How to Deal with Vacation Rental Complaints Easily

Of course, this subject covers complaints when you’re on Airbnb, Expedia, and deals with handling complaints about any short-term rental property you have.

The key, fundamental, must-do action to deal with complaints about your short-term rental is to talk to your customers. You must talk! Talking allows you to listen, and listening means that it allows the customer to vent their irritation or complaint, for them to feel heard, and very often you will find that what started as a complaint disappears and you start building a great relationship with the person. Don’t email talk.

The very first thing I do when I have a customer issue is to shoot them an email and say something like “Are you free if I call you in the next 10-15 minutes”. Note that it’s important not to put this off, or to ask them to call you, or to ask when they would like to talk. You set the agenda.

Let me give you a recent example:

I had a guest staying with me recently, who found everything possible to complain about: “There wasn’t enough toilet roll, there weren’t enough dishwasher tablets, the dishes weren’t clean” honestly, the list went on.

I sent him a text message saying “when can you speak” an angry message came back saying “call me now” – pretty rude, but oh well, I thought – this is easily solved.

I called the gentleman, an elderly man from Australia and we spoke for about 20 minutes. We spoke about where I lived, where he lived, his career, what he was doing in Kent, who his alma mater was at Cambridge University, and he just very briefly said that he thought there would be more dishwasher tablets and toiletries, but it really wasn’t a problem, and by the way, it’s a lovely apartment.

This is a classic case of talking to the customer to resolve a problem. In the end, we were “friends” sort of! And guess what – he left a very good review.

He also emailed me throughout his trip telling me what he’d been up to on his travels in kent. Qwerky, but kind of nice at the same time. But the point remains the same. By talking to him, the complaint evaporated.

Besides this, I’ve had not hundreds, but more than a handful of guest issues to deal with since I started my business, so let me guide you through a series of step-by-step pointers to deal with complaints or problems as and when they arise.

The No 1 Reason why It’s important to deal with complaints well.

The reason of course for this is quite simple:

  1. Of course, you want your customers to be happy. Happy customers tell other people about your business, and more than that, happy customers make you feel good. After all, running a business is not just about money, is it? Shouldn’t you feel like you’re doing something that pleases people and feels worthwhile?
  2. However, possibly even more important than that is that successfully dealing with complaints = good reviews. Poorly dealt with complaints = bad reviews, and I can tell you, you do not, do not, do not want bad reviews. Hotels and Apartment businesses run on reviews in 2019, they don’t run on AA inspections anymore. It’s all about what your customers say online and they will talk.

Why you should not email but the phone.

Emails create arguments. Trust me they do. When I was employed, before I set up my first business, my boss was in London and I was in Asia, and we used to have hundreds of run-ins over email.

They’re too easy to send. Too easy to say things that you wouldn’t say to people’s faces or by phone, and once sent, can’t be undone.

Phone calls or face-to-face meetings allow people to interact, build rapport with each other, and see each other as human beings.

Now, this does not mean if someone is talking total nonsense that you just ignore it or walk around the subject. There have been times when I have had to say to someone “Look, can I stop you there, this is not the case…” etc, and it’s important that you can be assertive if the guest is just plain wrong. You will even find guests come back to you later in the conversation and apologize for what they said if they know they were out of line.

But the bottom line is if you want positive outcomes: Talk, don’t type.

By the way, this is one of the reasons that – even though I live thousands of miles away from my properties – I always call the guests to say hello. It brings a human element to what is otherwise a highly automated system, you can read more about this in this post on building relationships with your guests

How to Deal with Vacation Rental Complaints

Why it’s important to act fast.

Complaints are like illnesses. The longer they remain undealt with, the faster they grow. This is especially true when there is a larger group. One person moans about something, and then someone else agrees, then the next person agrees, then they look for something else to complain about…..

Suddenly, what was a minor issue, grows into a major one. Therefore a major aspect of how you manage your guests is to give them a channel to voice any concerns with. This might be an email address so you can filter issues according to their importance, or it might be a phone number. But either way, you need to talk to the guest, deal with the issue, and allow them to feel good again, as quickly as possible.

