Cottage / Vacation Rentals value. Get it wrong: you’re done for.

This is a bit of a complicated blog.  I attempt to address uncertainty and focus on how to keep things right for when things stabilise.  I did think twice about publishing because it does not make for a ‘happy everything is rosy in the garden read’ but the message is positive.  It should be remembered that our experience is very localised in West Central England / East Wales.

I have put in some photos taken recently after a visit to two astonishingly high quality holiday lets near Clun.  The photos, I hope, will help lighten things up.  They do show how really beautiful the area we serve is.

July started with a bang with very strong bookings taken but volatility refuses to go away.  In amongst this uncertainty, the question ‘what is value’ is asked more and more often.  The more it is asked, the more uncertain it appears to becomes.  If we were asked to make a prediction on the basis of what has happened from the beginning of June, any answer would be complete and utter guesswork; it would be as good as ‘consulting the cards’, staring at tea leaves or resorting to a simple throw of the dice.

It is reminiscent of a pastime of some Thai lorry drivers in the middle East in the 1980s.  They had a game they called ‘High-Low’.  Many were permitted to go home once every two years, otherwise they worked driving to feed their families and send their children to school. The lived on wide shelves in huts sharing one air conditioner in the middle of the desert.  Their sacrifice enabled a well above average lifestyle for their loved ones.  The boredom was so extreme that some chose to gamble a month’s or, sometimes, many months’ wages on the throw of a dice.  Uncertainty seemed to be a drug and some were willing to risk all.

For a strange reason, some choose to risk more than the challenges events can throw at us.  In our case, we can win through minimising risk with imagination, flexibility and sound management. 

The line of an ancient drovers’ way

No one would have predicted after the reasonable regular looking start to the year that bookings taken for months to come would go haywire over the last few weeks.  Something radical has happened.  What makes it even more odd, in our area, is that the weather has been spectacularly good after 16 months of what could be described as ‘the weather from Hell’ for holiday cottages

We will hold off publishing an interim booking value index for July but will publish the full month’s index in early August.  Volatility is certainly with us; the first week of July saw a burst of bookings well above 2012.  The second week took everything back to square one.

This throws a spanner in the works when asked to make revenue predictions for new cottages coming onto the market.  Sometimes, I funk it and say: ‘on the basis of the market up to June, we estimate etc etc;’. Of course, people are seeking for a steer and reasonable guidance before taking decisions about whether to let at all, an investment in a hot tub or whether adding en suites is a good plan.  The value of these investments is directly reflected in the value felt by guests staying in the improved vacation rental or holiday cottages.

Experience teaches you to be able to go into a place and, just like someone estimating how much it will cost to do up a listed building.. ‘so much a square meter’ or square foot, so I can usually pluck a half decent figure out of the air.  In recent years, this has, at times, been astonishingly accurate although I cannot really understand how I do it.  It feels like half way between the judgement you use when throwing a ball of paper across the room at a waste paper basket and using deliberate systematic comparisons to similar properties in the area.

Value is a complex thing; it is a combination of what is experienced by the guests in terms of the accommodation and the rent they pay.  The two go hand in hand but this intimate relationship can bust to pieces if quality drops below a certain level.  Some holiday cottages can be super quality and if the price matches but does not exceed the quality, you have value.  If the price is lower so ‘value’ goes up, from a fair price, to ‘a bargain’, to ‘a snip’ to ‘a steal’ to a ‘gift’.  If the price is static but quality is the variant then, again the sense of value can go from fantastic, good, to sound, to fair, to poor to feeling it is the owner who has had ‘the steal’.

If quality drops below a certain level so the fundamentals of comfortable life are not secured and all value evaporates; if known in advance, such lets are unlettable at any price.  Fundamental things include reasonably comfortable beds, freedom from intrusive noise, privacy, comfortable seating and a useable kitchen.  These are not really negotiable; if they are not there then there is no real value.  Not sleeping well, not being able to sit comfortably or cook properly in self catering is the same as having a rotten time, however good everything else is.

Value depends on fundamentals and is not only related to price.  When the fundamentals are supplied then a relationship between price and the quality of everything else does apply.  This is the formula for value.  It is why, at a certain point where the quality of fundamental items breaks down, all value evaporates and guests either spot this and do not book or arrive and, rightly, get mighty upset.

