From Country Holiday Lets

March and early April Holiday Cottage Market.
For quality and value holiday cottages
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Previous post: First quarter and early April 2013 Holiday Cottage Market

Setting holiday cottage rents and avoiding costly mistakes.

I am doing the annual round of rate suggestions for 2014. Writing about this stuff is difficult because it is virtually impossible to introduce much humour or reflective observation. Rates are not a particularly pleasing or aesthetic subject. But they are important and if people are given a good steer on the basics the value of the information may be sufficient excuse for the boredom reading it.

Accordingly , I apologise in advance. If you find this useful or just find errors, omissions or can help with additions please contact me by e-mail at I hope to return to less tedious stuff in the next post but the market report for April and early May could muck things up a bit again.

So, here we go: As we set rates individually and do not use banding, each owner agrees their rates for each individual cottage. We always set rates the same as they advertise. Using some of our experience I thought to offer that information below. It is a tried and tested formula.
Setting Rates

This is the one area that causes more concern than anything else. Setting rates for holiday cottage rentals need not be such a dark art once the basics are understood. But there are some common mistakes that need to be avoided.

Charging periods / dates over the year
First you need to work out a structure for your rental year. In the UK there are some useful web sites which will give you the basics such as the timing of bank (national) holidays; the Easter break; and school holidays and their half terms. It is also useful to include any local festivals or events that may cause a spike in demand for few days or longer.

Using an annual calendar highlight the weeks using a Friday to Thursday format.

Now, consider the seasons you feel are appropriate. Many choose four rates being, Winter, Shoulder, Summer and super peak. The Shoulder seasons are Spring and Autumn. Super peaks can arise when, for instance with Hay on Wye literary festival, local events cause a demand spike for a week or two in the year. Select the dates to define the periods.

When you have settled all the dates and the basic charging periods now look around at what others are charging in your area for the same occupancy and quality of your holiday let in the seasons and periods you are to use for charging.

It is important to avoid the mistake of assuming all niches work the same way. Bookings for occupy 2 and 3 holiday lets do not have greater demand, indeed the demand tends to fall away a little, during school half terms. Demand for occupy 2 / 3 does increase during national holidays but not quite so much as for the larger occupancy lets.

It is, therefore, a mistake to factor in half terms for low occupancy holiday cottages. On the other hand, it is a mistake not to do this for higher occupancy ones.

Extras can have a different impact depending on the location. For instance, sofa beds do not attract additional rental for our inland area where they can be more positive in coastal areas. A sofa bed is a radically lower quality experience to a proper room and, unless they are in bedrooms, sofa beds tend to attract little use. This is because they are usually allocated to children or more junior party members who often go to bed before others. That being the case use of the lounge can be cut short in the evening. It is, generally, a mistake to expect increased rents from sofa beds. They may increase occupancy for one or two weeks a year but usually only at the same rents. Very often, we find, they are used as infrequently as once a year and sometimes not at all.

Putting it together
Once you have sorted out the dates, periods and rents put them all together. The first thing will be to put in the rents determined by the seasons. Then overwrite them with the rents for half terms, national holidays and festivals.

Changeovers and periods
Once you have settled the rents over the year it is worth considering the pattern of days you wish to make available for renting out. Some of our owners offer absolute flexibility. Thus it is possible for a guest to use our automated system to decide to arrive on any day of the week and depart on any day of the week. We set rates so that lower numbers of days attract a significantly higher pro rata charge to cover changeover costs. They can choose to book anything up to 28 days in this manner.

However many owners prefer to restrict arrival and departure days to suit the season or practical aspects of arranging changeovers. For instance, some prefer only seven day breaks in the peak periods with arrival days restricted to Fridays and Mondays. Others are happy for flexibility on arrival days but request minimum stay lengths of, for example, five days.

If you are going it alone without an agent, this is an easy matter to decide as and when people enquire. However, if an automated system is in use, it is useful to settle on these things in advance. Although it’s more bothersome, most people prefer to use automated booking in favour of ringing up; indeed, there is a danger of losing a booking if it is necessary to call to complete the transaction.

