Owners GET YOUR VACATION RENTAL MASTER PLAN!Learn how to build a blueprint for operations and marketing! I am about to share my ignorance. Back in school, oh about 40 years ago (although it really does feel like yesterday), I prided myself on being pretty good at geography. I knew the capital cities of most countries in the world, could recite every state in the US and province in Canada, and I was great at playing Risk – and yes, there is a geographical component. But….I learnt something last week that I am really holding myself to account for sharing…I did not know there were ski resorts in Australia. My head is bowed in shame. Even at the age when I should have known everything as most teenagers do now, if someone had suggested that winter down-under included the white stuff, I would have given them that all-knowing teenage look (the smirky one) and moved off in disdain. Now I stand corrected. Last week I got an email from Sonja Schatzle who runs Pender Lea – Alpine Guest Accommodation in the Snowy Mountains of New South Wales. Who knew? Probably most people, and I am just the ignorant one. But never mind all that. Sonja had a question about whether there were any posts in the archives about creating a Welcome Book. I really thought I had one but searching yielded nothing so here we are….a brand shiny new guide to creating a Welcome Book. Tweet: Update your #vacationrental welcome book! This will save your guests a lot of headache http://ctt.ec/W69fn+ pic.twitter.com/HpJ4bcmihY What a Welcome Book is and what it’s not It is exactly what it says – A WELCOME book – an attractively laid out, easy to read, structured and friendly manual that makes your guests stay as comfortable as possible It should scream Welcome as it says: We appreciate you’ve spent a lot of vacation money on your time in our place We understand how important it is for you to feel at home and comfortable Your enjoyment of our home is our #1 priority We love this business and it shows What it is not is An indecipherable, dog-eared, coffee-stained, scrap of lined paper A list of rules and thou shalt-not instructions An out of date collection of old leaflets and brochures We’ve all said it……. “Why can’t they read the welcome book?” When yet another telephone call breaks up a lazy Sunday afternoon, or even as we experienced once, the call at 11pm because the guests could not get the microwave to work, we get frustrated because all the information is in there, and for some reason no-one ever bothers to pick it up and read it. Just recently we had a call from a guest asking about how to turn the jets on in the hot tub. Phil (my husband), ever so patiently, explained the process, and when the guest said ‘well I’ll call you back if we have any more issues, he said, “It’s all in the Welcome Book”. “What Welcome Book?” “The one on the kitchen table. The book that says ‘Welcome to Osprey Cottage’ on the front” “Oh that book. My wife put it away in a drawer when we arrived – I don’t think anyone has looked at it since” We are not isolated in this experience. I know this because we manage 220 properties – each of which has a Welcome Book – and we still get calls asking what to do with garbage, where the nearest boat launch is, and how to turn on the BBQ (yes, we get that one too). So, there are two issues here. First of all we have to create something really attractive that someone might just pick up and read. Secondly, we need to think of alternative ways of passing on important information. Appearance The best Welcome Books I’ve seen could grace a coffee table in a smart hotel. They are attractively presented with a graphic on the front depicting the property and with the name of the book clearly displayed. No one is going to ignore it. One of the best ways to do this is by creating a beautiful hard back glossy book with your properties information. This can easily be done online with services such as Blurb. Essential Information Once curiousity has got your guest past the cover of the book , you have to get their attention, so create a Quick Guide sheet – this should be a one-sided single page that has the stuff they absolutely need to know. The easiest way to decide what should go on there is to imagine there are no guidelines at all. What would they call you about? What would they not do, or know, that is important to their comfort Summarise your most important information on the first page – this should include contact numbers, power outage information, key management and anything your guests may need to know in an emergency. You might also want to laminate this page and post it on the inside of a well-used cupboard or, if it’s attractively presented, on the fridge. These are a few of the things that could go on the sheet – you may have others that are specific to your property or area. Wifi password Garbage collection Location of passes – beach/park pass etc Checkout time Contact numbers The only ‘instruction’ I would put on here is that guests do not alter the thermostat on the fridge as they load up all their food. What’s Inside Index and tabs – the information