 The ball room of a coaching hotel in Leominster where people met.  7 coaches came and went in a day.  Then the railway came and it all ended.  This would be the last night before arriving at Clun

Getting through these confused and slightly frightening times means that value must be to priority.  How to set rates in the middle of confusion is something we are working on.  The problem is that buyers are highly likely to be equally confused and, as any salesperson knows, getting sales from confused buyers is three times as difficult.

We strongly believe that things will settle.  Where there should be inflexibility on the fundamentals of value and quality the opposite, where practical, should apply to pricing. The good news at this stage is that this does not necessarily mean downwards only; the problem we have now is volatility and unpredictability.  When things calm down we shall see better how the niches are behaving and then will have a much better idea what to do.   

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From Country Holiday Lets

Quality must have respect for great cottage holidays.
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The title of this post appears to be banal, obvious and yet another introduction to a tired unoriginal list of imperatives, feel good exhortations and fashionable statements of the obvious. Despite the risk, I am going to give it a whirl; after all, our strap is Quality and Value so it should be a worthwhile experiment.

This Monday an owner of ten lets with us rang up with a suggestion. She is good at doing these without a trace of anger or frustration in the tone of her writing. (This is a skill that I find quite difficult and I often have to re-write messages to make them appropriately gentle and sensible).

The Lookout is coming soon only a mile from this and close to Offa’s Dyke:


We have a growing presence in the beautiful Hay on Wye area

It was a small request, but the moment I saw it, I knew that it was significant. In our standard instructions to guests we ask them ‘to ring the owners in advance for arrival information’ like how to get the keys etc:. However, we missed out a few words which would make everything so much easier and less fraught. Many guests habitually ring up just as they are setting out. For Weekend bookings and where communications do not work as well as they might, they often arrive without making contact. The consequent delays and rush to sort things out is something owners and guests could do without.

Petunia, a holiday let run by the owner who gave us that useful advice

The owner suggested inserting the words ‘a few days before’ into the instructions. With hindsight, this simple nil cost extra, which will save endless bother, was a ‘no brainer’. The sheer simplicity of the improvement, nil cost and common sense had eluded us. Meanwhile, we had been very pleased with our ‘automated book any day of the week system’ which is quite an advance and much more complicated, but we had taken our eye off the ball.

There is a real danger of failing to keep a simple common sense eye on things when engaged in complex and, sometimes, quite challenging advances in quality and service. Common sense can fly out of the window as if distracted away by flashing lights and clever technology.

For all our web site development, unless we keep an eye on the basics, quality can easily slip. This is one major reason why we use the feedback system of Feefo and put the link on our home page. We know that there will be times when people do not say things we want to hear; that is a risk but the key thing is that we address every bit of information and act accordingly. People booking really don’t care if we have a clever automated system if they cannot get hold of someone to give them the keys… they want everything to go smoothly so that the holiday is the thing and that the pleasure is not lessened by upsets in arranging it or getting there.

A view from just outside Petunia

It is tempting to give up on a high focus on quality when under pressure. Sometimes, you have to manage situations where upset or events have created things beyond your control. Owners, as well as guests, need time and space to recover and it is the job of the booking agent to provide that space and, if need be, absorb passing feelings. This is rare but it can happen and it is absolutely essential when things have settled that the events do not change the general approach to service encouraged by the experiences with the vast majority of guests and owners. On rare occasions where a burst pipe or some other event causes a double booking, getting this right can be as difficult as it is absolutely essential.

First, we discover that there is a double booking. Someone has in good faith paid a deposit on the automated system and we then have to manage the situation. The golden rule is to recognise that no one, in a million years, has a burst pipe on purpose or has created a double booking intentionally. The emotional response, however, can be very different. The news reaches us and we immediately know we have to go straight to the guest with the bad news. Before we do this, we always fully refund any payments. This is fundamental. We then apologise and try to find something similar. It is astonishing how well guests take this sort of upset; although it is very rare, being well under one in a hundred, every time it happens the office goes into overdrive.

Rolling Herefordshire countryside. The light has a distinct quality

Quality requires that you respect those you serve. This may sound obvious, but there are thousands of quality systems in companies and in public services (perhaps, even, in the notorious Mid Staffordshire Hospital and the hundreds avoidably killed?) where it seems that respect has been lost, as if distraction has buried such a common sense necessity.