Before you publish
If your holiday cottage / vacation rental is a new venture it is a good idea to settle on all the rents and then go in 10-15% lower. This plan will permit you to sound out the market and when demand makes itself evident the rates can be edged up to the point where income and profit is maximised. This ploy may mean a loss of income, but any loss is usually very small compared to the losses of going in too high and painfully edging rates down to start getting expected numbers of bookings. This is a cost of marketing.

If you are tempted to include extras like a hot tub it is worth considering the cost against use and the impact it can have on rents. Three examples:

Hot Tub. It is a mistake to provide one of these for a low occupancy holiday let. Although very pleasant for guests, the use is restricted to two or three people. Low occupancy already features a far higher cost per person per head so any move to increase the rent further will be difficult even with a hot tub available. On the other hand for an occupy 10 a hot tub will be used far more heavily and the cost per person per night is lower. In this case, such and extra is often pays well.

Wood burner. The advantage of this is to that it significantly increases the attractiveness of the cottage in the shoulder and winter seasons. Rents will not go up that much but occupancy and income will. If managed well, a wood burner will also reduce overall heating bills and should pay for itself as quickly as a hot tub often does in large occupancy holiday lets.

In both cases such extras will create more changeover work which should be factored in before going ahead.

Modern cleaning equipment and products coupled with fewer fitted carpets has reduced the difficulty that pets can create. In areas where walking is a major feature, permitting pets can generate 35% or more bookings. Most guests come from towns so their animals are nearly always used to staying off furniture, although some exceptions do exist. Many owners ask for a refundable security deposit. The point is less to recover for damage and more to reduce any damage from happening. Claiming for small sums can, often, be counter productive and generate a huge amount of upset.

There are, of course, some situations where pets on holiday cannot be accommodated. Farms with sheep dogs nearly always find this very difficult. Working dogs, though well trained, can be seriously upset by an unknown guest. It is a good tip to add that only well trained or behaved dogs should stay to avoid upset caused by holes in fences, nearby traffic danger or the simple danger of losing a pet for want of good control. Adding the proviso that dogs should always be supervised is also helpful.

The pets aspect threatened to draw things off on a tangent. Much more general information can be found on our web site at:

I shall be including this work on rates at that address shortly.

If you are still reading to this point, thank you for your patience. Setting rates need not be a minefield as long as you approach it systematically, divorce yourself from your expectations, take the evidence and create a structure for rates and charging periods.

Don’t forget to contact us with errors, omissions and additions about rates. Every bit of information will be digested and added to guidance were it improves or adds to previous efforts.

Things to look for when choosing a cottage. 21 July 2012

From Country Holiday Lets For quality and value cottages

You should always look for tell tale signs, consider anything that reveals the attitude of the owners and take time looking and choosing. This may sound patently obvious but it is surprising how easy it can be not to do all this. There some really top value cottages out there but, sadly, they are still outnumbered by places that give the entire UK cottage market a bad name.

Where the revolution in hotels happened in the 1980s and we can now eat decent food in many establishments, the world of self catering cottages still harbours some really shocking offerings. Do not get caught out. On the up side, the UK now has some really first class cottages and all you have to do is to find them. I see all standards of quality in my working life.

I often visit cottages which have been established for many years. In most cases, they have been with one of the large legacy booking agencies. Sadly, the majority of these cottages which are losing bookings and are are in decline are in an appalling state. Although a regional service and small compared to the giants and far from wishing to lend them support, there is usually a good reason why low quality cottages wish to leave them.

A view near Craven Arms at Stokesay Castle 2 miles from one of our cottages.

It is down to a lack of investment and a poor attitude towards guests. Where larger booking services will tolerate such low quality we do not. Visiting these washed up efforts and being polite to the owners can ruin an entire day, the worst ones can wreck an otherwise good week.

Tell tale signs

Tired sofas. They can look worn out but dated sofa design and patterns are usually a giveaway. Whenever I see large floral patterns or designs which are obviously from the 1980s, my heart sinks.

Patterned bedding can be indicative of a lack of quality but this is not always the case. However any sign of tired bed linen or inexpensive pillows is a really bad sign.

Out of date televisions are another red flag. I still find some places with pre flat screen TVs. You can now go down to municipal rubbish dumps and see early working flat screen TVs being thrown away. Older TVs are now associated with charity or junk shops and rubbish tips.

