Monday, 21 March 2022

Things are looking up

 Wow, it is refreshing to be away from the uncertainty of  bookings via Sykes.  After a winter break we've increased returns by 25% and yet seen some good quality holiday rental bookings. Apart from a couple of days we're already booked out into the summer, and we've turned people away. We've been able to assess the guests prior to accepting their bookings. With the Sykes regime booking would come from a wide range of third party sites with virtually no checking of the guests other than that they possess a credit card. No more anonymous guests who think they can play the system.

Now we are sure that the guests have proper prior documentation and a clear route for contact in respect of the booking and any issues arising. Taking payment via credit/debit card is straight forward and not all that expensive. It card payment provider automatically links into our accounting system (Xero) giving us a clear up to date record of income.

Thursday, 3 March 2022

Sykes should have better control

 We've now left the Sykes Holiday Cottage family where they had been appointed by us to act as our agents for self-catering rental of our holiday cottage. I won't go into details of our reasons why we decided to drop them. We have informed Sykes as to the underlying issues and have completed the agreed notice period. Meanwhile we're launching our own website to advertise for rental as before. 

One of the exercises were having to undertake is to clean up the mess left on the internet by the Sykes advertising of our cottage for rental.  They promptly removed details of the cottage at our request when the contract was terminated by us. The problem is however, that it appears that Sykes has allowed a network of third party companies to copy from the Sykes web servers, their pictures and description of our cottage. This even extends to the third parties being able to take bookings, presumably for financial benefits, using the Sykes bookings and vacancy process. We not sure of the exact mechanisms/ permissions in place, but the impact is that there are many sites appearing to advertise our cottage for rental, or saying the cottage is no longer available for rental. This is in effect misrepresentation by the third parties. This is damaging for our business, and we're having to pursue the third party website owners to remove the false entries. 

If Sykes are permitting third-party organisations to advertise an owner's cottage for rental (via Sykes) they should have a mechanism in place to control access to the cottage and its booking details. Sykes should be able to restrict access to third-parties who no longer have permission to access those details.  There are easy technology solutions to provide this level of access control. For those without permission, Sykes has legal remedies to prevent unauthorised display.

Normally there's no incentive for a rental agency to stop the ghosting of retired property details. In fact it can be used to generate business for the agency, along the lines of: "You enquired about cottage xxx, but it is no longer available. You may wish to consider these alternatives." This is of course sharp practice, and if we detect Sykes doing this will complain.  Another tool in our armoury is that we have registered the cottage name as a trademark. People advertising the cottage without our permission can be accused of infringing the trademark and also passing off. Both of these can have legal consequences, including damages.

We'll be writing to Sykes to express our concerns about the internet traces left by their activities. Hopefully they'll take notice and change their procedures to avoid inadvertent ghosting of cottage owners. We tried to warn other cottage owners of this issue on the Facebook Sykes Cottage Owners forum, but the moderator blocked the story on the grounds that it might upset other group members.

Edit 6th Mar 2022

I came across a useful wording for others facing this situation:

You are reminded that by continuing to advertise a property you have no ability or authority to let, you are in breach of the ASA CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 and 3.3. By advertising my property as 'unavailable to book' you are impeding my ability to receive bookings. Furthermore anyone googling my property name can be misdirected to your affiliates, whereupon potential guests may look no further and are mislead into thinking it could be booked for the next two years.

Sunday, 17 October 2021

Vindictive guests

 We've already stated elsewhere on this blog that we subsidise guest stays in the cottage. We're looking to cover costs whilst keeping the property occupied without the longer term risks of tenancy agreements.  Bringing holiday guests into the locality also injects cash in the local businesses. As a consequence our rental fees one of the lowest in the area when compared to the facilities provided. However we still get some guests paying the low rent and then expecting Ritz facilities. They will then approach Sykes to get a discount on the subsidised prices.

We had one pair of guests stay over a year ago who demanded a partial refund from Sykes which they didn't receive even after they sent "photographs" to Sykes. Their main complaint was that the accommodation smelt musty. I guess that is difficult to (dis)prove with photographs.  We didn't get involved in this until their bad review was received by Sykes.  Either side of their bad review on the Sykes website are complimentary good reviews from other guests.

Contractually the guests are supposed to contact the owners first during the holiday stay to seek some form of remediation. The "guests" didn't attempt to contact us.  There were the other vague issues added to their complaint list, such as cleaning etc,.  All this could have been resolved if they'd contacted us during their stay.  

In fact we'd just finished redecorating the entire interior of the cottage about a month before their stay. We'd cleaned the whole cottage after the decoration process.  All of the carpets in the house had been professionally cleaned, prior to their arrival. We also undertaken a Covid-19 sterilisation clean in every room, at short notice, prior to their arrival. This included wiping down surfaces, UV-c light exposure and steam sterilisation

One of the guests has publicly stated in bold type on the Internet, for all to see, that their objective of their holiday was: "...a cheap few nights...I guess that sums up the whole event. I'm sure a discount would have made it cheaper. As it was they were able bring their two dogs to the cottage for no fee, which saved them £240 in kennel boarding fees.

