Top Vacation Rental Guest Experience Tools & Tips for 2024

Jan 07 2023
vacation rental research reports data

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


What’s in this article?

Competition and costs are up in the vacation rental industry*, so it’s harder than ever to turn a profit from your short term rentals (STRs). 

That means you need to find ways to stand out from the crowd and boost bookings, reviews, and repeat business. 

One way to do that is to create an exceptional guest experience. But to do that, you need to think outside the property box. 

You see, we’re not just talking about amenities. Anyone can provide nice linens or an airport pickup. To take the guest experience to the next level, you need to become a tech-enabled business. 

We’ve put together a list of vacation rental guest experience tools and tips to help you do just that.

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*2021 Hospitality Industry Report, Hostfully

Why is the guest experience important?

The guest experience includes everything from the booking process to post-stay reviews. It can make the difference between a bad stay and a great one. And that impacts your ratings, reviews, repeat bookings, and occupancy rates. 

These days, experiences can even be more important than price or the property itself. Plus, vacation rentals now compete with hotels, which means modern travelers expect high standards of cleanliness, communication, and comfort. 

As VRMB Founder Matt Landau says,  “Brands that are the first, the only, or the best in any given category in their markets have the unfair advantage,”  

With that in mind, let’s take a look at how you can get ahead of the pack. 

How to provide a great experience for your vacation rental guests

Here are a few ways you can provide a great experience for vacation rental guests. 

Be flexible 

Flexibility and choice have become even more important for travelers post-pandemic as plans can – and often do – change at the last minute. Here’s where vacation rentals can gain an edge over hotels, which often have stricter policies around cancellations, arrivals, and departure times. Try to accommodate guests as much as possible by offering things like instant booking, early check-in, late check-out, or flexible cancellation policies. 

You can also be flexible about the type of traveler you welcome by making your place family or pet-friendly. Or providing amenities for digital nomads or the disabled. This can require additional upfront investment and ongoing maintenance, but it means you show up in more OTA searches and can target niche markets.  

Where possible, you should also offer choice. For example, for bedding, views (in multi-unit properties), activities, entertainment, etc. you can also make things easy for guests by providing pick-up and drop-off services or mid-stay cleaning on request. Importantly, options like flexible check-in/out, cleaning, and tours or activities have the lowest upfront implementation costs. Plus, they can be easily managed through your property management system (PMSs). If you’re using Hostfully for that, we also integrate with luggage storage, ground transportation, and baby equipment providers. So you can make life even easier for your guests.

Babyquip homepage showing baby items available for hire
Offering baby items for hire, like strollers or high chairs, is a lifesaver for families on vacation.
Source: Babyquip

Facilitate check in and check out

Nobody likes waiting around to get their keys after a long trip, and traditional lockboxes are a security risk. Codes are the same for every guest, so there’s nothing to prevent people returning after check-out. 

Implementing keyless self check-in with smart locks is more secure and means guests can get straight into the vacation rental property on arrival. No more organizing annoying handovers. 

In the wake of Covid-19, guests also value safety, so eliminating face-to-face contact has become popular. This also means you can streamline staffing and save on labor costs by eliminating the traditional front desk. 

Provide a warm welcome

First impressions count, so giving guests a warm welcome on arrival will ensure you stick in their minds for all the right reasons. 

Here are a few ways to do that: 

  • Leave a card or a welcome basket of goodies, like a nice bottle of wine or local delicacies.
  • Provide a driver to collect them from the airport rather than a taxi. This will make them feel extra special. 
  • Heat the place up or cool it down before they arrive. Nobody likes walking into an ice box in winter or a furnace in summer. 
  • If you’re big on personal service, employ a greeter to welcome them and show them around the property. 

For more ideas on welcoming guests, see our recent post. 

Create authentic, personalized experiences 

Personalization is the name of the game these days, so making your guests feel like you’re thinking about them goes a long way. Plus, upsells are also an important—but woefully underused—way to generate additional revenue streams for vacation rental management companies (VRMCs).  

