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The Graceful Art of Dealing with Difficult Guests

By Ana M. Kinkaid
Published: 04/02/07 Topics: Comments: 0

In this imperfect world there is no way to satisfy each and every guest. Try as hard as you might to be the perfect host, the nature of life is such that given the moods of guests, their own unique backgrounds and the way things work (or don't), you cannot avoid having to deal with the unhappy guest from time to time.

As a result, knowing how to work positively with the upset guest is a vital business skill. After all, no one wants to have an unpleasant day ' not the guest, and certainly, not you.

Begin conflict resolution by understanding that in the lodging industry there are three guest profiles that often seem to be susceptible to stress and conflict:

The Distracted Guest ' this guest often brings their problem(s) with them. They frequently tell you their concern/difficulty to you as they book their reservation. Reasons for their holiday can include too much stress, a need to get away, a major life change such as a divorce, etc.

In general they are often off balance and hope a change of pace and location will help them refocus. Most often this type of guest wants personalized attention such as verbal directions, a personal welcoming note prior to arrival or a calendar of local events.

Your individualized attention enables them to find a sense of 'self' again and will generally move the client towards a more positive attitude.

The Disappointed Guest ' this guest arrives with their own set of unrealistic expectations. There is even a term for this in psychology, known as the 'Paris Syndrome'. Many people traveling to Paris for the first time fantasize it to be the perfect city of their dreams ' a city filled only with high fashion, great artists and endless gourmet meals.

They are often shocked when they arrive and find that although Paris has all of these wonderful elements, it also has smog, traffic jams, fast food outlets and average everyday people walking the streets. As a result, the traveler experiencing the Paris Syndrome (and it can happen anywhere), often feels let down and sometimes betrayed.

The syndrome then expresses itself as either anger or depression. You can eliminate much of this guest's discomfort before their arrival by being practical and down to earth as you describe your rental. Once there, provide accurate information about what the guest can enjoy your area. As they relax (and adjust their expectations), their mood generally improves and they have a good time.

The Disruptive Guest ' this guest requires immediate action. Because they feel ignored, insulted or in some way mistreated, waiting to address their concerns will generally only make matters worse.

Listed below are some of the best ways to deal quickly with this kind of unhappy guest, using the 'SOARING' Interaction Method:

Summarize the complaint conversation if it has become too lengthy. Once the problem has been understood, move on to the solution. Observe the guest's body language or vocabulary choice and check to see if it matches the meaning of the words spoken.

Most often the verbal and body languages need

to be correlated or conflict resolution isn't possible.

Actively listen to what is said by making gentle eye contact. Avoid, however, too intense a focus as this can be interpreted as hostile. Reflect on what you thought you heard. Ask questions to be sure that you truly understand the guest's concern or difficulty.

Indicate that you truly care about the guest and that their concern will be address.

Name the problem so that you can both focus on that, rather then become involved in an exchange of personalized anger or blame.

Go beyond the emotions expressed to get to the facts. Remember you cannot 'fix'

emotions. Continue the conversation at another time if the guest becomes insulting or verbal abusive. Emotional control is the guest's responsibility. Addressing the facts is yours.

Yet, when all is said and done, please be aware that some guests will ask for more than is fair or even legal. It is very important for each property owner to know the specific laws and traditional guidelines within the hospitality industry.

For an excellent text on the subject, please read the review of Stephen Barth and David Hayes' book, Hospitality Law: Managing Legal Issues in the Hospitality Industry that follows in BOOK MARK in this newsletter. Knowing both your rights and how to defuse a guest's anger are important components in changing hard times into positive days of profit.

SUDS AND SENSIBILITY ' Saving Money with Great Linen at VROA

There is an old saying in France that cheap is always expensive. And nowhere is that more true then when buying tablecloths and napkins for your rental. Inexpensive linen is available everywhere whether you are searching out large discount stores or volume dealers on the internet.

But you will get exactly what you pay for: something cheap that won't hold up at the first washing or two. But if you want to buy something that will last for a year, indeed, something that will last for a lifetime (no, I'm not kidding), let me introduce you to Jay and Kathryn Severance who own and operate Gallic Traditions. Their amazing online shop offers some of the world's best (and most durable) table linens.

During the 1990's Jay and Kathryn lived, worked and traveled through France. Often as they drove through France's wine districts, they noticed the beautiful linen that covered cafe and restaurant tables. When they asked young couples where this beautiful linen came from, the reply was often 'My grandmother gave it to me. It was her's when she was young.'

Now that's great linen!