However not content with a bad review via Sykes, they posted a similar review about the cottage on TripAdvisor some 14 months after their stay. That is plain vindictive. We're now considering legal action against this couple for damages. I've made sure to take full archival copies of their reports.  

They also failed to comply with Covid-19 regulations during their stay and also did not follow the departure procedures with the consequence that we were unable to check the security/state of the cottage when they left.

Thursday, 9 September 2021

Should we make better use of the property?

 Having had a poor summer in terms of the guests, we're looking at future alternative uses for the cottage. In previous years the guests have complimented the cottage, but this year most of the Covid staycation guests have been excessively demanding, manufactured unwarranted complaints and looked to get discounts on our already subsidised prices. Would they put in hours of unpaid work for strangers who are only going to complain?  Guests, who we've allowed to board their pets in our property at no additional cost.

We're contacting the local authority to discuss offering our furnished property for rental to those in need of housing, such as Afghan refugees. People in genuine need.

Friday, 23 July 2021

Cottage cleaning session

 Today's cleaning session, the guests left it generally clean, but there were the usual type of issues:

  1. Stain on lounge carpet;
  2. Soundbar; tinkered with by guest and left non-functional. The output audio cable had been plugged in the Coax (aerial) socket on the TV. Sound bar configuration had been set to Bluetooth.
  3. The neighbour's wooden, fence two palings broken, probably by our guests.
  4. Microwave oven left dirty and greasy.
  5. Bedroom bedside lamps disconnected.
Meanwhile, we did a swap out of consumable items, wiped down all contact surfaces with isopropyl alcohol or Stakil water based biocide. Each room was treated with 74 Watt Ultraviolet light (UVc) for an average 30 minute exposure.

Thursday, 22 July 2021

Increased pricing at our Holiday Home

 Our current pair of guests are the straw that broke the camel's back. Their behaviour has been poor and they've made unwarranted complaints to our rental agency. We'd offered them a full refund provided they left immediately, but they chose to stay. We dread to think what we'll find when we go to the cottage tomorrow for handover cleaning. No doubt they'll leave a lousy online review. The previous couple loved our cottage and left a good review. Our first action on arrival will be to make a full video of the state of our cottage.

It seems that many other holiday home owners have had similar problems with "Marbella" guests displaced by the Covid-19 travel restrictions. There seems to be little respect for the owners from people seeking the cheapest available holidays online. For the past few years, we've subsidised guests staying at our property, mostly because we treat the property itself as the long term investment. However damages caused by guests abusing our facilities have all but wiped out any profit.  In addition to the subsidy, we effectively give each pair of guests four hours of our life free of charge. We also provide free of charge release from pet boarding fees for the holiday makers.

We've instructed our agency to increase prices by 25% with immediate effect, and to also add a £250 Good Housekeeping Bond per stay.  If the guests leave the cottage in good condition the GHB will be promptly refunded in full. This will price our cottage a few pounds per night over the previous rates, but hopefully people just looking for somewhere cheap to stay will go find their bargain elsewhere.  For regular guests we'll look at some kind of loyalty bonus to reduce their costs.

If this reduces the number of bookings, so be it. We're not in the business of receiving abuse as a reward for our time and efforts. I've seen reports from several owners recently that they've decided to pull their property from the Self Catering homes business.

Saturday, 10 July 2021

Weeding the back yard

 Our guests expect the back yard of the cottage to be tidy on arrival. The garden and yard soon become covered with stray grass and weeds during the summer period. The brick surface of the yard has small gaps between the bricks. These gaps become filled with soil in which weeds can take root.  Weeding by hand takes a couple of hours, and during changeover between guests we don't have the time to undertake weeding. So I make use of a paraffin fuelled flame gun. This burns off the weeds in approximately 15 minutes for both the garden and the back yard.

It needs careful preparation to ensure that the gun is operating safely and that it does not melt/ignite fencing and garden pots. The visible flame is about 60cm long and is pretty ferocious. In the above picture you can see the grass/weeds growing in the yard of the adjoining cottage. The owner is quite old and lives about 100 miles away so his yard tends to be neglected. I help him by occasionally killing the weeds in his area too. 

This is what the yard looks like after the work is done: 

I'd noticed that the hedge of another adjoining property was overgrown and projecting into our garden, making it difficult to follow the path and steps. A flame gun is no use with the hedge, so I also brought my petrol powered  long reach hedge cutter to the game during this visit.

This shows the path/steps before I tidied:

This is after cutting the hedge:

And, this is after the final hedge tidy and weed burn off:

It was a good job that I'd finished the work promptly because our next set of guests turned up five hours early asking to get access to the cottage. Fortunately, this time, I was able to oblige.