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How Holiday Cottage Owners Can Handle Complaints

Reading Time: 7 minutes

If you rent out your holiday property for any length of time it’s somewhat inevitable that you will receive a guest complaint somewhere along the road.

Regardless of the care you take over your property and quality of the service you give, you just cannot please all people all of the time.

In today’s litigious society, it’s a sad fact that there are holidaymakers out there who make a handsome hobby of rolling the camcorder as soon as they arrive, eager to capture the tiniest piece of evidence that might help them claim back the full value of their holiday and effectively be your guest in more ways than one!

On the one hand this should all help to keep holiday cottage owners on their toes. We live in an internet-focused society that thrives on “social proof” as a driver of online buying decisions so we should all strive to do better.

But those same channels that encourage quality in the holiday rental industry can also be responsible for significant loss of business if things go wrong.

Guest Reviews

The online review system is clearly here to stay, and good quality properties thrive on enquiries being driven through dominant websites like Homeaway.  But what if your reviews are less than perfect?

While hotels receive hundreds of guests in a week and can afford the odd bad review from a disgruntled guest, holiday home owners usually only have one guest per week or less, so a negative review can have a much bigger impact, and indeed businesses can be ruined with scathing reviews.

We have also heard of owners being held to ransom by guests threatening to post bad reviews if they don’t refund a security deposit, or pay some kind of compensation for a (fictitious) complaint or if they don’t get their own way.

denialHow to deal with disputes

So how can holiday property owners deal with disputes, not only to make sure they deal with the guest’s complaint effectively, but also in order to protect their future business?

Don’t bury your head in the sand – avoiding complaints will make matters worse.

Here are some key steps:

Don’t give them room to complain in the first place

It all begins with something quite simple, and that is to make sure you are delivering excellence in terms of the product you offer and the service you deliver, that way there will be no cause for complaint to begin with.

Today’s independent holiday makers are seeking all the comforts of their own home, but with the service to match their favourite hotel. It’s a tall order, but it can be achieved and the effort will pay off.

Being a warm human-being and genuinely caring about your guests speaks volumes. And all those little extras that you can offer will make a world of difference.

So it’s time for owners to be friendly, helpful and informative with guests even before they arrive, during their stay and after they return from their holiday.

Begin by contacting them by email or phone to begin building the relationship even before they arrive. Provide thoughtful welcome packs on arrival. Pay attention to the detail in your holiday home and obviously make sure it is impeccably clean (Fact: most disputes are about cleaning). The list goes on, but the age-old philosophy of putting the customer at the centre of everything will stand you in good stead.

Be on top of Quality Control

Moving on from the previous point, if a guest does have cause to complaint then the onus will be on them to prove that the complaint is genuine and valid. This will be a whole lot harder for them if you can counter that with evidence that you have taken all reasonable care to present the property in a good state of quality and repair, and that it was fit for purpose and delivered as advertised. Take photos and keep receipts for replacements or anything else that may be relevant to dispute the accusations.

Make sure you check all your listings with a fine tooth and remove or amend anything erroneous or no longer available. Make sure photography and descriptions are completely up to date and make a written record of the dates you reviewed the listings.

Also make a written record of regular and thorough property inspections, inventory checks or cleaning inspections, or have your property management company do this for you.  Evidence like this can be the most valuable tool in the fight against false claims, and if nothing else, they will train you and your staff to look for problems and fix them before your guests even arrive, removing the problems in the first place.

Deliver a solution

It is widely accepted that holidaymakers should give you the opportunity to try and rectify the situation as soon as it arises. If they don’t, they will weaken their case for any compensation at a later date. Your complaints procedure should be clear in your booking terms and conditions.

Most issues can be solved by a phone call or quick visit from housekeeping/maintenance. Sometimes things happen that are beyond your control and some form of compensation may be necessary if their holiday has been inconvenienced. The A/C packing in during August for a day, a blocked toilet or a cold pool for example. Maybe a complimentary meal out on you, a discount off a future stay or partial refund if more than a few days have been affected.

How would you like to be treated? – this is usually a good way to deal with problems.

Show you care – not just to your own guests, but to the rest of the world

As we said before, you WILL have negative feedback at some point, but it’s how you deal with it that affects other’s perception on reading it.  So make it your mission to rectify and reply to every negative comment made – there is no such thing as a perfect holiday property but if an owner responds promptly, politely, acknowledging the problem to the extent necessary and then saying what they have done about it, then any potential future guest will be seriously impressed by your commitment and attention to detail.

