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Know more about your Vacation Rental guests than they do themselves

You can know more about your guests’ preferences as a group than they do themselves!  Armed with this critical knowledge, you can design your VR experience to amaze and delight.  You can turn guests into raving fans.

All you need  is a customer obsession!

A customer obsession can help you jump ahead of your competitors, and it can be fun!  You can do it systematically.  You can use the wisdom of crowdsourcing to optimise your offering.  In this article, I show you how including real examples from our vacation rental.

Here are some guidelines for systematically uncovering your guests’ needs:

  • Use each guest touchpoint as an opportunity to listen to their deep needs
  • Ask high value, open questions
  • Don’t be intrusive, watch for warnings in body language and voice tone
  • A sample of a few questions for a few guests is all you need, don’t overdo it

Let your guests design the experience

When I read through some old reviews on our listing recently, there were two phrases that stood out repeatedly.

“Amazing attention to detail” and  “You seem to have thought of everything!”

Oh that’s nice, we lucked in there.  Or did we?

Actually we didn’t luck in.  Nor did we have supernatural insights into future guest needs.  Initially there were few small details to delight our guests.  We experimented.  We listened and our guests told us what they wanted.  It didn’t happen over weeks, it happened over years, and it is still happening.


The most valuable feedback was in the early months of operating when we knew we were too close to our own rental to see it fresh with the eyes of a guest.  So we asked, in two ways.

  • We had, and still have, a very simple paper questionnaire that asks for a rating on several attributes and an open question – how could we improve?
  • As the guests were leaving, we happened to meet them*, and we casually asked what they liked and didn’t like.

*A movement sensor in the carport alerted us that they were leaving and I took the dog for a walk!

The guests had lots of suggestions, and a few surprises.

“We loved the open air hot tub”   Um, I explained we didn’t have an open air hot tub, just a spa inside.  “Yes you do, if you open the windows all around the spa and block off the inside with the screens, you have an outside hot tub watching the waves.  Fabulous!”   Of course, and that was how we promoted it on our website descriptions.

The guest suggestions tumbled  out:

“A hook next to the shower”

“Some big fluffy towels and robes”

“A shelf beside the vanity for make-up”

“A light for the step at night”

“A block-out blind for less light in the morning”

“Clearer instructions for connecting the DVD”

“ A list of walks”

“A washing machine”

“A bigger pantry”

“A telescope”

And many more.

All implemented. All discovered by later guests who said we had thought of everything.


There were a lot experimental improvements that the guests liked and some that they didn’t like.

“Loved the Origami”

“Loved the Japanese music CD.”

“Hubby went fishing with your rod”

“Thanks for the maps”

“Loved the food guide and the local tips”


We  also stocked a range of local wines that guests could buy, big effort by us.  “No, we bring our own favourites.”

We tried a romantic pamper package, big effort.  “No thanks”

We were nervous that our email newsletter might be too frequent for our return guests, so we asked.  “Love it, can’t wait to read it”

Little by little, we tuned our VR offering closely to our guests’ needs.  You can do that too.

The competitive advantage – free extras

All of the improvements added extra work for our cleaner, and one day she jolted us with an idea.  “You know that you guys do a whole lot more than my other cleans, it takes longer.”  It was a light bulb moment.

We sat her down and checked what it was that we did extra.  It was a lot.  We started counting.  There were over 35 extras that we provided for free that our competitors didn’t, mainly because were listening harder to our guests! We could use this in our marketing.

So we made a list that we could send to prospective guests who weren’t sure if they would go ahead with the booking.  We called it “The amazing 35 Extras you get for free at Sea Zen”.  We put it on our website here.

We used the same approach on our earlier two VRs, but refined our methods at Sea Zen, our newest vacation rental.

In a former life , when measuring customer satisfaction in 30,000 staff in a global corporate, I found that asking at key touchpoints gave the most useful insights.



Each guest touchpoint is a precious opportunity, partly a time for questions, partly a time to develop a relationship.

Here are some ideas, but you can tune it to your own style for your guests.   You should ask just one or two questions at each touchpoint, don’t overdo it!

Touchpoint – When the guest completes the booking by phone

Why did you choose us?

What were you searching for? Can you remember the keywords you used?

Is this for a special occasion?

Are you looking to do anything special when you stay?

(If the booking was by email, you can make a ‘courtesy call’ to see if they have any questions about the stay, and then ask them your questions!)


Touchpoint – When the guest arrives

Can I tell you about the local area? Are you looking for anything specific? Let us know if we can help in any way.


Touchpoint – The guest book

An opportunity for the guest to share their thoughts about their stay as they write in the guest book.  Can be very emotionally evocative, can give insights into what other guests may resonate with.


Touchpoint – The brief questionnaire

A private way for the guest to tell the owner of any deficiencies or suggestions.


Touchpoint – During the stay

A check – usually by text – to see if there is anything the host can do.

Will shake out any burning issues.


Touchpoint – On departure  

How did it go?  How did you find X? (the latest experiment you are testing)

We’re doing a random test – was the best part of your stay?

Just a favour – we’re trying to get more reviews, is it ok for me to email you a link?

Please tell your friends about your stay.


Touchpoint – After they leave a review

Thank them.


Little by little, you understand more and more about your guests’ needs.

Little by little, you modify your VR facilities and your VR experience to amaze and delight your guests, so they become loyal return guests.

They will say to you “you have thought of everything!”
The really cool part about all this, it is fun and it is free!  It can transform your business.

How do you understand your guests? Use the comments below.




My name is Rex Brown. I live in Australia, on the Great Ocean Road in Victoria. I run two of my holiday rentals here on the coast, and another in inner Melbourne . They are all quite different, but they all run at high occupancy. They are the sandpit that I play in, running constant experiments about what works and what doesn’t.


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