The Ultimate Guide to Digital Guidebooks

Nov 10 2022
What is a digital guidebook 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?

Responsiveness is key to an excellent guest experience—and great reviews. But it’s extremely time-consuming. 

Think of all the energy you spend on guest communication—responding to questions about how to access the property, connect to the Wi-Fi, or turn on the Smart TV. Not to mention all the other roadblocks guests might run into during their stay. 

All of which eats into the time you have to run your business. 

There’s good news, though—proactively supplying all the information your guests need through digital guidebooks cuts the time you spend communicating with them. And helps ensure you exceed their expectations. 

To help you do just that, we’ve created this ultimate guide to creating digital guidebooks and putting them into practice, including examples of successful guidebooks you can use to inspire your own.

CTA to create guidebooks

What is a digital guidebook?

A vacation rental digital guidebook is your guests’ introduction to your rental. It is complete with detailed information about the property, amenities, and surrounding area. 

Guidebooks have become a staple of the short-term rental industry, with hosts on Airbnb, Vrbo, and other booking engines offering them to guests. They’re easy to prepare, inexpensive to roll out and have a positive impact on the guest experience by proactively providing guests with all the information they need for their stay in one place. 

And since it’s digital, guests can carry a guidebook around with them on their phone throughout their trip, meaning they can access curated recommendations while they’re out and about. That means fewer calls and messages from guests asking you about how to find parking downtown or which restaurant is the best in the area. 

Digital guidebook benefits for guests 

Digital guides are a way to turn a good stay into a spectacular one. Guidebooks provide multiple benefits to guests, including convenience and flexibility. 

More convenient than a printed guidebook

While you may be familiar with printed guidebooks, digital guidebooks are much more practical for your guests. While a printed guidebook can only be referenced while a guest is at their vacation rental, digital guidebooks can be accessed even when guests are on the go. This gives guests access to a wide range of curated recommendations at their fingertips, so they can make spontaneous plans and enjoy their vacation to the fullest. 

Just be sure to use a digital guidebook that is available in a convenient browser-based web format instead of an app that guests have to download. 

Provides freedom and flexibility

Another benefit of digital guidebooks is that they make guests more independent and allow them to plan and enjoy their stay on their own terms. For example, digital guidebooks allow for self-check-in, meaning guests can arrive when it suits them.  

When you include instructions about how to work the buzzer or the smart lock keypad within your digital guidebook, guests have access to all the information they need before they even arrive, giving them the freedom to check in when they want.

A person looking at their Hostfully digital guidebook on their phone while sitting outside in a park and reading a magazine
Your guests can take their digital guidebooks with them on the go, giving them all the information they need for their stay, wherever they are.

Centralizes all the information they need for their stay

Digital guidebooks give guests all the information they need, all in one place. Historically, guests would have to check how to work the coffee maker in your house manual and see restaurant recommendations in a separate area guide. 

But with a digital guidebook, you can gather all the information guests need in one place. This can even mean including a link in your guidebook that takes guests to a page that resolves their issue, like the user’s manual for your espresso machine or a blog post detailing the best places in town to grab a bite to eat.  

Answers their questions before they need to ask them

Finally, digital guidebooks give your guests answers to their questions before they reach out to you and inquire. This saves you and your guests time and helps them enjoy their stay more. 

Simply take note of common FAQs you tend to get from your guests, like “where’s the nearest grocery store?” or “how do I work the dishwasher?” and include detailed answers in your guidebook. That way, guests don’t have to spend their precious vacation time reaching out to you and waiting for an answer. 

Digital guidebook benefits for hosts

When you manage vacation rentals, you know how much time guest communication tasks can take. Digital guidebooks aren’t just a plus for guests—they can be a big time saver for you, and can even help you generate more revenue and drive direct bookings. 

Facilitate self-check-in

While self-check-in is a plus for guests, it’s an even bigger benefit for hosts. 

Giving your guests the ability to check themselves in and out means you or a member of your staff doesn’t have to be present every time you have a new arrival to hand over a set of keys. This frees you and your staff up to focus on other tasks. 

Save time

Along the same lines, digital guidebooks are a great time-saving tool. Preemptively including answers to frequent guest questions slashes time responding to guest inquiries.

And, as we mentioned, you can even include links in your guidebooks rather than having to write out long explanations. So when a guest is wondering about the best beaches near your unit, you can share the link to a travel blog that explains which are the top ones and why. 

The apartment FAQs page of a Hostfully digital guidebook
Include FAQs in your digital guidebook so guests don’t have to reach out to you each time a question arises.

Help you promote upsells and earn commissions

On top of making your life easier, digital guidebooks can help your business. For example, when you create your guidebooks with Hostfully and use the Hostfully Marketplace, you can offer in-stay upsells, like grocery delivery services or a mid-stay clean, to earn more revenue. 

Plus, you can earn commissions from the sponsored recommendations in your guidebooks. Hostfully partners with Viator, so whenever your guest reserves an activity or tour with the company using your guidebook, you receive an 8% commission on the booking.

