How to Create a Great Vacation Rental


A smaller couch works well with moveable smaller chairs.

Just a few years ago in the United States renting out your home or property to total strangers seemed like an impossible concept. Now vacation rentals are an established global industry and it is clear that this business model is here to stay. If you are hosting guests you now have thousands of listings to compete with so it is very important to provide a top notch customer experience in order to set your listing apart.


As an architectural and interior photographer, I have photographed over 2,000 vacation rental listings all over the New York City Tri-state area. Because of this experience, I can say without a doubt that strong photography is critical to success for owners who want to have successful vacation rental investments. Potential guests consistently overlook listings with poor photographs for ones with vibrant and professional photographs.


In addition to photographing many rentals, I have personally hosted dozens of Airbnb guests and stayed at many vacation rentals since 2012 so have additional insight into what makes some vacation rentals wildly prosperous and others moderately successful. Here are tips that can help your space perform well and give you an overall pleasant host experience while increasing revenue.


What Would I Like?

In my experience nothing is more important when offering a vacation rental than viewing the space as if you were a guest. You should always think, “What would I like if I was staying here”? It may help to think of an impressive customer service experience you recently had - whether it was a hotel stay or even a minor touch that a store provided that made you take notice. What specifically about that experience made you tell family and friends, leave a sparkling review and maybe even make plans to revisit?


Many hosts make the mistake of simply perceiving their rental as a way to make money and see their clients as customers rather than welcome guests. With every decision you make about managing your space you should think, “Is this visually appealing?”, “How would this make me feel?” or “Would this make me feel welcome?” This genuine concern for the well being of your guests will automatically make your listing stand apart. 


Investing in the visual and overall quality of your listing is beneficial for the following reasons:

  1. Guests rely on you to help them feel at home and settled - Most guests are traveling from out of town and in some cases may not be able to communicate fluently in English. Your number one priority is to make sure that their first interaction is a pleasant and welcoming one. Nothing feels worse than traveling many miles to be met by a disinterested or grumpy host.
  2. It feels good - Since you are a host, chances are you like meeting and interacting with people. A great guest experience makes everyone involved feel good and creates positive interactions. If communicating with strangers and helping people navigate your town sounds frightening then you may consider co-hosting with someone who is more comfortable doing this end of the business.
  3. You can get good reviews - Reviews are one the most important factors guests take into account when booking your space. A great guest experience often equals a good review.
  4. More bookings and a higher price - A nice looking property combined with a pleasant guest experience means that you will receive 5-star reviews. These strong reviews will lead to more bookings. Eventually this will allow you more freedom to modify your pricing and yield more profit.
  5. Competition - The quality of vacation rentals has increased over the last few years so in order to compete it is essential to provide a quality experience from check-in to check-out.


Guests will always be relieved when arriving to a well made bed.

Interior for Home Sale - Manhattan

A minimalist approach works well for smaller spaces.

Details Details Details

The one thing that I take notice of when preparing to photograph a vacation rental is how attention-to-detail can improve or diminish the overall guest experience. 



My wife and I have stayed at several vacation rentals and one very small detail always sticks out - the guestbook. This detail may seem trivial as you no doubt have spent lots of time and cash on securing furniture, bedding, kitchen essentials and countless other items that have put you over budget. But taking the time to put together a binder or book of local suggestions, tips, house rules and a welcoming message is priceless.  


To be clear, a guestbook and a rule book are quite different. A book of house rules simply stating dos and don'ts about the space can come across as rude and unwelcoming which can, in turn, put a tarnish on the stay. Of course as a host you hope that guests don't damage or destroy anything in the property and are respectful to neighbors, but this worry should not come across in any written communication.


For example we stayed at a cabin for over a week that was absolutely perfect as far as our needs but the fact that the host came across as cold and removed in the rule book stuck in our heads. By contrast we stayed in a shared space for one night and the host and guestbook were so welcoming that we still talk about this experience.


Also the guestbook can appear in your listing photographs which conveys to the potential renter that you are thinking about hospitality when creating your space rather than just renting out an extra property. Finally, a nicely presented guest book immediately creates a great visual first impression when guests enter the home. 

Guestbooks should include information only a local would know.

Guestbook Essentials

  • Local transportation - Assemble a list of taxi phone numbers and advice (best option for late nights, airport, etc). Also include recommendations for gas stations, local directions and traffic advice.
  • Take-away menus - Provide a variety of food delivery options, recommendations on favorite dishes and details on waiting time for delivery. 
  • Restaurants - Offer a variety of dining options and recommendations on popular local cuisines and dishes. Also mention typical waiting time for a table and distance from the vacation rental.
  • Local attractions - Suggest activities to do and things to see specific to the area. Details on travel time to major sites and lots of recommendations are always welcome.

Everything You Need!


