If you’ve been renting your home for more than 5 minutes then you know that the secret to winning the vacation rental game is 5-star reviews. Regardless of the platform, the more 5-star reviews you have the higher your listing will rank. The higher you rank, the more often potential guests are likely to pick your property out of the hundreds of other vacation rental options from which they have to choose.

Since we opened our doors in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua in 2015, Mango Vacation Rentals has received over 350 5-star reviews. This means that about 95% of the time our guests decide to tell the world that they enjoyed their stay so much that they recommend that everyone else stay with us too. You can’t buy that type of advertising but there is a way to dramatically increase the likelihood of it happening. The secret is…drum roll please…communication. Of course having a beautiful home with an amazing view helps but it’s not enough especially when you live in a competitive market like we do. Guests today are looking for relationships and experiences and the best way we know to cultivate these things is through great communication. Below are the top 5 ways that we at Mango Vacation Rentals use our communication skills to create relationships, experiences and, ultimately, 5-star reviews.

How to get 5-star reviews.

1 – Be your guest’s best friend.

Wouldn’t it be great if on your next vacation your best friend was already there waiting for you? Having been there awhile, your friend would help arrange transportation, show you around, recommend restaurants and fill you in on all the must-do activities. They would answer all your questions, address all your concerns and know what to do if anything went wrong. As a host I’m not saying you have to go for long moonlit walks with all your guests but you can do all those other things easily enough. Approach every interaction with your guests as if it was your best friend coming to visit. Your guests will feel more comfortable and will be happy to share with everyone how you helped them have an amazing vacation.

2 – Be upfront about the bad things.

It might not technically be lying if you fail to mention the construction next door or the nightclub down the road that shakes your windows every weekend…but it’s pretty close. In our experience, if you are honest with your guests and tell them exactly what to expect then most of them will be understanding. Sure, your honesty may lose you a few rentals before they book but that’s way better than not meeting a guests expectations and having them vent their frustration publicly in a scorching review. Most rental sites have a section where you can warn guests about poor road access or construction noise. On Airbnb it’s called “Details Guests Must Know About Your Home” and on VRBO/HomeAway there is an “Additional Info” section you can use for this purpose.

Here at Mango Vacation Rentals, we go a couple of steps further. First, we make each of these warnings a “rule” for the property. Guests have to read and accept your rules as part of the booking process so this is a great place to put things that you really want them to read. Finally, we include these warnings in our follow-up email after the booking is made. This may seem like overkill but you need to make sure your guests are fully aware of these potential deal-breakers before they show up and have their vacation ruined because they failed to read the fine print. We’ve yet to figure out a way to “communicate” ourselves out of that one.

3 – Ask your guests how things are going…and listen to what they say.

Checking in with your guests mid-stay is a great way to head-off any potential problems before they turn into bad reviews. The sooner you find out that the wifi is slow, the toaster isn’t working, the BBQ is out of gas, the toilet seat is loose, there aren’t enough wine glasses or towels or pillows, the A/C isn’t cold enough (because it’s on the wrong setting) or the spatula is broken (what happens to all those spatulas anyway?) the sooner you get to play the hero and solve the problem.

It may seem like a lot of extra work but proactively catching these problems makes it much less likely that your guest will bother mentioning the problem in their review. In their mind the problem was adequately dealt with and needs no further comment. In fact, it’s been our experience that guests are more likely to use these interactions as examples of why you’re a great host and why they think everyone else should stay at your property. Not too bad for a couple extra towels and a quick lesson on how to use a remote control.

4 – Talk to your guests before they leave.

Once your guests have checked out, that’s it. Their experience with you is done and their opinions are set in stone. However, if you check in with your guests just before they leave and ask them how their stay was, they will often use this opportunity to tell you about any small things that could have been better. This is where you find out the shower was running slow or the coffee maker leaks a bit. Not major problems but enough to turn 5 stars into 4. However, like the mid-stay check-in above, if you give your guests a chance to tell you about these little problems in person then they won’t feel the need mention them again in their review. This practice also gives you the maximum possible time to fix the problem before your next guests arrive.

5 – When things do go wrong, try offering experiences instead of cash.

No matter what precautions you take, systems you put in place or prayers you make to the vacation rental gods, bad things are occasionally going to happen. The city, without notification, will dig up the only entrance to your property. The generator is going to break in the middle of the night when the power is out. Your pool is going to turn green 3 seconds before your guests show up and, heaven forbid, you will lose wifi as soon as you have a guest who needs to “catch up on some work”. You just have to accept that all of these things are going to happen and that you can’t do anything about it. What you can do something about is how you address the problem when these things inevitably come to pass.

Of course “cash” is the easiest solution in these situations but it’s not the only option you have at your disposal. Before resorting to simply handing over money, we prefer to offer a night out at our favourite restaurant or an afternoon of poolside massages as an alternative way to make up for problems with our guests. Your guests aren’t going to remember the $100 you refunded them for very long but the meal they ate at the quiet little restaurant just off the beaten path will be part of their vacation experience forever. People remember that sort of thing when it comes to writing reviews. Offering an experience rather than just money is a great way to turn a bad situation into an experience your guests will thank you for…with a 5-star review.

Good luck!