Yesterday a friend with a rental was shaking her head. “You won’t believe it. They’ve put my stovetop coffee maker into the dishwasher and it’s ruined, it’s black!”
We have all had guests do strange things. Like:
putting an electric kettle on the stovetop, melting the base
standing on the toilet seat, and finding it broken
trying to light the small candle, using three matches, till they discovered it was battery operated and plastic
putting ten logs in the wood fire to get it red hot, then opening all the doors and windows
improvising a firelighter by saturating a full roll of kitchen paper with mineral turpentine and putting it in the wood fire – luckily it didn’t explode
running warm water into the spa for 4 hours, using half the water tank supply
using the bed linen to dry off the dog on a rainy day
putting large amounts of sink detergent in the dishwasher, and surprised when it overflows with bubbles
confusing the bidet with the toilet ( a colleague removed his bidets after multiple problems)
and so many more
So what to do? In some cases, the guest will be mortified and offer to pay for the damage. In some cases, they will try and hide the evidence and hope you don’t find it, or even deny it ever happened.
For those who come clean and offer to pay, you are on the road to having a good repeat guest. You can be generous and grateful, or even refuse the payment, giving a feeling of obligation by the guest. They are likely to come back.
In some cases, you can put up a discreet label explaining how it works. Like a label on the handle of the coffee maker saying ‘Not for dishwasher.’
The rest are problematic.
You probably have some conditions of booking that allow you to charge the guest. I’ve learned from long experience that for small things, it isn’t worth the angst, even for some larger things. In the battle of conflict, you might get some money, but one thing is guaranteed, the emotional turmoil will distract you from your main game for hours and even days. Time you should be concentrating on better marketing and delighting those guests who will come back. You might get some money on insurance, but policies are full of slippery exceptions and mind numbing form filling, also taking you from your main game.
I do two things. If it isn’t too big and doesn’t happen often, I just write it off as a cost of doing business, balanced out by the majority of good guests who love the stay and look after everything beautifully. I don’t lose any sleep over it.
I also have a blacklist. These are for the few guests who I won’t have back, and who are excluded from my monthly newsletter. It gives a great deal of satisfaction to put an errant guest on my blacklist without any conflict. If the cleaner has been involved, as usually they will, it also gives them a sense of satisfaction knowing that the guest has unknowingly suffered a penalty of sorts for disrespecting the cleaner’s good work.
What kind of strange things have guests done in your rental?
Please mail me your examples to email@example.com, and let me know if you’d prefer me to use just your initials when I publish the examples.
I have a tough ask of you, my readers. I’d like to hear from you if you are doing some things that are special that help you stand out from your competitors.
I’d like to shift the emphasis of the blog a little to sharing practices from other vacation rental owners.
You don’t have to have won awards or be written up in magazines. That special thing you do may be small but it helps you get ahead. I’d love to hear from you.
As I speak with other VR owners, I see all sorts of things that folks are doing.
Amy from Adelaide who surprises her guests with a fabulous seafood platter, and wins them over for lots of repeat visits
Terry, the VR owner from Florida who has a newsletter and asks his readers to help him design the makeover of one of his rooms with amazing results – for the makeover, and for bookings to come see the makeover. He does a room a year.
Bryan my Great Ocean Road colleague who personally gives his overseas guests a local introduction, like seeing the local Koala up close. The kids cry as they say goodbye, and the family tell their friends so he has an abnormally high number of overseas guests and high occupancy all year round
Barry who has a garden in gritty urban London that guests are astonished they can use to escape to their own oasis of green calm
Phoebe in my village who has a retro theme and guests love to use the vinyl record player to play old music albums, and they come back
Pattiane, who did her own website that has jaw dropping images of the sea from her fabulous house, and folks are happy to pay that little bit extra
What are the little things that you do?
Please don’t be shy, this can be your way of giving back for the value you have had from this newsletter. Just send me a few paras on those little things YOU do to help you get ahead. Please!
Through tears my cleaner Lesley said “I’m leaving, so sorry”. Yikes, this was very bad news!
She knew she was the only private cleaner in town, and other private cleaners are simply not available, leaving us in a bind. She and her husband were leaving town to tour the country in their caravan, living slow and stress free. She told us a month ago, but now they leave in 2 weeks.
We have had a valuable partnership over the last 5 years. Lesley cleaned quickly, handling tight changeovers easily. The presentation after cleaning was great – despite us doing 35 extra things our competitors don’t. We stayed the most booked property in town year after year.