Then, again, it’s very easy to forget the basics as if distracted from the absolute necessity for respect to ensure good service. As to how that lack of respect was imported into the idea of quality in service industries and the public sector, that is another story. Maybe quality in manufacturing, where all this started, does not expect or require respect for people when you are checking on, for instance, the quality of the paintwork on a finished motor car.

Treating people like things is, perhaps, where it all started to go wrong. It is a mistake that we will fight tooth and nail to avoid making. Any quality system in a service business lacking respect for customers and suppliers is not worth paper it is written on. Perhaps I have stated the obvious, after all.

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From Country Holiday Lets

Some people do not get it and more market news.
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A new feed back system: found here

It’s all about ‘attitude’.
An owner rang us and said that someone had re-booked and could we deduct the commission we would have received from their next balance transfer. This has happened before and the extent of honesty and the belief that we will all do better facing this economic crisis as a team is very encouraging. Even though we would not expect less from any of our owners, every time this happens is a source of immense encouragement.

Only businesses that constantly try to give a little extra and see their future as absolutely locked into the future of their customers will prosper in very tough times coming our way. The weary cynicism and attitudes of commerce, as if seeking excuses not to act in harmony with suppliers or customers, will be commercial poison to any organisation in the next few years. Such attitudes are luxuries of easy times where co-operation and other fundamentals are, all too often, sacrificed for the sake of short term localised profit.


The Lookout. A highly styled sleep two place in rolling fields dotted with oak trees and considerable thought has gone into styling. Coming soon to Country Holiday Lets Shropshire / Herefordshire borders. Old style holiday cottages now face brutal competition.

The new commercial environment is already increasing productivity and improving attitudes towards quality. If your customers go out of their way to ensure things are ‘done right’, in kind, any business worth the respect, will continue to push for a higher service quality backed by a more positive and enthuiastic attitude. However, as with most things, this situation has to be earnt.

So that started the week in a really good way.

Meanwhile, I’m still battling with an owner who insists on providing piles of fluffy towels ‘because the guests like them’. The situation is very odd. Normally, agents have exactly the reverse problem and spend ages trying to coax owners to provide sufficient towels to meet reasonable quality levels. However, that said, they are one of our very best partners and get remarkable results on occupancy and income… it’s only that we felt that they were making themselves so much work for little or no marginal gain. Quality is as much attitude as it is a key too good value. Perhaps I will desist in trying to cut the mountain of fluffy towels down to a respectable sized hill but the thought of so much work for so little return for an owner still seems a pity.


Dual aspect a view across fields dotted with ancient oak trees. We also have an sleep 10 / 12 at The Long Mynd of equal quality: The Old Stables

Yes, I did see another shocking cottage a few days ago, but it could not eradicate the good feeling left but these two experiences. Fortunately, many people see our web site and, it appears, either feel they cannot meet the quality we know to be absolutely essential, of simply do not think such quality is necessary. About 1/3 of the cottage market in our area is out of date with owners who either do not have the money or appear burdened with yesterday’s attitudes towards quality.


Grim experience has taught that the most difficult owners are usually those with poor attitudes towards quality and also towards the guests themselves. This is useful to us because they tend to consider agents of any sort as costly and unnecessary and they nearly always think they know more about the market than anybody else. So, obligingly, my visits to poor quality holiday cottages are, now, much less frequent saving a deal of upset and wasted time for anyone who might be involved.

Any agent worth their salt will work overtime to make sure owners are kept informed of the latest developments. This can go even to the extent of advising about their independent web sites. We need to constantly remember that we are only there because we contribute towards the success of owners’ businesses and show the public good quality cottages to rent in our area.

The Lookout again. More like a bathroom in a good quality hotel

All this is easier said than done but there’s no doubt that working closely with owners is absolutely essential. We take 20.4% of their gross income (includes VAT); this is a large chunk. The right ‘attitude’ is essential. This is why our Feefo experiment does not list cottage names but focuses on our service.

This puts the pressure on us to ensure that guests enjoy working through the web site, that they feel they can find quality without having to work through mountains of so-so cottages and, then, actually enjoy what they have bought. Feefo has focused us even further to seek out and expect high quality. Our Feefo feedback.

However, we do not wish to abandon sound value cottages which are not 5 star. This can be a bit of a balancing act. Some guests will, inevitably, expect top quality for little money. The temptation is to abandon all but 4 / 5 star cottages and lets to avoid upset from any guests who have stayed at a sound 3 star cottage for two and paid, say, £210 for a week but have quality expectations more suited to 5 star accommodation. Of course, all should be clean, working, modern and well provided and arranged; this is what sound value is all about.

