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Terms of Engagement

By Ana M. Kinkaid
Published: 04/11/07 Topics: Comments: 0

One question we are often asked is: 'Do I need to use a rental contract when I have guests' And the answers is: YES! YES!! YES!!! You MUST have a signed contract ; for your protection and the guests.

Let me explain why. First, having a vacation rental business is just that - a business. You are not loaning your home to a close family member or long time friend. You might do 'business' with your brother or friend with a nod and a handshake. But I bet you would never do business with anyone else that way. And the simple fact is you do not know the people coming to enjoy your property. They might seem nice on the phone, but that is no guarantee that damage can't occur, accidentally or otherwise.

And there is a second good reason to have a signed contract: A contract clearly states the differences between a vacation rental and any other member of the hospitality industry, such as hotel or bed and breakfast. It states upfront what is expected from the vacation rental guest and what is not acceptable.

Here are some of the major areas to consider including in your very important contract:

HOW PAYMENT IS TO BE MADE ; In Full? In Advance? Partial?

FORM OF PAYMENT ; Check, Credit Cards?

TIMELINE FOR PAYMENT ; At the time of Booking, Scheduled?

TAXES TO BE APPLIED TO BOOKING ; Sales? Lodging? Others?


CANCELLATION POLICY ; Timeline, Fees? Penalties?

TERMINATION ; When and Why a guest can be asked to leave?

PETS- Allowed? Not Allowed? Fees? Deposits? Penalties?

UNIT OCCUPANCY ; Families Only? Guest Limit? Fees? Penalties?

CHECKIN/CHECKOUT ; Timeline/Special Requests?

FURNISHINGS PROVIDED ; Description of items in unit?

CARE OF PROPERTY ; Statement of guest responsibility? Hot Tub Use? Pool Use? Grill?

USE OF PROPERTY ; Locked Areas? Cleaning? Housekeeping Services? Fees?

EMERGENCY ; Contact Information?

TELEPHONE ; Use, Fees?

PARKING ; Availability? Where? Fees?

TENANT LIABILITY ; Areas, Fees, Legal Responsibility?

INDEMNITY ; Owners' Limited Responsibility?


Be sure to have your written contract legally reviewed. It will be money well spent and many headaches pretended. But whatever you do, have a written signed contract. No real business operates without written documents, especially when money and services are involved. And as the owner of a vacation rental, you are involved in both areas. If you have any doubt about how very important it is to have a written contract with each and every guest, just remember this classic saying from the world of litigation: 'A verbal contract is worth the paper it is written on'.

Your signed contact will enable your guest to experience your property in a positive manner. They will know clearly what is expected and so will you. Use a signed contact and everybody will know the terms of engagement! It's one way to help your guests fall in love with your professional run vocational rental.

PET PROJECTS: Man's Best Friend on Your Property

You have a lovely vacation rental. You have spent a lot of time and money to get it ready for guests. And then you are asked that dreaded question by a guest: 'Can I bring my dog'

What are you suppose to say? I mean, you like pets as much as the next normal person and have a kind heart. Yet there is a tightening feeling in your stomach that this just won't work You're thinking about explaining that a dog might spoil your beautiful carpets, but you can already hear the guest saying that their dog is a 'good dog'. Any objection that you might voice will be countered with a 'but my dog wouldn't…' What's an owner to do?

Well, consider a technique of dealing with guests often used by European vacation rental owners: the 'we're only thinking of you' conversational strategy. It goes something like this ; start by saying you would love to host their charming dog BUT unfortunately you won't be able to provide what their beloved pet needs. Explain that hospitality standards for proper dog care involve insuring that Fido is (1) protected from overheating, (2) has a large open running area, (3) has appropriate elimination and feeding areas, (4) a supportive and available environment for socializing with both humans and other dogs and (5) an appropriate area for vocalizing - barking. Then state that as your facility cannot offer these required care considerations, you are not able to have pets on property for their own good. Finish by sharing with the guest that you, like the owner, want only the best environment for their pet. And your vacation rental, sadly, is not that environment.

The guest who truly cares about their dog will see your point. They may ask if you know of any other rentals that do take dogs. Try to have a referral ready. The guest who tries to wave aside your concern for their pet is probably not the guest you want. Most often they will care for your vacation rental as carelessly as they are caring for their dog(s).

Finally, consider supporting your local humane society through the possible donation of a room night to their annual auction. It always helps to tell the guest who won't take no for an answer that you support the local humane society and their standards of good pet care.

Stand firm because you are really advocating for the quality of care each and every dog deserves. Pets are not toys to be carried around in the back seat of a car. Travel and new environments can be very hard and disorientating to them. After all, we all want what is best for the pet. If at some point you do decide to take dogs, require at least a $100 deposit to cover possible pet damage. And be sure to include a clear statement about guest responsibility in your reservation contract for any and all damages caused by an unhappy pet.

Make proper pet care your pet project. Fido will say a big, 'Thank you-Woof, Woof!'