Take Your Time to Build

You may have visited a hotel or vacation rental and have thought, “it would nice if they had…”, only to turn around and notice it was there. This level of forethought might take some time and experience to build up so definitely take into account feedback from guests. It is important not to look at guests as a necessary nuisance but as partners in your enterprise. The ability to get useful guest feedback on every interaction is extremely valuable.  


Also, get creative and don’t be afraid to ask for help. As a former host, I made the mistake of simply providing a roof over my guests' heads - a clean, safe and comfortable apartment. A friend of mine got involved later on and brought in desks, hair dryers, an iron (and ironing board) and artwork. These items along with a few other details instantly transformed the small space and felt more inviting to guests.


Also it leaves a great impression in your listing photographs as a comfortably furnished space will get booked quicker and more regularly than an empty space 100% of the time. Top Tip : Leave enough blankets for multiple guests and have close-up photographs taken of unique details. 


In the absence of a friend, you can connect with other hosts in the area. I suggest checking the website as well as the vacation rental platforms you are using. 


A few more tips -  

  • Invest time - Planning can save a massive amount of headaches when managing your vacation rental. Read through recommendations on the rental platforms so that you can avoid pitfalls.
  • Invest money - Initially it is wise to create as great a guest experience that your budget will allow. As your bookings increase, reinvest your earnings into the property and eventually you will be at a level that is highly competitive. This strategy allows for the ability to eventually charge premium rates while building your property’s reputation quickly.
  • Consult professionals if necessary - Hiring a professional interior designer can be worthwhile. I have photographed thousands of properties but cannot tell you where to find a decent throw pillow. Everyone has their strengths and you can save time and money by hiring someone who has a passion for making your space look great.
  • Create privacy - Whether you are living in the home or renting out a totally separate vacation property, it is important to be conscious of guests' personal space and time when creating your rental. Some guests require minimal contact while others are more communicative. It is up to you gauge this on an individual basis and not make the guests feel pressured to respond to you but at the same time feel that you are responsive when needed. 
  • Quality signage  - For little details like how to access areas of the space with tricky door locks and locate hidden kitchen items it is a good idea to create clear and attractive signs.
  • Keep your listing up-to-date - If you are an experienced host you will likely have made changes since you first listed your space. Take the time to update your descriptions and have new photography completed so that guests experience in-person exactly what they see online.

You can take your time to give your space its own personality.

Think out of the box for smaller spaces.

Research Resources

The New York Times publishes great Real Estate articles and sometimes addresses the vacation rental market. This article has tips like decorating with purpose, keeping it simple and using materials that wear well. 


Stay Here (Netflix) is a reality show that specializes on how to create wonderful and profitable vacation rentals. The hosts travel across the US and provide great advice on how to create that unique guest experience. Killer tip: Localize the guest experience by engaging the existing community resources


Houzz - A great resource for decorating your home, the wealth of information on this site can help you prepare your vacation rental. Professional Interior designers and other housing professionals use this site regularly so you are definitely getting the best and most current concepts and ideas. 


Exercise Patience

Creating a vacation rental and hosting guests from all over the world can be an invaluable experience. With the right amount of time, care and financial investment you can enjoy a fulfilling and lucrative enterprise. Whether you are just starting or refreshing an existing listing, the payoff may take a while to happen but keep in mind that this is totally normal and stick to proven principles. With a top quality guest experience as your number one priority, you will be able to compete at the highest level and achieve success.


Ps. Feel free to leave any of your own tips in the comment section!


Zoe Campos(non-registered)
I'm glad that you mentioned how important it is to provide a pleasant and welcoming interaction with the guests. I'm thinking of sponsoring a vacation for my parents and I would like them to enjoy every second of it. It might be a good idea to look for log cabin rentals that are known for their ambiance and hospitality and see if they're available on our target dates.
Victoria Addington(non-registered)
My aunt is planning to have her vacation rental homes open this summer, that's why she's looking for ways on how to market the properties. Good thing I have read your suggestion about investing in the visual. Because of that, we thought about hiring experienced photographers in our area. I like what you said that we can get good reviews and more bookings if we focus on making our visuals appealing to the customers.
Levi Armstrong(non-registered)
I agree with what you said that it's important for vacation rental owners to provide a quality experience from check-in to check-out, especially since there are a lot of competitions in the market. My husband and I plan to rent a luxury vacation rental home this holiday season for the whole family. We want our experience to be seamless and convenient, so hopefully, we find the right host. Thanks!
vacation home rentals Grayton Beach(non-registered)
Vacation Rental Homes are a growing market place for vacationers and travelers. There is a trend of rising awareness, once travelers discover the benefits of staying in a vacation rental it will often become their preferred future accommodation.
vacation home rentals Florida(non-registered)
When you travel within a group of friends, for example, it’s almost impossible to stay together in the same hotel room. Instead, most of the time you have to stay in separate rooms, sometimes even different floors, and it limits a lot your freedom, intimacy and fun.
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