How to Create a Great Pre-Arrival Guest Experience for Vacation Rentals

Mar 15 2023
How to Create a Great Pre-Arrival Guest Experience for Vacation Rentals

Get tips on how to use Hostfully to optimize your vacation rental business and make more profit.


What’s in this article?

Your guests’ stay doesn’t start when they check in. It begins even before they book.

That’s why it’s so crucial to create an outstanding pre-arrival guest experience for vacation rentals. It helps you to deliver excellent service consistently from the start. It also sets a positive tone for the guest’s stay and overall enjoyment of your property. 

Happy guests leave good reviews, which help to ensure consistent bookings and boost revenue.

But offering excellent service and fast, responsive communication takes time and constant effort. Especially if your vacation rental business is expanding. You want to improve communication, but you don’t want to spend hours manually typing messages or constantly monitoring your phone.

So to help, we’ve explained: 

  • Why pre-arrival communication is so important for the guest experience
  • The 8 must-know pre-arrival communication touchpoints for you and your guests
  • 9 ways to provide an excellent pre-arrival guest experience
  • And, how to use tech to streamline and automate the whole process to save time and stress

Pre-arrival guest experience CTA

Why is pre-arrival communication important for the guest experience? 

Guest expectations have never been higher, and pre-arrival communication is a major piece of the guest’s journey. 

Data from 2022 shows that 31% of vacation rental managers feel that rising guest expectations have made delivering good service tougher. And more than half (54%) reported increased questions and demands from vacation rental guests over the past two years. 

Similarly, our 2022 Hospitality Trends report found that guest communication is one of vacation rental managers’ top three challenges, especially for managers with two to nine properties.

A graphic of a tablet and phone showing Hostfully’s Unified Inbox feature.
Hostfully’s Unified Inbox feature makes it easier to see and manage all communication from vacation rental guests.

Excellent pre-arrival guest communication addresses these issues head-on because it:

Makes it more likely that guests will book

Good communication starts with accurate, clear, and friendly listings, and prompt responses to initial inquiries. If guests feel your rental operation is professional and trustworthy, and that you’re a helpful host, they’re more likely to book.

Builds good guest relationships

From the beginning, you’re building rapport with your guest. Prompt, friendly, and helpful communication starts your interaction off on the right foot and guests are more likely to trust you. They’ll see that booking your rental isn’t a risk, and feel confident they’ll have a good time.

Building a great guest relationship is the best way to get direct bookings too (saving you online travel agency fees and ensuring future consistent bookings). This is because guests who feel loyal to you are more likely to return.

A tablet showing a direct booking website built on Hostfully’s PMS platform
Direct bookings are an important part of your business strategy, and good communication makes them more likely.

Saves you time and stress

If you preemptively answer frequently asked questions in a consistent, reliable pre-arrival sequence, you’ll save hours of time and stress on messaging guests as questions arise. There’s also less chance of a bad experience (e.g. A guest getting stuck outside at midnight).

Prepares guests for a great stay

Giving guests all the info they need in advance will lower any travel stress. Instead, they can get excited about their trip and plan their itinerary with anticipation.

It also means that guests can actually enjoy your vacation rental property once they arrive. Strong pre-arrival communication–from helpful directions to house manuals to local recommendations–boosts the chance that guests will have a positive, memorable time.

Makes it more likely you’ll get good reviews 

Guests who’ve had a good time are much more likely to leave a prompt, glowing review. They’ll feel loyal to you, and want to recommend your hospitality to others. Good reviews help you rank higher on platforms like Airbnb, and to secure future bookings too.

A view of an Airbnb page with the reviews, Superhost status, and response time listed
Good reviews show on your profile. And, on Airbnb, they help you reach Superhost status. Your response rate and time is also listed. All this builds guest trust in you as a host.

