Innovation in the vacation rental industry continues to drive massive disruption, yet one aspect remains elusive: the guest experience. And there’s a good reason for that.
Exceptional guest experience is hard to execute at scale. (Hence why the hospitality industry is largely hotel-based). At the same time, the customer experience is a key success driver. Not only can it yield positive reviews and better ratings, but it also drives increased customer loyalty, referrals, and more revenue per listing. A well-constructed guest experience can even claim a higher price level—especially when guest expectations are not only met, but exceeded.
At Hostfully, we have the privilege of working and networking with thousands of Vacation Rental Management Companies (VRMCs) across the country and the world. We asked some leaders of vacation rental companies one question:
What is your #1 best practice for ensuring a positive guest experience and creating recurring customers?
Their answers may hold the keys to unlocking guest satisfaction and profitability in your business. Ready? Let’s go.
1. Focus on the food
Heather Storm – Digital Marketing Manager, Lotus Garden Cottages
“I am the digital marketing manager for Lotus Garden Cottages, a luxury B&B on the Big Island of Hawaii. Guests here most enjoy our personal breakfast service which is a beautiful presentation of fresh fruit, eggs, and local baked goods delivered each morning to the guest’s suite.”
You don’t have to offer room service or run a B&B to satisfy guests’ bellies. Small gestures like a welcome basket of local treats or a steady supply of quality coffee gives a fantastic first impression and shows your guests you’re willing to go the extra mile.
2. Respond quickly
Amanda Lombrana – Software Advice
“We recently published a survey on vacation rental trends and found some interesting guest experience insights. When asked for comments in the survey, respondents said they wished managers had “returned calls in a timely manner,” provided a “faster response” and offered “more communication in general.”
Anyone who has been around the OTA block knows how critical it is to respond promptly to guests. And with Wifi, smartphones, and mobile apps, guest expectations are at an all-time high. Think of yourself as a virtual front desk concierge: keep your notifications coming, your ringer on, and your bases covered.
3. Offer non-stop service
Isaac Diaz – Starmark Vacation Homes
“Once a guest books with you it doesn’t mean you stop giving them service. We provide in-person pre-arrival correspondence to assist with requests or guest services. This phone call allows guests to ask last-minute questions about the home or the area. This provides a real service that shows that you are an expert in the area.
All guests receive a welcome home kit. We are based in Orlando, so most guests are going to the theme parks. We provide items that they can use or entertain the kids while at the parks or in the home. Take advantage of your past guests. Using your CRM to coordinate and send segmented, tailored emails to them, with offers to return.”
The guest experience covers touchpoints across a booking: from pre-reservation to the check-in process, from the actual guest’s stay to the post-stay follow-up, you want to remain consistently professional throughout. Including items related to local attractions, upselling popular services during a reservation, and being attuned to guest preferences shows your guests you’re a customer experience pro.
4. Ensure guest safety
Valerie – Branson Vacation Rentals
“Branson, Missouri, has some weather conditions that could create concerns for our guests. Under these severe weather conditions (i.e. tornado watches), one of our managers personally stays on the property and if needed will knock on the guest’s cabin and invite them to a secure and safe location in the event of severe weather conditions. Guests have really appreciated that we keep their safety a priority.”
Whether you’re in a rural region with intense weather conditions, or a neighborhood with higher crime rates, or well, anywhere, your role as a manager is to take guest safety seriously and cover your bases—and then some. Sending reminders, extra security investments, and check-ins are some ways to ensure a safe guest stay—which is imperative first and foremost to your guest’s experience, and additionally, to your property.
5. 5-star communication
Erin Pederson – Founder and COO, Markett
“Communication starts before the guest arrives, and makes them feel so good that they won’t have any issues once they show up. Then, since they do not have the security of a hotel staff for questions, being able to immediately answer any calls or texts during the stay will give guests the security that they need. The last thing guests want to think is that they’ve traveled to a deserted island without a lifeboat.”