Bathrooms can produce signs which you should note. The state of shower curtains.. if you can avoid these, is worth looking at. Likewise, the quality of the taps and other sundry items indicates how much has been invested in the cottage. If the owner has invested in a good bathroom, it is a good sign the rest of the cottage could be equally good.

Corn dollies. Avoid at all costs.

Chintz. Avoid at all costs.

When owners say, ‘I like to make it cottagey’, I do my best and say: ‘what people tend to want now days is cottagey on the outside and clean efficient hotel standards on the inside’. The cottagey idea only appeals to a reducing part of the over 60s market.

A lack of colour coordination is another poor sign. First, it is plain ugly; second, it could indicate that the cottage has been furnished with cast offs; third, it indicates lack of thoughtfulness in arranging the inside of the cottage; fourth, it has the smell of cheapness or owner’s practicality which guests could do without.

Stokesay Castle itself. Near Ludlow and Craven Arms.

Cast off furniture and fittings. These normally give themselves away because they are dated, they do not fit into the room, they often look past their best andcheap brown furniture is nearly always cast off. They often feature when bedside cabinets fail to match and ghastly out of date patterned cushions are freqently ‘not good enough for owners house’. But, they will do for the holiday let. This sort of attitude is, thankfully, becoming less common; the fact that it exist at all is appalling.

Carpets are another sign. We had a couple visit the office a few weeks ago and the proudly showed us their web site. My heart sank. The floor coverings were what is called ‘landlords carpet’. These carpets are dark and have complex red / blue and grey pattern designed to be ‘practical’. You often see them in pubs as well as on the stair cases and elsewhere in private rental multiple occupation houses.


The idea of Landlords’ carpeting is that if red wine or something else is spilt, you will not see much damage where a light coloured plain carpet could be a very different proposition. The carpet was despicable so I assumed it was a left-over from the 1980s and said that it would be a good idea to update with a plain, light coloured carpet.

They then told me that it was brand new and that it has been chosen because it was ‘practical’. Shortly after this revelation they left the office and, mercifully, we have not heard from them since.

On another visit, an owner proudly showed me an immaculate bathroom. It was museum quality, straight from 1979. There was a riot of avocado; high end 1970s fittings; a ghastly but expensive 1970s light; even the mat was from the ’70s. On seeing my surprise, the owner said… they are only going on holiday so this is not important, anyway it will do the job and I am not going to replace it. This person has run a holiday let for 40 years without re-investing and now refused to update and was wondering why bookings were not coming in?

Although it’s not easy to judge, if you ring up and speak to the owners, the way they handle your enquiry can speak volumes. An efficient and helpful person is, perhaps, the best sign that things are well managed. It is a good idea not to immediately book on the phone but to ring off and then ring back a few minutes later after thinking about how they spoke to you. Try not to let the momentum of your decision cause you omit this test. A badly handled enquiry is a very good sign that you will not get value for money.
When we take on cottages as booking agents, the quality of the management is an absolute necessity. if we feel it is not up to scratch, however fine the cottage is, its location and all the other positive factors, we will not proceed. We have rejected Visit Britain 5* places on this basis. On the other hand, if the cottage needs a bit of improvement… even a lot, if the owner appears positive and willing to listen, we are keen to assist.

We are particulary proud of the work done at Serenity and Harmony. The owners listened and followed the formula. Despite a very tough cottage market, these newcomers are doing very well. They applied a successful formula and it is working. There is no one formula, but there are many major no nos and they have carefully avoided these and applied what appears to be very attractive to the mainstream market.

Some of our best lets have started out this way. I am absolutely certain that we have dodged several bullets knocking back owners who do not have the management expertise or who have the wrong attitude.

Returning to the appalling cottages I have visited, there are common remarks that seem to be part of the vocabulary of owners who are unsuited to good cottage management. The most common one is:

“I’m not spending money on that.” A variant is “We are not going to spend any more money on the cottage.” And this gem comes up quite frequently: “We will make improvements once we get bookings.” The latter is fine, assuming the cottage is in a reasonable state; believe me, some of them are insultingly bad.

A local road near Stokesay, between Ludlow and Craven Arms.

Take time looking and choosing

If you take your time choosing a cottage and keep an eye out for red flags you will radically reduce the chance of landing up with a lemon. There are some really superb excellent value cottages out there so a little extra time taken to find the best available will be time well spent. It is all about quality and value.