Where else can you get this sort of place from £200 per week? High season, around £420 per week? And you havn’t seen the views and the beautiful setting. The quality of holiday lets now coming onto the market can be quite astonishing.

It is inevitable for a site like ours that this danger exists. Good value extends from sound and low price cottages to 5 star holiday lets, priced accordingly but which are good value. It is a difficult matter squaring this circle but the trick is to ensure that every owner has the same attitude and approach towards good value and service.

Which brings me back to the pleasure we found in the insistence of owners that we get our commission from all return bookings as well as the fluffy towel dispute. This may, all, sound rather idealistic. It is not. This’s about survival and prosperity; the whole thing hinges on having a will to do good business in tough times. The rest follows from there.

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From Country Holiday Lets

Some people do not get it and more market news.
For quality and value holiday cottages
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A new feed back system: found here

Not getting it
The signs that the market is becoming more tough are increasing. A three owners who made enquiries about our service six to eight months ago have re-approached us. Two cottages will soon feature on the CHL website, the other will not.

The quality of some new cottages coming to the market is astonishingly high which made it all the more disappointing to have to reject one of the three. We have to feel at home with the owners as much as they need to feel comfortable doing business with us.

The holiday cottage was well arranged and competent. It was modern, clean, in a good location and sound with no glaring problems but for one over which there was absolutely no budging.

The sleep 2 niche is already slightly over supplied in our area, so competition is fierce. The very odd thing was, however, that the owner thought it a good idea to provide twin beds instead of a double bed. When I suggested that they be put together and double bed linen used the response was strange.

Yes, they can be pushed together but, no, most of my guests prefer separate beds. I tried to explain that this would not convince couples who, really, would not want to sleep in separate beds in ‘a pretend double but not really a double’. The trick is to appeal to as many niches as possible rather than block them off.

No, the owner was not going to do this. 16 years of experience said that we were wrong. I sadly said that we could not get decent results with the strongest niche blocked off for want of linen and a duvet. These things are expensive, but the net value of the bookings lost would significantly exceed linen costs in the first year.

I was told how guests liked the separate beds. In response, I said that they had, perhaps, booked the cottage knowing that separate single beds were to be provided. The real question which no feedback can be found for, is the reason why people did not choose to book: the reason why couples went elsewhere. To this I received the reply that if the cottage did not fill up, it would be rented out on the commercial six month assured tenancy market.

This was not the first time this sort of exchange has happened. Similar conversations happen with depressing frequency. Sometimes, this is because a formula has worked well in the past and they simply do not want to risk moving away from it as it goes out of date. Other times, years of successful letting without significant investment brings them to the point where small sums annually ploughed back in modernisation, maintenance and marketing turn into one huge unmanageable sum. Some seem to think that once the main investment has been made, only maintenance is required for ever more.

Times have changed. Where, once the niche for twin beds, in this case attractive for fishing people, was strong when that niche weakens with fewer bookings, it is sensible to tap into other niches to get income back up again.

The approach that the market will flex and fit into what is available is a dead loss. Although our very existence is predicated on a good selection of high quality cottages to choose from, for the simple reason that the owner refused to provide a real double bed, we declined to work for them.

In the past, such an act was considered a bit of an outrage and we heard through a third party of the upset our backing away caused. It appeared that we were judgemental and far to choosy and how could we behave in such a highhanded manner? On that occasion, the owner mistook our respect for the market, which can be cruel and easily ruin once highly successful operations, for what they thought was a amateurish and judgemental attitude.

It’s always unpleasant walking away from being of service; but, sometimes, there is no other choice. The market will crush any business that does not give it due respect. It would have been a greater disservice to agree to market the cottage with the twin beds than to walk away.

In contrast:

A superb value sleep 12 cottage at the Long Mynd in an area of outstanding natural beauty. North of Ludlow and south of Shrewsbury.

The market, after the first three weeks of January.
We did noticed a radical fall off in bookings for week 2 of January. January, February and two weeks straddling June and July are, historically, peak periods for value of bookings taken.

