Hotels vs. Vacation Rentals: And How to Give Guests the Best of Both

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Hotels vs. vacation rentals: which is the best way to travel? As you might suspect, we are big fans of vacation rentals, though hotels have their perks, too! In the end, it all depends on what the guest is looking for on their trip.

And then, of course, not all lodging options fall clearly on one side or the other. In the brave new world of non-traditional accommodations, there are boutique hotels with full suites that feel more like vacation rentals… and vacation rentals in condo buildings that have a lot in common with high-rise hotels. But if we’re looking at hotels and vacation rentals in their traditional sense—i.e. a standard, single room at a hotel vs. a multi-room vacation rental home—there are some clear differences.

The good news? Savvy vacation rental owners and managers can learn how to play up their advantages and incorporate the best of hotels, too. Below, we unpack the key areas where hotels and vacation rentals differ, and the lessons vacation rental owners and managers can steal to make their guests even happier.

If you’re traveling with more than two people, vacation rentals can’t be beat for the space and value they provide. If you book a block of hotel rooms for a group, you’ll end up paying significantly more and cramming into one room when you want to hang out. A clear advantage goes to vacation rentals here!

Great for large groups vs. best for solo/couples trips.

What to steal from hotels:

But some privacy-seeking guests love that they can retreat to their own space at a hotel, no matter how much they love their friends and family. To the extent that you have floorplan flexibility at your vacation rental, it’s great to have a mix of spaces for both spending time together and finding a slice of privacy.

If you’re starting with a brand-new build, that could mean putting guest bedrooms on different floors or wings of the house (attached baths for each bedroom are a huge plus, too), or creating a sitting area/reading nook away from the main gathering spaces. Or it could be as simple as putting a lock on each bedroom door and adding a little soundproofing to make the bedrooms feel more private.

Professional staff vs. DIY hosting

Successful hotels take hospitality very seriously, ensuring their public-facing concierges and other staff always maintain a professional demeanor with guests. Vacation rentals, on the other hand, tend to have a more laid-back style (if, in the age of digital locks, owners and managers even interact face-to-face with guests at all!).

One benefit of the DIY hosting style is that guests can feel more at home—and feel a greater sense of connection with the person to whom they’re giving their hard-earned money! We know many rental owners and property managers whose repeat guests become true friends. And who doesn’t want to feel like they have a friend in their favorite vacation destination?

What to steal from hotels:

Though there is much to be said for a casual and friendly management style, there are situations where hotel-like professionalism is warranted, such as when something goes wrong with a guests’ stay, or a negative review comes in for your listing. In those moments, you’ll want to take a cue from hotels and stay calm and collected as you work out the best solution for everyone.

Standard amenities vs. “you never know what you’re gonna get.”

At hotels, you can usually count on having the basics: travel-sized shampoos, conditioners and soaps; crisp, white sheets and towels; a hairdryer (usually in a holster that’s bolted to the wall); in-room coffee and tea options, etc. Vacation rentals, on the other hand, aren’t so standardized. You may find a sumptuous bed with luxury linens… or a lumpy one with scratchy sheets. A top of the line espresso machine… a humble Mr. Coffee… or (the horror!) neither.

Of course, many vacation rentalists go above and beyond, stocking not only everything hotels provide, but some extras, too, like welcome baskets packed with local goodies, a plethora of personal care products, and even dog treats for furry guests. Vacation rentals can easily make guests feel like VIPs with all the extras they provide.

What to steal from hotels:

Hospitality expert Alanna Schroeder of The Distinguished Guest has devoted her career to bringing the best of hotel hospitality into the vacation rental space. And it all starts with the amenities you provide!

She encourages vacation rentalists to go for hospitality-specific linens and towels, which are not only guest-approved, but stand up to a rigorous turnover schedule. She is also an advocate for travel-sized personal care items, First-Aid kits, and emergency kits (especially if you’re in an area that is prone to natural disasters). Not to mention kitchens with all the bells and whistles for cooking full meals for a group.

Interaction with strangers vs. seclusion.

Hotels have shared spaces, like lobbies, pools, bars, restaurants, etc. where guests can meet other travelers. Vacation rentals—especially whole-house rentals—tend to be more secluded. Of course, this seclusion may be what some guests love most about rentals! Certainly, tucking away from crowds is a big reason why vacation rentals saw unprecedented success in the Covid-19 era.

How to steal from hotels:

For guests who do love to be social with fellow travelers, vacation rental owners and managers can recommend community activities that allow them to mix and mingle with new people, like yoga classes, public pools, events, the best local nightlife, etc. Side note: if you’re in a building or resort with shared amenities (pool, gym, rooftop deck, etc.) make sure guests are informed about the rules in those spaces so that you can keep the peace with your neighbors!

Cookie cutter vs. unique design.

We can likely all identify the design style that chain hotels rely on: lots of beige and earth tones, nature scene paintings, and the same ugly pattern on the rugs and bedding that looks vaguely like strands of DNA. When you’re a frequent guest at these chain hotels, a thoughtfully designed vacation rental with a little unique personality is a breath of fresh air!

What to steal from hotels:

It’s a different story when we’re talking about boutique hotels, who often have impeccable interior design, sometimes around a locally inspired theme. Consider what your area is known for, and then incorporate elements of that into your rental. If you don’t have a natural knack for design, but do have some wiggle room in your budget, consider hiring an interior designer (or at least a design-savvy friend) to help you present an aesthetic that guests will love.

Hotel zones vs. local neighborhoods.

Vacation rentals provide an excellent way for guests to experience a destination from a more authentic vantage point. “Hotel zones” in many tourist-heavy areas tend to place guests all in one block, near shopping, dining and major tourist attractions. Vacation rentals, on the other hand, can be tucked into off-the-beaten-path locations in neighborhoods with their own local flavor.

What to steal from hotels:

There’s not much you can do about where your vacation rental is located! But if you’re in the purchasing stage of your vacation rental journey (or considering expanding your portfolio), it’s worth considering that some guests love the “live like a local” vibe of neighborhoods, while others appreciate being within walking distance of the main tourist attractions. If you can find a potential vacation rental that delivers on both of these… then your place is sure to be a hit with a wider range of guests!

Take The Next Step
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