Skip to main content

Ever Regret Renting Your Vacation Rental To A Guest?

I’m asking this question because an owner shared a piece of advice that made me think, is there ever times when we should turn down a booking?

I asked the vacation rental community this question – “What’s The Most Valuable Thing You’ve Learned In The Vacation Rental Business?”

Jan Ferry-Axman, a cottage owner with vacation rentals near the Finger Lakes, contributed a piece of advice about guests that inspired me to write this blog post. 

jan“Set Professional Standards high and….Always always be super hospitable, patient and helpful. NO MATTER WHAT! They may complain that they want a full refund because the toilet was out of service for a day, although you proved it was because their kids stuffed a stuffed animal and a pair of glasses down it (actual event). Make it through the very few who pain you…Your other numerous guests will sing songs of good reviews, numerous referrals and frequent returns to your property!”

What I’m getting from Jan is that she has experienced people that she’s loved to serve as her guests, and others that she just didn’t. But in the end she does say the good does outweigh the bad and I agree with her 100%.

So, how can you get more “good” clients and avoid bad experiences?

 How Do We Avoid Bad Guest Experiences?

Firstly, I have to say that when you’re in business and accept money from people for services, I truly believe that you have the moral responsibility to make that client satisfied to the absolute best of your ability. But what if that was a mission impossible?

I mean, what if you just couldn’t make that client happy?

Has anyone ever had a traveler or customer that they couldn’t please, no matter what you did?

If you haven’t, you haven’t been in business long enough!

The problem with unreasonable clients is that they don’t know they are unreasonable and you won’t either until it’s too late and you’re in the bushes trying to get out of the woods with them.

You want to avoid doing business with certain customers because it will be a huge time sink and can be an expensive mistake. It will be nothing but added stress for you and your customer and that isn’t how you want your business to run, is it?

The advice Jan shared with us shows that business doesn’t come without it’s problems…but knowing the problems and how to avoid them is key to avoiding the pitfalls.

So how can you avoid a situation like this from happening to you like it did to Jan and I? In my next post, I’ll share with you what I had to physically create to prevent this from happening, but today, I’ll talk about the first thing you need to do…BUILD THE WALL!

When you’re communicating with your potential guests and customers, interview them. Yeah, I said that!

You should first see if you want to do business with them, and then you can work on convincing them to do business with you, not the other way around.

Now I say this with hopes that you understand you needn’t be arrogant or make it difficult for people to do business with you. You just need to set some standards of the type of person you want to work with.

You want to make sure your product is a right fit for guest or customer. Make sure your rental is going to fit their needs because if not, you’re asking for a problem.

Have they ever stayed in a rental before? Ask them if they understand what the rental would be like. Ask the right questions and have a conversational interview.


Look for red flags

  • Have they changed their mind a lot, and at last minute?
  • Are they wishy-washy?
  • Did they give you a hard time about the security deposit?
  • Are they demanding?
  • Are they constantly changing the information they provide? Such as the number of guests and the dates of travel?
  • If they try to beat you down on the price, it could be a cause for concern.
  • If they are unresponsive to emails or don’t communicate properly, you may have a trouble case on your hands.  
  • ***Ask them what they are in town for*** If they say they are in town to party…CAUSE FOR CONCERN!
  • Lastly, check out their social networks. Don’t prejudge, but at the end of the day, you have to protect your assets.

Investigate your Inquiries With These 5 Creepy Tools


rappNow back to interviewing your clients…get them on the phone and get their energy. Feel them out and be receptive to the signals.

If you hear a dog in the background, you could ask “are you travelling with your pet?” If you have a pet-friendly home, this could be a way to sell them. If you don’t have a pet-friendly home, you may have just found a red flag.

Do Online Bookings Increase Chances Of A Problem Happening?

Everyone is moving to online bookings, but is there a problem with instant booking? While online bookings are convenient, you waive the right to talk with potential bookers and you give away the opportunity to vet them. Do you agree? Is the trade off worth it?

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned from people and relationships is that if it doesn’t start off well, it is not likely to get better. Trust me!

You can’t have the mentality of just getting the money. Often times larger businesses just want to get as many people they can to buy from them. They understand that there will be happy customers and some not so happy and they’re okay with that. They consider it nothing but a numbers game, but you can’t afford to have this mindset.

In the hospitality business, you have to work harder at things like customer service.

And interviewing your customers is one way you can help avoid having an unsatisfied guest.

Make sure you pay attention to the signs, ask questions and get useful information from them.

While building a rapport is super important, finding out if they are the right customer for you is the first order of priority!

And remember Jan’s advice…always be hospitable, patient and helpful. No matter what!


  • Jeffrey Rollin says:

    Very timely post. I am going through an issue with a guest now.

    They are upset because I didnt show up at 2 am to change a light bulb for them.