TOP PROPERTY: Timber Wolf Cabin, Pigeon Forge TN

Sometimes you encounter a vacation rental that does 'experience vacation marketing' just right. The Timber Wolf Cabin property in Pigeon Forge Tennessee is one such property. Nestled in the foothills of the Great Smokey Mountains, this cabin offers more than just magnificent scenery to visitors.

It is also in Sevier County, home to Dolly Parton's Dollywood and encircled by communities where tourism is a valued regional industry. An annual calendar of monthly events include Wilderness Wildlife Week (January), Smoky Mountain Storytelling Festival (February), Cowboy's Saddle Up Celebration (February), Mountain Quiltfest (March), String Time in the Smokies (March), Dolly Parade (April), Rhythm in the Hills (May) Patriot's Festival (July), Celebrate Freedom (August), Smoky Mountains Harvest Festival (September and October) and Winterfest (November and December).

As a result, over 10 million visitors come to this area each year AND it is the second most popular destination wedding sight in the country after Las Vegas. Now that's a location that any guest (and rental owner) would howl with delight about.

But wisely, the owner of Timber Wolf Cabin is perceptive that after so many activities, visiting guests will need a peaceful center to retire to. And Timber Wolf Cabin provides that. Natural wood tones make this home seem right at home among the green trees that surround it. This beautiful lodging offers accommodations for up to nine guests in a comfortable two story, three bedroom layout.

In addition there are multiple TVs, three VCRs, two DVD players and a special large screen home theater system. If a television program or movie doesn't relax the guest, they can try relaxing by the gas fireplace, in the master Jacuzzi or outdoor hot tub, sunbath on one of three outside decks or slowly barbecue streaks on the charcoal grill. And all this is located in a peaceful gated community.

From local fun to peaceful evenings, The Timber Wolf Cabin is truly a top property with an understanding of how to help guests experience the vacation of a lifetime-year after year!


ON BOARD: Got Branding? Fullers' Private Labeled Soaps

You never know where the open road will lead you. And nothing could be more true then that for David and Linda Jones, owners of the Fuller's Soaps Company. In 1988 Linda was saddened by the loss of her job at a different firm. David, like a thoughtful spouse, suggested they take a drive to shake the blues away. Enjoying each other's company, they drove along until without much thought, they found themselves in Nevada City, California.

The one local hotel was completely booked and they were miles from home. The front desk clerk kindly referred them to a newly open bed and breakfast, The Parsonage. David and Linda had never stayed in a B&B before, but they decided to make it a weekend for trying something new. What they found was a delightful lodging experience. After a restful night's sleep, they joined the other guests at the breakfast table. Deborah Dane, the owner and innkeeper at the Parsonage, was pouring coffee. Guests began to talk about what their various occupations were. And that is when David and Linda's life changed forever.

When it was David's turn, he said that he manufactured soap. Deborah quickly explained to him that find the right kind of soap for her guests were a constant problem. Every guest had to have a fresh new bar for sanitary reasons. But the regular sized commercial hand soap was too big and too expensive. Purchasing from a wholesaler didn't work because of the large minimum orders required and the difficulty in storing so much soap. Finally, most hotel mini soap bars were too small and of unbelievably poor quality. In short, Deborah wanted to know if David could help.

Back home, David decided to create a small bar that was both rich and that could last for four long showers ; no small feat. When Deborah got her glycerin soap samples a few weeks later, she was delighted. The soap was everything she had hoped for. At the suggestion of another innkeeper, David decided to offer private labeling for his new soap. For a small setup fee, a vacation rental can now have its own labeled soap and be part of one of the leading new trends in hospitality marketing ; branding amenities.

Today this family owned firm continues to offer outstanding service and soap products specifically to small properties. Jan Brand (talk about brand-ing your property) invites VROA members to call her directly for samples at 415-883-8883. We urge you to contact them (fullersoaps.com)fullersoaps.com. You will not be disappointed. At Fullers' you will discover a 'brand' new way to prompt your property.

MEET THE PRESS: All the Write Words

Today lodging is about more than a mere bed, bath and a TV set. Modern travelers want a 'vacation experience.' Joseph Pine's and James Gilmore's book, The Experience Economy, documents this major new marketing trend. Whether it is for a weekend or longer, guests are looking for the destination that offers an escape to the unique. And no one is better suited to offer the 'holiday experience' than vacation rentals.

Your vacation rental can be that special location where 'magic'' happens for guests, BUT only if you can clearly state it. This marketing concept was completely understood by Walt Disney. He did not sell admission to a theme park. Instead, he sold admission to the Disney experience and price was not the issue. The quality of the experience was.

You can create that feeling of experience around your rental as well and you don't have to have a large mouse to achieve it. It is just a matter of choosing the right focus and correlative marketing words. Begin by selecting the experience marketing niche that fits your property, your interests and your regional attractions. Check out some of these major experience marketing trends that are currently influencing the hospitality industry:

Eco-tourism: If you live in an area that is known for its natural beauty or unique wildlife, this market segment might be used to highlight your rental. Locations near such attractions as the Grand Canyon, the Everglades, the Northwest Rainforests, the Pacific Ocean or the Mississippi Delta all offer guests a chance to see and appreciate the ecology of our remarkable planet. Working with ecology focused organizations is an excellent way to let potential guests know you are a destination that puts them in direct contact with the precious wonders of nature.

