sites, approximate pricing etc. And the technical stuff…… Simply letting guests know that “Wifi is available” is not sufficient. Don’t let your guests look forward to picking up their favourite shows on Netflix, or letting their kids spend hours gaming if there is a restriction on bandwidth. Be upfront with all the details so they can plan accordingly. Similarly it’s important to share what channels are available on your satellite service. With some sporting events only showing on premium channels, don’t risk guest disappointment when they arrive to find their much anticipated event is not available on your plan. When we last went to a vacation rental as a family, we had 3 laptops, 2 iPads, 3 iPhones, video cameras, standard digital cameras and 2 Go-Pros. If we’d really thought about it, we would have bought more docking stations and additional extension cords/sockets. As families become more reliant on their tech stuff, they will appreciate all your input on how you make it easier for them to use it. What should I pack? We often hear from guests that they took too much stuff with them, and if they had known how well-equipped and supplied a place was, they could have packed lighter. Think about sending an inventory list and information on what is supplied in the way of paper products. Include a list of what they should bring such as: Children’s life jackets Water shoes Bug repellent Equipment chargers If you include unlimited paper products (toilet paper, kitchen paper, Kleenex etc) let your guests know. Similarly help them plan their catering by listing your small appliances, any herbs and spices that are available to them etc. They will appreciate your efforts This is all about being a great host; anticipating your guests’ needs and over-delivering so the work they have to do is significantly reduced. Of course, this gives them a great start to their vacation and ensures they don’t encounter any unpleasant surprises by finding something really needed is missing. You’ll be rewarded with fewer emails with lengthy question lists, and happier guests who are more likely to write a great review. In effect you are pre-pleasing your guests long before they arrive. Have I missed anything? Is there anything you send to guests before they stay that I haven’t mentioned yet? Let us know where you are on the information super-highway and share your successes.