Improves your OTA ranking 

Answering guest questions and inquiries quickly pays off when you list on online travel agencies (OTAs). For example, platforms like Airbnb display properties with responsive hosts higher in search results

The speed and helpfulness of responses also contribute to accolades like Superhost. This is a badge on Airbnb that the platform awards to good hosts that have great reviews and a fast, consistently-high response rate.

Hosts with Superhost status get their properties ranked higher, and have a badge on their page that helps to build trust in would-be guests.

The 8 key pre-arrival communication touchpoints for vacation rentals

Great communication is particularly important at these eight key stages of the guest journey.

1. Pre-booking messages

Pre-booking communication is your chance to show hospitality from the start. Prompt, helpful, and friendly messages build rapport and trust. Be sure to answer guest questions quickly. If prospective guests are messaging a few hosts before deciding, your responses could tip the balance in your favor and secure their booking.

A view of two tablets, one with Hostfully’s custom templates and another with scheduling triggers
The Hostfully PMS has custom templates you can use to write messages quickly, and schedule them at the right time too.

2. Booking confirmation

The booking confirmation serves several purposes. It must quickly confirm the booking, reiterate the details, thank guests for booking, and send any immediate need-to-know information. 

The booking confirmation is your chance to demonstrate professionalism and build on guests’ post-booking excitement.

3. Sharing relevant information

You can include further relevant details either in the booking confirmation message or via later SMSs or emails. These keep you in touch with guests between booking and arrival, as well as being extra helpful. 

For example, send useful transportation directions or the home’s WiFi code, or stoke excitement with a packing list, and recommendations for local attractions or restaurants.

4. Pre-arrival forms and questionnaires

A graphic showing Hostfully’s pre-arrival forms feature.
Pre-arrival forms are a necessary extra task, but using a digital platform like Hostfully can make it much easier.

While these may be a necessary administrative task, they’re also another chance to improve communication. You can set them to send automatically (to save you time), and send them digitally (rather than asking for guests to print them out and scan them, or similar. 

Making the form-filling process simpler increases the chance that guests will actually do it, and reduces your stress in asking them to fill them in. You’ll be legally compliant and can also gather information from the forms to tailor guests’ stay more closely to give them an even better experience.

5. Pre-arrival reminders

Pre-arrival reminders sound self-explanatory but can go beyond the minimum “You have a stay coming up” messages, and build rapport even more. 

You don’t want to overwhelm the guest with too many messages, but one or two strategic reminders sent closer to their stay will likely be well received.

As Doug Kennedy, hospitality and guest service expert and Founder and President of the Kennedy Training Network, says, “In setting up a pre-arrival communications plan, it is important not to over-communicate. When guests get too many messages, they tend to start ignoring them and then miss out on key points.”

Make these messages short and to the point. Keep the tone friendly, send all the core information again, and invite guest questions to clear up any lingering doubts or uncertainty. 

Reminders also help reduce no-shows and cancellations, reassure guests that you’re ready for them, and get them excited about their stay again. Sending two reminders before an appointment or booking is most effective at reducing no-shows across a range of industries. You could send one reminder a week in advance and the other a couple of days before.

6. Online self-check-in

Someone holding a smartphone next to a smart lock on a silver door.
Making sure your guests have detailed arrival and access information will get their stay off on the right foot.
Source: Photo by Sebastian Scholz (Nuki) on Unsplash

Guests are used to doing everything on their phones or online and they want that same convenience on check-in. Ensure that your pre-arrival communication contains detailed, clear, and full instructions on how to get into your property. 

This could be via smartphone or a keypad access code sent in advance. Sending check-in instructions for digital lock access saves you time and reduces stress and hassle in case of delays because no one needs to meet guests in person. Guests can arrive when they want and there’s no risk of a nightmare experience like being locked out.

7. Welcome message

A great welcome message starts guests’ stay off positively. They’ll likely be tired and disoriented after traveling and will appreciate a warm and helpful welcome. You might include further useful tips on how to use key amenities or where to find extra supplies in the property, for example. This helps to create a great first impression and make guests feel at home instantly.