Let you collect guests’ email addresses

Finally, a big benefit of using digital guidebooks is that they allow you to collect your guests’ email addresses. With the Hostfully Splash Page feature, you can make it a requirement for guests to enter an email address to access your guide. 

That way, you can legally and ethically collect contact information for future email marketing campaigns and to send them special offers, which can help you get more repeat direct bookings. 

What should you include in your digital guidebook?

Now that you know the numerous benefits of using digital guidebooks, let’s take a look at what exactly they should include. 

Welcome message 

The first thing your guests should see in your digital guidebook is an introduction message. Quickly describe how the guidebook can help them throughout their stay, and welcome them to your property.

Creating an introduction message with Hostfully digital guidebooks
Include a welcome message in your guidebook to give a personal touch that will make guests feel comfortable and relaxed.

Pre-check-in information

Because you’ll be sending your guests their guidebook before they check in, you’ll want to include essential pre-arrival information. This includes things like:

  • Check-in time
  • Packing list
  • Current weather conditions
  • Wi-Fi name and password
  • Address and directions to the property

Property access

If you offer self-check-in, it’s also important to include detailed instructions about how to access the property. Explain here where to find and how to open your lockbox, or share the entry code for your smart keypad lock. 

It can be helpful to include photos that demonstrate how to gain access to the property, especially if it’s located in a large apartment building or is difficult to find. 

House manual 

Your house manual is where you can include instructions on how to use appliances, where to find extra linens, and any other information your guests might need to fully enjoy their stay at your property. 

You should also include your house rules here, and be sure to detail quiet hours, whether guests/pets are allowed, and your smoking policy. 

Local recommendations

Including local recommendations in your digital guidebook can have a big impact on the guest experience. You’ll want to include recommendations for: 

  • Eating: Include your favorite restaurants and cafes in the area and share the best spots to enjoy the local cuisine. 
  • Drinking: Share a number of bar options with your guests, ranging from happy hour joints to nightclubs. 
  • Shopping: Guests will appreciate knowing where the nearest grocery and convenience stores are located, as well as one-off boutiques and shopping malls.
  • Attractions: Tell your guests about the main landmarks in your area, such as museums or historic sites. 
  • Activities: What’s the best thing to do in town? Share activities recommendations, like bike rentals or a sunset cruise. 

Tour and activity booking 

Empower your guests to book tours and activities right through your digital guidebook. You can include a link in each of your activity cards that takes your guests right to a Viator booking site or your local partner’s website. 

That way, you make it easy for your guests to get the most out of their stay while earning an extra commission. 

Check-out instructions  

Finally, include the check-out procedures in a “departure” tab. Here, tell guests what time check-out is, the tasks they need to complete before leaving (e.g. stripping the bed), and a link for them to leave you a review. 

How to create a digital guidebook for your vacation rental

One of the best parts about creating a digital guidebook for your vacation rental is that it’s incredibly easy to do. So easy, in fact, one Hostfully customer even created 345 guidebooks in a week.

We’re going to walk you through exactly how to create a digital guidebook using Hostfully so you can be on your way to providing this helpful resource to your guests. 

1. Set up a free account with Hostfully

The first step for creating a digital guidebook is to set up a free account with Hostfully. With our Premium plan, you get one free guidebook that includes all the information your guests will need during their stay, as well as unlimited and sponsored recommendations. 


Pro tip: When you sign up for Hostfully’s Power Host plan, you also have the ability to fully customize your guidebooks with your logo and colors, which isn’t an option with the free plan. 


An overview of the Hostfully digital guidebooks platform
When you create your Hostfully account, you’ll see the option to create guidebooks and individual cards, as well as view helpful examples.

2. Follow the Guidebook Quick Start Wizard

Once you create your free Hostfully account, the quickest and easiest way to make a guidebook is with the Guidebook Quick Start Wizard. Rather than creating your guidebook completely from scratch, this leads you through a series of 10 forms, which include topics like:

  • Your welcome message
  • Local recommendations
  • Check-in and check-out details
  • Wi-Fi information
  • Directions for arriving at your property
  • House rules
  • Emergency contact information

You can fill these in as you go through the Guidebook Quick Start Wizard, or go back and add them/modify these details later on.

The Hostfully Guidebook Quick Start Wizard
Use the Hostfully Guidebook Quick Start Wizard to create your guidebook within minutes.

3. Add details to your house manual

While the Guidebook Quick Start Wizard provides you with a default set of house rules, you should go back after and modify your house rules. At this time, you can also add new cards to your house manual about how to operate appliances and best navigate the property and its contents. 

This is a great time to take into consideration the questions guests commonly ask you so you can proactively answer them in your guidebook. 

The Hostfully house rules creation page
Hostfully provides a standard set of house rules that you can edit and add to depending on your unique needs.

4. Create curated Recommendations cards

The Guidebook Quick Start Wizard will also auto-populate your local area recommendations using Google Places. However, if you want to include your own curated recommendations, you can simply create new Recommendations cards. 

You can also delete any of the auto-generated recommendations that you don’t want to include in your guidebook. 

The recommendations section of the Hostfully digital guidebooks dashboard
Use Hostfully’s auto-generated recommendations to give your guests a curated guide to the local area—you can add your own suggestions as well.