Similar to tip 2, quality and accessible communication is a non-negotiable in the hospitality industry. You can check off a pre-arrival list all you want, but the real value of excellent customer service (not to mention repeat guests and critical online reviews) is on-the-ball communication.
6. Supply personalized experiences or recommendations
Tim – Co-Founder, When In ROAM
“Simply put, we work with many VRMCs who provide ultra-personalized local recommendations as an added feature for travelers.”
It’s a given that a robust guidebook filled with info on local attractions and recommendations is a valuable provision for anyone. But to give your guests the ultimate stay, (thanks in large part to Viator and modern automation), you can offer upsells to your guests during their bookings. Not only will this provide your guests with an extremely personalized experience, but it will also drive your revenue. Offering late check-outs, early check-ins, popular add-ons, as well as special requests, will demonstrate next-level service.
7. Focus on the small details that have a big impact
Gail – Montana Bear Properties
“Our #1 recommendation for repeat clients and 5-star reviews is to OVER deliver on customer service. Make certain that advertising and representation of your properties are accurate so that the guest knows what to expect.
Even before the guest arrives, we send brochures of things to do in the area so that our guests can get excited in advance. We also provide additional services, from advance grocery shopping, in-house catering, and gourmet dinners prepared on-site, to a massage therapist. We want our guests to spend their limited holiday time relaxing and enjoying the experience, rather than doing the mundane things that can be provided by someone else.
Our gift basket has everything from s’mores for evenings at the outdoor fire pit, to stuffed teddy bears for the children and a coffee table book for the adults. And of course, a hot homemade huckleberry pie is always steaming in the oven when our guests arrive! Yum!”
A greatest hits version of the previous tips, this answer goes to show small details are everywhere! Upsells. Food. Entertainment. Services. Add-ons. These personal touches all make for a spectacular stay and leave a lasting impression.
8. Help guests live like a local
Michael Shepherd – Paros Paradise
“What has worked best over the years for both positive reviews and returning guests is to invite those who are interested in our lives as well as our accommodations. Travelers who pay good money to vacation are naturally curious about the lifestyle of those who live in resort areas.
As Americans on a Greek island, it is probably easier for us to share our cultural adventures, but any visitor will be curious about how a host spends their days off—not that there are any during high season! During slow times or bad weather, many guests have found themselves in our parlor playing board games or cards. Our best new friends were made over sharing recipes at the BBQ.”
Not every host has a Greek Island or even a BBQ, but no matter where your property is, you can make your guests feel at home. Local grocery stores, farm stands, and other frequently visited spots where the locals go is all part of the guest experience.
9. Provide 24-7 customer service
Andrea Lamond – Marketing Director, Owner Direct Vacation Rentals
“Our #1 best practice for ensuring a positive guest experience and creating recurring customers is giving excellent customer service. Our friendly and responsive customer service staff are available every day of the year to answer all questions quickly.
We help guests save time and spare them headaches. Other sites have you wasting time dealing with multiple property owners all at once. You wait for replies from busy homeowners that don’t reply in a timely manner with the information you really need to make a decision.
We offer a 24 hour grace period for both parties to communicate and confirm all the details of a booking before any money is paid.”
Want gushing positive reviews, occupancy driven largely by word-of-mouth, customer loyalty? 24-7 service for the win.
10. Make it all-inclusive
Stef – Villa I Due Padroni
“Our best guest experience tip is to always accommodate any request of the guests without additional cost. Extra towels, change of bed linen, special kitchenware, use of washing machine, etc. No problem!
Our philosophy is that once you pay the rent, we do everything to keep the guest satisfied. As they are not used to this, it always results in very positive reviews.”
As suggested, another hosting tactic is accommodating with abandon. What you may give up with strategic upsells you may gain with repeat guests who know your listing’s superior customer experience is second to none.
