Mistakes Holiday Let Landlords Make (And How to Avoid Them)
Many holiday home owners fall into the trap of thinking it’s easy to set up a holiday letting business, secure bookings, and make a good income — but the reality is it’s often not quite so straightforward.
While the ‘barrier to entry’ might seem as though it’s lower than other types of business, the world of holiday letting is hugely competitive, and guests are spoilt for choice.
So, for the best chance of success, you need to be savvy when it comes to your marketing, the guest experience, and quality standards.
Mistakes can cost money, waste time, and cause a great deal of stress. We’ve compiled a list of some of the most common mistakes holiday let landlords make, along with our advice about how to avoid making them in the first place.
Making a mess of your pricing
Some hosts think that the cheaper they are, the more bookings they will get.
Sure, this might be true in some cases, but will the rental rate cover your costs? And are you going to attract the kind of guests you want staying in your holiday home? Will people also wonder what’s the catch if it’s too cheap? Price for profit – not occupancy.
What to do: Use a dynamic pricing tool
Price your holiday rental realistically, but also know that a high-quality, more expensive holiday rental with fewer changeovers will be easier to manage in the long run; even if it means making a higher investment to begin with.
Look at the competition to see what they’re charging, and then figure out how you can be different and better. On top of this, you should consider other pricing factors such as seasonality and current trends in the industry.
It’s recommended that you use a third-party dynamic pricing tool to set your rates, rather than just relying on your intuition and recommendations from listing sites.
Of course, pricing tools charge a fee to use, but you are likely to find that the money you make from pricing your property optimally in the first place more than covers this over time.
Using a pricing tool better ensures that you get the highest rate possible. It will also help you to keep your pricing dynamic and competitive, rather than being stuck with a flat rate per night/per week because you don’t want to risk a rate change.
You could try a tool such as Wheelhouse or Beyond Pricing, but you’ll find many others by doing a simple online search.
If you do choose to set your prices higher than those for similar properties, justify this by listing the extras guests can expect to find in your holiday home. Think luxury toiletries and linens, concierge services, chef, or anything that makes your rental stand out as top quality.
Promote special deals, as well as last-minute reductions, three nights for the price of two etc. Think also about adding something of value, a romantic meal for two, tickets to a theme park etc. These promotions are great for filling gaps in your booking calendar.
Creating a lacklustre listing site ad
Many owners neglect their property descriptions, merely giving a brief overview of the property and a summary of key amenities. But that does nothing to help paint a visual picture to your potential guests or show them that you are committed to providing a first-rate guest experience.
It’s easy to get complacent and forget that potential guests know nothing about your holiday cottage or the local area.
It can also seem tempting to write a description and show photos that ‘over-sells’ your holiday let. This can end up backfiring on hosts quickly if guests turn up and feel that they have been mis-sold. Ultimately, your reviews and general reputation are bound to suffer.
What to do: Keep your listings updated
Give your guests as much information as possible about your holiday home and destination — from describing the details of the rooms to the additional amenities and local attractions on offer.
What are the most common questions asked by past guests; Are there local beaches? Is there a pub nearby? How far away is the nearest town, and where can guests park?
These are all questions potential guests are likely to have too, so they should be included on any listing site descriptions and your holiday let website. It’s also a good opportunity to share any important ground rules or restrictions so that your guests know where they stand from the start, and to deter any unsuitable guests.
If guests can easily find the information they need without having to contact you, this gives a great impression and encourages them to proceed with a booking.
As listing sites constantly add new features and options, you should frequently check that your listing is up to date with all your property features and benefits.
And, if writing is not your forte, consider hiring a professional copywriter to improve your listing site description and booking conversion rate.
Not having a website for your holiday let
A website is a fundamental part of marketing your holiday home and allows you to stand out from competitors. But the daunting task of creating a website for your holiday rental means it’s probably number one on the ‘procrastination list’.
What to do: Create a direct booking website
The prospect of building your own website might have felt daunting in the past, but now it’s a simple process. There’s no pre-requisite for understanding how to code as there are countless CMS (content management systems) available that make it easy to choose a template and create a website.
Having a website not only allows you to attract direct bookings, which saves commission fees from listing sites, but it also adds credibility to your brand and reassures guests that you are a genuine host.
Using amateur photos
Your property photos are a prime opportunity to wow potential guests, but do they? Poor lighting, bad angles, and clutter do not make for great photos. Photos are meant to help ‘sell’ the holiday experience, so they need to allow potential guests to visualise what it’s like to stay in your holiday let.
What to do: Invest in professional photography
You’re unlikely to have the necessary skills to capture everything that makes your holiday cottage wonderful, so hiring a professional photographer is probably the best marketing investment you can make. Not only will they have the creative ‘eye’ and knowledge needed, but they also have some of the best equipment around — meaning you’ll receive high-quality images as a result.
