Written by: Dan Weisman
In the world of travel, a scale of one to five stars is used nearly universally to indicate the type of service travelers can expect from a hotel. Vacation rental homes have no such implicit classification system. Star ratings on FlipKey and TripAdvisor, for example, reflect guests’ overall impression of their stay as opposed to advertising a property’s ability to meet predetermined criteria for each star.
Most of the time, travelers award stars in their reviews based on whether a vacation rental lives up to their expectations. Therefore, even the most basic rental property can earn a five-star review if it consistently delivers as advertised according to its description and price. Similarly, a one-star hotel could earn a five-star review online because it serves up everything expected of a three-star hotel. With that understanding of rankings and reviews, the key to earning great reviews is evaluating where your property falls on a scale of hospitality standards and then offering the appropriate services and amenities to the best of your abilities. To this end, the FlipKey blog presents its own five-star guide to vacation rental classification . . .
A single star in the hotel world denotes little more than four walls, a roof, and a bed. The budget travelers who search for this type of basic lodging care more about travel activities and destinations than where they sleep. The same traveler who may ordinarily stay in a hostel or inexpensive guest house would also consider renting a simple one-room apartment if the price and location are right. To earn great reviews on a small apartment with minimal amenities, make sure that it is clean, safe, and economical. An urban studio that goes for less than $50/night could win high ratings for its price and convenience. Bonus points are awarded to rentals in this category located near points of interest or with easy access to public transportation.
A two-star hotel offers guests slightly more than basic human requirements: a minimal sense of style, good location, and access to food service step it up to star two. Rental properties in an equivalent class might contain a basic kitchen, functional furniture and décor, and just enough space to relax. Travelers who seek out this type of accommodation value economy, so try to keep the price down (definitely under $100/night per bed) while still offering value. High marks in this category go to places with comfortable beds, so invest in quality amenities such as good linens and pillows. Your guests will also give good reviews for providing basic toiletries—try stocking the bathroom with hotel-sized soaps and shampoo—and some kitchen essentials such as cookware, cutlery, and flatware.
Hotels in the three-star category begin to distinguish themselves as desirable places to spend some time. Property owners who rent out an attractive country cottage or a mid-sized townhouse with comfortable furnishings could easily inhabit a similar segment of the vacation rental market. Three-star vacation rentals may not have the full-service restaurant and pool of their hotel counterpart, but owners should keep in mind a certain standard for amenities and décor, while still prioritizing value. In addition to having access to a fully functional kitchen, guests should also be able to easily find shopping areas and restaurants in the vicinity of the property. Owners looking to maximize a home in this category should consider providing extras like Wi-Fi Internet, bathing supplies, restaurant information and takeout menus, and a guestbook with information about the area. Still, you don’t need to pile on the amenities to earn a five-star review in this category; simply offer guests the comfort and ease of living at home.
Four-star hotels provide guests with style, comfort, and convenience above and beyond the norm. If you consider your rental property a four-star kind of establishment, then the “extras” are a must. Guests looking for four-star service will expect large, comfortable living areas, quality furniture, and interesting design. Great dining options should be easily within striking distance and the kitchen should be ready for considerable use. Travelers staying in a four-star will give it a five-star review if they feel that all of their needs are being met even more easily than at home. This is a vacation home in which to live, to enjoy, and to entertain. To go above and beyond, consider giving your guests small surprises such as a welcome basket or coupons for discounts at local businesses. Your visitors are searching for a special experience, and they will be grateful for every small extravagance.
For luxury hotels and rental homes alike, five-star service means anticipating not only your guests’ needs but also their desires—even before they arrive. Rental homes in this category must present the peak of luxury: think terry-cotton robes in all the bedrooms, high thread-count sheets, a swimming pool or hot tub, access to a gym or spa, and plenty of space to spread out and relax in a beautiful home. A five-star kitchen should have all the cookware for preparing a feast; then, of course, there must be a dining area in which to serve it. Don’t forget to provide information on the best local activities and events, and offer resources (yourself included!) for advice and local knowledge. Provide the highest quality of all amenities—small or large—and make it clear that if anything is “missing,” it can easily be found. If you’re looking for five-star reviews in this category, then keep in mind that no measure is too great (or too expensive) for five-star service.
At the end of the day, remember that you are offering your own home as a vacation rental. Think about the ingredients you would want to create your ideal vacation and make those available to your guests. You don’t have to offer five-star service to earn five-star reviews; you do have to offer the best of yourself and your property. Provide guests with the best experience for the price and meet or exceed their expectations for services. They will thank you for giving them a memorable vacation with great reviews and repeat bookings.