This means keeping an eye on reviews that can be posted on any site that your holiday rental may be on. If you see a negative comment, then you must discipline yourself to take a deep breath and time to think before posting a knee-jerk reaction.  Make yourself a cup of tea, go for a walk, ring a friend or family member to rant, take a deep breath and then come back to your desk.

Then put together a constructive and positive reply, but still don’t post it yet – get someone else to check it through first and then you can go back to the computer and type it in.  If need be you should sleep on it.

It is perfectly reasonable to continue the dialogue with the complainant for everyone to see. Eventually, if they are reasonable, you will get a positive response or they will prove themselves to be unreasonable and no one will pay any attention to their original comment.

Actively seek positive social proof (reviews)

If there is one negative comment in a sea of five star reviews, then most potential customers will be likely to overlook it, so you should be actively seeking positive comments from all your guests.

There is nothing wrong in actually asking your guests to write a positive review, so do take the time to contact your guests thanking them for their custom and inviting them to leave a comment on the websites where they booked.

Review sites do not have to be something to be dreaded, but they can actually be one of the biggest drivers of business to your holiday rental if they are managed correctly.

Today’s holiday makers pay much more notice to peer recommendation than anything else, and this can only be a good thing in driving the quality of the holiday rental industry for the benefit of all concerned.

Don’t be held to ransom

Try to avoid disputes by not deducting from security deposits for accidents or small breakages – be understanding, it comes with the territory. However, if you feel any damage or extra costs you have incurred are deliberate or due to negligence – don’t be afraid to stand your ground.

Sadly there are also serial complainers who will try to exploit your good nature for their own agenda or to get “free holiday”. Establish how genuine the complaint is and gather evidence to support your defence of any complaints.

Some guests will threaten bad reviews. Don’t be blackmailed if their complaint is unwarranted. You will have the opportunity to reply with your side of the story and photo’s etc. You could also make it clear that that defamation will be pursued through the appropriate legal channels.

The small claims court may be the way to go to resolve disputes depending on the time it takes vs. the amount involved. Rarely does it get to this.

To summarise

  • Deliver excellence in terms of the product you offer and the service you deliver, that way there will be no cause for complaint to begin with.
  • Make sure your holiday rental is impeccably clean (Fact: most disputes are about cleaning) and you haven’t mislead guests.
  • The onus will be on the guest to prove that a complaint is genuine and valid and give you the opportunity to try and rectify the situation. If they don’t, they will weaken their case for any compensation.
  • Don’t stress – most issues can be solved by a phone call or quick visit from housekeeping or maintenance.
  • Sometimes things happen that are beyond your control and some form of compensation may be necessary.
  • Sadly there are serial complainers who will try to exploit your good nature and threaten bad reviews if they don’t get their own way. Don’t be blackmailed if their complaint is unwarranted.
  • One negative comment in a sea of five star reviews won’t impact bookings.
  • The age-old philosophy of putting (genuine) customers at the centre of everything will stand you in good stead.

How would you like to be treated? – this is usually a good way to deal with problems.

Any horror stories of guests from hell? – or examples of how you have resolved complaints? Please add them in the comments…


  • rebecca |

    We have run a self-catered chalet for eight years with unblemished reviews on both HomeAway and Trip Advisor. We were blackmailed by a group who attempted to smuggle more people than the 12 maximum stipulated. We did not give in and despite evidence of the issue on their email database the listing site have refused to take their blatantly unpleasant and totally incorrect review off.
    The very serious concern I have, is that property owners have no redress from vindictive and libelous reviews, unless of course they can afford to take legal action in France where the property is located. We cannot.
    Consequently, we feel that our hands are tied when on occasion we have to deal with a group who choose not to abide by our terms and conditions ( even when there is evidence of this on the listing sites database) or who deliberately trash our home, for fear of online retribution.
    The site is sending automatic reviews to all guests following each visit are therefore not acting in the interests of the property owners from whom they profit so greatly.

    Is there a review system for guests? There should be.