8. Upsell services and experiences

This your last chance to give guests a great first impression before their stay really gets underway. Upsells are a great way to make guests’ stay extra easy or special (and boost revenue). You might offer add-on baby equipment to families, taxi services for busy business travelers, day-out packages for sightseeing couples, or mid-stay cleans and new linens for longer bookings.

A graph color-coded to show hosts who offer, or want to offer, upsells to guests
The Hostfully 2022 Vacation Rental Industry & Hospitality Report found that a significant percentage of hosts and managers wanted to, or already did, offer extra upsells to guests.

9 ways to provide an excellent pre-arrival guest experience

Now you know where communication is important, and how it can enhance the guest journey and experience, let’s go further with some tips on how to get your messaging just right.

1. Set the right expectations

Good communication starts even before guests book. This is because they start making judgments about your property and service from the second they see your listing. 

Ensure your listings are easy to understand and give a true and accurate representation of the property to avoid nasty surprises later on. For example, by highlighting any need-to-know details (e.g. maybe you don’t accept pets or children, or there are lots of stairs that make it unsuitable for disabled people, etc.) 

Keep your availability updated, and use a professional, informative, and friendly tone. Update photos seasonally and use high-quality shots. Show guests the exterior, all rooms, and any useful close-ups.

Using property management software (PMS) like Hostfully makes this easier, as the Channel Distribution tool lets you sync availability across platforms and update listings centrally.

A close-up of an Airbnb listing, showing conditions for the home rental.
This Airbnb listing makes it clear what is and isn’t included in the home upfront, and that the property isn’t suitable for young children.

2. Customize communications

Personalizing your messages to guests helps build rapport. They’ll feel less like “just another guest”, and more like a valued visitor. 

You can do this by addressing them by name or adding in other personal details—even if your messages are pre-written using templates, and pre-scheduled to send automatically.

Using automation software for Airbnb, like Hostfully’s PMS, makes this easy by pulling information collected during the booking process, to make sure the messages include the correct first names, property names, and stay dates.

3. Be a destination expert

A iPad view of Hostfully’s Guidebook with a map and recommendations.
Sharing your Hostfully Guidebook, which integrates with the Hostfully PMS, makes it easy to share crucial helpful information.

Beyond the basics of check-in and property details, guests want to feel excited and at home during their stay. 

You can boost authority and trust by sending them personal recommendations, nearby top tips, insider insights, or favorite must-visit places. People often book vacation rental homes rather than impersonal hotels for this exact reason: because the host is a local.

Sharing this information builds trust and reduces stress and uncertainty. It also boosts guests’ enjoyment of their stay. They’ll feel happy they booked with you personally over another rental host. Guests also typically mention these above-and-beyond touches in reviews.

You can pre-schedule these kinds of messages using Hostfully, so you don’t have to manually type the same details every time. Guests will receive them promptly and can get planning. You can also send them a link to your digital guidebook, made via Hostfully Digital Guidebook’s integration.

4. Ensure a stress-free check-in

The last thing guests want upon arrival is a hassle on check-in. 

Whether they get lost or stuck on the street with their suitcases, a stressful check-in is a one-way ticket to a bad review and immediately-unhappy guests. 

Instead, ensure you send all directions, parking info, and check-in details clearly and in advance. You may need to send this several times to remind the guest, and ensure they see it. 

You’ll also want to schedule this message a day or so before they’re due to arrive. This is so they have all the information they need before they set off. This will be reassuring. They can also save it in advance in case they don’t have signal when they arrive (if they have a foreign phone or run out of charge, for example).

A man zooming into a map on his smartphone.
Send guests all the info they need to get to your property in good time, so they can plan.
Source: / Unsplash

As Mia Sophia Melle, President and Founder of Modern Real Estate Shop, says, “If the guest has a smooth arrival, it tends to set the tone for the stay. We make sure that the critical items are understood, such as the entry code and WiFi code. If they have those things up front, then everything else can fall into place.”

