If you own a holiday let, you’ll know that some hefty investments are inevitable to ensure any bookings at all - ensuite bathrooms, high-speed Wi-Fi, pools for villas in warm climates and hot tubs for those in colder ones.
“The biggest searches we have on are for villas with pools or hot tubs,” says Ravi Sabharwal, Co-founder at Oliver’s Travels.
But many vacation rentals have these essentials, so how do you gain the edge? “Start by investing in good furnishings. So many places have identikit pieces from Ikea, and this sends the wrong message,” he says. Instead, look in local markets and second-hand shops for quality furnishings at affordable prices.
Ensure your kitchen is filled with utensils, cookware, crockery, oils, vinegars and spices – and spell out the items you provide. Many guests like to plan menus before arrival, so knowing that you have a blender, knife sharpener and cheese grater, and that they won’t need to buy olive oil, oregano, coffee, salt and pepper, can really make a difference.
“One very popular new service is a pre-arrival grocery shop,” says Sabharwal. “Send guests a link to a local supermarket website that delivers, offering to take in the goods for them before arrival. Or ask them to send you a shopping list and pick up the groceries yourself.
...email ahead a list of caterers and babysitters so they can prepare for special events
“And email ahead a list of caterers and babysitters so they can prepare for special events,” suggests Sabharwal. A lot of guests also like the ability to book a mid-week clean for a small extra charge, so ensure you choose a cleaning agency that can provide this flexibility.
You’ll almost certainly have kids staying occasionally, so “put child-proof fencing around pools, and keep stairgates, high chairs and cots in a closet,” he suggests. If guests know they won’t have to pack bulky baby paraphernalia, it can give your home the edge over competitors.
After the practical elements, focus on fun. Buy a few large games guests are unlikely to have at home, such as table football, badminton, pétanque or croquet. “They don’t cost a great deal and are very appealing to potential bookers,” says Sabharwal. These sorts of lifestyle amenities also look enticing in property photos – which you should never take yourself. Investing in professionally composed and lit photographs of all rooms and facilities will quickly reap dividends.
Think about facilities
What about a tennis court? Save your money. “We see almost no searches for tennis courts. They’re expensive and rarely used when provided,” says Sabharwal.
In the evenings, people like to watch the occasional TV show or a movie together, so don’t forget the tech. “Streaming services like Amazon Prime or Netflix are really appreciated by guests, yet subscriptions are less than £10 a month,” says Sabharwal. If you don’t have a Smart TV, you can upgrade most older models cheaply with an Amazon Fire Stick, Apple TV, Roku or Google Chromecast. And if your area doesn’t have reliable Wi-Fi, then a large DVD library is a good alternative - but only if you keep it up to date.
Putting some fresh flowers from the garden on the kitchen table costs nothing, but provides a warm touch...
But don’t forget about the personal touch. The small details can make all the difference when it comes to repeat bookings.
“Putting some fresh flowers from the garden on the kitchen table costs nothing, but provides a warm touch that shows you care about each guest,” says Sabharwal. “Some villa owners leave little more than a bar of soap and a loo roll as an arrival package for guests, so you’ll stand out if you fill a pretty canvas bag or wicker basket with local products – jams, wines, sweets, cheeses, breads – and your guests will feel welcomed as soon as they walk in the door. And if you know there’s a child or pet coming, put in a couple of toys or treats just for them.”
Spend time creating a housebook filled with your own recommendations rather than just an impersonal collection of menus and attraction leaflets. After you’ve included the essential appliance manuals and emergency contact numbers, add in maps and notes for your favourite local walking routes, menus from restaurants you love with your favourite dishes highlighted, and the opening hours and addresses of the best shops and markets with notes about the items they might want to buy to take home from each.
Finally, “bathrobes and slippers can add a hotel-style wow factor for very little outlay”, says Sabharwal, and it’s quite inexpensive to get them engraved with your house name or initials. Your linen company can launder the robes for you, and because slippers aren’t reusable for hygiene reasons, you can encourage guests to take them home as a lovely reminder of their stay.
Next time they look at their feet, they might just hop back online to book another stay.
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Image of Ravi: credit to Sam Stephenson
- Dining is an important part of villa holidays, so keep a well-stocked kitchen and offer a pre-arrival grocery service
- Amazon Prime or Netflix subscriptions cost little and are very popular
- Fill your home with anything bulky that can save on guest packing scores points, such as baby paraphernalia, bathrobes and family-friendly lawn games
- Add personal touches costs little and helps guests feel more warmly about your home, increasing the likelihood of repeat bookings and recommendations