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How to Earn 5-Star Reviews and Repeat Bookings

There’s more than to it just having a pretty holiday cottage to generate 5-star reviews and more repeat bookings. While stunning reviews and repeat bookings make marketing your holiday cottage a lot easier, they do require some work and planning. Ultimately though, they all derive from building an excellent professional relationship with your guests based on respect and integrity. They must feel that you always have their best interests at heart in giving them a memorable, care-free and rejuvenating self-catering holiday with people they love.

We all know that the greater your ‘relationship’ is with a guest, it leads to more great reviews and repeat bookings.  But ‘relationship’ doesn’t mean the strength of your face-to-face contact with guests and sending birthday cards to their children. It means the things you do to show them you want them to have the best possible holiday when they book your property.

Here are twenty-five ways to go about building professional guest relationships.

The relationship with a guest starts from the moment you receive their enquiry or online booking notification. Suppose you can reassure them that they will be welcome by your actions and reinforce that by the way you present your holiday property when they arrive. In that case, you'll have a wealth of five-star reviews, repeat visits and word of mouth recommendations for the rest of your days. Building positive relationships with guests is probably the most effective form of marketing. It's why sites like My Favourite Holiday Cottages enable owners to have direct contact with their guests straight away.

Our extensive list of practices will help deliver an incredible holiday experience for your guests, resulting in excellent reviews and repeat visits. It begins with the six main points of contact.


1.    First Contact: Enquiry response

Make it love at first contact. Personalise your responses, not just by mentioning their name, but by answering any questions they ask or responding positively to any comments they make. Who is the booking for? A family, a couple, people with pets, or friends planning a walking holiday? If you get a sense of what kind of holiday is required from the enquiry, describe the benefits your cottage has in your response. For example, telling walkers that off-road walks with plenty of picnic spots start right from the front door tempts a family planning to spend time going for walks.


2.    Second Contact: A seamless and easy booking process.

It is estimated that around 25% of bookings are abandoned before completion. Don't let your property be one of them. Holiday cottage bookings should be an undaunting process. Whether you offer online booking from your website or take bookings by enquiry or phone call, you need a seamless process, one that ensures potential guests don't back out before completing the booking. Invite a friend round. Give them your debit card and watch to see how well they navigate finding out how to and pay their deposit (which you can transfer back to their account straight away). You only need to do it the once to make sure your way is easy to do. Make sure you offer plenty of payment choices: BACS (probably the most popular), card, PayPal and, yes, cheques. 


A Cotswold Kitchen at The Bull Pen in Bibury. Instructions Included!

3.    Third Contact: House Directory and itinerary information sent before arrival

Rather than expect guests to read an often dog-eared and occasionally out of date house directory once they have arrived, email it to your guests a week before arrival. Sending the directory early has the following benefits:

·       It makes them feel expected

·       It makes them believe you care for them

·       It ensures it is read in advance, so they'll get the maximum benefit from their holiday and know their way around the house before they arrive.

·       It is easy to update with the latest information.


4.    Use FAQs

Keep a note of questions you get asked, or comments in your visitor's book and prepare a list of Frequently Asked Questions that you can:

·       Upload to an FAQ page on your website

·       Include in your house directory.

·       Ensure less wear and tear on your property by reducing inappropriate use

·       Fewer phone calls after 10 pm asking about how to adjust the thermostat or the name of the rose over the front door.


5.    Fourth Contact: Directions

Even in this Sat-Nav era, people still like to receive your property directions about a week in advance. It reassures them. Things to include in the directions to help a guest feel you are really looking after them:

·       Location of any speed camera on the route – especially in your locality

·       A photo of their first view of the house as they approach helps identification (Sat Navs can be out by 2-300m). Likewise for any hard to spot turnings.

·       Where to park

·       Your or your housekeeper's phone numbers

·       The earliest time of arrival

·       Suggested things do, places to eat etc. if they realise that they will be arriving before you are ready to welcome them.


6.    Fifth Contact: Point of Arrival

Your options include:

·       Greeting guests on arrival in person

·       Giving guests the secret hiding place for s key (never under the mat) but somewhere findable in darkness

·       Key safe. To prevent late-night calls from arriving guests who have lost the code, set it for the last four digits of their phone number. Key safes keep insurance companies happier too.