Patterns do change, but this looked very serious. However, week 3 has seen a radical recovery. It’s getting more difficult to plan with increasing volatility. Good quality sleep 2 cottages are treading water, moderate and poor quality may soon either leave the market or be forced to increase quality. Larger high quality lets, especially those with en suites and extras are doing well.

One of the two sitting rooms in the Long Mynd Cottage. This is outstanding value.

The cost per person per night for, say an occupy 10, can be a third of the cpppn for a sleep 2 cottage. In difficult economic times, this creates higher demand for larger lets and a much larger decline in demand for smaller ones. This depends, also, on the numbers of different types of cottages available.

Although I am not too keen on certain extras, there is no doubt that hot tubs pay their way for larger lets either by assuring higher rates or by increasing occupancy or both.In the next post I will report back on how January has fared. We are to take on a superb 5 star sleep 4 let near Leominster, 2 five star flats in the middle of Hay on Wye and a lovely sleep 2, 4 star in the fields between Kington and Shobdon in N Herefordshire.

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A new feed back system: found here

From Country Holiday Lets

Part 2. Holiday cottage market end 2012 and 2013
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Latest News (14 Dec 2012): See our feedback at Feefo:
(Added six days after this post was originally published. We will keep you posted with our experience using this new type of quality monitoring service).

Usually previous posts are shunted to other pages when another comes along. However, this time, Part 1 is below.

This is linked to a discussion to be found here on The site is as useful as its name seems off the wall. The first reaction was strong; it was not quite what I expected when publishing some of the observations noted, below, in Part 1. However, every contributor to that thread has turned out positive and informative.

Many go-it-alone owners have managed to use the Internet remarkably well over the last decade. Some adept ones have managed to avoid virtually all marketing costs expect for their time and thought plus their computers to keep the bookings coming in. These have been good times. However, a creeping change in relative advantage has gathered speed and could, soon, turn into a gallop.

In this environment, you can either choose to hunker down and refuse to share information or you can choose to share as much as possible to gain from others. The key advantage is, we hope, to combine information from many people and companies to produce a picture of the changing Internet marketing landscape so that we can all take steps to minimise costs and adapt to new conditions. This approach offers a view that no one person or business could reach by themselves.

Marketing agencies claim to offer this type of service but this more voluntary ad hoc approach could turn up information and produce a view more quickly and at virtually no cost. More importantly it could produce a far more focused and reliable steer of things to come (or already happening) because the information and outlook created would have come directly from individual holiday let owners and other companies directly involved in serving the holiday cottage sector.

The discussion had a huge affect on our approach and directly caused us to consider Feefo or Reevoo as possible suppliers. We are in negotiations and hope to settle on one or the other shortly. Booking agents do not always have a good image so anything that can show we do our best to add quality and service for owners and guests alike should only be positive.

These services have similar dangers that have upset so many with Trip Advisor and others. But this seems to be the way things are going and there is no doubt that if you get it right it is good marketing. We have hundreds of bookings each year and expect to have a large number of feedback comments. This will test us as there will be a higher probability of mistakes given the sheer number, but unlike single cottage operators, the weight of one unfortunate piece of bad feedback may leave a less immediately bad impression than if it were for a single holiday let owner operation.

These systems do have a facility to check feedback statistics over more recent months so any conceit based on historical good feedback does not go far. You are only as good as your last deal.


It can take some nerve keeping up confidence in a new project. This was the first time I had built a partition wall; the reclaim doors put up a huge fight because they had changed shape over nearly 200 years. The finished wardrobe is very pleasing.

I cannot say that we are entirely happy choosing to use a feedback business. Some might say that we could be making a rod for our own backs and the unknown can be quite frightening. But if we are to claim quality and value backing away from this new development would be inappropriate.

We have to thank all those who replied to the post for giving us a kick to look Feefo and Reevoo. In difficult times, you have to be nimble and do all you can to listen and learn when you may not really feel like doing this. We will, of course, keep you fully informed of how the experiment goes.

Regards to all from Leominster. For lovely Herefordshire, Shropshire, East Wales and areas

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From Country Holiday Lets

The good and the bad in holiday cottage letting Pt 1

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This is one of two parts. The first says little controversial but the second, related to it, will take a strong swipe at some hard selling practices apparently used by larger booking agencies.

Pt 1. The good:

The last three months has seen the beginnings of a trend that we predicted a year or so ago.

Fortunately, we are no longer going out to see many poor standard holiday lets but a new breed of owner is beginning to enter the market in earnest. Their properties are often finished to very high standards and have all the marks of intense care and thought in the way they have been restored and developed.