    • Philip |

      Hi Rebecca, I know it’s disappointing that your unblemished reviews have been affected by this incident, but your reply to the review can actually have a positive effect. Put your side forward outlining what happened. There have been studies that show a few average reviews amongst 5*’s actually have a positive effect as it shows they are genuine reviews. It’s how you respond as an owner that matters. Travellers will see your other 5* reviews and conclude for themselves who was in the wrong in this instance. With regards to a review system for guests, there is http://www.guestscan.co.uk

  • Jane MOORE |

    Having received a defamatory review on reevoo for hoseasons I was contacted last night by a client who was cancelling her weeks reservation after reading the review.we had just received our annual grading visit and been given our normal 4 star grading. The property is detached 4 bed balcony 10 acres with indoor pool and sauna.the review was false but well written and designed to receive a discount.how can I dispute this review and have it taken down??

    • Philip |

      I would contact the site firstly, explaining the background to the review and your side. Most have procedures to deal with disputes. I would also phone the client who is looking to cancel, explaining your side of the story. If the site won’t remove the review then reply to it. Here are some tips http://guesthook.com/negative-review-response/

  • Christine |

    I had a couple book with me last year the lady that had stayed before them had put lots of wet wipes down the loo it was ok when we cleaned it but during their first night it overflowed they informed me in the morning they would not be staying for the two weeks as couldn’t stand the smell we told them that we would get a plumber and cleaner out to it straight away which we did within the hour but they still left and said if we didn’t give them their money back they would leave a bad review on trip advisor so we refunded a 100 % of their money so they booked again this year and even brought another lady with them so 2 flats this time. We had just had the boilers annual check and serviced about a week before they came and it was cold on the night they arrived but the next morning they said they were leaving again as they were cold we have two extra heaters in their flat and extra heating in the other flat also an extra quilt in one flat and extra blanket in the other the heating wasn’t throwing out as much as it normally does so we said we would get it sorted straight away apparently the radiator had a very slight trickle and we sorted the boiler within the hour and got a new radiator the next day we had said to them on the morning they were leaving that it would be rectified and that we would take the box off the electric meter so it wouldn’t cost them and that we would leave the heating on 24/7 but they didn’t give us a chance to rectify anything before they left they just left straight away I have held these flats for them for a year and now they want all their money back again for both flats I have refused many bookings and for longer terms than their booking they threatened to put review on trip advisor even though they didn’t book with trip advisor this time I rang them about an hour after they left and said we had rectified the problem and they were quite welco.e to come back and finish their vacation but he said I can’t be bothered so I said if I am able to relent the rooms but couldn’t guarantee that at such short notice that I would reimburse them they are having none of it and threatened to take us to court. How do I stand we have tried everything to rectify and done it within the hour you can’t help things going wrong it happens in any house hotel or holiday let. After their really bad attitude and not giving us the chance to rectify and holding their rooms for a year and as we refunded the whole amount last year i don’t feel inclinlined to refund again. Also the other lady has said we haven’t got fire regs which we can prove we have she also said she wouldn’t be able to get out of the window which for health and safety windows in hotels and holiday let’s are only meant to be open so much and she said the fan heater she had was to noisy it’s just a normal fan heater she is now picking at every little detail I try everything I possibly can to make sure I give the best possible service and make sure everything is right for them but you can’t help or predict when things are going to go wrong please can you advise

    • Philip |

      As they didn’t give you chance to rectify the problem (which you dis) before leaving, personally I feel a full refund isn’t warranted. Maybe a goodwill gesture? I would add these to your ‘never rent to again list’ and move on.

  • Graham |

    Hi all you holiday letters and renters ! We’ve had our stunning holiday home for 2 years now and had 2 complaints about the bed and mattress . One complaint was a threat of bad reviews on all the review sites if it wasn’t refunded the full amount within one day of leaving . Working with Sykes on this we resolved the problem . I wrote my response and it was resolved with nothing to pay to him . He’d told everyone how great it was , then overnight (after been there 3 nights!) gave my partner Jane a horrible nasty phone call about bed and mattress ! I asked people to go in and check the bed and mattress , as in the west of Scotland things don’t get delivered overnight , both were 100% perfect , there were other beds in the house which they said the same about , so letting folks , get a grip , and stand your ground . I wouldn’t lower myself to complain about his business !!!!!! The second one is exactly the same as this first one , but including pillows like bricks and yellow under the case , also brown marks on the duvet . Surely they must have been there at the beginning of their stay , not at the end when they complained ? Our cleaner is shocked at such negativity and was told in a wee note left by the guests that there was a leak in the bathroom (repaired within 12 hrs) and the kitchen bin was broken , new one in now . No mention of the bed or bedding until they left . The wee note ended with ‘everything was perfect thanks’ ! Why are there people like this ? Stay at home where you are comfortable as people and mattresses are so different, the nearest we can get to been perfect is a medium to hard so I’m told . Oh and all different pillows in the underdrawing if they need to change them !!!! What a great business to be in , do we keep it or sell up ? To be decided .x

