How to – Handle Problems on Site
If you’re dreaming of running your own glamping business but haven’t any experience in self-catering holiday rental, you might be unaware of the less dreamy issues that go on behind the scenes… if that’s the case, read on.
It’s All About People
Most bookings go without a hitch, the guests are lovely, they leave the place as they found it and everyone is happy. However, sometimes, just sometimes, this isn’t the case. I recall a hotel manager once joking that ‘it would be a great business if it wasn’t for the customers’, and indeed, some of them aren’t the respectful, reasonable people we’d hope for, but then, neither are some accommodation providers.
It’s quite an eye opener working in hospitality because you see a side to humanity that can be quite baffling. When some people leave home for a break they sometimes behave in odd ways or just leave their common sense behind – and glamping provides a dazzling array of opportunities for this to become apparent. However, it’s all part of running such a business and it will save us a lot of exasperation if we accept that it comes with the territory. A practical mindset, discernment and good interpersonal skills will certainly help – rule No 1 is – don’t take it personally!
Sometimes a disgruntled customer isn’t being unreasonable, they simply feel that the holiday doesn’t live up to the promises, or meet their expectations. It’s obviously important to present our offer in a positive way, but also realistically, and ensure we deliver what our marketing is promising. I think this is becoming more difficult as glamping increases in popularity, with hyped-up press reviews that can unreasonably raise people’s expectations. Given that it is, in essence, a holiday in a field and that varying standards apply, there are bound to be repercussions.
Some of the issues that we will face can’t be avoided, no matter how much we manage expectations, communicate, make allowances or install precautions. All we can do, is our best to minimise the opportunity for them to occur.
Sometimes, we could make things easier on ourselves. One thing we can do to minimise some issues is to ensure our T&C’s are clear and help guests understand what is and isn’t acceptable on-site. T&C’s must be displayed on the website, and points pertinent to on-site matters and safety could be reiterated as ‘house rules’ in the booking confirmation letter and within the Guest Information Folder in the accommodation. This might seem a bit over the top, but the more times it is presented, the more chance it has of being read. Where facilities require special operation such as a hot tub, show them how it works and leave written instructions for when you are not around.
Modern life is busy and guests might be so snowed under that they don’t always read the things they should. Depending on the site in question, T&C’s / house rules need to be clear, concise, and usually include points such as the following:
- Man’s best friend: Muddy pawprints on white bedding, poop littering the site or fleas in your rugs and furnishings – there’s nothing glamorous about those. Some glamping sites won’t accept dogs at all because of this, or due to the level of furnishings, or the proximity of stock. However, if the accommodation does accept pets, insist that dog parasite treatments are up to date before the start of the holiday, and that owners must clear up. Clearly state what is / isn’t acceptable and outline ‘excess cleaning fees’ – as below.
- Excess Cleaning: Occasionally you might find the accommodation has been left in a terrible state. Maybe there’s mud or post-party debris everywhere, the hot tub’s lined with suntan oil or glitter, the shower is blocked with dog hair – or any other number of things that unreasonably increase your cleaning and change-over time. It’s down to individual discretion, but an ‘excess cleaning fee’ can be a deterrent worth considering, especially for group bookings such as hen or stag gatherings. Include a rule about leaving the accommodation and facilities in a reasonable condition, and if you intend to charge for excess cleaning, state what that charge will be and how you will retrieve it. Having made such phone calls in the past, I can tell you it’s sometimes difficult to get these guests to pay up, after all, if they left the place in such a state there’s not much of a ‘conscience’ to appeal to.
- Damage & Breakages: Accidents occurring in routine use of a structure and facilities are usually classed as ‘wear and tear’ and not charged to guests, these things happen and we don’t want guests to feel bad about dropping some crockery. However, damages due to irresponsible behaviour and negligence are another matter, and how they are dealt with depends on the individual owner. A charge can be passed to the guest and most will pay it but sometimes they won’t and it’s then a case of deciding if the damage value is worth the hassle of taking the matter further. Some owners set a value and if the cost of the damage goes over that, they ask the guests to pay for all of it or a percentage. Outline your policy on damages caused by negligence, and if you have a value limit on reimbursement state what it is – but do reassure guests about minor accidents.
- Unreasonable Behaviour on site: I’m going to group things like excessive / late night noise, alcohol induced incidents, and inter-guest disputes here because they all boil down to people not behaving in a fair and reasonable manner. Sites with multiple units can have noise issues and groups can be problematic, especially stag and hen parties, as a result some sites will not accept them or insist on a ‘whole site rental’. It’s an accepted policy to terminate any guest / group stay if they are persistently too noisy, messy or disruptive and no refund is given. If guests are behaving in an overly anti-social manner or there is any suggestion of violence, a last resort would be police enforcement. T&C’s should cover unreasonable behaviour and consequences with a clear outline of the course of action that will be taken. Add a note specific to group bookings if you accept them. Ensure noise curfew times are clearly communicated and enforced.
- Common Issues & Common Sense
Other issues that we can’t always foresee or prevent are those which aren’t intentional if a little negligent, things like wine and coffee spills, hair-dye on towels and lipstick stains on pillows. Or children doing things they shouldn’t, like feeding chocolate to the goats. One particular area which requires close instruction is fire – candles, paraffin lamps, logburning stoves, campfires and fireboxes on wood-fired hot tubs. Despite being given clear instructions, I know of several incidents where guests have lit a wood-fired hot tub without adding any water to the tub, or tried to light an LED lamp with a match, or set the place on fire by drying clothes on the fireguard. We can’t anticipate everything that might go wrong and as such these issues often have to be dealt with as they happen with causes / risks being removed as necessary. Common sense, as they say, isn’t always common practice.
- The Tricky Subject of ‘Shrinkage’
Occasionally, objects belonging to the accommodation might disappear and this can be a tricky situation to deal with – a towel could have genuinely been packed by mistake, or an ornament could have been dropped in the woods by a child. Short of asking for the towel back or scouring the site for lost ornaments (have you really got the time?) it’s often easier to work a value for losses into the rental fees. For more expensive items that go missing, again, it’s at the owners discretion whether or not they challenge the guest and ask to be reimbursed.
- Security Deposits
The thought of charging a security deposit for each booking might have crossed you mind by now, and if you’re offering a particularly exclusive experience with expensive furnishings it might be worth considering. It’s common practice in self-catering property rentals which contain valuable furnishings, but not in glamping, perhaps because most glamping isn’t furnished that way. Having said that, I do know of a couple of glampsites that take security deposits, but before doing this, bear in mind that the frequency of major damage / loss is rare. Also, charging a deposit might add to administration or put some guests off, driving them to stay elsewhere.
Complaints can be unpleasant, especially with increasing incidents of guests trying to get refunds, or leverage a complaint with the threat of a bad online review, or social media shaming. Online review sites and social media have given customers unprecedented power, but then, they have also made a lot of companies up their game. If the guests have a genuine reason for complaint we obviously need to put it right, however, if a complaint / refund claim is unreasonable and threats are being made, it can be frustrating and hard to handle.
Some owners don’t like confrontation and give in to keep the peace, others negotiate a compromise, and some will take a hard line. Whatever your stance, it’s important to maintain a professional, calm and consistent manner throughout. Include a section on complaints procedure in T&C’s and how they will be dealt with, always outline your liability limitations for eventualities within and without your control – including bad weather procedures and cancellation.
Genuine complaints aren’t always bad news, sometimes they provide valuable feedback and highlight an issue that has gone unnoticed, as well as an opportunity to take a fresh look at things and indeed, for us to make improvements.
Article published in Open Air Business
Image Credit: Starbed Hideaway