    I felt initially that he was going to be a bit demanding but I ignored my gut feeling and well, this is what Im dealing with today. Sound advise Jan and Jay

    • Jay William says:

      Jeff take Jan’s advice on this. Always be classy even if they’re not and do your best to appease them. Be careful not to give off your frustration be super professional. Defuse their anger with professionalism I hope you can turn things around. You’ll feel great if you can and never lose your cool.

      Think how it could’ve been prevented for the future, dont let it bum you out too much. Its a part of learning and growing, these type of lessons are invaluable.

      Im going to share something in the next few days that I created that will help to avoid problems like the one your dealing with it. Good luck Jeff

  • Yolanda Simons says:

    I have more control of online bookings that I generate from my own website. In comparison to for example. I can decline the booking if I don’t like something about the situation. Like young kids looking to party. Booking com makes me adhere to their booking prolicies. Onljne bookings on my site are great I get a little.more worried when it comes from sites like or Flipkey.

  • Swiss Watch Tours says:

    As a tour operator we do not have rental accommodation but we have experienced this type of traveller. You usually start to worry when they want more than the easy customer, make demands, want changes to their tour etc The two worst I wish we had never had on a watch tour. Both I should have refused.
    We now have more questions on the Booking Form and I usually correspond with them a little to “suss” them out. We carefully choose which factory to take them to so as to make sure they appreciate the way in which the manufacturer works and the type of watches they make. That way we have had less hassle with visitors who usually are very easy to deal with !

  • Charmaine Brown says:

    You just have to do your best to accommodate each guest’s requests, always with a smile and courtesy, even though you think they are unreasonable. There is time to laugh (or cry) about it when they have left!

  • Alan Egan says:

    Interesting article Jay and interesting comments too.

    I came across this post on Facebook and by sheer coincidence have just published an article on the same subject. Although I pose a slightly different question.

    You can read my outlook on this here –

    All thoughts welcome

    • Jay William says:

      If you see drama coming, wouldn’t it be smart to avoid it? In business not all deals are worth writing, don’t you agree? The problem may actually arise from the property not being a good fit for someone, maybe the location wasn’t ideal in any case you’ll be blamed for it. Unfortunately you may hear about things like this in an online review but could that bad review be avoided by “vetting” guests with a few questions?

      Allowing just anyone to stay in your rental is asking for problems. Vacation rentals are not like the Holiday Inn. The owner doesnt have the same support team nor volume of renters to support the same business model. Holiday Inn gets a bad review… not a huge deal since they’ll get more good reviews to outweigh the bad ones, its a numbers game.But if an owner gets one bad review it can be very damaging. The more you rent, the more likley you are to run into problems. These issues are not that uncommon especially for agencies with numerous properties.

      Some owners go overboard with vetting guests near the point of requiring security clearances, that I disagree with. I’m simply suggesting that owners keep one eye opened to spot those problematic rental situations.

      • Alan Egan says:

        You’re suggesting that owners ‘build a wall’ Jay, in capital letters. I can’t see how that can help any business.

        • Jay William says:

          Actually I think it is good practice to “build a wall” This wall is designed to keep you safe from bad reviews, headaches and upset guests. It doesn’t have to be a big wall. The wall is designed to keep certain people out. People who are not good for your business.

          Maybe desperate owners and managers will take whatever they can get but to me a part of being succesful is having the liberty to say NO!

          • Alan Egan says:

            You won’t find building a wall in ANY business marketing books, quite the opposite in fact.

            You use the word safe as if bad reviews are dangerous.

            What ‘certain people’?

            You also term owners that accept guests happily as desperate.

            The whole tone of your reply (and your article) is so negative. I don’t really know how to answer it.

          • Jay William says:

            Alan, I do respect you as a professional and I am not meaning to be negative even in my response to you. I think this is a strong difference of opinion and just because mine differs from yours it doesn’t mean I’m being negative. I do also know there is literature out there that will tell you to not do business with all customers to work with the people you prefer. It’s a great thing to be an entrepreneur and being able to pick who you work with is a benefit of entrepreneurship. Who wants to spend time with things that are going to slow them down and cause added stress?

            The “certain people” are just like the one Ray with Gemstone Homes is bringing to your attention here. These folks that are inquiring are not going to get over his “wall” to book his owners properties, he’s identified these are problems for his business model.

            I do think that when customers who are not a good fit book with you your asking for problems. And when problems happen it’s too late you’re in the problem and now have to deal with it. This means you’re losing valuable time with added hassles and efforts spent fixing an avoidable situation, instead of being able to be proactive about the moving forward of your business. This is harmful to a business, no question. Bad online reviews can also hurt an online business especially if not handled correctly so yes, to avoid harm is to be safe.

            I think booking anyone into a rental is a rookie mistake or someone who doesn’t care about the ramifications that come out of doing so.

