Updated: Aug 25, 2020
As a localitist (short-term rental host), I cannot overemphasize the importance of having a truly excellent welcome book (a.k.a. house manual) in your home. The welcome book is your stand-in, their go-to guide when you are out and about. Even if you are on-site full time, I still recommend creating a welcome book that guests can refer to when you’re running errands, etc. It’ll save them a lot of guesswork and you a lot of time answering the same questions over and over.
But it’s far more than simply informational. The Welcome Book is the key that unlocks their connection to you and to the space. If you’ve created a welcome book previously for vacation rental listings on sites like Airbnb, HomeAway, VRBO, Booking, etc., you can likely re-use much of what you already have. Just be sure to emphasize that you are available to answer their questions and offer guidance
Page 1: Welcome note
Localiting is all about connection. Your first page should be a warm, personal note to let them know you’re happy to have them, and that you’re invested in the quality of their stay.
This note should be authentic to your own voice. Write as yourself—the friendliest, funnest version of yourself.
Start with a simple statement of welcome. For example: “Welcome to our home! We are so glad you’ve arrived safely.”
Next, remind them that you are aiming to create a wonderfully memorable experience for them, and that if there is anything that would improve their visit, you want to know about it!
Add a couple of short paragraphs highlighting the ways you recommend they enjoy your property. Imagine you were staying there for the first time – what would you want to know about? Is there a garden they might want to explore? A jacuzzi tub they can relax in? From which balcony is the sunset best appreciated? This is a user guide to having a wonderful time at your place.
Keep it short and sweet: 2-4 paragraphs should suffice. Definitely no longer than one page!
Page 2: Internet instructions
Unless I’m enjoying a rural retreat and am purposefully unplugged, this is always the first thing I want to know: how do I get on the internet?
Make sure your WiFi info — both the name of your network and the password — is prominently displayed, both in the welcome book and elsewhere in the unit. And, for those who are less tech savvy, give a short sentence of instruction such as, “To get on the internet, find the WiFi network ‘ourguest’ and type in the password, ‘B0urGuest!’” This will save everyone a lot of time and frustration.
Page 3: How you want them to communicate to you
Communication is key. Letting your guests know right up front how and when to contact you, even if you are usually on-site, will put them at ease and make them feel more connected to you. Even if they never use it, just having that information handy will make guests feel more secure, and more at home.
I recommend providing several different options in terms of ways to contact you, in order of your preference. If you are not a person who likes to chat on the phone, then don’t put your phone number first. Try something like this instead:
“Adrienne’s contact info:
SMS, WhatsApp, or phone call: 123-456-7890
Or of course, you’re welcome to contact me via Localiting.”
Now you’ve provided several ways for them to get ahold of you, in the order you would prefer. It is in your best interest to make it as easy as possible for them to get ahold of you, so give them as many options as you feel comfortable handing over, especially if you are frequently off-site.
Not only is this the best way to keep your guests happy, it’s the best way to ensure nothing goes sideways — and if it does, that you will know about it sooner than later!
Page 4: Check-in and check-out instructions
Be clear and upfront about your check in and check out times. Even clearer than you think you need to be. Unless you explicitly tell them otherwise, guests will assume they can show up as soon as they arrive and linger as long as they like, which can get awkward when you have new guests coming in and need to start your cleaning routine.
You’ll also want to be explicit on what is expected of them before checking out, especially if you won’t be on-site at that time.
Please switch off all lights and heating/coolingPlace used towels in the bathroom hamperWe appreciate your starting a load of dishes in the dishwasherPlease lock all windows and doors
You can include anything you want in here, but remember to phrase them as requests and reminders, not demands. Keep in mind that folks will be writing their experience posts after they leave, so you want their final experience to be a positive one!
Page 5: Eating and shopping guide
Everybody needs to eat. And for the most part, your guests will be unfamiliar with the territory, so it’s up to you to fill them in on how to fill their bellies. Localiters want the experience of living like a local, that’s why they’re choosing to stay with you. So help them out by giving them the inside scoop!
This is also a great way to show your personality and connect on a personal level with your guests. Don’t just tell them what’s popular, or what’s conveniently located. They can find that on the internet. Instead, share a top-ten list of your personal faves. If they agree, they’ll feel more connected to you. If they disagree, now you’ve got something to talk about!
For each restaurant, include the name, location, distance from your home, website link, and why you think it’s worth their time and money. It’s also not a bad idea to include parking tips or other arrival instructions, along with any must-try dishes or other advice.
Make sure you include at least a couple of restaurants that have a large selection of vegetarian and vegan options, and if there’s a gluten-free bakery in your area, be sure to note that as well. People with dietary restrictions have an especially difficult time while traveling, so that consideration will endear you to them and make their stay more pleasant.
If you offer access to kitchen facilities, you should also guide your guests to the nearest grocery store(s). One of the major advantages of localiting over traditional traveling is that people have the option of cooking their own food, so make sure you arm them with the right information to be able to take full advantage of this feature.
Is there a farmer’s market in your area? Let them know when and where it takes place so they can experience, and support, locally-grown produce and products.
Remember: hungry guests are grumpy guests, and nobody wants that!
David and I are very passionate about supporting small businesses, so we always included a list of our favorite locally-owned stores, and encouraged our guests to patronize them over the chain stores. We also let them know which were within walking distance, and which were further out, but worth the trek.