This makes things much more difficult for us because the usual selling line simply does not apply and is almost certain to put off this type of owner. Some have entered the market for straightforward economic reasons but others feel that property should earn its way and that it is a little wasteful not to see people enjoying what they have, often, created from little more than a ruin.

Asleep for nearly 900 years, well before all this nonsense. Near Weobley.
These alien people took over, lock stock and barrel, in under 20 years
as if they were from another planet

The pleasing thing is that the ones that I have been fortunate enough to view have all, without exception, been the creation of intense thought and careful implementation. Why I have not come across more of the standard brash and often ugly efforts you see elsewhere isn’t certain. Perhaps the border county areas are less well known and so they tend not to attract more mainstream new wealth. Perhaps, a taste in rolling hills, walking and the privacy of long lanes is not compatible with vast televsions, bold colours, built in cinemas and expensive often hopelessly impractical sports cars that get stuck in the bottom of small holes in the road or quail with mechanical funk when faced with a rural track.

For whatever reason, the counties seem to be attracting low key but frequently deeply thoughtful owners who create equally studied and interesting places to stay. And the best part for me is that I go around these cottages, houses and places by invitation. However, there are extra requirements to win this type of business. You cannot just present a mechanical pro-forma style and expect to be trusted with such personal creations. On the other hand, a focused business approach must be used, regardless. If owners are not businesslike where it counts, however wonderful the holiday let may be, this is a recipe for disaster. It is our job to make the business like bit as easy and as unintrusive to them as possible.

The cliche of ‘as safe pair of hands’ applies.

The sheep came over and introduced themselves

This counts out call centre style of management and makes it almost a necessity that owners can contact significant decision makers easily whenever they wish to do so. Big booking services that do their best to keep owners ‘in their place’ and put up barriers to owners wanting to speak to decision makers are not suited to the need for attention and care that this special part of the letting market demands.

So, the latest one I visited was a delight. The owners had very carefully grown their garden and the near fields and trees to create a near, middle and long distance view. Ironwork had been commissioned which combined a hint of Art Nouveau with climbing ivy and more central European Viennese influences. A croquet lawn in a semi formal state was surrounded by informal beds.

The borders are heaving with history and there are some really high quality places to stay.

The interior of the house was equally studied including plasterwork of vines that could have come from the 17th century but which was a couple of years old. Even simple things like the interior of shower rooms exuded thoughtfulness. Such places are uncommon and are of such quality that most people would do little to change them if they were so ever lucky to become their owners.

All business needs its share of luck to survive and prosper. This sort of new owner and their holiday lets joining in the market is a huge stroke of luck for us. The quality of the relationship between owners and agents is the key; if that is treated as important as the essential need to ensure guests are pleased, we can really prosper.

Deer in the view

Times are changing and these new style lets entering the market is a sign of how much things have moved on from the chintz and cheap corn dolly and cottagey style that, until a few years ago, was shamefully common. Where cottage owners have modernised, the major booking agencies are still, largely, acting as if things are the same.

They could not be more wrong and may, soon, follow the corn dolly brigade into economic extinction. Some of their methods appear to resemble, in certain respects, those you might associate with Payment Protection Insurance selling; it is on this subject that the second part will focus.

I was really astonished to find out what was going on.

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From Country Holiday Lets

For quality and value holiday cottages
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About Cottage Names

Because we often market owners cottages alongside their own private bookings and web sites, we have to rename all the holiday lets that sell through us. Getting the right pseudonyms and making sure owners are happy with them requires some thought, sometimes a bit of tact and, nearly always, quite a bit of thought.

I am not very good at this which make is the more fortunate that Lorna has a real talent. Good names stick in people’s minds but names are equally important to owners, especially to the better sort, who care for service and go out of their way to do a good job. This is important. We find that complaints, yes, we do get them from time to time, are nearly often from guests who have stayed at holiday cottages where the owners are not around deal with any problems there and then. We have several very well managed cottages like this that only get good feedback, but the pattern is there.

When I arrive at a cottage to do the photos, the ‘name thing’ is always at the back of my mind. A recent trip to four high quality cottages near Leominster illustrated this.

A picture taken in passing. I would like to say it was talent that led me to spot the ghost but it was more likely sheer good luck. Flexibility and thought are behind most acceptible/useable pictures and effective business

Coming back with the first photos, I left Lorna to try to invent names for the barns. She knew the farm was livestock beef and that the farmer was particularly fond of his herd. Ten minutes passed and I got on with my work. “How about naming them after cattle breeds?,” she suggested.

This simple thoughtfulness pleased the farmer enormously and a lengthy discussion followed whether it was wise to call one ‘Limousin Cottage’. The thought of endlessly correcting people calling it ‘Limousine’ was something neither of the owners relished.

Getting the relationship right can be quite difficult and it is very easy to start off on the wrong foot. This did not arise with the owners above but a very common misreading of the situation on first meeting needs to be avoided if at all possible. It took me some time to get to grips with this and I still have quite a way to go to become adept.

The holiday cottage market can only get more competitive and tough. It is easy enough to say you should always offer a flexible and responsive service but far harder to keep your mind in equally flexible state. For years, I have been filling Excel spread sheets knowing, full well, that the tab key could avoid me taking my hands off the home keys to use the mouse. It was only in the last month that I made the mental effort to change habits and use the keyboard instead.

This simple change has already saved quite a bit of time. A similar inflexibility stopped me from learning how to text. I have been into dozens of cottages, most which did not meet our standards, which were clearly suffering from a like inflexibility in owners’ minds. Sometimes, this goes beyond things like dated patterned artificial fibre bedding to whole interiors which appear to say that we are still in the era of shoulder pads, Dallas and ‘loads of money’.

Saying you have to listen is easy enough, absorbing the information is the next hurdle but, often, the most difficult barrier is dealing with a sort of hardwired conservatism. Encountering owners who suffer from this, and we all have bits of it in one way or another, is much more pleasant to meeting owners with attitude.

I have heard these gems and many more:

‘We are not spending any more money’
‘They can put up with it.’
‘It’s good enough for them.’
‘They do not come on holiday for the bathroom’
‘We don’t want young people’
‘We will improve it when the money comes in’

You need to be able to distinguish between people who listen but find change difficult because they are hard wired into old time served and once successful approaches and owners with self defeating attitudes. This is, sometimes, easier said than done but getting it wrong can be a costly mistake; you can easily miss out on good business without giving owners the time, as I needed with my wretched mobile phone, to adjust and get on with good business.

In the occasions that this has happened, without exception, an excellent agent / owner relationship has developed which is crucial in our line of business. Quite a bit of thoughtfulness and imagination is needed.


The owners with the barns who were right on the ball, settled for three names with a fourth still to be decided: Hereford, Charolais and Limousin.

One way of sorting out itchy noses

Getting the relationship right between owners and the agency is 50% of the battle; it is not optional. Any inflexible business will sink like a stone in the economic conditions that now beset us.

01568 612467 for more.


A Day to Forget 02 August 2012

From Country Holiday Lets For quality and value cottages

Ring 01568 612467 for more information.

Today, the pictures show the quality of the area in and around cottages

I recently took a trip out which was turned into a daytime version of A Night to Remember.

Several weeks ago, we received a phone call from someone who asked for someone from the office to make a visit. They said that they were thinking of leaving a large legacy agency because bookings had dried up.

I should have known better. When people leave large booking agencies, if they are seeking to go it alone with the backup or security of bookings, we can help to reduce the risk of an adventure into the unknown; this is grist to the mill for us. In these cases, success has built confidence and owners are seeking a little extra backup or springboard to make the new venture a success. It is as if we are partners with them in their new venture.

However, when people come to us from legacy agencies who do not wish to generate their own bookings, warning bells usually go off. In this case, either the alarm was faulty or, more likely, I should have known better. If you make a visit mentally prepared for the chance of disappointment and find all is well, this is a gift; if you find things are much as expected you can write off the experience without upset and, hopefully, gracefully withdraw from assisting the owners.

I jumped into my battered Peugeot and arrived on time. The owners greeted me and we walked past their house, which I noted was very pleasant, modern and well maintained, towards a simple brick building with a chimney to one end.

From the summerhouse at Little Gem: high quality in beautiful Wales

This was looking good. The cottage overlooked green fields with a mid-distance view of a wooded ridge. The chimney hinted at a wood burner or open fire which is a good selling point, especially for the shoulder and low seasons in our landlocked area.

Coming closer I noticed some patterned frosted glass (usually a bad sign) and window frames slightly past their best covered with mud brown paint which was very popular in the 1980s. The front door was a little tired with, again 1980s, rather used and worn door furniture. There was no attempt to soften the front of the cottage and it looked very utilitarian. My heart began to sink.

Ushered inside, the true horror of what a bad holiday let hit me head on. The lounge diner was quite small and had no sofa. Instead, there were two high backed care home style chairs and a coffee table, the sort you see in charity shops. The clashing patterned cushions added to a very ‘cast off’ feel to furnishings. The kitchen area was bottom of the range, but in good condition and the cooker was the least expensive you could purchase.

The carpet was what some call landlord’s carpet or ‘practical’. It was dark and multicoloured with a predominance of red, brown and blue in a complex pattern. There was no wood burner or open fire, despite a good chimney. Instead, there was one of those electric fake wood burners in its place.

Lighting was very poor with one standard lamp and an overhead lamp with one of those 1980s glass semi globe shades with a gap framed by frilly glass edges complete with transfer pattern. The rest of the cottage was equally let down by this Avocado attitude; you can guess what the bathroom was like.

Clearly, people booking through their current agency were fed up going to such dated places. I thought to try to rescue the situation by making suggestions so they could do better, whether they made the leap or not.

My suggestion that a real wood burner might be an idea was met by: “No. We are not going to do that we do not want to spend money and I do not want to do the work”..

The problem of no sofa and the two care home chairs was met by: “We do not want young people.”

I suggested that they might, at least, modernise the pendant lamp. “We will spend more money once the income comes in to do this sort of thing.”

There comes a moment when you realise that, however much you want to help, you are on a hiding to nothing. This last remark, which I do hear depressingly often, combined with the other responses told me the reason why their bookings were plummeting and the exact reason why we could not help, however much we might try. This ship was going to go down, regardless, just like The Titanic.

Mews Cottage Garden in central Ludlow: the way things should be done

A successful holiday let is not just about the cottage; the key is good management and the right attitude. In this case, the let had been running for over 30 years and virtually nothing, aside from running maintenance and that electric wood burner, had been spent on keeping it up-to-date during that time. That they had managed to keep bookings coming in for over a quarter of a century with this sort of management style was an achievement of heroic proportions.

A few minutes following the exchange over the pendant light, I left as gracefully as I could in the circumstances, making my excuses. I had not prepared myself for this bruising and quite unpleasant experience. Bad attitudes towards guests get under my skin. We all have good and not so good days when the stress and pressure of work can make us a little short or not quite as positive as we should be; but this was different.

It was a systemic and deliberate attitude of ‘that’s good enough for them’. It is as if guests are second class people and can be fobbed off with substandard offerings. When guests vote with their feet it cannot, of course, be the cottage or the quality of owner management, so it must be the booking service. It was on those grounds that these poor quality cottage owners approached us.

Although I am no fan of certain legacy agencies due to their remoteness, inflexibility, attitudes towards private bookings and their commission costs, they do not deserve this sort of treatment. They do manage to get very significant bookings for tens of thousands of owners but, even, they cannot get bookings for really substandard cottages.

Unless you respect guests and go the extra mile to make things attractive, in the end, you will pay for it. The old days of brand loyalty to booking agents or repeat visits, year after year, are fast coming to an end. The Internet, with its ability to show images now shows quality in a way which would have been impossible a few years ago.

On the road South from Bishops Castle towards Clun in the Welsh Borders

This new world of transparent pricing and quality will be the death knell to cottages run by people who think investing every 25 years in quality is an imposition and something that is unnecessary ‘because it is too good for guests’. They can put up with what we are offering and our cast off furniture is ‘good enough for them’.

No. They will not.

There is no substitute for quality and value. None at all. And that extends to the quality of the management of the cottages. Anyone who has ‘an attitude’ towards guests running a cottage should not be in the business.

The good news for the better cottages is that the holiday cottage market is becoming more demanding and people are, now, intolerant of poor quality. In tough economic times, it is a serious mistake to assume people will go for the cheapest and ignore quality. This works in favour of those who work to offer good quality cottages

Guests may not take quite so many holidays, but when booking a cottage, they will search out quality and value. Many substandard cottages simply will not sell at any price.. owners with what the Americans call ‘quality issues’ will sink from view just like that ship went down in a Night to Remember.

Ring 01568 612467 for more information.