Around here we talk a lot about things. Physical things, that is. Things that can enhance your guests’ stay in your short term rental property. And it’s true that the tangible items that your guests will touch and experience in your home are so very important to a 5 star review.  But, there are also important things for you to do, as in actions to take, that can also have a significant impact your ratings. Sometimes it’s the ways you show your guests you care that can make the biggest impact.

1)    Basic Communications: be prompt, courteous and helpful.

  • Respond as soon as possible to inquiries and questions, within 24 hours at the most.
  • Answer questions professionally and as thoroughly as possible.
  • Keep a good inventory of the amenities you provide so it’s easy to confirm what your guests should bring, if they ask.
  • Make sure you guests understand when they can expect communications from you (especially if they’re waiting on a key code or other instructions for entering the unit) and how to get in touch if they need you.

It *should* go without saying that replying to guests who have questions about your property or are interested in renting your space is a #1 must do if you want your rental to be successful.

However, I recently had the very opposite experience. 48 hours passed before a host responded to my first inquiry about renting his space. If it hadn’t been for the fact that his rental was exactly where I wanted to stay, down to the street and block, I would have already booked something else by the time he got around to returning my email. But I did want that location badly, so I let it slide. 

After booking the house, I sent a follow-up email to determine how well appointed I would find the kitchen (and thus what I’d need to pack to be happy on my vacation).  He seemed annoyed by my questions and answered abruptly that “it’s a rental, don’t expect too much, bring what you need.” (Punctuation and lack of capital letters are not an exaggeration!).  Then, we nervously awaited the key code which he didn’t send until 12 hours before our arrival time. The automated reply after booking indicated we’d get that info 1 week prior to arrival. His previous tone left me uninterested in more communications than necessary, so I nervously waited for the info – I even started to wonder if we were actually going to have a place to stay. 

I was definitely already grumbling about this stay before I even arrived. I packed most of my own kitchen, per his rude suggestion, only to discover once I arrived that  I had duplicated many of the items provided in the rental and he just couldn’t be bothered to tell me about them.  I can’t remember exactly how few stars I gave that rental, but rest assured, it wasn’t very many.  Very few physical things could make up for the sour taste I had from that very first communication.

2)    Special Sauce: Above and beyond communications! We’re living in a connection economy and showing guests that you see them as real people can make a huge difference in their experience. These special communications can look many different ways:

  • Perhaps it’s an email in advance of a stay to find out if a guest has any special requests or needs that you may be able to accommodate.
  • If your rental has any quirks that would affect the guests arrival experience, an advance email is super helpful to alleviate grumbles – special parking information, street closures, lock/key information, which door to use if there are many, etc. 
  • An email with suggestions of your favorite coffee shops, museums, or parks to help them plan their stay is also very kind and often well-received.
  • You could also send a “no reply necessary” check-in email or text during their stay that indicates you hope they’re having a nice stay and that you’re available if they need anything – but no need to reply if all is well, just keep having fun!

I have only once in my many decades of travel and short term rental stays experienced a communication that felt truly above and beyond. And which short term rental do I remember most fondly and suggest to others most frequently? That one! It is a rental in downtown Reykjavik, and my partner and I were renting a room on the lower level of the home for just 2 nights during a long layover.

It was our first time in Iceland and we were arriving well after midnight, so we were a bit nervous about finding our way around after dark. But much to our surprise (and relief!), shortly after booking the rental we received a personal email from the host saying they noticed our flight was arriving late, so they had some suggestions to help us find the home and made sure we knew it would be okay to call if we had trouble. They also told us that they would like to share some traditional Icelandic foods with us during our stay and asked if we had any downtime in our trip that they could plan to serve us snacks (we did! yum!).

We were beside ourselves by this hospitality and when we did indeed get lost finding our way in the dark, we were so grateful to have been assured it would be okay to call. The host talked us through the directions and walked to meet us halfway up the street. It wasn’t a particularly luxurious home (though it certainly had all we needed. and a cat. cats always a plus) and it happened to be a fairly lower priced rental for the area, but we were smitten with the hosting couple and their generosity of service from the very beginning. We will always hold that experience fondly in our travel memories. And it started with the first personal email!

3) Get the lighting right! Leave shades open for natural daylight or leave lights on (indoors and out) when your guests are arriving after dark. You certainly don’t want a guest falling on their way in when a well-lit walkway could easily prevent that.

  • For remote management, use smart lights that you can turn on from your mobile device, or timed sensor lights that are set to come on at dusk and go off at dawn.
  • Solar lights that illuminate the path from the parking area to the door are very helpful for newly arriving guests.
  • Leave a light on just inside the front entrance so guests don’t have to feel around in the dark for switches in a place they’ve never been before.
  • Glow in the dark wall plates over light switches can be nice if your switches are in really hard to find or unexpected places – it shows a guest that you’re considering the fact that they’re new in the space and might need a little help finding their way in the dark! These are especially useful in bathrooms and kids’ rooms.

4)  Climate control before your guests arrive. It can be a real drag to have to wait for a rental to warm up or cool down to a comfortable temperature upon arrival, especially after a long day of travel. Install a smart thermostat that you can adjust from your smartphone if no one will be around to manage the unit on the day your guests are set to arrive.

5)  Arrange for your guests to receive a discount at a local coffee shop or restaurant and send them the information about the discount in advance of their trip. It may be a little coupon you leave on the table, or just a secret pass code you tell your guests to tell the barista. Especially for small locally owned establishments, these kinds of special offers are easier to arrange that you might think – you just have to ask! They’ll love the business and your guests will love feeling like they made the right choice for the cool place to stay in your town!