Guests will use your images and 360 tours to ‘emotionally visualise’ staying in your holiday home – which entices them to book.
Accepting every booking
Not all bookings are good for business. Although most guests are honest and responsible, if you take bookings without doing any due diligence on the potential guests, the booking could be more hassle than it’s worth.
What to do: Screen guests and review bookings
‘Screen’ guests and the booking details to ensure they are a good match for your holiday rental and that they aren’t misrepresenting their intentions (e.g. throwing a party). If in doubt, talk with them over the phone to see if your property is right for them, and more importantly, if they are right for your property.
Go with your gut feeling. If you have concerns, then refuse the booking.
Use your experience to decide if a booking is worth taking. If you know that you could rent your peak weeks 3x over, then avoid taking bookings that leave unlettable gaps in your most profitable period. If you know from experience that guests prefer to arrive on certain days and it maximises your occupancy, then stick to these days.
Relying on ambiguous booking terms and conditions
Taking bookings without the correct terms, conditions and house rules in place is a big mistake as it leaves your holiday letting business exposed to complaints and possible financial consequences should something go wrong.
What to do: Ensure your terms, conditions and house rules are clear
For your peace of mind as well as your guests, every booking should agree to your booking terms and conditions.
They should be clear, concise, and include all the essentials (house rules, payment dates, extra costs, arrival times, occupancy limits, pet policy, cancellation terms, etc.).
Not having a unique selling point (USP)
With so many competitors out there, it’s more important than ever to identify and promote your USP to attract bookings.
Your USP is what sets you apart from other holiday lets and can heavily influence whether someone decides to book a stay with you or not. It could be a feature of your holiday rental, like a hot tub, an EV charger, something to do with its history, or perhaps your USP has something to do with your property’s location (great views, beachside, near a big attraction, etc.). You, the on-site host, could even be a USP.
Whatever it is, it’s what adds special value to your holiday let and makes it so great to stay at.
What to do: Identify your USP and then promote it
If you’re not quite sure what your selling point is, you could try compiling a list of your holiday rental’s strongest selling points. Read reviews and feedback from past guests as this gives an insight into what they loved about your holiday home.
Once you’ve decided what your USP is, emphasise it in your marketing. Do your best to avoid bland messages in your marketing. Instead, try to be descriptive and set the scene for potential bookers, so they can get a good sense of the USP(s) benefits and can picture themselves staying there. For example, ‘sink into the warm bubbles of the hot tub whilst watching the sun set into the ocean’.
Marketing your property on just one channel
Another big mistake holiday let owners make is putting all their eggs in one basket regarding where their property is advertised.
It’s not a case of marketing your property on just one listing site and thinking the job is done. Even if this brings in some bookings at first, it’s not enough exposure to maintain the momentum needed to attract bookings.
On top of this, listings can go stale after only a few months if the property owner doesn’t keep the information up-to-date and refreshed regularly.
What to do: Think through your listing site strategy
Don’t fall into the trap of investing all your marketing money into just one listing site. Although it might seem easier to just focus on one channel, it’s important to cover several bases when it comes to gaining exposure for your property — after all, the holiday home industry is a big marketplace, particularly since the pandemic.
So, take the approach of setting up and managing listings on several of the big listing sites such as Airbnb, Vrbo, Booking.com.
- Monitor how each listing performs for you over time so that you can refine your listing strategy and perhaps even ditch some of the sites that fail to deliver bookings.
- Be sure to keep a spreadsheet of all the sites you’ve listed your holiday let on so that you can keep track of where your property has a presence, as well as any costs incurred, and revenue gained.
Not using a PMS to manage your business
Behind every successful holiday letting business sits a strong database — a PMS (property management system). The data that you collect from guests and enquiries is invaluable for your marketing strategy.
● Enable you to analyse your performance
● Help you to segment your marketing so you deliver the right content to the right audience
● Gives you the ability to re-market to past guests
What to do: Get yourself set up with PMS
Investing in a PMS; a simple system which can capture all the booking details is essential to manage your business successfully. There are many options to choose from which are user-friendly and intuitive to use.
Being too slow to respond to enquiries
If you don’t reply to enquiries promptly you will likely lose out to the holiday let owner who replied first. Guests who are ready to book a holiday don’t have the patience to hang around waiting for an owner to get back to them. Travellers are increasingly browsing booking sites on mobile devices, ready to proceed to the next step once a reply comes through.
What to do: Make it a priority to provide a quick response
Reply as soon as you can when you get an enquiry. Tweak your response to personalise your message to any special requests and tell guests how to book. The quicker you respond, the more chances you have of securing their booking – remember they will probably have contacted several owners, not just you.