  • Great article and debate. There are always those guests that you cannot and will never please no matter what you do and how much you bend over backwards to accommodate them. Our philosphy with any difficult person is simply ‘kill them with kindness’ and 9 times out of 10 it works and for the 1 it doesn’t just raise a glass to them over dinner!! This is a great quote that came to me today:-

    “If you are willing to look at another person’s behaviour toward you as a reflection of the status of their relationship with themselves rather than a statement about your value as a person, then you will, over a period of time cease to react at all.”

    ~ Yogi Bhajan

  • ray guenther, Gemstone Homes says:

    this request?

    I’m XXXXXXX, a sophomore student of Indiana University Bloomington. I am
    planing to go to Orlando with my high school friends for the Christmas
    vacation. Is this house still available from Dec. 24 to Jan 2? Thanks

  • Last season I had a guest I wish I had never booked. All the red flags mentionned in the article were there but I ignored them because it was a 8 weeks booking with potentially repeating business on an annual basis, huge mistake.

    I learnt my lesson though. As a host I happily go above and beyond to give my guest a great experience but when you deal with con artist… well you have lost the minute you’ve accept their booking.

    I was extremely gracious and I absorb the 3 000 euros worth of damage they caused to my property, that’s how bad it was. The 8 weeks booking was split into 2 periods so eventually my way out was to wait for them to finish the first 6 weeks, and I cancel their second stay with full refund.

    After these guests, my husband and I decided to introduce 2 new rules 1) never give out a discount again 2) interview our guests to see if they fit with our property.

    I am treating my vacation rental as a business and, as a business owner, it is my responsability to look after my assets. My home, my furniture, my guest list, my vacation rental reviews, because bad reviews do damage or even kill businesses and, my local team are my assets. I also treat my neighbours as partners, they are my first responders in case of emergency and they are my friends so I would not jeopardize that for a booking.

    I therefore agree 100% that building a wall againgst guests that are not a good fit for your property is a necessity. As you can imagine, I ended up loosing quite a lot of money on what was meant to be a great business opportunity. But at least it was one time loss and measurable. How much does a bad review cost?

  • Heather Davis says:

    HI Jay,
    16 years in the rental business, yes, you do need to ask questions to eliminate potential problems and be sure guest expectations can be met. This is the wall, kindly suggest that you want their vacation to be perfect and are asking questions to make sure your rental is the perfect fit for them. If not then, move on and give them some great suggestions on what might be good for them. Be sure to tell them we said “Hello”

    • Jay William says:

      Hey Heather thanks for weighing in on the topic 16 years in the biz gives your comments a ton of weight. We seem to think alike on the matter. There are others who have insinuated that this type of vetting is discrimination. I dont think so. Even if I dont turn away a guest after noticing red flags I can at least brace myself and be better prepared on how to handle that guest in order to prevent a potential problem. What do you think?

  • Nancy says:

    I agree with this article.
    Our homes will be with us, long after our guests are gone. As members of our vacation property association, who believe in a balanced vacation rental environment, this creation of a wall allows us to also protect our full time neighbours from problem guests. Let’s face it we’re in this together.

    We include at the outset of each inquiry, that we are “very choosy as to whom we rent to and will only rent to those who will treat our properties with the utmost respect” we also mention at the same time the noise and parking ordinances. Some people may be turned off by this, and yes we have told potential guests who are looking for a place with more nightlife that they “we will not be able to make them happy at our location” and that they should look elsewhere for a “better fit”.
    It’s super important to speak with your guest personally, by phone, FaceTime, etc… to start to forge some type of relationship with them. This helps increase customer service by offering the guest recommendations to help them achieve their vacation goals. But also, will decrease the chance that a guest will lash out at the owner, if and when something goes wrong. By building a relationship however fleeting, people start forming judgements and ideas of the person they are dealing with when they speak one on one. If they believe the owner is a good person and they like them, they will be more understanding that the owner wants to help them in all facets of their vacation experience.

    There are 2 details that are important to point out, why we do this;
    1. Guests who do fit within our ideal profile understand that we only allow exclusive members into our “Club” so to speak. It’s being accepted past the wall, that’s rewarding. By creating this wall/ club, guests understand that our properties are kept to the highest standard possible which is an important buying factor for them (creating expectations).

    2. The Book it Now button is a blessing and a curse. Since installing it, the guests don’t build a relationship with the owner. It’s important, to AT LEAST ONCE communicate with the guest by phone. There is something about listening to each other and opening up communication lines, where we as humans can imagine who we are speaking with. I’ve made the mistake of not speaking with the guests before arrival and paid for it through nightmare guests, who had exhibited many of the points above, very needy, drilling for discounts, etc….. Killing them with kindness and finding a common ground where both parties can be happy is the best way to deal with these types of guests if you happen to be hosting them. That and after their departure I have to say my “DO NOT RENT” list makes me very happy.

%d bloggers like this: