How To Win Guests and Influence Bookings

For Your Airbnb or Vacation Rental




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This post originally appeared as a guest post on Villa Marketers.

This morning I woke up in Indio, California, in one of the most splendid vacation rentals I’ve ever booked; in fact, it might just be in the top five best ever. That’s saying a lot considering that my family has stayed in over 75-holiday homes in the last 10 years!


Not because it was swanky, or in the best part of town, or because it had lightning fast Wi-Fi or featured a beautiful pool.

It was more than that. Deeper.

The owners got the essentials right.

What do I mean by essentials?

They are the simple things that make people happy. The things that seem super obvious when you think about them, but are commonly overlooked in vacation rentals.

To that aim, today’s post is dedicated to the essentials that make a vacation rental better than average.

Better than good.


If your vacation rental is sensational, you win guests and influence bookings; all because you allow people to have meaningful human experiences, thereby motivating them to book with you again and tell their friends about you. And their friends get to be similarly won over and so on and so on.

That’s true vacation rental success.


So how do you do sensational?

Read the list below and etch each item into your brain.

These seemingly simple design decisions are easy to overlook, but they all have one thing in common: they powerfully and directly affect human happiness. They make people content, relaxed and happy to be alive, the emotions people most crave on vacation.

1. Have a Relaxing Place for Your Guests to Sit and “Just Be”

Every vacation rental should have some relaxing places, so comforting, that guests invent random reasons to spend time there, such as “I’m a little tired, I just need a little shut-eye,” or “I’ve got to check some emails, I’ll be there in a second.”

It can be a bench in the sun, an armchair with a window view, a hammock, an outdoor love seat under a tree. Whatever. As long as it’s extraordinarily comfortable and beckons the guest to enjoy it, it’s a goldmine of happy.

Lounging area vacation rental

“Oh, I just want what we all want: a comfortable couch, a nice beverage, a weekend of no distractions and a book that will stop time, lift me out of my quotidian existence and alter my thinking forever.” – Elizabeth Gilbert

People don’t take enough time out for themselves in their everyday lives, but on vacation? Forget about it! They will positively indulge in “me time.”

vacation rental hammock

“While sleeping in a hammock, with the touch of a warm wind we remember why we are in love with the life!” – Mehmet Murat ildan

So give them their “just be” moments. They’ll adore you.

2. Create Natural Gathering Spots

This seems like a no-brainer, right? I mean, duh! However, you’d be surprised at the number of vacation rentals that don’t get the whole “gathering and connecting thing” right.

People rank spending time with friends and family as one of the top 5 reasons they rent vacation rentals in the first place, so making that happen in your home is key.

vacation rental living room

“The thing that makes my generation The Greatest is our ability to hang out. We’re spectacular at it. If you take somebody from my generation and sit them on a couch and bring them food and plumbing, they’ll sit there and talk to you about anything you want until the day you die.” – Lewis Black

Arrange your seating in the living areas so guests are close and can hear one another and don’t have to keep saying “what?”

U or L-shaped arrangements are best because they mimic our most ancient gathering formations, and allow people to feel closest to one another.

Sofas and chairs must be so awesomely comfortable, that they convert Type A people into lounging Type B’s, at least while staying in your short-term rental.

This does not mean spending a lot of money. In fact, I’ve sat in uncomfortable designer sofas that cost $8,000 and heavenly Ikea pieces costing $800.

The key is to try it out before you put it in your rental. And I mean, really try it out – spend at least 10 minutes in typical human body positions, asking yourself if there is the proper head, elbow, and back support.

Assume people will lie down and put their feet up. The goal is to feel so comfortable you don’t want to get up.

vacation rental relaxation

“The perfect evening…lying down on the couch beside the bookcase and reading himself sleepy…Jim lying opposite him at the other end of the couch, also reading; the two of them absorbed in their books yet so completely aware of each other’s presence.”― Christopher Isherwood, A Single Man

Equally important are the dining areas. Eating together is one of the most divine human experiences so put a lot of thought into how this is going to feel for your guests.