in your property guide should be easy to locate – a random list of rules, do’s and don’ts, and operation instructions are less likely to be read than a well structured format that makes it easy to find how to make the DVD work, or understand the rumbling noise from the basement each time the toilet flushes. The following are some examples of the tab titles that may help your guests find their way around the manual. Appliances – “Here are a few tips to help you use the appliances efficiently. If you need to check out a manual – they are in a drawer in the armoire.” You could also download all the appliance manuals in pdf format on an iPad. Offer brief guidelines on using the appliances making suggestions for ease of use. For example, we can quickly get used to operating our own microwave oven, but every model is different, so give your quick tips for baked potatoes, reheating and popcorn. Suggest the best programme for using the washer, and say where you keep the laundry detergent. BBQ operation – most up to date barbecues have automatic starters and are easy to use, but they are prone to breakdown which can put some guests in a difficult position if they don’t know how to light them manually. You could have guests who have never used a BBQ – you may be surprised how many there are – so having instructions on how to operate it is essential. If your Welcome Guide is in a PDF dowdloadable format, you could include a link to a Youtube videos demonstration. Entertainment systems – Of course you know your TV/DVD/PVR system like the back of your hand. In fact your nine year old daughter or grand-daughter can probably zip through every part of the operation of the system, so why shouldn’t your guests be able to turn the TV on and off without disengaging the satellite? After all, doesn’t everyone have this system at home? Well no, they probably don’t – at least, not your set-up. Giving guests an easy time to settle into your home means creating a quick start guide to all your entertainment systems. Water & Septic Systems – If your vacation home doesn’t have town water you will need to describe how the water enters the property and whether it is safe to drink. Generally, well water should be tested regularly and any suggestion that it is OK to drink should be accompanied with an explanation of testing procedure and any local health advisories about consuming untreated water. Describe any UV or other filtration systems so guests can make an informed choice whether to use the water supply or bottled water for different purposes. If a water cooler is provided, make it clear how many complimentary bottles are supplied and where guests can get replacements. A good explanation of waste water removal is required if you have a septic system or holding tank. Most guests are used to draining/flushing without thought of what happens to the waste water, so if you need them to be more considerate of what is flushed away, leave clear instructions. Garbage separation – Here’s another one that seems like a no-brainer, but every area will have different requirements for segregation if there is anything at all. This is one where it really pays to lay it out clearly and ensure guests get it right, because if you don’t either you or your caretaker may end up elbow deep in someone else’s holiday garbage separating bottles and cans. Guests can get confused and concerned about how to handle recycling and disposal of garbage so this is one of the most important sections of the guest guide. Don’t expect anyone to recycle and sort unless you tell them explicitly what to do, and even then, instructions may be ignored, but at least you will have provided them with the information they need. Where there is garbage pickup on a weekday, let them know if they have to put the bin out and what the limits are. Rental guests tend to produce significantly more waste than they would do domestically so take that into account. What to do in an emergency – A guest called recently to say they had an emergency as a Canada goose was dead on the lawn. They demanded a pick-up service and said they could not leave the house until the offending body had been removed. Their children were ‘traumatised’ and this was seriously impacting their vacation as they could not open the curtains to look outside until the removal had been done. Needless to say this one has gone down in the annals of rental folklore in our office, and will one day be reproduced in a book pithily titled “What the Heck” or some words to that effect. What constitutes an emergency can vary from guest to guest. For some the inability to operate the microwave to cook popcorn late at night could elicit a panic phone call – others may not wish to bother you at all and will attempt to resolve problems themselves that would be better fixed by a skilled tradesperson. Listing some scenarios that may occur with a few notes on how to handle them can be very helpful. Provide information that will help guests be self-sufficient when the power goes out, if they have a medical problem or need an emergency vet for their pet. If