A few ways to create authentic, personalized experiences include: 

  • Using information in your PMS to personalize your messaging, welcome card, etc. 
  • Using video software to record and share a welcome message. You can send this out by email or share it via your digital guidebook. This is also a good time to mention any specific things you’ve done to make their stay more comfortable.
  • Sending out an automated message before arrival to find out if they have any dietary restrictions. If you know they’re vegan, for example, you’ll probably want to omit the foie gras from the welcome basket. 
  • Partnering with local businesses to provide tailored experiences and discounts for spas, tours, etc. Again, use guest data in your PMS to find out what they’re into. Singles, for example, will be looking for a different experience from those traveling with kids. 
  • Using your digital guidebook to provide recommendations for local eateries, seasonal events, or activities or offer in-stay experiences and amenities like tours, rentals, in-home cooking, etc. 
Graphic showing top products and services offered to guests
Flexible check-in/out, mid-stay cleaning, and local tours and activities rank among the top upsells offered to guests.
Source: Hostfully

Make safety a priority 

This is uppermost in everyone’s minds post-pandemic, so use pre-stay communication to let travelers know what safety measure you’ve implemented. 

As well as facilitating contactless check-in/out and providing basic safety amenities, you should provide the location and contact details for emergency doctors, pharmacies, etc. This is invaluable for parents dealing with emergencies, for example, and can all be made available through your digital guidebook.

You should also ensure cleaners work to certain standards and that maintenance checks are carried out regularly. Use the cleaning and maintenance scheduling functions in your PMS to communicate with your teams and keep everyone on schedule—without the manual work of juggling schedules in a spreadsheet. 

Communicate and be responsive 

There’s nothing worse than trying to figure out the aircon when all you want to do is collapse into bed after a long trip. Well, maybe one thing: chasing an unresponsive rental host to get instructions. 

Make sure guests have all the information they need before, during, and after their stay by setting up automated messages or using a digital guidebook. Provide check-in instructions, house rules, instructions to operate devices and amenities, etc. 

You should also send a message to check in with guests after arrival and mid-stay to check they have everything they need. Set up another to ask for a review 24 hours after check out and be sure to read all your reviews and respond to any that are less than glowing. Take feedback on board and let people know what you’re doing to improve for next time.

Cellphone screen showing guest messages and responses in WhatsApp
Setting up auto-responses means you never miss a message—or keep guests waiting.

Simplify property management 

Ok, this isn’t strictly guest-facing, but automating and streamlining internal processes frees you up to focus on your guests. Plus, streamlining your operations lets you run a leaner operation. So you can provide hotel-level experiences and service without the associated staffing costs. 

Table showing the most and least popular growth strategies by company size
Automating tasks ranks among the most popular growth strategies for smaller VRMCs. Source: Hostfully

7 best vacation rental guest experience tools

A solid tech stack is essential to run a modern vacation rental business. And the larger your portfolio, the more vacation rental software you need to coordinate, centralize, and automate operations. 

Let’s take a look at some tools that allow you to create an excellent guest experience. 

1. Property management system  

Your property management system (PMS) is the single piece of tech that has the biggest impact on the guest experience. This is because property management software allows you to automate and streamline internal operations – like coordinating check-in or scheduling cleaning and maintenance – to provide a smoother pre-, in-, and post-stay experience. Plus, it frees you up to focus on creating an exceptional guest experience. 

Pie chart showing the most important hospitality tech tools that impact the guest experience
Your PMS is the single most valuable tool to streamline operations and delight your guests. Source: Hostfully

All-in-one PMSs like Hostfully also usually include some form of guest communication tool – either email or SMS messaging – to streamline guest communications and slash response times. It should also integrate with third-party party software like your direct booking site, payments processing, or guest screening. Plus, any upsell vendors that contribute to you offering an excellent, flexible, and convenient stay. 

The channel manager feature also means guests can easily find you and book on their favorite OTAs and niche sites. And that all rates and availability are kept up to date in real-time—no more double bookings. 

Thanks to these centralization and automation features, VRCMs that use a PMS have a competitive advantage and enjoy increased income vs those that don’t use the software.  

2. Digital guidebook 

Guidebooks and recommendations are essential to create an authentic, personalized guest experience—and generate extra revenue from upsells.

As Doug Kennedy, President of the Kennedy Training Network, says, “Smart VRMs know they are selling guest experiences, not renting “units” or “properties.” Guests both crave and value local insider’s tips.” 