A solid wood table that is pleasant to brush your hands over is my unequivocal favorite. Wood is primal and dependable and, above all, warm and welcoming.

Avoid glass tables. Not only are they cold, both physically and psychologically, but they need to be cleaned constantly to look good.

And there’s no way guests are going to whip out the window cleaner on vacation.

vacation rental dining table

“Dining with one’s friends and beloved family is certainly one of life’s primal and most innocent delights, one that is both soul-satisfying and eternal.” – Julia Child

Chairs should contrast slightly with the table, maybe be a different style or color. But above all, they should feel like a solid, trustworthy friend that’s got your back.

The goal is for guests to want to sit in them all evening if it feels right. Some of the best times happen around a dining table over food with friends and family.

3. Heavenly Sheets and Mattresses

vacation rental mattress

“Monday is great if I can spend it in bed. I’m a man of simple pleasures, really.” – Arthur Darvill

We all remember the tale of the goose that lays golden eggs, right? Well, an excellent mattress with luxurious bedding is much the same.

If you give your guests the gift of deep, comforting sleep, they will love you, plain and simple, and the likelihood of repeat bookings, as well as glowing reviews, skyrockets.

You’ve hit pay dirt.

Conversely, if you fail in the sleep department, you will fail epically. In fact, you will completely negate any positives you’ve accrued in other areas.

You could be the friendliest and most responsive host in the world, but if your mattress stinks, you will have a big fat zero on your hands.

Your goal is for your beds to be so dreamy that people will postpone getting up in the morning so they stay in them a little longer; likewise, they’ll think of good reasons to go to bed early.

idaho vacation rental staging

There is more refreshment and stimulation in a nap, even of the briefest than in all the alcohol ever distilled. – Edward Lucas. (Photo of Idaho vacation cabin designed by 1 Chic Retreat).

Read this post on sheets to know what to look for.

4. Sharp Knives and Kickass Pots and Pans

Ten blog posts would not even come close to covering all that I recommend in vacation rental kitchens, but if I had to distil the two essentials that influence bookings, it’s having good sharp knives and high-quality pots and pans.

As for the sharp knives, it’s a fact that almost no vacation rental provides them.

This is good news for you though because it means if you go the extra mile to keeping your knives sharp, your guests will notice and comment, and you’ll be catapulted into the tiny 1% of owners who bother to do this essential thing. Congratulations!

knives vacation rental

“Here’s the fact: the biggest problem in home kitchens is dull knives. There is no greater hindrance to the person in the house who does the cooking than dull knives. Almost without fail, every friend’s kitchen I go to, there is not a sharp knife to be found.” – Michael Ruhlman, best-selling author, chef and blogger.

Think about it: cooking with dull knives is frustrating and unpleasant. It’s a chore that takes time.

When a guest spends 10 minutes with a dull knife, he’ll complain to others in the kitchen, bringing down the good vibes. Conversely, if the knives are sharp, comments like, “try this knife, it’s amazing,” get thrown around and stir up excitement for the delicious meal ahead.

It’s a no-brainer for getting guest love. And good reviews.

Similarly, good quality pots and pans hugely impact guest satisfaction in the kitchen. Cheap, flimsy pans make it much more likely a treasured meal will come out tasting bad, not to mention the frustration of trying to cook with a terrible pan.

vacation rental pots and pans

“I cook a lot, and I cook a wide variety of things, and with great pots and pans in my arsenal, I never find myself saying, “Man, I wish I just had [insert pan X here]. ” – J. KENJI LÓPEZ-ALT of Serious Eats

Always offer high-quality pots and pans in your vacation rental and keep them looking well by regularly cleaning and seasoning them. Solid, dependable handles and heavy-gauge metal are key when buying.

Wrapping It Up

My absolute favorite part of implementing these essentials is owners feel the pay off almost immediately, especially if they show them off in photographs.

