I find that the most time-consuming part of planning a trip isn’t deciding where to go, finding the best airfare, or deciding what to pack. It’s finding a great place to stay.
As soon as we decide to take a trip, I scour short-term rental listings for homes that are in the right location, are the right size, have the right amenities, and are within our budget. But what I can’t tell from the descriptions, maps and photos is whether a home that looks like perfect for us will be comfortable, clean, and in decent condition. In other words, whether the host cares about making us feel welcome.
Here’s an example. For a trip to Santa Fe last spring, 4 or 5 short-term rentals seemed to meet our basic criteria. But when I read the reviews, one home stood out. Several previous guests had lavished praised on the host for going out of her way to make sure they had a great stay. After a conversation with the host that confirmed the impression we’d received from the reviews, we booked that home, and we had a wonderful stay.
Your can help your home stand out from the competition in the same way: by doing what you can to make your guests feel welcome. Here are 10 steps you can take to do just that.
Step 1. Make sure guests know what to expect in your short-term rental
I have nothing against surprises. They add some variety to day-to-day routines. But surprises can be annoying, frustrating, and sometimes very unpleasant in a short-term rental.
Make sure your guests have a good sense of what your home is like. If the rooms are small, don’t use the word “spacious” in your listing. Tell guests ahead of time if the stairs are unusually steep or the bedroom lacks a window. In conversations (which you should always have with guests, if possible before booking, or at least before they arrive), tell guests about the unusual layout, the crotchety elevator, or the curious neighbor who’s always peeking out his front door.
Step 2. Greet guests with a home that’s safe, clutter-free and sparkling clean
Most short-term guests will not expect your home to be hotel-room perfect. Otherwise, they’d opt for a commercial rental or a hotel. In fact, many people choose homes over hotels precisely because they want a more home-like feel.
But all your guests will expect your home to be safe, pleasant and comfortable. Take the time to fix anything that might be dangerous, such as a broken stair tread. Clear away excess clutter from counters and shelves. Make room for guests’ clothes and personal items in closets and drawers and on bathroom counters. Before guests arrive, scour everything so it’s clean enough for a visit from your mother.
Step 3. Provide the basics guests need for their stay
The only negative during our stay in Santa Fe is that we arrived late at night to find only one almost-empty roll of toilet paper. That’s happened to us before. Too often, we arrive late and exhausted from travel to find a meagre supply of toilet paper, a sliver of soap, and a bare pantry, forcing us to use our valuable travel time and dip into our budget to buy very basic supplies.
Like most travelers, we have a special fondness for hosts who are thoughtful enough to provide the basic supplies and other essentials we need for daily living. Think about what guests might need during the few days or few weeks they’ll be staying in your home – paper goods, cleaning supplies, hand and bath soaps, and some kitchen staples like salt, pepper, and cooking oil. Then stock up.
Step 4. Think about what else might help guests feel welcome and enjoy their stay
One reason we stay in short-term rentals instead of hotels is that we really like to feel at home when we travel. But in one otherwise beautiful home, we shivered under the only two thin blankets when the temperature dropped during the night. In the same home, there were only two bed pillows, both hard as rocks, and two almost threadbare towels. We seriously considered moving to a hotel and asking for a refund of our rent.
That situation was extreme. Most places are sufficiently furnished for us to be comfortable. But the hosts who make us feel the most welcome are thoughtful enough to provide a selection of bed pillows, good sheets, fluffy towels, some toiletries, good reading lamps, the right blankets for the season, and a well-stocked pantry. Other welcome extras might include books, games, kids’ toys, a DVD library, umbrellas, and sports equipment such as tennis racquets.
Step 5. Welcome guests with a friendly note and a gift
Help your guests feel welcome as soon as they arrive with a little gift of food and drink and a nice note saying that you hope they enjoy their stay. The type and amount of food is up to you: guests usually appreciate some fruit, crackers, cheese, cookies, bottled water, sodas, wine or beer, and perhaps some bread, eggs, butter, jam, cereal, and milk. At a minimum, coffee, tea, milk or cream and sweeteners for the first morning are a must!
Step 6. Give guests a “user guide”
We’ve spent a lot of our vacation time trying to figure out how to use heating systems, fancy new stoves, and washing machines. Guests like us always appreciate hosts who give us 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.
Step 7. Have someone on the ground in case guests need help
While we were overseas a couple of years ago, I woke one morning to this message from our guests: “Sorry to bother you, but there’s water leaking from the ceiling in the downstairs bathroom.” Not news you want to hear when you’re an ocean and a continent away.
Fortunately, we’d planned ahead, just in case. We asked our guest to get in touch with Jim, our wonderful fix-it guy who has seen us through many emergencies. By the next morning, he had come by the house, reassured both 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.
Step 8. Be a virtual tour guide
One of the best parts of staying in short-term rentals is the chance to see and experience things that tourists might never know about. Put together a “welcome packet” of tips and information to give your guests a virtual tour of your area.
Your welcome packet might include maps; directions to grocery stores and outdoor markets; where to buy bus and train tickets; locations of parks, gyms, beauty salons, and pharmacies; menus of restaurants you recommend; suggestions for places to shop, bike, walk, hike, golf, or play tennis; and brochures for interesting places and sights known only to locals.
Step 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 they may have. That personal contact reminds them that you want them to have a good stay in your home. Knowing that guests are happy and everything is okay will help you enjoy your trip as well.
Step 10. Follow up
After you’ve unpacked and are over the worst of your jet lag, send your 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 enjoyed their stay, ask them to write a review for your listing. If you’ve been successful at making them feel welcome, the review should be a good one!
Have you ever stayed in a great short-term rental? What did the host do that helped you feel welcome and enjoy your stay? We’d love to hear about your experience in the comments below or on our Facebook page.