you find a dead goose on the lawn, please use the latex gloves supplied (provided you do not have an allergy to latex) and the black garbage bags supplied for many uses – including deceased goose pick-up – and place goose inside bag. Secure tightly and store in garage where it will be collected by caretaker. Power Outages – it seems like it should be common sense when the power goes out, to ensure the stove is switched off, but when it happens to your guests (particularly when they have just arrived) they can be very confused. They are in unfamiliar surroundings and have not had sufficient time to find their way around. If they were cooking when the power failed, they might easily forget that a hob ring was left on, which could create a dangerous sitiuation if they ultimately go to bed and the power comes back on. A power out information sheet needs to be placed somewhere they will see it when they arrive. Pet policies – The majority of pet owners are very respectful and tend to be good readers of instructions. Give information on local veterinarian practices that have a 24 hour emergency clinic that will accept temporary patients. Some don’t after hours, so it’s worthwhile checking up on this so you can provide accurate information. Be clear about your poop and scoop policy and direct guests to any pet features you provide such as old towels, bedding, dog bowls etc. Hot tub instructions and maintenance log – Instructions for using your hot tub can be in the guest guide, and it’s a good idea to print these separately on a laminated sheet that can be posted near the tub. Also include a maintenance log to show dates the water is treated and comments about the chemical balance at the time of each treatment. This will be useful if there is a claim relating to any medical condition allegedly arising from use of the hot tub. Departure instructions – Provide detailed information on what guests need to do before they leave the property. This should cover what you want them to do with used linens, what temperature the thermostat should be turned to, any cleaning/tidying they must do, and a reminder about garbage disposal. Include this as a checklist to make it easier to follow. Your community and rental etiquette – Your guests are arriving at an unfamiliar location and community so introduce them to any bylaws or community etiquette you would like them to follow. This is particularly important in areas where there is a lot of residential property and your guests are going to be living amongst full time residents for the period of their vacation. This could cover noise issues use of campfires parking property boundaries operation of watercraft The more local information you can provide, the better your guests will be able to blend in and live in harmony with the neighbours while they are there. Out and About – A section to help guests plan activities will be welcomed and may encourage them to read the rest of the guest guide. Include lists of local restaurants with sample menus places to purchase locally sourced food such as farm stands and farmer’s markets supermarkets and general stores arts and craft shops liquor stores places of interest and local attractions. Local dog park or off-leash area Hiking trails Best beaches Where to rent canoes, bikes, kayaks etc This section is complementary to the tourist information you will provide in the form of leaflets and brochures, and adds the personal touch only you can give. Pet owners will appreciate direction to a dog park or off-leash area; hikers will enjoy your personal review of favourite trails, and antique lovers might Inventory – Include an inventory of what you provide for use by the rental guests. Whether you supply all their paper products or you only leave a limited ‘starter’ pack, let your guests know what to expect – then they won’t call you when the dishwasher tablets run out! If you provide linens and towels it’s a good idea to include a list of how many bath/hand towels there are, since these are the items that are most likely to be ‘inadvertently’ packed when your guests leave. There are no hard and fast rules to follow when creating your Welcome Guide/Guest Manual or whatever you wish to call it – just make sure it is comprehensive, informative and above all, friendly. If you don’t meet your guests personally, this is a great way of reaching out to them and sharing what it is about your property you want them to know. This is not exhaustive – there may be other sections you want to add. For example, if there are non-perishable items of food like herbs, spices and condiments you may want to mention your guests are free to use them. Perhaps you have a large paperback collection and you are happy for guests to take away a book they are reading at the end of their vacation in exchange for one they brought with them (I have gained a lot of new reading that way!) Have I missed anything? Is there anything you put in your welcome book that I have missed. Please share below. I do read all your comments and reply! Thank you Sonja for kicking this off and I hope it was useful for you.