A delicious food layout on a dining table or a photo of beguiling bedding will fire up a potential guest’s imagination, foreshadowing the simple, but extraordinary experiences ahead.

What have you found to be a guest happiness essential in your Airbnb or vacation rental? What do guests most gush over in your reviews? I’d love to know. We all would! Please share in the comments below….

images courtesy of Death to the Stock Photo

  • Another fantastic article Mercedes, thanks for sharing! Your list covers many of the things our past guests have mentioned in reviews. The top ones in our reviews are the gathering areas, mattresses and a well stocked kitchen.
    I went through our old reviews to see if there was anything in there that I thought might be worth adding and found one that is mentioned pretty often.
    One thing that our past guests have mentioned in our reviews a few times is their appreciation of the labeled kitchen cupboards and drawers.
    We learned the importance of labeling when we’ve stayed in other vacation rentals in the past. We would cook a feast with our family using just about every piece of cookware in the house. When we would unload the dishwasher after our feast we tried to put everything back in it’s place but it was practically impossible since we took almost everything out.
    The labeling helps our guests know where things go and helps to ensure things will be in the same spot for the next guest.
    I hope that helps someone else :)
    Thanks as always for the great article!

    • That is a great point, Feels Like Heaven (I love your name by the way). I have only stayed in one vacation rental with labels and it really helped with putting things away. They also had labels on all the light switches. May I ask what kind of labels you use?

      • Thanks :)

        That’s funny, we also label the light switches (especially where there are more than one side by side) I guess you start labeling everything you can think of once you get a label maker. LOL

        We have a Brother P-Touch PT-D210 but I think all the Brother P-Touches work great!

        • Diana Lazzarini

          As an Owner of a Vacation Rental property in Indio, I would love to know what property you stayed at, and enjoyed so much. Do tell please!!!

          • Hi Diana,

            I just looked it up on VRBO and it’s not listed anymore. Maybe they changed listing sites or went independent. I don’t know. Hopefully such a great place is still rented out to lucky folks like me. May I see your listing? I love your place in the Poconos.

  • Great tips, thanks!
    We get comments about the ample space, great gathering areas, the pool and the game room. But what shows up the most in our reviews is comments on our responsiveness.
    We make sure that we answer their questions as soon as they ask them.
    I think that sets us apart from many of the other vacation rentals out there and it looks like guests really appreciate that. :)

    • Responsiveness is huge! Huge. Thanks for commenting, Villa by the Castle.

  • You really distilled it with this post Mercedes. The kitchen and quiet relaxing spaces are the essence of the difference between holiday homes and hotel accommodation.

    You might as well not have a kitchen unless it is a joy to work in. Even the tiniest kitchen can be great if it is well equipped. The same goes for serving up food. When someone has put great effort into preparing a meal – they want the table to look lovely so an owner who cares will provide quality plates, cutlery, glasses and plenty of serving bowls and dishes. I am sure, too, that guests take much greater care of nice things.

    What a great tip about labelling from FeelsLike Heaven. Help your guests and they will help you.

    • Thanks for commenting Nick. The hotel and house difference is sometimes amazing. Striving for “home” is much more important in this business than striving for “hotel.”

    • Thanks Nick, you’re right a kitchen is on of the key things that sets us apart from a hotel. If we can make it a special experience it will be a lasting memory for them. :)

  • JanStevensDesign

    After reading your posts I am always inspired, Mercedes. Happily checking off the list of essentials and feeling pretty confident that we are in good shape.

    I must say that COMFORT is always my number 1 priority when furnishing my vacation rentals. For me, it is the area that always wins over hotel rooms……….watching TV while sitting propped up on a bed or maybe using one of their tiny chairs on wheels is just an endurance test. Where if my guests remember the comfort of my home they will want to come back………..I know I would.