Page 6: Curated list of local attractions and activity ideas
Okay, so now that they’re here, what should they do? You are your guests’ de facto “friend in town,” so your job is to make sure they experience the best your ‘hood has to offer. By the time they leave, you want them to feel almost local, a local-lite, thus the term “localiter.”
Again, you want to guide them to things they won’t necessarily find on search engines.
Attractions that are a little off the beaten path, the hidden gems that only a native would know about. Sure, you can call out the big tourist attractions, too, if you think they’re worth the money. But they can find that in a tourist brochure or on the internet. What they can’t find anywhere else is your personal curated list of the best of what’s around.
Localiters tend to be budget-conscious, so be sure to include ideas for free or nearly-free entertainment. Which are the best parks for a pleasant afternoon stroll? Where is the best coffee shop for people watching? Which playground has the best equipment? Where’s the swimming pool and when is open swim? Tell them about the little curio shop run by the old couple from Romania that’s perfect for bargain hunting. Tell them all the things you would be out doing, if only you had the time.
Think also about the kind of guest you are marketing to, specifically. What’s your niche? If you’re aiming at the artsy crowd, make sure you list all the local museums, theatres, galleries, etc. If you vaunt your unit as family-friendly, make sure you have plenty of kid-focused attractions and activities listed. When done correctly, this section will make your ideal guest think, “Wow, they read my mind!”
Page 7: Transportation guide
Don’t make the mistake of assuming that every guest is going to have a smartphone, or that they know how to use it to find appropriate transportation options.
You should list every available option for getting from your unit to any local attraction and back again. This could include:
Mass transit, i.e. bus, train, subway, light rail, monorail, etc.
Include a walking map to the closest stop or station, and which route they should use to get to common destinations (downtown, train station, ATM/grocery store, etc.). If you have timetables, even better.
Include the phone numbers of at least two cab companies, so they’ll never get stuck without a ride.
Ride share. If your area has Uber, Lyft, or other ride share programs available, let your guests know. If you’re in a tricky area for pickups, be sure to give them advice on where to wait so they are sure to be seen.
Shuttles to the airport or other popular attractions. Include how much time they should budget to get there, as well as how much money.
Rental or personal vehicle. Give explicit parking instructions / advice, and let them know where they can top up on fuel.
Bicycle. Let them know if you have a bicycle available for guest use, or if there’s a place to rent one nearby. Guide them to the best bike paths and warn them against areas that are not bicycle-friendly. Let them know you care about their safety as well as their enjoyment.
Walking. Some guests will prefer to explore on foot, be it for reasons of economics, exercise, or simply experience. Make sure you let them know the shortest path to the things they’re most likely to need or want to see, and give them a realistic expectation of how long it will take to get there.
It’s also a good idea to make recommendations as to which areas are best accessed by which method. Remember, your guests don’t know where anything is, or what it’s like once you get there. Be as explicit as possible!
Page 8: Room-by-room guides
Your guest also has no idea where anything is, and it’s best to assume that even if they find it, they have no idea how to use it.
This is your chance to walk them through every room in the house and let them know where to find things and what to do with them once they’re found.
Start with the kitchen. I always start with where to find the coffee and french press since, as any caffeine addict will tell you, until they get their coffee, nothing else matters. Next, let them know where to find the trash, and how it should be sorted. Guide them to the dish soap and other cleaning products. Point out all the appliances and give step-by-step instructions on how to use them. Make note of anything special you keep stocked for guests.
This is a good place to set expectations around cleaning, particularly doing dishes. Simply explaining how to use the dishwasher or pointing out the dish-drying rack will make your guests more likely clean up after themselves.
Let your guests know if you have things like Netflix
Next, outline instructions on how to use the television or DVD player. If your TV has Netflix or Hulu, let your guests know and provide the password.
Let them know where the air conditioning and heating controls are, and how to use them. Let them know where to find spare towels, toilet paper, and other essentials. Point out any other amenities such as an outdoor grill, pool or hot tub, home gym, etc., and list any rules or guidelines for their use, as well as instructions on where to find appropriate supplies.
End with the bedrooms. For each room, let your guests know where to find extra blankets, pillows, fresh linens, and so on.
Even if all your cabinets are labeled (a practice we highly recommend), it will save your guests a lot of hide-and-seek if they know where to go looking and what to do once they’ve found what they’re looking for.
Page 9: Emergency instructions
One thing I’ve noticed when I travel is that it’s fairly rare to find emergency details listed in a welcome book. I think this is a missed opportunity. Whether they end up needing those details or not, simply having them in an easily accessible spot will give your guests peace of mind. And that, my friends, is priceless.
I’ve situated Emergency details on the last page of the book for two reasons. 1. Because it’s the page they’re least likely to need, and 2. It needs to be easily / quickly accessible.
Remember that some of your guests will be from other countries, so you first off you’ll want to list the phone number for emergency services nice and big, near the top.
Right below that, provide a map with emergency exits for your unit clearly marked. If the unit is above the ground floor, make sure they know how to get down to safety. Point out the fire extinguisher, and any other safety features on site.
Next, provide contact details for the nearest hospital, pharmacy, and any urgent-care clinics in the area. It’s also a good idea to provide non-emergency numbers for the local police and fire departments.
Finally, let them know what they should do in the event of an urgent maintenance issue, including contact info for your go-to plumber, electrician, etc., in case you are unreachable for some reason.
It’s not a bad idea to put this information on the wall or on a fridge magnet as well. The faster they can act, the better for all involved.
We’d love to hear about what’s in your Welcome Book / House Manual, and why. Comment below and let us know!