Well, if a good wine is worth tracking down, Jay and Kathryn thought so was great table linen. And that was the start of Gallic Traditions, which proudly offers linen by Garnier Thiebaut, Beauville and Valdrome-all classic fabrics. The legendary Garnier Thiebaut firm has been producing premiere table linen exclusively for the world's leading restaurants since 1830. Today, they are available for individual purchase through selected dealers such as Gallic Traditions.

Famed for their skilled jacquard weaving method that makes the tablecloths reversible, the fabric is firm yet drapes beautiful. Beauville and Valdrome both produce silk screened tablecloths treasured for the bright clear colors that do not fade after years of washing.

And best of all, VROA members can now purchase these life-time linens at a 10% discount! Please contact me at ana@vroa.organa@vroa.org and I'll be glad to introduce you to this remarkable couple who enjoy all things French.

So if you'd like to shop less and enjoy life more, consider these amazing linens for your property. If you wash them as suggested below, they will last a life time. And you will be in great company ' many of the world's most beautiful hotels and exclusive rental properties swear by both their beauty and their durability.

Contact: (gallictraditions.com)gallictraditions.com


Wash on gentle cycle in your washer using a gentle soap such as Ivory Snow, Woolite or Orvus Quilt Soap (available at quilting as well as many saddle or tack shops).

Wash in cold or clear water, never hot.

Use only oxygen bleaches (hydrogen peroxide) for white linen. Never use chlorine bleach as it causes yellowing. Brown spots indicate soap is still present.

Add a couple of tablespoons of hair cream rinse to the final wash. Trust us, it will make your linen feel softer and more luxurious.

Give it a try ' after all, vacation rentals have been French tradition for over fifty years!

TOP PROPERTY ' Sweet Dreams & Great Fun: The Nautical Inn of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin

A vacation rental property that understands its guests' needs, has taken a huge step towards success. And the Nautical Inn of Lake Geneva in Wisconsin has certainly done that. By integrating theme and location, they have created a holiday destination that lets a guest feel at home while still part of the larger community.

Located on the deepest and longest lake in southern Wisconsin, this stunning body of water was once the private reserve of the wealth. From lakeside mansions, tired Victorians came here to enjoy both summer waters and winter ice activities. Today that tradition continues, but the lake is now enjoyed by everyone.

The Nautical Inn serves as an anchor between those two great traditions, linking a gracious past with an exciting future.

Debi and Richard Nelson have lovingly restored the Inn to its former glory, but added all modern touches that make life easy for the modern traveler. To highlight the area's rich nautical tradition, they chose a décor that accents lighthouses, sailboats and all things from the water, but with a restrained hand.

These innkeepers have done a lovely job of sharing the past with their guests without make their home feel like a dated museum. Whether a guest sleeps in the Captain's Room or First Mate's Room, each visitor feels the flavor of the place both past and present.

The Nelsons understand that to feel comfortable, the

guest needs to feel a balancing of themes. Sadly, some properties go too far in one direction or another, leaving the guest to feel 'marooned' in too strong a style statement.

It is equally important that the guest feel free to 'sail' out and enjoy the activities beyond the lodging. Again, Debi and Richard achieve this in spades with the many clear (and working) links to year round activities at the lake. In addition to exact driving direction, these insightful innkeepers provide descriptive paragraphs that invite you to envision a memorable family holiday at the lake.

The text skillfully presets an experience that can only be described as positive. The end result is that between the respect for the past and promise of enjoyment today, who wouldn't want to stay here? Does it get any better than this?

Hats off to an outstanding marketing job by the Nautical Inn of Lake Geneva in beautiful Wisconsin!



ON BOARD ' Ten Major Mistakes Vacation Rental Owners Make

We are often asked by owners how they can make their rentals more successful. Success is often achieved by avoiding mistakes. Listed below are the ten most common mistakes vacation rental owners make:

1. BEING TOO EMOTIONALLY CONNECTED TO YOUR RENTAL. When you decide to make your vacation home available as a vacation rental, it is very important to shift your concept of the property from a treasured family retreat to one of a professional business rental property.

Start by removing any family heirlooms or other items that prompt you to be attached to it as a personal residence. Not only will this help you adjust your image of the property, but it will also move them to your private home which is where such items now belong.

2. LACKING SUFFICIENT STARTUP FUNDS. There is a significant difference between a comfy down-at-the-heels-but-we-love-it property and the quality of a professional vacation rental. A table that's rocked since grandmother's day may be charming to you, but not to your guest trying to use his/her laptop.

Be prepared to spend the money to bridge the distance between grandmother's unsteady jam table and the contemporary standards of quality accommodations in the hospitality industry today.


Many first-time vacation rental owners are highly concerned about theft. And that is understandable, but in reality it is very seldom a problem. Very, very rarely is anything taken.

And if you have (1) removed items of personal value, (2) followed the house staging guideline that 'less is better' and (3) have the correct kind of rental insurance, you can relax on this issue.