But now this was serious. We are away a lot so we can’t clean, and we don’t want to anyway.
After some soul searching, we decided to switch to Holiday GOR, the local managing company who bring cleaning teams from out of town to our tiny village. They are an excellent company who we have known for many years having used them a decade ago when we were based remotely in Melbourne.
But there are a few hitches. They need control of the guest flow to coordinate cleaning, and they need to be fairly compensated for that control. They came up with the bright idea of lifting our rental prices to offset some cost changes. Hmm, good idea if it works. We’ll give it a go and retune if necessary. It’s now September 2019. In time I’ll let you my readers know how that experiment goes, stay tuned.
I also want to drive DIRECT bookings separately from the OTAs like I do now, which provide over 50% of my rentals. No problem, I’ll still do that, sending bookings to the manager via my online booking engine so I can measure my success. So far, so good.
A side benefit from the change is that it frees up more of my time, and my wife and I are more free to travel.
Training new cleaners
Now normally changing cleaners is no big deal if they are experienced. It becomes more tricky if, like us, you offer 35 extra little details that have to be perfect. The extras are important, and our guests often tell us how we have ‘thought of everything’, they loved their experience, and they will tell their friends. However 35 extra details are too much for a cleaner to memorise with a once off walk through.
Memory and repetition can take literally months. We don’t have months, we have a week. It is also human nature to be embarrassed if you forget something, and they can be reluctant to keep asking or worse, just guess.
The solution is a good training manual cleaners can refer to as often as they like.
What does a cleaner training manual look like?
It needs lots of photos and notes the cleaner can look at initially and when they need to check later. Photos show all those little details. Instantly.
An index helps. Finally a quick checklist helps the cleaner to do a final walkthrough testing the critical points, long after the training has been done.
I prepared our training manual this week. It took about four hours to prepare, but time well invested. It has 14 pages, with 44 photos just for one studio and ensuite. Here is how it is structured:
Index and General guidance
Pics and notes for each part of the rental
Here is an extract from a typical page:
Extract from cleaning manual
The full document and those 44 photos also contain the hidden anatomy of our Sea Zen rental which achieves our ongoing 90% occupancy. I’m happy to share it with my readers.
The new cleaners are being trained next week. They will watch Lesley do her last clean, and they’ll also have the training manual. Easy. I’ll let you know how it goes, also how the new partnership with the management company goes.
Sometimes, vacation rental owners have to know the really important question to ask your guests.
This came to me when I was speaking to a switched on audience at Yarra Valley tourism in late August 2019. I was correctly challenged when I said Tripadvisor seemed like a waste of time – owners in the area were all using it but getting almost no bookings from it. The challenge to me was – “Maybe prospective guests researched on Tripadvisor, but booked direct!” My response was that owners should KNOW whether or not prospective guests actually researched Tripadvisor and booked direct, because owners should ASK.
The critical question of guests who book direct
You need to be asking guests this critical question: “How did you find us?”
Maybe they responded to your newsletter.
Maybe they found you on Google Maps.
Maybe they clicked your Google Ad.
Maybe they were referred by a friend and found you via your website.
Maybe they found you at the top of Google.
Maybe they were looking for something specific like Pet Friendly.
Maybe they researched Tripadvisor, found you and then went off and found your website. (If that is the case, you need to keep your Tripadvisor listing, but I’d be surprised if that was the case)
Maybe they found you on other OTAs like Airbnb, then went to your website.
Maybe it was random.
Maybe, maybe, maybe. Lots of maybes. But they shouldn’t be unknowns. You MUST be asking guests how they found you, when they book direct. Then you can exploit that and do it some more and grow your direct bookings.
Are YOU asking that question?
The other big question
You should also ask – “Why did you choose us?”
It could be because of your photo, your name, your location, your price, a specific service you provide (like Pet Friendly), your reviews or some other reason.
Once you know the answer, you know your strength, and you can build on it. You also know the other attributes that are less attractive, and you can make them better. For example if folks usually choose you because of your reviews, but are silent on your photo, perhaps you should be getting better photos. You can always improve.
360 degree photos get you to the next level of quality in displaying your rental property, giving your future guests an amazing immersive experience.