Always follow up within a 24-hours of your reply asking them if they require any further help.
To save time, the emails you need to send via listing sites like Airbnb or your PMS can be pre-written as templates to save time.
Setting up social media accounts — but not using them
There is, of course, nothing wrong with having a presence on multiple social media platforms — Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, Instagram etc. However, there are many to choose from these days, so it’s wise to get to know which social channels are going to be the most effective for marketing your holiday let in the long term.
Not only can you regularly post updates on social, but you can also use it to communicate with potential bookers and local business partners.
Leaving your social accounts inactive risks sending the message that all is not well with your holiday property, or worse still, it is closed.
What to do: Commit to being ‘consistent’ on social media
The key to using social media to promote your holiday letting business is consistency. Whichever social platforms you choose to use, it pays to get familiar with how each one works, and then keep on top of posts and messages as part of your day-to-day routine.
Once you start publishing updates regularly, your target audience can get to know your property and the local area. It’s a great idea to post helpful content that your future guests will find genuinely interesting, rather than content that is too ‘sales-focused.’
As your following begins to build, your social pages/profiles need to remain active so that you have the best chance of building awareness and people remember you when it’s time to look for accommodation. It’s for this reason that being consistent and committed is important.
Not promoting the local area
It’s reasonable to assume that your guests will have decided on the area they want to stay in before they even start to look for accommodation, so failing to sell the location and just focusing on marketing your property can work against you when it comes to bringing in those bookings.
What to do: Promote the benefits of your property’s setting
Whether your holiday let is in the middle of a bustling city, or out in the remote countryside, it’s important that you include details of the locality’s ‘selling points’. Whether that it’s within walking distance to theatres and bars, has good transport links to neighbouring places of interest, a short distance to an area of natural outstanding beauty, or the collection of amazing eateries on your doorstep.
You can strengthen your appeal further and increase its desirability by forming partnerships with relevant businesses in the local community. You might even find that you can negotiate some great guest deals — exclusive discounts to attractions, money off meals etc. It will make your guests feel like they’re receiving some added extras because they’ve chosen to stay at your holiday let.
Not asking guests for reviews
Guest reviews are powerful when it comes to fostering credibility and trust. Unsurprisingly, they strongly influence the decision-making process of prospective guests.
What to do: Proactively ask past guests for feedback
Your guests are much more likely to write a review if you ask them to, and you can make this process all the easier by setting up a standard email template to gather responses from past guests.
You could even use any positive feedback received in future social media posts to help promote your property.
Failing to act on feedback
There’s nothing worse than seeing a scathing review online about holiday accommodation, followed by an even more scathing reply from the owner. Is that the kind of person you would want to be booking your hard-earned holiday with?
What to do: Respond to criticism
Even if your reviews contain some negative points, the way you address the points raised will be vital in showing future guests you care about the guest experience. It can send a powerful, positive message to any potential bookers reading your response and how you rectified the issue.
It’s natural for some travellers to be suspicious of all 5-star reviews, so a few ‘average’ ones that include a considerate reply from the owner shows that you’re genuinely trying to do a great job for your guests.
Not keeping in touch with guests after their stay
Too many owners fail to create a proper guest database as they don’t appreciate the “lifetime value” of their past and potential guests. This is a big mistake and could mean you are missing out on valuable future bookings and referrals.
What to do: Build a mailing list for remarketing
Keep contact details of all past guests and add a newsletter sign-up form to your website to capture the emails of any interested parties.
You can then create an email newsletter and your mailing list to stay in touch with subscribers and past guests. Include news about the latest improvements at your property, any special offers, late deals, or local upcoming events and news.
Guest loyalty is the foundation of a successful holiday letting business and often leads to recommendations.
Making the check-in process too complicated
Your guests have come to stay at your holiday property to enjoy a break from it all, and the last thing they want after a long journey is a complicated check-in process.
What to do: Keep your check-in process simple
Try to imagine you’re the guest and think through your current process — could things be simpler in any way? Is there anything potentially confusing about your instructions or map directions? It might be that making a couple of little tweaks like providing exact GPS/What3words coordinates and details of where to park leads to more relaxed guests when they turn up to stay.
Thinking about how you can ‘automate’ your check-in process and make your incoming guests feel settled and comfortable more quickly. For example, can you ensure that the heating and lighting come on to coincide with check-in times?
Skipping property inspections and inventory checks
It’s inevitable that things will go missing and get damaged during guest stays; things that your housekeeper may fail to notice during a hectic changeover.
The problem is that something as trivial as a missing bottle opener can lead to an irritated guest and a negative review. Guests have been visualising sitting on your balcony with their favourite ‘tipple’ for several months and an absent bottle opener has gone some way to ruining it.
