How to Avoid Becoming a Vacation Rental Horror Story

Written By: Conrad
Last Updated: September 8, 2023

Some vacation rentals can be downright scary—and we’re not talking about haunted houses.

(Though an Airbnb contest last Halloween sent a couple “lucky” winners to spend a night at Dracula’s Castle in Transylvania. In 2015, Airbnb winners spent the night in the Parisian Catacombs.)

Whether it’s creaky floorboards, nightmare neighbors, or—horror of horrors!—ultra-slow WiFi, flaws happen. It’s how you address them that counts.

Or, you can just ignore them and become your guests’ vacation rental horror story…

Like this one, told to us by a friend of Guest Hook, who rented “a lovely Arts & Crafts style home”:

…We were a mixed generation group that included my two brothers, a sister-in-law, myself and our 82-year-old mom who walks with a cane. They forgot to mention that it was actually a house built on the side of the hill so that it had over 40 stairs to get to the kitchen (and the living room was on the ground level)…

But that wasn’t the nightmare part. They had moved the kitchen up to the highest part of the house which enjoyed amazing views of the bay. This meant that one of the 4 bedrooms was actually the former dining room.

It had lovely built-in bookcases and a fireplace—and it did have a door so it worked fine as a bedroom. Until we came home and heard a lot of noise. Laughter, loud music. It sounded like it was in the 2nd floor “bedroom.”

It turned out that they had put a piece of drywall over the entry between the original kitchen and the dining room that they converted to a bedroom. No insulation, just a single sheet of drywall.

They neglected to tell us that they had converted their detached garage to a bedroom and they offer the old original kitchen to those guests. We had the misfortune of being there over St. Patrick’s Day weekend, so those garage guests were having quite the party.

I did call the Airbnb owner – who apologized about it and offered to return my money if I agreed not to write a bad review.


Other horror stories we’ve heard include a vacation home in the flight path of an Air Force base, with jet planes roaring overhead randomly. A rental that required guests to wash (and hang dry!) their own sheets before leaving —  a process that took two hours. A shared accommodation that was billed as a private apartment. Guests who arrived to a “remodeled kitchen” that was actually an active remodeling project, with unhooked appliances in the middle of the room.

These are somewhat extreme stories, to be fair. But how can you learn from their mistakes and avoid becoming a vacation rental horror story yourself?

kitchen overlooking lake

Make concessions in your copy.

Your rental’s flaws don’t have to be deal-breakers, but they do need to be addressed honestly. We’ve put together a guide for talking about some of the most common imperfections we see in vacation rentals.

Smart wordsmithing can make boring interiors and cramped quarters charming in their own right. But when it comes to ultra-specific issues that can present a challenge for some guests—like a 40-step trek up to the kitchen—being totally straightforward is your best bet.

One way to be upfront without feeling like you’re dropping a bomb: present this drawback as a concession. In the case of this rental, the payoff was stunning views of the bay. Here’s how we’d phrase it:

We’ll be honest: it’s a climb (40 steps) up to our kitchen. But the top-story location pays off with jaw-dropping views—and gazing out at miles of tranquil bay waters makes chopping and prepping much more enjoyable.

friend party

Know your audience.

Inconvenience aside, the flaws at this “horror story” vacation rental actually serve one helpful purpose: they make it much easier to zone in on the target guest. How?

  • The formidable flight of stairs rules out groups with elderly or less mobile guests.
  • The thin wall between the neighboring unit rules out groups with young children, or those seeking to spend the entire time at the house in peace and quiet.

Considering these aspects of the rental, plus its location, style, and layout, we can start to develop personas that exemplify the guests that would best enjoy this home.

For this rental, let’s say the key demographic is friends/couples groups that are looking for a launch pad from which to explore. They appreciate the privacy of separate bedrooms plus the convenience of communal spaces. They don’t mind the stairs, or the noise—they plan on spending much of their evenings out on the town.

What does the person who makes the booking decision for this group look like? What’s important to him or her? How can we convince that person to book?

Put a name and face to that key guest. In this instance, we’ll call him Group Getaway Gary, and assume he’s a 35-year-old corporate guy with friends of similar ages. We know he’s likely using Facebook, so we can reach him there.

But in order to gain Gary’s attention, we need to be helpful to him. He and his friends will likely want insider advice on where to dine, drink, and experience some culture while they’re in town. We can create content that focuses on topics that are of interest to Gary, and promote them on channels where he spends time, in order to gain visibility among guests like him.

angry man

Pay attention to your reviews.

In our horror story above, the homeowners avoided a bad review by refunding their guests. But what if they hadn’t been so quick to act (or so generous)?

The negative review response is one of the most important pieces of copy you’ll ever have to write. Getting it right the first time is crucial to your business. Don’t be defensive—respond with logic and understanding. Remember: your potential guests are watching to see how you’ve treated past guests.

But it’s not just the one- and two-star reviews you should keep your eye on. We often recommend that owners and property managers scan their reviews to learn what guests love about their rental—but the same can be said for pain points.

Are certain imperfections popping up in reviews across the board? Maybe it’s time to acknowledge them head-on, before they become a horror story for the wrong guest.

Booking the right guests is often a matter of telling the right story. If you need help portraying your rental, reach out to Guest Hook. Our team of copywriting, content marketing, and branding professionals can help you paint an accurate picture of your rental, and use it to reach the right guests.

Take The Next Step

  1. Download our free Vacation Rental Marketing Blueprint and watch our FREE training on how to build an actionable, advanced marketing plan for your rental properties.
  2. If you want to learn more about how to generate more bookings, visit our blog and read our articles. 
  3. To get started working with us, visit our contact page, complete the form and schedule a call.
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