5. Connect to the Hostfully Marketplace for upsell opportunities

If you sign up for the Hostfully Power Host plan, you can connect your guidebooks to the Hostfully Marketplace. That means you can offer your guests relevant upsells, like late check-out and on-demand car rentals that will enhance their stay and bring you more revenue.

The Marketplace category of the SeaShell Hostfully Guidebook
Offer upsell opportunities to guests right in your digital guidebooks—they get an even more memorable stay, and you can increase revenue from each reservation.

6. Duplicate your guidebooks for your other properties

Finally, with the Hostfully Power Host plan, you can create templates to easily duplicate your guidebooks for your other properties. Templates let you instantly share common information across multiple guidebooks. 

So if you open new vacation rentals in the same city, you can use templates to share all of the local recommendations you spent so much time curating. This is a big asset come time to scale.

Information about creating templates on the Hostfully digital guidebooks dashboard
Creating templates will make your life exponentially easier when the time comes to scale your business and create guidebooks for your other properties.

Digital guidebook examples

Now that you know how to build your digital guidebooks, take a look at some guidebooks from real Hostfully users to inspire your own. You can also check out our website to see more guidebook examples and ideas. 

Auntie Belham’s Mountain Paradise 

To ensure each guest has a comfortable and memorable experience, Auntie Belham’s includes detailed answers to FAQs in their digital guidebook. For example, they include a detailed list of the linens and supplies provided at their cabins, as well as offer tips on how to deal with wildlife encounters (their cabins are quite remote, after all). 

A proactive approach like this helps cut down on guest inquiries by giving them all the essential information they need upfront to enjoy their stay to the fullest.

The house manual category of the Auntie Belham's Hostfully digital guidebook
Auntie Belhams includes key information about their property in the house manual category of their guidebooks, including how to use the fireplace, pet policies, and hot tub rules.

Cuevas Helena Spanish Holidays

To make guests’ arrival as smooth as possible, Cuevas Helena includes detailed property information, like directions to their units and who to contact for check-in, right in their digital guidebook. They even include helpful images within the “directions” and “recommended approaches” cards to ensure that guests don’t get lost or confused. 

Plus, they’ve made their guidebook available in various languages (another Hostfully Power Host feature) so guests from all over can make the most of the information in their guidebooks.

The arrival category of Cuevas Helena Hostfully digital guidebook.
Cuevas Helena gives their guests detailed instructions about check-in and directions to their property to make their guests’ arrival experience as smooth as possible.

Saigon Living in Ho Chi Minh City

To help their guests fully enjoy the city, Saigon Living offers detailed recommendations highlighting all the key attractions in their city. They also recommend niche areas like coworking spaces and shopping centers that could be of special interest to their guests. 

If you know your ideal guest seeks out a certain type of attraction or activity, you can use Hostfully digital guidebooks to create a special category that will speak directly to them and give them exactly the information they seek.

The attractions category of the Saigon Living digital guidebook.
You’ll find valuable information about local attractions and landmarks in the Saigon Living digital guidebook.

Digital guidebooks: save time, delight your guests

Digital guidebooks don’t just enhance your guests’ stay—they make your life as a host or property manager significantly easier. They are quick and simple to create and can be duplicated and adapted to all your different rental properties. 

When you use digital guidebooks, you’ll spend less time on guest communication—so you can focus on growing your business. Plus, you’ll give guests an experience that they’ll want to repeat year after year, which is one of the best ways to get more direct bookings, get 5-star reviews, and create loyal customers. 

CTA to create guidebooks

Frequently asked questions about digital guidebooks

What is the difference between paper and digital guidebooks?

While paper guidebooks are physical guides that you leave in your vacation rental, guests can access digital guidebooks on their mobile devices. Digital guidebooks contain the same type of information as physical guidebooks, like a house manual and local area recommendations. 

However, digital guidebooks offer the additional convenience of being portable and containing information that guests want to know pre-stay, as you can send digital guidebooks to guests before they check in. 

How do you use a digital guidebook?

For hosts, a digital guidebook is used by creating a virtual resource for your guests to use throughout their stay. This includes categories like a house manual, local area recommendations, and answers to commonly asked questions, and can help cut back on time spent communicating with guests. 

Guests use digital guidebooks by referencing them before and during their vacation to learn more about their vacation rental, the local area, and key information regarding check-in and check-out. Using a digital guidebook helps guests be more independent by giving them answers to their questions before they even have to ask them. 

What is Hostfully’s guidebook?

Hostully’s guidebook is contained on a mobile-first website, meaning guests don’t have to download an app to use it. Hostfully’s digital guidebooks contain helpful information, including house manuals, local area recommendations, and information about check-in and check-out. 

And when you use the Hostfully Marketplace, you can even offer upsells to your guests within your guidebooks. 

How long does it take to create a digital guidebook?

When you use the right tool, like Hostfully, you can create a guidebook in minutes. That’s because the Hostully Guidebook Quick Start Wizard helps you quickly fill in key information, as well as auto-populates sections like house rules and local recommendations (which you can later edit).