Trust in reality
The curious guest wants to know if they can trust you before they book. They know the usual images can be very misleading, maybe taken with a wide angle lens that makes a tiny room larger, or with ugly features hidden by omission.
In contrast, your 360 degree photos can help your guest see the honest beauty of your property. They click on the 360 view and they can rotate around the complete room as if they are really there. No distortion, everything in its honest place. If the images and lighting are done well, it is almost like being there. People can fall in love with the experience, before they even book.
Guests can also hop from location to location, for example they can jump from the living room to the balcony and see the view. They can step into the bathroom, and they can even go up and down the stairs.
With 360 degree photos, your prospective guests have all those trust fears dispelled, they can go ahead and book with confidence.
I decided to have 360 degree photos taken for Sea Zen. This is my experience.
The Sea Zen 360 example
Just click on the image above to get the 360 experience, rotating a full 360 degrees inside the Sea Zen example. Drag a point on the image and it will rotate.
Once you have your photos done, you can display the viewing window on your website, or have a clickable link on your website. You can also email your clickable link to someone who is enquiring but hasn’t quite booked.
You can also show your interactive images on your Google Maps / My Business listing site. However, the OTAs don’t make it easy to show the images – more on that later.
Moving between viewing positions
The guest can jump to the next viewing position with a click, just as if they are walking around the room.
You can also get the contractor to provide a smartened up floor plan showing all the rooms and furniture. Another layer of reality and trust for your guests. This is the Sea Zen example.
If you can’t wait a few days for the tidy floor plan, the software automatically stitches the various viewing positions together and generates a ‘Dollhouse’ image, just like a model in space that you can spin to get different perspectives. Here is the one that the system generates.
Making a simple video for youtube
You can make a simple rotating video tour for youtube.
To make this youtube video tour, you start with an image called a ‘photosphere’ from the contractor, a condensed 360 image.
A handy free site (360photo-to-video.com) converted that image to a simple rotating video in a standard .webm format. Then I uploaded that to Youtube in a few seconds.
Loading images to your Online Travel Agency listing
Homeaway allows you to upload a Youtube video tour, such as the example above.
Booking.com say they allow you to upload a photosphere. (It didn’t work for me).
I couldn’t find a way of uploading a matterport view to Airbnb. Apparently they are still doing experiments they started a few years ago, so don’t hold your breath!
All three OTAs allow you to upload simple images such as the floor plan.
Having the photos taken
You choose a contractor. In my case I was approached by a company (virtualinspections.com.au) that travels around Australia taking photos and I liked their product examples and prices. (Disclaimer: I get no affiliate benefit from Virtual Inspections.)
Google has a global list of many vendors that work with the lesser quality needed for google maps, and their quality varies widely. Choose your contractor carefully, and get examples of their work before deciding.
On the day of the shoot, you need to set up the presentation, just as you need to before any photographer arrives. Clutter removed, wires removed, lights on, blinds open, maybe some red cushions and flowers.
Matt, my photographer from Virtual Inspections uses an automated ‘Matterport’ 3D camera system, taking photos from about a dozen locations. In the final product, the guest can jump from location to location.
Duration of the shoot
It takes about 45 minutes for the contractor to take images from about a dozen different locations. The finished views were available for me to view the next day.
It cost me A$300 for the images I’ve shown in my example, plus another A$100 for the floor plan and A$100 for loading images onto Google maps.
How the Matterport Camera works
It is a black box mounted on a tripod used by the contractor. At each location it takes 6 images, rotating automatically from angle to angle. Each shot uses HDR (high dynamic range) to balance the light so you can see the bright parts and the dull parts clearly without being washed out. The software then stitches the images together into one high quality 360 degree image of 130 Megapixels.
The image is stored on a server and when guests click on the viewing window on your website, the viewer gets a seamless experience as they rotate through the images sent from the server.
The camera is 230 x 260 x 110 mm and weighs 3 kg.
There are many alternatives out there. In some a professional takes shot from one location using HDR and stitches them together using alternative software and hosting. The result can be excellent.
There are some low quality scammers out there. I was scammed by a pushy salesman with big promises. They used a tiny rotating camera that wasn’t able to take good images. Bright areas were washed out and low light areas were barely visible. The result would have trashed my brand, so I made them remove all traces of their work from my Google maps listing, and asked for a refund. My current contractor Virtual Inspections was the opposite, very professional.
What is your experience with 360 Photos?
Have you used a vendor you can recommend? Send me a message.