  • Jay |

    I have run one holiday cottage successfully for 25 years. I mention this so that you are aware of my experience. Not one complaint as such, just reports if equipment stops working.
    Last year I bought another cottage in a different area.
    Summer 2022 was the first season of the second cottage and the only complaint that I remember was that the mattresses were too hard. I had two other sets of guests wanting to know what make they were so they could buy exactly the same ones! Both beds also have memory foam toppers and are actually really comfortable.
    The cottage has 4.5 and 5 star reviews on the cottage website but there are one or two people who seem to complain for a living. One guest complained within 40 minutes of cleanliness issues which were completely unfounded (my cleaner videos before she leaves). The pictures provided by the guest were very clearly staged. The background of one of them wasn’t even my cottage. I gave a refund but am more wary now about complaints having become aware of this quite nasty habit of some guests spurious complaints with no thought of people’s livelihoods being dependent on income from holiday lets.
    For example, one set of guests could not work the cooker but did not inform me of this until the 4th day of their 1 week holiday. They had both my number and that of my housekeeper so why leave it so late? They figured it out before I returned their message but later the same day had problems again resulting in two broken knobs which were “not their fault”. I offered to send an engineer round but they refused and said to leave it until they left. In other words, they did not give me the chance to rectify the problem. They have now stated that they have had to spend extra money eating out and expect me to reimburse them by what amounts to more than half of my net income for the week. They also said there was a lack of saucepans (there are 3 saucepans, a steamer, milk pan and two frying pans!).
    There is a 4 ring hob and a microwave…
    I am seeking advice but do not feel inclined to reimburse. If they had informed me on the day of arrival, I would have ensured that a counter-top oven was supplied as a temporary measure.

  • Judy M |

    I’ve been letting my cottage for six years . I didn’t expect the extent of breakages and damage that would be caused by careless guests (it’s not a “party” property it’s in a quiet village), but I’ve accepted that as part of the running costs. It’s been a lot more work and a lot less profitable than I anticipated, but it gives me great pleasure when guests appreciate the care I put into it. However last year I had a guest that complained about cleaning issues. These were in a few specific areas and it seemed they had done a thorough inspection (anyone watch “Four in a Bed”?) . I sent the cleaners back out to deal with the issues and the guests completed their holiday and received compensation. However they are insisting that they want more (over half the full cost of the holiday) and are suing me in the small claims court. I had not even realised that the guest’s contract was directly with me until this situation and the letting agent washed their hands of it/trying to mediate because they think the guests are being unreasonable. It’s very easy and cheap to sue someone and consumer websites advise you to do it to apply pressure, but its incredibly upsetting and time consuming when you are the one being sued, and there is no protection. By the time it goes to court it will have been more than a year and a half since the holiday. It’s a stressful situation but the many nice messages and repeat bookings have kept me going. For many cottage owners this is an emotional as well as a financial investment. Sparing the time to leave an appreciative review or a kind message can mean so much more to the business owner than you realise. My letting agent said I had already paid the “correct” amount for the issues in their view (10%) and I was willing to pay more just to avoid the stress, but I’d welcome any advice if anyone else has been in a similar experience,

    • Philip |

      Sorry to hear this, I can imagine it’s been very stressful. Hopefully your letting agent has the experience to advise you on what is fair. Please keep us updated on the outcome as I’m sure it will help other owners who may face a similar situation.

  • Judy M |

    Update: so today was the hearing. The outcome is LOSE: LOSE . The judge said that I had acted very quickly to put things right; that I had made a sensible and fair offer, and the guest should have accepted it. He awarded precisely what I had offered (they had sued for 5 times as much) and because I had made the offer before they had commenced proceedings he did not award costs. This meant their court fees entirely cancelled out their award.
    I should feel vindicated BUT it’s me that now has a CCJ on my file for the next 6 years.

    • Philip |

      Thank you for the update which I’m sure will help other owners in the same situation.

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