The last thing a cottage owner wants is a bad review. Whilst we may not be able to control every element of our guest’s stay, we do get the opportunity to make sure the holiday gets off to the best start possible – when it starts well, it is likely to end well!
As that good old cliche says, ‘first impressions count’ and you only get one chance to impress guests and provide a warm welcome. We all appreciate the importance of first impressions for us as individuals but it is every bit as important for our holiday homes.
When a holiday gets off to a good start and guests receive a welcome that exceeds their expectations, they are far more likely to have an enjoyable stay (and possibly leave you a nice review or make a repeat booking!).
Here are some suggestions to help you make sure your guest’s holiday starts as it means to carry on:
Impress your guests before they even arrive:
- Make sure your property is advertised accurately and that the information on your advert (including photos) reflects the facilities available and current condition of the property (including decor). What the holiday maker sees on the advert is what they’re buying. They may not be impressed to find facilities are no longer available or that the cottage has been redecorated in cheerful colours when they booked a restful retreat in pastel shades.
- On the subject of advertising, don’t oversell your facilities and hold a few little surprises back for arrival. Sometimes it is nicer to receive a surprise bottle of wine, rather than expecting one and being disappointed with the choice of ‘grape’!
- Every time you communicate with the holidaymaker, you are adding building blocks to the overall impression they are forming of you and in turn your cottage. If communication is haphazard, it is likely they may also think your cottage will be haphazard and arrive looking out for problems. Make sure every communication is professional, accurate and made in a timely manner.
- Ensure arrival details are sent to guests in advance of their stay and drop them an email to confirm they have received them. We have received a few panic phone calls late on a Friday evening from holidaymakers who are travelling to a cottage and cannot contact the owner for arrival details. If you are not available to welcome guests, make sure they have all the information they require just in case they are unable to contact you. This should include: confirmation of arrival/departure dates and times to access and leave the cottage; accurate directions (including postcode for satnav) so guests don’t get lost (no one likes wasting valuable holiday time driving around!); details on where to find the key; contact details for yourself and/or your housekeeper; a reminder of cottage facilities (particularly the ones that will save guests packing unnecessary items such as hairdryers, cleaning products, high chair etc) and also recommendations on popular things to do, restaurants and pubs (to help guests get the most out of their stay and allow them to book in advance to avoid disappointment).
The big welcome:
- As we have said, first impressions are so important, so make sure everything your guests see when they arrive is nicely presented. From driveways to front doors, including windows and bin areas. Do a practice run and arrive at your cottage as if you were a guest and try to scrutinise everything they will see en-route. One of the first things I look at when I arrive at a cottage are the windows. If they are clean and well presented (i.e. no flaky paint!) on the outside, they are likely to be clean and tidy on the inside!
- Ensure keys are left where promised and regularly check the guest keys work to ensure they unlock the door – a valuable lesson we recently learnt when guests couldn’t access our cottage as the key had become worn!
- Make sure the cottage is nice and warm for guests arrival – we once stayed in a cottage in the Lake District in October which had the storage heaters turned off. As nice as the cottage was, it wasn’t exactly the warm welcome we hoped for!
- Present your holiday home as if it were a hotel. Guests obviously expect the property to be well cleaned and nicely presented but really show it off to its best. Make the beds up with beautifully pressed linen; plump up scatter cushions; have towels neatly displayed and make sure the cottage is aired and smells fresh for arrival.
- Welcome the guests with a few unexpected surprises. Welcome hampers, wine or breakfast for the first morning are all nice touches but surprises don’t have to be expensive. We rarely receive a thank you for the chocolates and wine we leave for guests but often receive one for the pint of milk, tea/coffee and biscuits! There are plenty of inexpensive welcome surprises you can offer. Why not have the fire ready for lighting with a pot of marshmallows by the side for toasting or bake a home-made cake? We find guests really appreciate fresh herbs growing on the windowsill, some fresh flowers from the garden in the bedroom and a convenience cupboard with some essentials (including a toilet roll!).
- Provide guests with concise welcome information so they can quickly find their way around the cottage and local area. We provide our guests with a welcome letter with all the information they should require to get them going (e.g. how to operate heating, hot water, waste collection etc). We also have a welcome folder to read at their leisure with more detailed information (e.g. recommended restaurants, appliance user guides; local contact numbers etc). No one knows the cottage and local area better than you, so share this knowledge with your guests to make sure they get the most out of their stay.
- If you are not available to welcome your guests, give them a call on the first evening to check they are happy. This will allow you to answer any questions they may have and should there be any problems, you’ll be able to sort them out quickly before they ‘fester’.
Setting the right impression from the onset is sure to get your guests holiday off to a good start. There is not any one point that is more important than another, more of a combination effect. If guests turns up on a rainy day, can’t find the key, enter a cold cottage and then have the beds to make, the chances are the holiday mood will have gone! The more things you get right as an owner, the more likely you are to have happy guests. Guests that are also much more forgiving when something does go unavoidably wrong!