Don't underestimate the importance of creating a great first impression for your guests arriving at your self-catering cottage.
Knowing how to welcome your guests will deliver many benefits from reduced complaints to increased repeat bookings. Savvy owners like to create a genuine sense of welcome for guests. It's important: First impressions count. Being made to feel not just an expected guest, but also a very special guest, is a great way to ensure your visitors start their holiday in your property on the right footing - the moment they arrive. Thereafter, if anything doesn't quite go according to plan, they'll be far more likely to forgive you for it because you'll have already convinced them you have their interests at heart. It’s a technique widely used in the retail sector. Arriving at a TGI Friday’s Restaurant, you should find the doors being opened by a member of staff welcoming you with a smile on their face. They then introduce you to your waiter or waitress to ensure you feel doubly at home – even before you’ve sat down. It’s a way of saying ‘we care’. You know they do it with everyone else, but it’s still devilishly effective.
Sometimes it’s something very simple. For five years we had a villa in Northern Cyprus, not the easiest destination to market, yet we averaged 30-32 weeks of bookings a year. We soon became aware that the majority of our guests arrived in the early hours of the morning after a long flight. The last thing they wanted was to arrive at a locked, unlit and unfamiliar property a long way from home. A welcome was necessary. That’s one of the factors making hotels in foreign climes so appealing – you know there’ll be people ready and waiting to care for you on arrival. However, in our position, having a housekeeper prepared to sit up until 2 or 3am was not something that was ever going to happen.
A welcome hamper awaits the arrival of the next guests at Higher Mullacott Farm in North Devon.
Instead, to make guests feel welcome, we decided to acknowledge how guests were feeling – and what their immediate needs were - while creating a sense of occasion that marked their arrival. The aim was to ensure they were able to tumble into bed as soon as possible, replete, relaxed, reassured and contented. Firstly we ensured the path from the gate to the front door was stylishly lit with an impressive display of solar lights which, together with the underwater lights in the pool, created a fairy-tale welcome effect the moment guests stepped out of their taxi. We also left the terrace lights switched on by the front door so they could see immediately where to find the key and where to unlock the door. Stepping over the threshold, guests would then find the hall and landing lights already on as well as those in the lounge and kitchen. This negated the need to grope in the dark for light switches. A first glimpse through the lounge door would reveal a vase of fresh flowers from the garden on the coffee table with a box of Turkish Delight (we tried using chocolates but they displayed an annoying tendency to melt). In the kitchen guests would find a welcome pack in a locally made basket (with a note to say that the fresh food part of the pack was in the fridge). The pack contained the stuff that most people crave when they arrive - a drink – tea, coffee, wine - a small snack, together with sufficient bread and breakfast cereals to see them through the following morning. Guests would also find a personalised hand written card from the housekeeper, welcoming them and giving directions to the nearest food shop. She would also mention that she would call round in the morning to ensure that everything was OK, once they'd had a chance to unpack and settle in. This investment, because to be honest it cost a few quid in electricity and victuals, delivered a number of advantages that more than offset the cost. It meant we hardly ever received a complaint about the property. Of course sometimes something broke, or there was a power cut, but guests were more often quite happy to take it in their stride. They’d tell us about it (and we’d sort it) – but never ever expressing their comment in the form of an “I want my money back” attitude. Guests don’t really want to complain to someone prepared to take such care of them. It meant we appeared to enjoy a much higher ratio of repeat bookings than the properties around us, allowing us to save on advertising, It also helped to ensure we were spoiled for choice in the quality of guest testimonials for use on our website – which helped to attract more new bookings. The housekeeper was happy too. She reckoned that if guests broke anything during their stay they were far less likely to say it was already broken or hadn't been properly cleaned, as her visit was timed to give them enough time to identify any such problems. She was always careful to ask! All in all, investing in first impressions ensured that we enjoyed a far less stressful time managing guest relations. The only downside was one German guest who woke us by phoning at 3.00am one Sunday morning to say how delighted he was with the villa on arrival.
There are some things that you have to work at which guests will take for granted (and only complain if they aren't there), such as cleanliness, every light bulb working and ironed bedsheets. It's what you do that goes beyond the expected that will really initiate the love affair between your guests and your holiday cottage.
Greeting guests with fresh flowers to match the season shows a nice thoughtful touch.
Use fridge magnets to send a personalised welcome message to younger children
For example - Jenny at Devon Beach Court in Woolacombe likes to know the first names of any young children arriving as she creates a personalised welcome message for them with magnetic letters on the fridge.
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