Let your guests experience a welcome - even before they cross the threshold

7.    Reassurance: Light and Warmth

At times of the year when guests are more likely to arrive after dark:

  • Include a note in the property's directions that tells people where the light switches nearest to the entrance can be found.
  • Preferably: leave the hall and porch lights on. The electricity will probably cost you about 10p an hour. Think of the house's exterior as its shop window: make it attractive and welcoming after dark!
  • Outside the summer season, nothing pleases a guest more than to step into a warm hall on arrival. Make sure that at least some of the heating comes on about an hour before arrival. Nobody wants to step into the cold!


8.    Reassurance: Once Guests Have Crossed the Threshold…

Leave a short and personalised welcome letter on quality paper or a card with a heart-warming message of welcome alongside your welcome pack.

A welcome tray/hamper or pack of essentials and treats. Include local produce such as biscuits or cheese, and something nice to drink. Things that create homely aromas such as bread for toasting, or a pack of bacon, will boost your popularity ranking, as will some fresh flowers. If your welcome pack includes alcohol, ensure it also contains a non-alcoholic bottle of something – especially if children are coming to stay.


9.    Sixth Contact: The Courtesy Call 

Try to call guests to check that they are OK with everything, so give them an hour or so in the house to settle in. You can always call the following morning, but too soon and you wake them up, too late and they've already gone out or the day.


photo credit: Ed Peers Photography

10. The Freshness Effect

Avoid plug-in artificial aromas. They make people wonder what you are trying to cover up and in turn, makes them suspicious about everything else.


11. Well-Tended Garden

We are not talking Chelsea Flower Show standards but keep on top of it: freshly mown lawns, dead-headed flowers and minimal weeds work wonders. Even though it is only theirs for a few days, guests like to adopt a proprietary attitude towards their accommodation. Give them plenty to feel pride about outside as well as inside.  


12. Quality Bedlinen

Nobody wants to be reminded of the many guests that had slept in the bed before they did. Tired, poorly ironed bedlinen should have no place in your home. Likewise with towels. NB: Having different towel colours for each bedroom makes it easier for hardworking cleaners to establish if a towel is missing and from which room. 


13. Trouble Shooting

No matter how hard you try, at some point, something will go wrong. When it happens, deal with it straight away. The way you respond to complaints will make the difference between a 5-star review and a 1-star review. Ongoing complaints tend to be in response to how well you resolved the first complaint, not the nature of the complaint itself. Going a little beyond the call of duty is an excellent way to ensure a repeat booking.


14. Appropriate Amenities

Suppose your holiday home welcomes guests seeking to enjoy a particular type of activity, e.g. walking holidays. In that case, it will be especially popular if it caters for them accordingly. For example – if you attract walkers, install boot racks or have a warm utility room for drying wet-weather gear. In surfing areas – an outdoor shower for washing down wetsuits and boards makes life easier for you and your cleaner at the changeover, as it keeps the sand outdoors. Suppose people are likely to spend lots of time indoors, for example, on winter breaks. In that case, a Smart TV enabling guests to use their Netflix and Amazon accounts will appeal.


Game On!

15. Indoor Entertainment.

It will rain – or at least assume it will. What can you do to get a 5-star review and repeat visit from a family who were housebound by wet weather for the majority of their stay? From games rooms and smart TVs to the humble pack of cards or field glasses for indoor bird watching, there are a whole host of indoor entertainment options from which to choose.


16. A Cook-Friendly Kitchen.

Create a stress-free space in which it is a pleasure to cook and serve. Well-equipped kitchens mean well-equipped. This doesn't mean a kitchen stacked with every conceivable gadget. Just no grease-stained tin trays, chipped crockery, blunt knives, tired pots and pans long-since past their non-stick date. Instead, provide handy, inexpensive utensils such as knife-sharpeners, garlic crushers and matching crockery and cutlery. (Always buy more crockery and cutlery than you need so that you have replacements handy). Baby-friendly properties should have baby-friendly cutlery and crockery too!


17. The Little Extras

Fresh garden flowers in a reception area, a brand-new pack of cards in the welcome pack that guests can keep (and every time they use them after that, they'll remember you).