You can see more pictures and cottages here

Petrol into a diesel? Then don’t book a cottage

From Country Holiday Lets For quality and value holiday cottages

Ring 01568 612467 for more information.

A year or two ago, I booked a cottage after attending a school reunion in London. Most reunions turn out to be very informative but, all too often, they also cause more than a little disturbance and upset. Disappointment, surprise and curiosity all mix together. You can be fully aware of the dangers but that does little or nothing to shield you from the shock of Brigadoon.

Back home, I stopped off at a fuel station in such a state that I filled my diesel tank to the brim with unleaded. The aftermath of that strange experience carried on for the best part of a week… my reputation with the local car menders has never really quite recovered. (The same ones who recently saved my car engine from exploding into a million bits of expensive scrap metal).

The look the mechanics gave me when I came to collect my battered Peugeot was one of carefully masked amusement similar, in some ways, to the veneer that keeps civilisation together. I not only recognised this, but remember in my younger days doing exactly the same thing to someone who committed the same offence against nuts and bolts when they, too, were away with the fairies. The only comfort I had was that that poor fellow had managed to put diesel into a motorcycle.

I sat down at the computer to look for a cottage a day after the embarrassing wrong fuel saga. Here’s the point. We ended up going to a pleasant cottage but found that there was a reason for the discount. Before booking, you should always find out what that reason is.

The art is to choose carefully and keep a firm eye on the bottom line and what you’re getting for your money. Money off is not the point, value for money is. If you fall into that trap you can pay for the confusion pricing and the illusion of ‘getting a deal’. Wine salesmen were early masters of ‘doing deals’ appealing to the sense of self importance of people and their feeling of being a bit grand buying wine by the case. The sale is often made by appealing to weaknesses in our characters; implied flattery by dressing things up has come a long way since these early days.

Some people are so in love with ‘doing deals’ that they become blind to well priced, good value. Instead, they assume that unless some discount is offered, by definition, the holiday let owners are cheats. The irony is that in at least 50% of discounted holiday cottage stays, discounts should be warnings; ‘deal junkies’ can easily be caught out by clever selling techniques.

Not all discounts are bad news but good buyers will never let their focus move from quality and value. This does sound obvious, but it’s quite surprising how many people have spoilt cottage holidays when they find out, too late, that what seemed good value was, really, ‘top dollar’.

A view close to a good value cottage near to Offas Dyke

Any half decent cottage operation and booking service will know that the whole holiday thing starts the moment you sit down at computer to find a good place to stay, right through to coming home and settling down again into normal life.

There is quite a bit of luck in all this but it can help if you know the ropes and take a little extra time to organise things at the booking stage. Preparation is as important, here, as it is in those dull activities we have to do every so often as redecorating or other d.i.y. By preparation, I mean getting your mind into gear and doing your level best not to let recent events… such as getting Brigadooned… impair your judgement.

Autumn near Ledbury
850 year old paintings at Kempley, but it looks like somewhere in Southern Europe. There is a huge variety and much to see, right here in England

The problem is that we all too often book at short notice because we have to take that break. So much more has become short notice in modern life. This trend can make getting the best choice that much more difficult.

So this long selling spree (that’s what this thing is really all about) comes to an end. The moral for me is, perhaps three fold:

Do not go to school reunions, even if you are ready for any upset, emotion and the non logical bits of us can easily call the shots.

Do not put petrol into a diesel car. This will cause almost uncontrollable mirth for the mechanics and not a little bit of feeling very silly on your part. It’s also not cheap to put right.

Do not go arranging cottage holidays when you are in a state. If you have to go away, get someone else more sensible to sort things out until you can recover your smarts and do a proper job yourself.

Hay on Wye Quality… five minutes walk to the centre of the town
One of two private lakes at a good value holiday cottage
(Lake Retreat)

I always fancied myself as knowing a thing or two about engines in cars and motorbikes… and yet there it is. I have joined that club of people who have done the number one silly thing.. at least I did not join that even more select club and drive off with the wrong juice in the tank.

Don’t let the discount merchants cloud your judgement. If they do, the end result could be as disappointing as if you had made the booking when recovering from being Brigadooned at a reunion or after some other destabilising experience.

Ring 01568 612467 for more information.