Paying Attention to the Small Details Can Make Your Vacation Rentals Feel Like Home

While your vacation rentals may seem like home to you, keep in mind that your guests are stepping into new, unfamiliar places. As travelers, they’ve come to expect certain details in order to make them feel at home, no matter what the lodging. They’re no doubt used to the familiarity of chain hotels or resorts—they know a coffee maker will be on a credenza, that there’ll be little soaps and bottles of shampoo in the bathroom, and each wastebasket will have a tiny plastic bag. Those are minor details, but they give guests comfort because they’re familiar. It’s how hotels and resorts make their guests feel like they’re at home.

Vacation rentals have a natural advantage over hotels because they actually are homes, whether they’re freestanding houses, condos or apartments. They’re places people can live in for an extended period—weeks or months—and feel right at home.

But since each vacation rental, condo, apartment or beach house is different, owners and managers need to work a little harder than hotels in order to make people feel like they’ve come home from the minute they walk in the door. Those first impressions can make a world of difference in the online reviews you receive. If your guests have to fumble and stumble in the dark to figure out how to work the ceiling fan so they can cool off in the middle of the night, an overall great experience can go from a 5 star rating to a 3 star. Or if they get in late and find there’s not a single ground of coffee for the coffee maker the next morning, well, would you blame them for being grumpy when they write their review?

Each vacation rental is different, so we won’t try to present an exhaustive list of what you should and shouldn’t provide for a guest. Use these ideas for stocking your vacation rentals as a starting point. If you haven’t done so already, create a checklist of small details that need to be taken care of before the next guest checks in. That way, you can make sure the details are covered. And if something can’t be fixed or resupplied prior to the guests’ arrival, you can at least make them aware of the problem.

Easy to Read Instructions. You might consider making several instruction sheets for each bathroom, the kitchen, the entertainment room, equipment storage room, etc. This can allow you to be as detailed as possible without overwhelming your guests with a 5 page document on the kitchen table. That can contain general instructions for the entire vacation rental, neighborhood covenants, or area tips. If you’re doing a walk through with guests upon their arrival, try not to overwhelm them with a laundry list of instructions. They probably won’t remember 10% of what you say. Instead, perhaps just mention a few very important points, and then direct them to the instruction sheets.

Frequently Asked Questions. If you find yourself answering the same kind of questions about the area or vacation rental over and over again, borrow a page from online FAQs and include a sheet answering frequently asked questions. This can be a bit longer and more detailed than the instruction sheets. You can include addresses of popular entertainment activities, phone numbers, your advice, anything that’s relevant to your rentals, area and the questions you’ve gotten over the years. Just be sure to clearly identify the Frequently Asked Questions as such, so they’re not confused with the Instructions.

Labeling. Remember that even if your guests come back year after year, they may not remember which switch turns on the ceiling fan and which one turns on the patio light. Small labels can help. Think about labeling the location of certain items and supplies. If you happen to have a crockpot, blender and mixer stored away in a bottom cabinet, label the cabinet so your guests know you provide these convenient appliances. Just be sure not to go overboard with labeling—it can quickly cheapen the look of your vacation rental. Consider a mix of labels and bullet points in your instruction sheet.

Kitchen Basics. In the kitchen, it’s easy to provide unopened, basic condiments. Small bottles of new ketchup and mustard are an inexpensive way to show your guests you’re thinking of them. Think about having the basic spices on hand—salt and pepper, of course, but also consider stocking the most common spices used in cooking: bay leaves, black peppercorns, cayenne pepper, chili powder, ground cinnamon, ground cloves, cream of tartar, ground cumin, curry powder, ground ginger, Kosher salt, whole nutmeg, dried oregano, paprika, crushed red pepper, dried Rosemary, sesame seeds, dried thyme and vanilla extract. Have some regional spices on hand too, as well as regional cookbooks with your favorite recipes bookmarked.

You’ll find vacation rental owners who religiously stock these items for their guests, while others believe in presenting newly arriving guests with clear and clean cupboards. Every market is different, so do what’s right for you and your guests.

Make sure you have coffee, coffee filters, creamer, and sweetener packets. While it’s true the kind of coffee people drink is a personal preference, caffeine addicts will tell you that any kind of coffee beats the alternative of no coffee at all.

Some other little things guests will appreciate (and help you avoid a negative comment or review):
  • Fresh powdered dishwashing detergent (as opposed to an old box that’s hardened).
  • Dishwashing soap, clean sponges, dishrags, and towels.
  • A reasonably generous supply of paper towels (one or two extra rolls on hand).
  • Plastic trash bags and food storage bag.
  • An automatic can opener.
  • A corkscrew.
  • A complete assortment of cooking utensils and silverware.
  • Plenty of cups, glasses, plates, bowls and saucers; and a variety of cookware.

Bathroom Essentials. Think of yourself as a hotel when it comes to bathroom items. In fact, you should go a little further. Provide small soaps, shampoo and conditioner. But also provide hand lotion, travel sized toothpastes, and several new toothbrushes. These items may be cleaned out upon the guests departure (as they often are in hotel rooms), but consider it a cost of doing business. Your guests will appreciate the convenience you offer, even if they never need the items.

Have basic cleaning supplies on hand for any emergencies your guest may encounter—glass and ceramic tile cleaner, paper towels, perhaps rubber gloves. Of course, provide plenty of toilet paper, extra clean towels, and air freshener.

These ideas aren’t meant to be exhaustive. You can find more on our Perfect Places Vacation Rentals blog. Think about your last experience in a vacation rental or hotel and the types of things you appreciated having around, even if you didn’t use them (ironing boards and irons, perhaps?). After all, first impressions are the most lasting ones. If a guest walks into your rental and feels like their being made to feel right at home, then you’ll be giving a fantastic first impression and setting yourself up for a repeat customer.
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