Using smart and online check-in via dedicated tech vacation rental tools makes this easier. You can personalize and pre-schedule access codes via smart locks or keypads, and ensure guests have everything they need before they arrive. 

This also reduces their pre-arrival stress and reassures them they’re in good hands with you.

5. Answer frequently asked questions

Another way to reduce guest stress and friction before arrival and on check-in is to answer common questions in advance. 

As the host, you know what guests want to know, so you can address them before they arise or cause frustration. Keep track of common questions, add these to your FAQs list with each new guest, and send them automatically for easy access.

You could send these via email or text, but another great way is to use a digital guidebook. You can send this to guests in advance, using a tool like Hostfully Digital Guidebooks, which can be integrated with your Hostfully PMS). This lets you keep details updated and–as the guidebooks are browser-based–means guests always have them on hand both on and off the property.

Answering frequently asked questions makes the guest’s stay easier. They know what to pack, where to park, etc., and will feel reassured that you’ve thought of everything and are prepared. Cue less stress and more enjoyment.

6. Smooth security deposit collection

A graphic of a smartphone with Hostfully, and the Stripe and PayPal logos on the side.
Using Hostfully’s integrated payment processors like Stripe or PayPal makes managing deposits much easier.

If you choose to collect a security deposit from guests before check-in, you’ll want to make this as smooth as possible too. 

Don’t ask the guest to transfer money separately or use cash. This is a serious source of friction that can arouse suspicion, make the guest uncomfortable, and make their arrival more stressful. 

Instead, use a secure, and recognized online payment processing tool, such as Stripe. Make it as easy as possible, so the guest sees it as just another normal part of the booking process. A PMS like Hostfully integrates with Stripe and other popular processors, so you can connect your messaging smoothly.

7. Provide a single, easily accessible source of information

Even the best pre-arrival communication flow may miss things. You can’t anticipate every single thing a guest will need to know, or squeeze it all into one message. Instead, make sure that the guest knows where to look if they do have a question you haven’t yet answered.

The best way to do this, beyond letting them know they can contact you, is to use a digital guidebook. Just as with frequently asked questions, guidebooks can include tons of useful information about your property, the local area, and useful upsells.

For example, Hostfully Digital Guidebooks lets you embed amenity instructions (such as how to use the coffee machine or air conditioning unit), the best local restaurants and bars, kid-friendly attractions, or where the nearest grocery store is. 

You can also direct guests to the guidebook if they need something during their stay that perhaps they didn’t know they wanted on check-in (for example, a spontaneous day trip, or sports equipment hire).

“Guests don’t want to spend their stay researching the internet for things to do or places to eat,” says Mia Sophia Mele. “So if you can make it easy for them, they love that.”

8. Send a warm welcome message

A view from above of a woman writing Welcome on a piece of craft paper
Sending a welcome message sets the tone for a great stay (and it doesn’t have to be handwritten to create a good impression).
Source: Cottonbro studio / Pexels

A warm welcome message continues your good guest relationship from pre-arrival to arrival. Guests want to feel at home as soon as possible with minimum stress or hassle. And a welcome message sets a positive tone. 

You could say you hope your guests had a good journey and thank them again for staying. Remind them of any useful tips or now-relevant details (such as where to find spare towels), and send other helpful instructions for in-home amenities. This will start their stay off on the right foot. They’ll feel safe and relaxed, and trust you as a host.

As Jay and Christina Breitlow, property managers at Grand Welcome, say: “We believe the welcome message is crucial. Our local team text guests to make sure everything is up to their standards and ask if they need anything. This message has improved our review ratings drastically.”

A PMP like Hostfully can also help you pre-write personalized welcome messages and schedule them to send at the exact right time (or check-in day or evening), to make it even easier.

A photo of friends holding skewers of marshmallows over a beach fire pit
Did guests say they were looking forward to beach fires? Leave them some marshmallows for toasting as a welcome treat.
Source: Thirdman / Pexels

9. Tailor stays to every guest

Preparing your rental for each guest personally works wonders to create a good impression. It shows guests that you value their specific booking, shows thoughtfulness and makes their stay easier and more memorable.