Thank your guest for bringing the matter to your attention

One of the truisms about people of every shape, nationality, creed, or color is that people like to help other people. It makes them feel good.

If someone makes a complaint, one of the very first things to do after you have listened to them, is to thank them for bringing the matter to your attention, and to explain that this will help other guests, and then rapidly solve the complaint.

They will then leave the interaction not feeling like a ‘moaner’ but like they’ve been heard, and also helped you. Subconsciously this will make them feel good. I promise!

Never ever be rude.

Although it’s very tempting sometimes with guests who are rude to you, never, ever reciprocate (be rude back to them). Your job is to make the problem disappear. Being rude will make the problem escalate, rapidly.

Someone once told me a great expression for dealing with problems – “Kill them with Kindness” and what a great saying that is. Being kind and understanding – even in the face of people who are not being pleasant will de-escalate a situation.


Last summer, a family was staying in one of my apartments, and the cleaners had forgotten to check the drawers in the second bedroom in one of the flats. Low and behold, what does a 12-year-old child find? A sex toy!

At 11:45 pm I received 4 missed calls from these guests. I was tired and had just got off a plane from Hong Kong, so I thought I’d wait. After the fifth message, I knew I had to call back. I called and spoke to the mother who, at first, was very angry, she ‘ranted’ at me for about 5 minutes. I said nothing and just listened to her. Eventually, when she had finished, I apologized for the mistake and explained that the cleaner had obviously forgotten to check the drawer, but it was my fault as the owner.

Eventually, the conversation became more light-hearted and she calmed down and even saw the funny side. We ended the call “as friends”. The next morning I sent round a bottle of nice red wine, and received a thank you note, apologizing for the rant, and explaining that they were just shocked and tired. A week later, when they reviewed the apartment the review said:

“We can one minor issue, but the host managed to sort it out quickly and efficiently”

You see, in actual fact, people care more about how you sort out these situations than the situation itself. Had I been aggressive and said “what are you moaning about it’s just……” then it would have been a very unhappy ending and a terrible review. But by listening, and sending a gesture of goodwill things turned out positively, and I received feedback that we are good at solving problems.

If the complaint is really legitimate, what to do?

If a complaint is obviously legitimate, for example, a vital piece of equipment doesn’t work, or the heating doesn’t work and it’s mid-winter, whatever the financial implications, you have a duty to make sure the guests are looked after.

This may mean re-locating the guests or calling an emergency plumber, but in this case, you have to act and act fast, and this may include refunding the guests their money. To just have to do this.

Q: How to respond to negative reviews.

A: Respond to negative reviews by being polite, and honest, thanking the guest for their feedback, and thanking them for the help this will give other guests.

If the review is factually inaccurate or very unfair, use this as an opportunity to point out positive attributes of your property.

For example, I had one review complaining that they didn’t know how to use the Nespresso coffee machine. I simply said that I’m sorry you found this difficult, but we do also provide regular instant coffee and then I highlighted all of the other things that were offered in the kitchen. Really, the guest gave me an opportunity to advertise the positives, so I took it. And really, who can’t figure out how to use a Nespresso machine? And is it really a big deal if you can’t? Is it worth mentioning in a review? No, I don’t think so, so in a way, the guest spoke for himself!

Secondly, realize that no matter how nice your property is, some guests just don’t give 5-star reviews. It’s nothing personal, don’t take it personally, move on. In any case, reviews which are 100% 5 star are suspicious. Especially if you have more than 100!

Q: How do I avoid complaints in the first place?

A: You can generally avoid complaints by focussing on the following key things guests complain about:

  • Access: Have you made your property super, super simple to find and access? Do the guests know where to park? Do they know how to get the keys? This is easy to resolve and can be automated by using a channel manager.
  • Cleanliness: This is a major issue with almost all guests. They want to be confident that your apartment is clean, tidy, and hygienic. You need to check this (or if you can’t get someone else to check) as standards slip if they don’t.
  • Make sure you service all electrical appliances regularly.
  • Make sure your internet is working (cables get pulled out) and it’s fast.
  • Make sure what you advertise is what you sell. If you advertise a balcony, guests expect a balcony. Etc.

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