11. Include a one-stop guide(book)
Denise Supplee – Operations Director, SparkRental
“Renting vacation properties is much different than renting for long term tenancies. I find providing information regarding the rental property and location in an easy-to-find and conspicuous location is priceless. Include restaurant, entertainment, and shopping information. Don’t forget to outline how the heater is turned on and off, the same with air conditioning.”
Using a digital guidebook that communicates all information necessary for the guest will get you brownie points. You can add check-in and check-out details, how-to’s for appliances and house features, and area recommendations. Favorite restaurants, bar deals, shopping malls, and grocery stores nearby…you get the picture. In the booking process, the guest receives a customized URL and they’re able to access all the information in a neatly put-together guidebook.
12. Highlight local culture
Zetta – Anema Residence
“We are a family-run hotel, and our concept is to create a complex of villas with private pools, and free car rental for the duration of their stay. We welcome our guests like family, to experience the real Greek hospitality that we have inherited from our families.
Upon arrival, we greet guests with a warm welcome and a complimentary drink. We show them around our property, and give them our in-depth knowledge of the island. In our gardens, they can find fruit and olive trees, fresh herbs, Santorinian tomato plants, white eggplants, local cucumbers, and other seasonal vegetables. All of these are available to them to use for cooking.”
We also introduce them to other local products, including wine, “chloro” goat cheese, fava beans, cherry tomatoes, and homemade sweets. We suggest sites and villages to visit, great restaurants and taverns serving local food, interesting walks and much more depending on our guest’s interests.”
The most universal guest experience is the most localized. That’s because guests are seeking stays where they can gain a new perspective—whether it’s to unwind in a new climate, take in local food, delve into a rich culture, or begin a new adventure, by highlighting your local attractions and culture, you give them a memorable experience.
13. Top-class training (and social media lean-ins)
Julia Woehrer – Assistant Marketing Manager, Vacation Myrtle Beach
“Our ‘Friendliest Place on the Beach’ initiative includes ongoing training with all employees, guest surveys, and contests.
Training and development for the program at these family-friendly resorts include daily departmental meetings featuring various categories of focus including how to impress even the smallest guests – children. Beyond the ongoing training, we have launched a social media contest, encouraging guests to share their positive experiences with #HappyGuest included in their Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram posts.”
Travel should always include some fun—so even if you only have a few staff members, you can train your team to impart moments of fun, consider how to engage your customers on social media, or simply ensure your company is consistent in how they interact with guests.
14. Do the basics really well
TJ Clark – CEO and Co-Founder, TurnKey Vacation Rentals
“Make researching and booking a vacation rental as frictionless as with these 10 tips:
- Make sure you have complete and accurate listings and photos.
- Take reservations online or offline securely with a credit card.
- Make sure your property is instantly bookable.
- Keep your availability calendars up to date.
- Respond quickly to questions and inquiries.
- Make sure the directions to find your property are clear. Have someone try and find your property using the directions before you send them out to guests.
- Install a digital lock with long battery life.
- Give guests, vendors, and anyone else entering your property their own unique code. Also, make sure the codes only work when the guests and vendors need access to the home.
- The number one thing guests want is a clean home. Make sure you hire great cleaners and pay them fairly. Even great cleaners miss things occasionally. Inspect the cleaning jobs.
- Make sure all the supplies are restocked and that the property is ready for your guests to have a once-in-a-lifetime trip.”
If others haven’t already covered all the best guest experience tips, the primer just above should! Some of these tips seem obvious and many of you are likely already doing them. But it can never hurt to review your listings, checklists, safety measures, vendors’ and staff members’ work, and your business and properties’ functionalities.
Final thoughts on guest experience
When it comes to the vacation rental industry, providing optimal guest experience is king. Using the tools available to you will not only increase guest satisfaction but your bottom line as well. Whether it’s digital guidebooks, providing local recommendations, or being accessible 24/7 for guest communications, the experience you provide your guests immediately impacts your business and reputation as a vacation rental professional—and your long-term profitability and success.