“We have found that providing personalized recommendations or suggestions to guests can have a positive impact on their reviews and revenue,” says Shri Ganeshram, CEO and Founder of property management company 

You can ask questions before they arrive or look at their booking form (stored in your PMS) to find out key details.

“By taking the time to get to know our guests and understand their interests and preferences, we can provide them with tailored recommendations and make them feel more welcomed,” says Shri. “This leads to better reviews, which can in turn lead to increased bookings and revenue.”

Doug Kennedy, President of the Kennedy Training Network, Inc, says that paying attention to “anecdotal details” or comments that guests leave on the booking, “such as those indicating the purpose of a trip” is a great way to tailor pre-arrival messaging and the stay.

For example:

  • Are they bringing young kids to a beach property? If so, provide sand toys and extra beach towels.
  • Did the guests say they’re looking forward to beach fires? If so, you can offer things like marshmallows for toasting on the fire.
  • Are they celebrating a special event? Make it memorable with a card and welcome gift.
  • Is the guest a digital nomad? Offer great coffee, extra charging plugs, and a desk lamp.
  • Are they attending a music festival? Provide water bottles and packaged snacks.
  • Are they bringing a pet or service dog? Give treats, bowls, a bed, poop bags, and dog towels.
  • Are they vegan, alcohol- or gluten-free? Provide local restaurant or bar tips, and appropriate snacks.
A close-up photo of a glass jar of dog treats.
Leaving treats like dog biscuits for your guests bringing a dog (for example!) will go down very well.
Source: Jessica Lewis Creative / Pexels

An outstanding pre-arrival guest experience: the key to an excellent stay

Creating an outstanding pre-arrival guest experience is crucial to offering an excellent stay.

A great pre-arrival guest experience builds strong relationships between you and your guests. It also saves everyone time and stress, helps prevent cancellations, and prepares guests to have a good stay. 

Happy guests leave positive reviews, boosting the chance of future bookings and consistent revenue.

The experience begins with pre-booking messages, confirmations, and sharing helpful details, forms, and reminders. Digitizing check-in and making guests feel welcome and at home is also crucial.

And you can do all of this without spending hours on guest communication, with a PMS like Hostfully. Automate messages, share forms, and coordinate check-in. Plus, ensure guests have all the local information they need to enjoy your property and the destination with integrated Hostfully Digital  Guidebooks for an excellent stay for them, and less stress and more success for you.

Pre-arrival guest experience CTA

Frequently asked questions about the pre-arrival guest experience

What are the stages of the guest experience journey?

The stages of the guest experience journey include pre-booking, pre-arrival, check-in, during the stay, check-out, and after the stay. 

A great guest experience journey begins even before the potential guest books, and the pre-arrival process is key to delivering an excellent first impression. Nailing the pre-arrival communication sequence sets the tone for their stay, leading them to leave a great review.

What do guests expect pre-arrival? 

Pre-arrival, guests expect to have all the information and reassurance they need to get ready for their trip with minimum stress (and maximum excitement). From positive pre-booking messages that convince them to book in the first place, to post-booking confirmation messages, and relevant information such as transportation directions and local recommendations. 

Guests also want a smooth check-in, and no hassle when it comes to filling in pre-arrival forms. Managing this with a PMS like Hostfully makes it much easier to digitize and streamline with less stress.  

What is the most important part of preparing for a guest’s arrival?

Each part of the guest pre-arrival process is important. Positive pre-booking messages convince the guest to book, while prompt and helpful confirmation messages and recommendations can help them prepare and get excited for their trip. Pre-arrival reminders can also reduce the chance of cancellations. When it comes to check-in, these need to be smooth and hassle-free. You can also round out a good impression by leaving a welcome note, tailored gifts, and recommendations for the guest as they arrive.