18. House Changeover Check

Ensure that all lightbulbs and all TV remote control devices are working. Check that the Wi-Fi code is where it should be, and the router is live. Don't wait for the guest to phone to say the batteries are flat or a bed-side light does not switch on. Leave out a roll of bin bags too; they will encourage guests to be cleaner and tidier.


19. Wi-Fi Log-on

The router should be free and easy to find. in much the same way that electricity slot meters are long gone, so is paid Wi-Fi


Make Yours A Friendly House


20. Child-Friendly

Child-friendly means child-friendly – not merely children allowed! Think about safety: cupboard locks, window locks in a child's bedroom, beanbags or little seats. Is the garden secure? If you have a pool, is it fenced off with a child-proof gate? Provide toys, books and puzzles as well as outdoor toys and beach gear.


21. Truly Baby friendly

What do you provide to help families with infants enjoy a relaxing self-catering holiday? This is more than just a travel cot and highchair. Items include baby plates and mugs, a changing mat, baby lights and monitors, and perhaps an emergency pack of nappies, sudo-crème etc. in case these get left at home (and often are).


22. Pet friendly

A secure garden is essential for a pet-friendly holiday cottage. Include items such as a spare lead and dog bowl, a few treats in the welcome pack, some throws to place on the sofas etc. If you are happy to welcome dogs, try to minimise carpet damage by having wooden or stone floors with rugs where possible. Some owners include an emergency name tag with their contact number to help lost dogs to be swiftly reunited.


And Finally…

23. Recycling and waste disposal.

 Make it clear what guests are expected to do and how to do it. Make the task as easy as possible with suitable bins inside the house for paper, cardboard, glass, cans, etc. Then, ensure your wheelie bins outside are in a presentable condition. Leave instructions. Just occasionally you attract guests who expect you to do all the bin emptying, so make their responsibility for this clear in your rental terms and conditions, and explain what they need to do on collection days in your house directory.


24. Checkout Time

Including the latest departure time should be in your terms and conditions, the house directory, your booking confirmation and even the directions. 

  • Are there any responsibilities for guests to keep in mind? Examples include cleaning the BBQ and clearing the garden of any dog poo.
  • Remind them what doors need to be locked and what to do with the keys if they see themselves out.
  • If your guests have paid a security deposit, make sure your documentation explains the refund procedure and what will constitute a reduction. You do need to notify guests as quickly as possible if you are going to make a claim on the deposit. If you leave it too long, they can argue that the next set of guests caused any damage or breakages.


Home from Home at Broadgate Farm in East Yorkshire

25. Welcome Your Guests Home

Make a courtesy call to check that your guests returned home safely. This is also a good time to ask them for a review (having ascertained that it is likely to be a good one!)

Request a review by E-mail. Send the details and links if you want them to upload on TripAdvisor, etc. Ideally, invite them to post a review on Google with a link to your website that will help its page rankings.

NB: Please note that most large sites such as VRBO, Trip Advisor, Air BnB and own the copyright on reviews submitted to their sites. If they find you posting the review elsewhere, they will ask the site to remove it.

It would be best if you avoided posting duplicate reviews online as search engines do not like this. These could affect your organic traffic from search results. 

  • Refund the Security Deposit if you charge one.
  • Return lost property promptly! Have an agreed system for collecting this with your cleaner/housekeeper. If the postal charges are significant, then it is usually acceptable to deduct this from any security deposit but agree to this with your guests first.
  • Make a note in your diary as to when you received your enquiry from them. Unless it was a last-minute booking, it's worth sending guests an email on the anniversary. The chances are, that's when they are thinking about next year! It works for the big package holiday companies – so why not for you!
  • Another reason to contact: If your guests suggested improvements that you could make, email them when these have been done to say thanks for the suggestion and include a photo.

So, there you are. Twenty-five actions seem like a lot but, they are all easily undertaken and, given the resulting benefits, well worth doing. Those 5-star reviews and repeat bookings will be coming your way.

One final note on reviews. While you will receive some unsolicited testimonials from guests – including lovely comments in your holiday cottage’s visitors book - you’ll get lot more if you ask guests for a review. Surprisingly most will feel flattered to be asked and if you let them know exactly how they can submit a review you should get a positive response.