We have been welcoming guests in our farm holiday cottage since April 2018. I mused about the variety of visitors in We are 1! when the Hopper Hut successfully survived her first year – the sheer number of occupations and nationalities could be overwhelming. Except, I love talking to people and find them interesting. And I think that’s a must when running any kind of b&b or a holiday let.
So how do you create that Home From Home feeling for your guests?
Let them know that you are expecting them
Communication is a key when it comes to any customer facing business. Your potential visitors want to know that you are happy to welcome them to your property. Always answer all queries – however annoying or unusual they are. Ours is a working farm holiday cottage so I like to drop in little hints when messaging my guests. ‘we are harvesting at the mo, so please let yourselves in when you arrive,’ or ‘we have picked the blackcurrant from the field around the hut, so you should have peace and quiet’. It makes my messages personal and it also reiterates that we are a real working farm.
I was worried in the beginning that people would be offended by noisy, smelly tractors (occasionally) buzzing in the fields. Instead, I mostly end up giving an impromptu lesson on farming practices and machinery. We’ve even had a guest, who offered to help repair our picking machine – as it was his wedding anniversary weekend, his wife said NO.
Tell them about your area!
Relevant area and property information helps to make the stay more enjoyable. Some people do like to spontaneous indeed (where shall we eat today? – don’t mind… – three hours later they boil some pasta…).
Most of our visitors ask for recommendations – from pubs and shops to National Trust properties. Have the tips ready. Airbnb hosting site will help you to put together a Guidebook where you can list all your favourites with their website and photos. We have a book with useful information on the table and a personalised area map on the wall.
Make it personal
Nine out of ten times you know why your guests are visiting. We’ve hosted couples who celebrated anniversaries, singles who came to work, parents escaping from children, wedding guests as well as newlyweds, even someone about to move into a new house.
To know who and why are they staying in our holiday cottage helps me to prepare. I always put a bunch of flowers on the table and if it’s REALLY special, I will splash out on a card. On the other hand, when I knew that a guest was hiding from an abusive partner while signing for a new flat, I made sure none of the farm workers spooked her by walking too close to her windows. Because life is not always butterflies and roses.
And if ‘our people’ arrive with a dog? Well there is always a drying towel and a water bowl for the furry ones. We used to keep a spare dog bed in the shed but in the end we realised that dog owners might forget to bring their own shoes or clothes but would never leave their dog’s bedding behind.
Be there but be gone
There is a very thin line between being attentive and being intrusive. With every new booking and every new guest I try to gauge where that line is. Usually I can tell from the greeting and meeting – do they open their door widely and happily chat? Do they ask questions? Do they BOTH come out to say hi or just one of them? If they do, they are usually quite happy to see us around and wave when walking past.
Sometime I am not here when our visitors arrive. We have a contactless check-in in place so there is no need for me to meet our temporary neighbours. The blinds are drawn shut. The car disappears and appears again later. The message is clear – be gone. For those instances we provide the information book with our mobile numbers, so that guests know that we are there if needed.
All of us working or walking on the farm have trained ourselves to walk past the tiny house without ever peeking in through the large windows. Unless we are approached by or come face to face with the guests, they can enjoy their privacy to the point of invisibility. It seems to work.
Just a little something
People who stay away from home love ‘the little thoughtful touches‘. I already mentioned flowers and the occasional card where appropriate.
Now I am talking about my personal favourite. The things people don’t expect. I keep chickens so six ‘homemade’ free range eggs are a must. And so is my own blackcurrant jam (after all, what is the point of growing that stuff on the farm and not showing it off?), I dispense it from a large Kilner jar into a small one.
Our holiday cottage is about a mile and a half from the village. It’s a nice walk on a pleasant spring or summer’s day but not quite as nice in the dark, in the rain and when you are not sure where you are going. For that reason we always keep some basic groceries in the ‘food drawer’ in the cottage. It’s not much, just enough to make a quick pasta or rice supper when the guests arrive on Friday, late after work perhaps. That, together with a small loaf of bread, some butter and the standard coffee and tea making ingredients is our equivalent of the open arms on our farm.