4. IGNORING THE INTERNET. This is the 21st century and that means the Internet is here to stay. This marvelous invention allows you to reach millions in moments. You can NOT ignore a marketing/sales tool of that strength. Study the internet. Learn how it can support your rental.

It is your friend and a major business tool today. In short, to be successful today, you've got to be 'connected'!

5. HIRING THE WRONG PEOPLE. Use only professional independent contractors that have been recommended to you by other local business people. General newspaper ads and Craig's List postings don't do the job.

Instead of taking risks, you will save money and avoid headaches if you only hire the people with a proven (and bonded) business record.

6. UNDERESTIMATING OPERATIONAL COSTS. Once your vacation home has become a vacation rental, do not expect that your property maintenance costs will remain the same. Why? Well, to make money you want reservations, lots of them. That means more people will be coming to your property then before and that means more upkeep costs. As a personal retreat, you shoveled snow only when you enjoyed a holiday.

If your property is booked weekly, that means the snow removal issue has to be addressed much more frequently. The same is true of summer maintenance needs such as air conditioning, lawn gardening sewer and yard irrigation. Your rental property will make money, but be prepared to spend some money to do so. Such is the nature of the business.

7. FAILING TO KEEP RECORDS. Keep timely records every day. Record all your expenditures as well as income. If you don't write it down, you will never know if you are truly making money. And you will not be able to go back and recreate the accounts accurately from memory.

Use a notebook or, better yet, purchase any of the excellent accounting software programs now available for small business. If you rent your property for money, you are in business. Keeping accurate and timely records shows you know that. And your tax person will be grateful.

8. SETTING THE WRONG RENTAL PRICE. Research other rentals in your area. Rate them as to similarities and differences when compared to your rental. Match their rental rates. If you are going to charge more, be able to clearly say why: a larger pool, an enclosed porch with sweetheart swings, a location nearer the best beach.

Guests generally don't mind paying more if they can clearly understand that they are getting more. Also be aware of how rates can be affected by different seasons and regional events. Shift your rates accordingly throughout the year. Guests making early reservations should pay full price as they have the greatest number of lodging choices available. Offer discounts only to last minute guests who are filling spaces that might otherwise go empty.

Two thirds of your normal rate that late in the game is better than nothing. But do not discount your rate until close to the closing calendar date. Hold firm on unnecessary discounts and you will make more revenue.

9. BEING UNSURE OF BOUNDARIES. Any business person who interacts with people needs both a degree of patience and determination. You want to be understanding of that guest who just had a bird fly through an opened window. On the other hand, you must be firm with the guest who has too many guests with too many cars invading the property.

One guest can be supported with the advice that if they relax the bird will probably just fly out again. The second guest needs to be told very directly that unless the numerous visitors and cars leave, they will be leaving, maybe faster than the bird.

10. AVOIDING COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT. Last but not least, remember that vacation rentals are a new experience in many areas. And quite often what is new or different can frighten people. Be involved in your local community. Be sure to join your Local Chamber of Commerce and supportive tourist marketing associations.

Let everyone know that your guests are delightful people who not only pay in advance for their reservations, but spend additional money throughout the community. Support local sport teams and cultural events. Knowledge is the best way to dissolve bias.

MEET THE PRESS ' Your Secret Partner: Free Trade Journals

Information is one of your best business tools. And one of the best kept secret in the hospitality industry are the wonderful trade journals that are free to individuals working in the lodging field. Take a moment, go on the internet and sign up for them.

If you are wondering about marketing to professional event planners, the hottest new food trends, the best phone system in the industry or a great source for beautiful sinks, here is how you can find out for free.

Source: (hotelresource.tradepub.com)hotelresource.tradepub.com

Magazines (Many, many more are listed at their web site)

Meetings West

Meetings South

Meeting East

Meetings MidAmerica

Corporate Meetings & Incentives

Hospitality Construction Magazine

Target Marketing

Food Arts

BOOK MARK ' Legal Eagle 101

Barth, Stephen and David K. Hayes. Hospitality Law: Managing Legal Issues in the

Hospitality Industry. Indianapolis: Wiley, 2005.

Are you required to replace money a guest says is missing? When is a guest legally entitled to a refund? What is your liability if your refrigerator doesn't cool correctly?

If you would like the answers to these and many more everyday questions that can occur, this is a must-have book for your professional library. Disputes with guests and staff are discussed as well as preventive management and effective legal decision making.

Considered a standard in the industry, this easy-to-read book overviews all the major areas of operation and offers web exercises as well as additional Internet resources. If you are looking for answers, this can be your first source.

Author: Ana M. Kinkaid, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0068 – 04/02/07

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