Kate Morel guides us through the tricky area of pre-empting and handling complaints and problem guests
Sun-flared photo’s of kids holding fluffy chickens, friends laughing around a twilight campfire, a cosy couple chinking glasses on a sunset porch. Ahhhh – glamping, dreamy isn’t it?
These idyllic photographs portray the perfect country break because we are selling (and hopefully delivering) ‘the dream’. However, if you’re considering 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. So, this month Tally has asked me to write about some of the situations we might encounter (and offer a few tips), although as any holiday accommodation provider will tell you, there are many, many more.
It’s all about the 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 behave in ways they wouldn’t usually dream of, or leave their common sense behind, and glamping provides a dazzling array of opportunities for this to become apparent. But, it’s all part of running such a business, and it will save us much exasperation if we accept that it comes with the territory. A practical mindset, discernment and good interpersonal skills will certainly help when dealing with them.
Sometimes a disgruntled customer isn’t being unreasonable, they simply feel that the accommodation doesn’t live up to the promises or meet their expectations. It’s obviously important to present our offer in a positive but realistic manner and ensure we can deliver what our marketing is promising. I could be wrong, but I think this is becoming more difficult as glamping increases in popularity. It’s fast becoming a mainstream holiday option with hyped-up press reviews and articles that can unreasonably raise the public’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, as well as fulfil our legal obligations.
Sometimes, we could make things easier on ourselves. One thing we can do to minimise some issues is to ensure our T&Cs are clear and help guests understand what isn’t acceptable on-site, and how to operate facilities. T&Cs 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. That 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 guests how they work 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 concise, clear and can include some of the following points:
> Man’s best friend: Muddy paw prints 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 accommodation 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 in a terrible state. Maybe there’s mud or post-party debris everywhere, the hot tubs lined with some sort of goo or glitter, the shower is blocked with dog hair – or any other number of things that unreasonably increases your cleaning and changeover time. It’s down to individual discretion, but in these cases some owners will charge an ‘excess cleaning fee’ and it can be a deterrent worth considering.
Add a note in your T&Cs/rules 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.
> Damage and breakages: Another T&Cs/house rules subject, and dealing with them can require discernment. Accidents occurring in routine use of a structure and facilities are usually classed as ‘wear and tear’ and not charged to guests. These things are going to 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. 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&Cs/house rules should cover unreasonable behaviour and the consequences. Ask guests to be considerate of fellow glampers and neighbouring properties, and clearly outline the course of action if they are not. Add a note specific to group bookings if you accept them. Ensure noise curfew times are clearly communicated and enforced.
Common issues and common sense
Other issues that we can’t always foresee or prevent are those which aren’t intentional but can, at worst, be dangerous, and at best, inconvenient. 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 and sometimes supervision is fire – candles, paraffin lamps, log burning 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, tried to light an LED lamp with a match, and nearly set the place on fire by drying clothes on the fireguard. I never thought I’d say this but some new glamping sites are not even including log-burners or campfires now.
We can never anticipate everything that might go wrong, and as such these things are often dealt with or 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 somehow end up in guests’ suitcases as they head home. This is a tricky one, because a towel could have genuinely been packed by mistake, or an ornament could have been dropped somewhere 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 easier to note the value of losses and work into costs.
The thought of charging a security deposit for each booking might have crossed your 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 deposits will add to administration and could put guests off, driving them to stay elsewhere.
Complaints can be unpleasant, especially with increasing incidents of guests trying to 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/full 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. Either way, it’s important to maintain a professional, calm and consistent manner throughout. Include a section on complaints procedures in your T&Cs and how they will be dealt with, and always outline your liability limitations for eventualities in and out of your control.
Genuine complaints aren’t always bad news, sometimes they provide valuable feedback and highlight an issue that has gone unnoticed. They can provide an opportunity to take a fresh look at things and indeed for us to make improvements.
So, there we are, a quick gallop through a few of the less positive aspects of operating a glampsite. Matters like this, and many more, get queried and answered in my Glamping Business Link Group, so if you have an interest, and a Facebook account, do feel free to send a request to join.
Till next time, Kate.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kate Morel provides a completely independent advice and design service to individuals, estates and companies looking to create a successful glamping business. She is well qualified and connected to provide advice on every aspect of creating, operating, marketing and upgrading glamping accommodations or developments. www.katemorel.com / firstname.lastname@example.org