10 Tips for Making Your Vacation Rental Guests Feel Welcome

Finding the right short-term rental is always a bit of a chore. For a recent trip to Santa Fe, we scoured listings to find a home that seemed to be the best fit in terms of location, size, and price. Once we found something that seemed right, we read the reviews.

One home stood out. Guests had lavishly praised on the host for making sure they had a great stay. It was clear that she had gone out of her way to make her guests feel welcome and comfortable. That’s the rental we chose.

Here are some tips to help you do the same.

Tip #1. Make sure guests know what to expect in your short-term rental

Surprises can be great, but they’re not always so great when you have booked a week in a short-term rental home. Make sure your guests have a good sense of what your home is like. If it’s small, don’t use the word “spacious” in your listing. If the stairs are unusually steep, tell guests ahead of time. In conversations with guests, mention the unusual layout, the crotchety elevator, or the curious neighbor who’s always peeking out his front door.

Tip #2. Greet guests with a home that’s safe, clutter-free and sparkling clean

If you’re renting out a home you live in all or most of the year or a second home your family uses frequently, it’s not going to be hotel-room perfect. But take the time to make sure it’s pleasant for guests to live in.

Take the time to repair anything that’s broken, clear away excess clutter and make room for guests’ things in closets and drawers. Then scour everything so it’s clean enough for a visit from your mother.

Tip #3. Provide the basics guests need for their stay

Too often, we’ve arrived at short-term rental home and exhausted from travel to find a single, nearly empty roll of toilet paper, a meager sliver of soap, two almost threadbare towels, and totally bare kitchen cabinets. In one place, our hosts provided only a couple of thin blankets, despite the chilly weather, or only two bed pillows, both of which were hard as rocks.

We have a special fondness for thoughtful hosts who provide what we need to be comfortable, such as enough paper goods, cleaning supplies, and soap for our stay; decent towels, sheets and pillows; and the kitchenware we need to be able to cook and eat meals in when we choose.

Think about what guests might need when they stay in your home for a few days or a few weeks. Then stock up.

Tip #4. Provide extras

Many people choose a short-term rental over a hotel because they want the personal touches of a home. Help guests feel at home by giving them a selection of bed pillows, good sheets, fluffy towels, good toiletries, good reading lamps, the right blankets for the season (ask about allergies to wool or down, or have options in the closet), a well-stocked pantry, books, games, and kids’ toys, DVDs, tennis racquets, or temporary memberships to beach clubs or gyms.

Tip #5. Welcome guests with a gift and a friendly note

Help your guests feel welcome as soon as they arrive by leaving a little gift of food and drink – fruit, crackers, cheese, cookies, bottled water, sodas, wine or beer, and perhaps some bread, eggs, butter, jam, cereal, and milk – with a nice note saying they hope the guests enjoy their stay. At a minimum, coffee, tea, filters, milk or cream and sweeteners for the first morning are a must!

Tip #6. Give guests a “user guide”

In some short-term rentals, we’ve wasted our precious vacation time trying to figure out how to use heating systems, fancy new stoves, and washing machines. We always appreciate hosts who save us time and frustration by providing a “user guide” with clear instructions: how to turn on the heat or air conditioner, where to put the garbage, how to keep the toilet from overflowing. Not only will a “user guide” help guests enjoy their stay, you’ll be less likely to be bothered by frantic emails and phone calls when they can’t figure something out.

Tip #7. Have someone on the ground in case guests need help

While we were overseas last year, I woke one morning to this message from our guest: “Sorry to bother you, but there’s water leaking from the ceiling in the downstairs bathroom.” Fortunately, we were prepared. We asked her to contact our wonderful fix-it guy who has seen us through many emergencies over the years. By the next morning, he had come by the house, reassured her and us that the ceiling was not about to come down, and arranged to have the leak fixed.

It’s a fact of traveling life that all kinds of things can happen while you’re away. So plan for them. Make sure guests have contact information for people you trust who can step in when a pipe bursts or the furnace goes out.

Tip #8. Be a virtual tour guide

Thoughtful hosts put together a “welcome packet” of tips and information that goes beyond the tourist guides. You might include maps and restaurant menus; directions to grocery stores and markets; where to buy bus and train tickets; locations of parks, gyms, beauty salons, and pharmacies; suggestions for places to bike, walk, hike, golf, or play tennis; and brochures for interesting places and sights known only to locals. 

Tip #9. Check in with guests after their arrival

Unless you’re halfway up a mountain with no cell phone service, give guests a call a day or two after they arrive to make sure they are settling in and answer any questions. That personal contact reminds them that you want them to have a good stay in your home. Knowing that guests are settled and everything is okay helps you enjoy yourself as well.

Tip #10. Follow up

As soon as you’ve unpacked and are over your jet lag, send guests a friendly note. Thank them for taking such good care of your home (if they did) and say that you’d be glad to have them as guests again (if you would). Ask for suggestions for changes that would make future guests more comfortable. If they liked the place and enjoyed their stay, ask them to write a review for your listing.

Janis Fisher Chan is a writer and passionate traveler who recently launched TravelontheHouse.com to provide information, tips, and advice about home exchange and short-term rentals. You can reach her at janis@travelonthehouse.com.

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