However, the pandemic has forced hosts to rethink how they interact with guests as people are less keen on face-to-face contact or handling what others have touched. Plus, printed guidebooks are hard to keep updated and get ragged-looking pretty quickly. And who wants to print out a huge PDF and drag that around on vacation? 

Digital guidebooks like those offered by Hostfully are, therefore, a great alternative. 

Here’s why: 

  • It’s easy to share essential pre- and in-stay information like check-in instructions and manuals
  • You can create highly personalized guidebooks based on guest and listings information in your PMS
  • You can share local recommendations with links to booking pages and maps. So guests can plan trips or nights out without having to scour the internet for recommendations and maps. Be sure to offer more than generic information guests can find on Google, though.
  • It saves a ton of time answering repetitive guest communications and FAQs, which keeps both your guests and staff happy. 
  • You can offer convenient upsells like luggage storage, ground transportation, tours, and activities. 

If you’re using Hostfully as your PMS, you can use the Splash Screen feature to collect emails from everyone on the booking. This is an ethical way to get around OTA policies that restrict access to guest data. 

Then, based on information provided by guests, you can customize guidebook templates to create a personalized guide and share an URL for guests to access it on their phones before arrival. No need to download any annoying mobile apps. 

Result: fewer inbound support calls, happier guests, and more time to focus on creating an excellent guest experience at scale.  

Collecting emails with Hostfully and storing them in the inbuilt customer relationship manager (CRM) platform also lets you create an email distribution list. So you can remarket to guests and drive repeat bookings. 

Hostfully digital guidebook
Hostfully’s digital guidebooks let you create a beautiful, personalized, and useful resource that saves a ton of time—for you and your guests. Source: Hostfully

3. Direct booking website

A direct booking site is essential to sidestep OTA fees and ensure frictionless booking and secure online payments for guests. Amazingly, though, many VRMCs still aren’t taking advantage of the opportunities offered by direct booking engines. 

Many PMSs offer a website builder option with customizable templates or the option to embed a direct booking widget in your own site. If you’re using Hostfully, this also allows you to automatically import any properties you manage with the PMS from OTAs onto your direct booking site. The channel manager and central calendar features also ensure availability, descriptions, and rates are automatically updated across all sites you list on. Like Vrbo, Airbnb,, and your own site.  

You can also integrate with tools like Revyoos to display aggregated guest reviews on your direct booking site. 

Two guest reviews displayed on the homepage of Home Sweet Hudson vacation rentals
VRMC Home Sweet Hudson displays its best reviews on the homepage to build trust with potential guests. Source: Homesweethudson

“Alarmingly, hosts with fewer than 50 properties are not as active in their direct booking strategies, compared to those who have grown their portfolios to 50 properties or more. While a direct booking strategy seems daunting for a company with a small marketing budget, there are so many new and evolving tools and resources available. It’s now cheaper and easier than ever to set up a direct booking site. I strongly encourage companies of all sizes to look more closely at this strategy as a way to decrease reliance on one platform and save on commissions.” Mark Simpson, Founder, Boostly

4. Automated messaging

In our most recent Hospitality Report, 21% of respondents who identified technology as a challenge specified guest communications as their biggest pain point. 

Guest communication and the need to eliminate in-person interactions have taken on greater importance since the pandemic. Also, guests now expect the same level of responsiveness as hotels. That means you cannot afford to be slow to respond to time-sensitive guest concerns like last-minute itinerary changes. 

But keeping on top of it all is extremely time-consuming. Even when you use email templates, there’s still a fair bit of copy-pasting and attention to detail required. 

And then there’s the need to offer flexibility by being across messaging channels like SMS and WhatsApp.  

Fortunately, most PMSs come with automated messaging and a centralized inbox. As well as letting you view and respond across all channels in one place, these let you customize triggers and multi-channel templates to auto-populate with booking information and go out at predetermined times before, during, and after a stay. For example, to respond to an inquiry, confirm a booking, share your digital guidebook, or request a post-stay review. You can even set up automated responses for last-minute bookings, so nobody has to drop what they’re doing to attend to them. 

Little touches like including the guest’s and the vacation rental owner’s name also make for a more personalized stay and can help protect your property. Anecdotal evidence suggests guests are more inclined to take care of it when they know the owner’s name. 