What to do: Conduct a thorough changeover check
Your changeover checklist should help you identify missing items, but you should also do a thorough check regularly to identify any issues that haven’t been reported. Regular maintenance inspections identify problems such as a leaking shower so you can rectify them before they cause an inconvenience, damage or injury.
To ensure the longevity of your inventory, you should always opt for the best quality. What was seen as ‘luxury’ a few years ago is now expected ‘as standard’ in self-catering cottages. Wi-Fi, a coffee machine, Egyptian cotton linen, and access to streaming services like Netflix are to be expected.
Neglecting the cleaning
Lack of cleanliness in holiday cottages is often the number one reason for guests leaving a bad review. It’s therefore a no-brainer to invest in the proper resources needed to ensure your holiday cottage is spotless.
What to do: Invest in a professional cleaning service
It can be hard work to manage your holiday let and do the changeover cleaning, that’s why some holiday let owners hire a cleaner. Same-day turnovers can be tight, time-wise. Time-consuming tasks like cleaning, laundry and changing the linen can be stressful, whereas a professional cleaner should be able to make lighter work of the workload.
Disregarding health, safety and security
When a guest books a stay at your holiday let, they trust that not only the property will be as described, but that they will have a safe stay there. So, damaged electrical items, or a faulty smoke alarm all detract from your guests’ overall sense of enjoyment and feeling safe.
What to do: Protect your guests and your property
You have a legal obligation to ensure guests are safe and adhere to the relevant legislation. All the necessary health and safety measures should be taken to protect not only you and your property but also the well-being of your guests.
You should also protect your property and your guests against break-ins with the right security precautions and clear house rules so your guests know what isn’t allowed.
Not being fully aware of holiday let rules and regulations
It may seem basic, but one of the most pertinent questions you should be asking when entering the holiday letting industry is “Am I allowed to rent out this property?” — because, in some cases, the default answer may well be “no”.
This is because parties such as homeowners associations (and landlords) have solid rules that prevent people from subletting.
What’s more, in the past few years there has been a rise in the number of local authorities taking action to limit (or sometimes ban entirely) the number of holiday lets in their area. Those who flaunt the rules may find themselves paying a large fine as a result.
What to do: Research the rules and regulations
It’s important to check that you’re within your rights to holiday let your property before you venture any further into becoming a host. Find out whether you’re allowed to rent your property by checking with the appropriate organisations, and on any relevant paperwork you hold.
Those who want to set up a short-term let for the first time will want to check whether they need to obtain a permit or a licence.
Assuming home insurance covers holiday letting
It can be a ‘heart-sink’ moment to discover that regular home insurance doesn’t cover incidents like guest accidents and damage when you claim. It’s common for standard home insurance to specifically exclude short-term letting.
What to do: Double-check where you stand with your insurance provider
It’s wise to speak to your insurer to check what their position is on letting your holiday home and leaving it empty for long periods. It could be that you need to buy a specific holiday let insurance policy to ensure that you (and your guests) are covered.
Forgetting the little things
You may have all the mod-cons and provide ‘luxurious’ items and that’s great — but it’s the little touches that can make all the difference.
What to do: Go the extra mile to wow guests
It’s the little touches that add value and enjoyment to a guest’s stay with you. Whether it’s making sure there are some toys and board games, guided maps to the best attractions that guests can use, money-off vouchers for local shops or attractions, luxury toiletries, an informative guestbook, or some locally produced cupcakes in a welcome pack. All these gestures are things that can set your holiday let apart from all the competition.
It may be that your holiday let business is going well, and you’re booked up well into the future. You’re even enjoying consistently positive reviews from past guests. It’s easy to become too complacent at times like this and take your foot off the pedal.
This might include things like failing to update your property with the latest popular amenities, ignoring maintenance issues, not replacing missing items, or even ceasing to put any active effort into marketing your holiday let.
Suffice it to say, that becoming complacent as a host is a big mistake. You’re bound to lose bookings, repeat guests and positive reviews.
What to do: Consistently strive to improve
If bookings are booming, keep doing what you’re doing to maintain momentum. Keep a close eye on the competition and think about what you could implement in terms of your holiday let and your marketing to improve bookings and guest satisfaction rates even further.
You’ll also need to monitor other aspects such as pricing and cleaning standards to ensure your guests are delighted.
Worldwide, there are now over 6 million listings on Airbnb and 2 million listings on Vrbo. With competition steadily increasing, travellers have more choices and can therefore afford to be choosier about where they stay.
Ultimately, for those holiday let owners who don’t invest in the right business management, marketing, or their property – the holiday letting journey could become a disaster.
All holiday let owners make mistakes, but remember that each one is just another chance to learn and be more successful as a result.
What was the one bit of advice that you wish that you had before starting your holiday letting business?