    One of the properties that I manage had furnishings purchased by the homeowner……Price and fashion took priority over comfort in front of the TV ……… a big no-no in my book. That little petite sofa that seats 2 uncomfortably looks good but we get complaints like, “my back hurts” and “the 6 of us couldn’t watch TV comfortably.” In my view those are lost guests never to be heard from again………. a big no-no in my book.

    Thanks again for sharing your wisdom.

    • So true Jan. I always try to convey to clients that price over comfort is a huge mistake. You have to really try out furniture before placing it in a vacation rental. Thanks for commenting!

  • Jessica

    Thank you- once again you’ve made nothing but SOLID points!

    I must brag a tiny bit here- I didn’t skimp on the knives (and we haven’t even opened the rental yet)…Amazon has some AMAZING deals on the emeril & cuisinart knife set’s a lot (like $20). We have a set & LOVE them, they come with protective sleeves and are so sharp. So I grabbed an extra set for the vacation rental when thinking about how much I despise dull knives.

    The pots & pans are an area I struggle with however, since I know that they will get scratched, the wrong tools will be used to cook & clean them, and will have to be replaced. I’m working on getting decent ones at a discount though since I don’t want to supply crap.

    I’m also struggling with the furniture since we don’t have a lot of money to spend but our house will sleep 11 people total so we need to have comfortable seating for 11 in the sunroom. I’m just keeping my eye on estate and moving sales hoping to score that awesome sectional that’s quality made!

    • Thanks for the tips on quality knives. I’m sure the community appreciates it, Jessica. My recommendation on pans is to skip non-stick altogether (they get scratched in no time) and buy good quality stainless steel pans like All Clad. I recommend getting them on eBay or at estate sales because they are expensive. Have some Pam or other spray oil so foods don’t stick. Some owners swear by cast iron or carbon steel pans because they are naturally non-stick. The only thing is you have to be willing to season them every month or so. It’s actually easy to do, but some owners don’t want another thing to worry about. As for furniture, try Craig’s List. I am always amazed at the great, high-end items I find on there!

      • Jessica

        Your tips are always SO helpful! I’ll get on an IFTT search watch for All Clad :) I read your post about cast iron (and commented) as it hadn’t occurred to me before that to buy some for the rental. We LOVE ours, and seasoning them doesn’t bother me at all!

      • solarbuddy

        I love All-Clad pans, but I also don’t mind working them with Bar Keepers Friend, and most people won’t do that. And I probably won’t do it for a vacation rental. A great alternative is Dayton commercial cookware bought on eBay. That is what Calphalon was before it became Calphalon! Since that’s almost impossible to find, I get Calphalon hard-anodized pots and pans. I avoid nonstick coatings, as anodized interiors can hold up against the worst that guests are likely to do to them, but non-stick coatings will last only a few months before looking scratched-up.

        I still have hard feelings against one guest who ruined the non-stick coating of a brand new 2 quart saucepan by poking at the bottom with the steak knife.

        • Thanks Solarbuddy! I will check out the Dayton Commercial. And you have a good point about Calphalon. It’s dark and wouldn’t show stains. Great feedback and thank you!

  • John Makro

    Yes, I agree entirely that simple things like a nice place to sit are what makes a difference. A couple of sofas, a patio area or hammock, there is always somewhere where guests will gravitate to and just relax. The lighting, arrangement, etc. – sometimes the ambiance just works. If you get it right, they won’t want to leave. The best thing about it is that it is not hard to achieve – set up cozy spaces like you would have at home and people will reward you with 5 star reviews. I have Pillow Homes manage my vacation rental, and they are the masters of this. It almost makes me want to stop taking guests and move in. They create spaces and arrange everything to make the space comfortable and inviting, and it really works. At the end of the day luxury and high-end finishes are great and you can charge a premium for them, but you can do a lot with simple and inviting places that make people feel at home.

    • So true, John. You are lucky to have a manager who understands this.

  • Thank you sir for sharing this wonderful information. These little things mentioned by you will definitely help many Vacation Rental Owners to do the perfect marketing campaign to win guests and influence travelers.




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