Automated messaging is also essential as you scale. They prevent mistakes resulting from copy/pasting from templates. Or worse yet, forgetting to send a critical message to a guest while you were between two tasks. Our survey found 91% of those who affirmed guest communications were becoming easier to manage used a property management platform.

And the best part? Automation leads to better reviews and higher rates. Guests love responsive, personalized messaging and will say this in reviews, which means you can justify raising your rates. And they’ll never know all those helpful messages didn’t come from a human!

Two cell phone screens showing automated guest messages
Personalizing messages makes guests feel more welcome, and ensure you and your property owners will stick in their minds.

5. Smart locks 

Installing smart locks is an upfront cost, but it pays dividends in saved time and staffing costs. Plus, there’s no more scrambling to replace lost or stolen keys and keycards. 

Hostfully’s PMS integrates with major smart lock brands and home automation solutions to facilitate keyless self check-in. Unique, temporary access codes—only valid for the duration of the reservation—are automatically generated when a booking is confirmed and shared with Hostfully and your smart lock. The code is also shared with the guest at a predetermined time before check-in, either via an automated message or in your digital guidebook. Then, on arrival, they can get straight into the property. 

What’s more, you can use the tech to create unique, temporary access codes for your cleaning and maintenance teams, too. So there’s no danger of anyone having permanent access.

a smart lock keypad
Smart locks hold the key (sorry) to more secure vacation rental properties and easy, contactless check in. Source: Schlage

6. Smart home tech

The need for smart home tech for vacation rentals doesn’t end when guests walk through the door. Smart, remote-controlled HVAC systems and device hubs let you give them a really warm welcome by warming the place up pre-arrival in winter or cooling it down in summer. You can also save on energy bills by automatically detecting if guests leave smart lights or heating on and shutting them off remotely.  

You should also consider providing smart home devices like a smart TV and Fire Stick so guests can access streaming services and their favorite shows. Wi-Fi boosters will also be appreciated by families or groups traveling with multiple devices. And by digital nomads or those on a “workcation”.

Thanks to Hostfully’s integration with NoiseAware, you can even detect when noise levels rise above predefined thresholds. So you can act fast to shut down noisy parties and protect your property and reputation. 

Flow chart showing how Hostfully communicates with smart home devices to adjust temperatures
If you’re using Hostuflly as your PMS, communicating with smart HVAC systems is a breeze.

7. Upsell tools 

It’s best to be subtle about upsells, as not all guests are on board. Done right, however, upsells are key to creating a personalized, memorable guest experience—and boosting revenue. 

Manually responding to guest requests and organizing activities or deliveries is time-consuming, though, and impossible to scale. 

The answer is to use a marketplace and credit card payment processing tools integrated into your digital guidebook. This lets guests browse, book, and pay for upsells like tours, activities, and mid-stay cleaning. Then, automatic notifications let you swing into action to coordinate delivery with vendors. 

Cell Phone screen showing a digital guidebook with upsell offers
Using your digital guidebook to offer upsells saves a ton of time and manual work—for you and your guests.

“Without capturing upsells through experiences, simple early check-in/late check-out, or creating in-stay packages for your guests, you’re literally leaving money inside your property that will checkout with your guests. More properties means more reservations and obviously more revenue, but how about more repeat guests and more revenue per booking all because you captured the opportunity while it was already in your hands?  You do that and I promise you that your brand will be around for a lifetime, just like your guests’ memories and experiences they had while staying with you!” Wil Slickers, Founder, Slick Talk Media

Tech-enabled guest experiences: the key to boosting ratings and revenue 

With competition and costs up, you need to find ways to differentiate your property and drive bookings. And compete with hotels for guests who expect high standards of responsiveness and hygiene. 

Our list of vacation rental guest experience tools and tips can help you do all that and more. Tech tools facilitate in-demand amenities and services like contactless check-in, upsells, and personalized, authentic experiences. 

These days, hospitality tech like a PMS, automated messaging, and digital guidebooks are must-haves, not nice-to-haves, especially if you want to maintain a competitive edge and scale. 

If you’re looking for a cost-effective, easy-to-use PMS that empowers you to do all of the above, look no further than Hostfully. It’s got all the features you need to reach your guests and offer an unforgettable stay and save you time and money in the process. 

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