Green Tourism: No, no this isn't about guests from the Emerald Isle. Rather, it is a growing market segment that actively promotes on site eco-friendly practices. Using compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs), all cotton sheets and paper instead of plastic bags, will not only attract the insightful guest, it will also save you money. Such practices also let you stand out as a positive community member who supports the best possible environment for everyone.

Cultural Tourism: Baby boomers are the largest group of individuals currently booking vacation rentals. 'Boomers' are generally over 50 years of age with an annual income of $75,000 plus. They are well traveled and have seen and done a lot. As a result, they often enjoy the arts, whether it is pictorial or performance orientated. If you live near a major museum, music center or arts festival, you have a natural marketing draw for guests interested in culture. Consider calling a booking agency and seeing if you can arrange a discount on tickets for your incoming guests. The arts association will be delighted ; you just made their job of filling seats easier.

Great Outdoor Tourism: Can you sign up for river rafting in your area? Is heli-skiing available? What about mountain climbing or bungee-jumping? Then you are ideally positioned to offer your guests a chance to enjoy great outdoor tourism. You don't have to lead these trips yourself. In fact, it would be wise if you don't. Instead, form strong working relationships with the professional guides and tour groups in your area that are (1) experienced, (2) bonded and (3) professionally recommended. Your job starts when guests return at the end of the day and tell you what a great time they've had. Hot chocolate/iced tea anyone?

Culinary Tourism: Is your region famous for food or wine? Is there a hallmark ethnic flair to your local cuisine? Do you enjoy cooking and dining? If so, consider highlighting these elements in your written guest materials. Check out local cooking schools, farmers markets, vineyards. Almost everyone loves to either cook or eat. Compile a list of local restaurants that use regional ingredients and are willing to work with guests interested in matters culinary. Place regional food and wine magazines in your rental, as well as cook books by local authors. They make great reading and clearly present your marketing focus to guests.

Urban Tourism: Some cities are an experience in and of themselves. New York, Paris, London, San Francisco ; their very names conjure up images of great museums, grand avenues, unforgettable restaurants and a lifestyle that defines the cosmopolitan. If your rental is in such a city, you can create a clear market niche for yourself by helping your guests enjoy your special town. Have maps ready and know what events are currently available for guests to enjoy. Also be sure to give your guests guidelines about safety in the big city. Plan to be their center of information when they arrive and I can guarantee they will recommend you to all their friends!

Gaming Tourism: The casinos of Las Vegas and Atlantic City, to name just a few, are amazing destinations that attract millions of guests every year. If your marketing supports the casino theme, you will likely smile all the way to the bank. Find a good booking agent who can assist your guests in obtaining tickets to the elaborate casino floorshows. Be sure to join your regional tourist association and actively support their efforts. Be aware of the casino regulations and share them with your guests. Have a written set of firm boundaries that protects both your property and your guests.

Spa Tourism: Ah, a relaxing backrub and a soak in a tub of warm and scented water. If that doesn't make for a happy guest, what will? If you are located near a spa center, don't miss the opportunity to link their services to your property. Stress is a major problem in today's world and guests are willing to pay top dollar for a chance to relax. Be sure to have spa style amenities in your rooms. Guests will take them home to remember their experience and that is just what you want. You might even consider selling your amenities on your web site so guests can share them with their friends. Just be sure your name is on every product via a private label.

Family Tourism: Many vacations are about family time together. Destinations such as Disney World or Williamsburg were designed for family fun. If you are near such a destination, think about making your rental family friendly. Do you have child focused videos available in your unit? Are your grounds and garden safe for small children? Do you know the name and have driving directions to the nearest 24 hour grocery store that sells milk? The nearest drug store? Your thoughtful preplanning will say loud and clear that families are welcome here!

So take a moment and decide which marketing niche best fits your vacation rental. Then start a list of words that will preset that experience in your guest's mind. Use these words on your website and in your brochures. Wrap your theme around the readers. Use your writing to make them want to experience for themselves what you are describing. It is as simple as that. Define the experience and you will always find all the write words! And the right guests!

BOOK MARK: Working Knowledge

Raza, Ivo. Heads in Beds-Hospitality and Tourism Marketing. Prentice Hall, 2004.

If you want to success in the business world of lodging, you have to have a working knowledge of how sales and marketing function in the industry. Heads in Beds is an excellent resource, full of creative ideas and marketing insights that clearly tells you what it's all about. Ivo Raza starts by explaining how professionals define their marketing focus. He next presents what branding, advertising, promotions and public relations are all about and how work they together to increase your profits. He then shows how you can create better brochures as well as work with travel agents and industry wholesalers. He even covers internet marketing. This book has gotten rave reviews within the industry. It is a strong and very useful addition to your profession book shelf. It is worth every penny of the price. Treat yourself to success ; get this book today.

Author: Ana M. Kinkaid, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0069 – 04/11/07

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