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  • Writer's pictureStacy Parkelj

How to Create an Online House Manual & Area Guide

Why do I need a house manual and area guide?

Before you begin hosting guests, it is important that you have a comprehensive house manual to share with them. Not only does it help the guests feel more comfortable staying in an unfamiliar home, but it will also help you avoid middle-of-the-night "How do I turn on the fireplace?" calls! (OK, most experience owners will tell you that you will still get calls like that, but it will definitely help lessen the number of calls you get!)

I'm always looking for ways to add value to my guests. After all, they are paying a pretty price to stay in Hochatown! One easy way to add value is to provide the guests with a detailed area guide. Include your favorite places and businesses in your guide book, and be sure to describe why you love those place so much. Guest appreciate the personal touch and the helpful information!

What's so great about an online house manual vs. creating a book to place in the cabin?

When I hosted my first cabin in Winter Park, CO, fifteen years ago, people were not as well-connected to technology as they are now, and everything had to be in printed form.

The first house manual I created for that cabin I had printed and bound. I was so proud of how "professional" it looked! Then, I had a guest call me to ask how to work the grill...Darn! I forgot to include that in the book! So, I added a little note paperclipped to the book. Next, my cleaner kept commenting that people were not leaving the sheets where they were supposed to at departure. Shoot! I forgot to include that in the book too! I realized having a bound book was probably not a great idea.

For my next try at creating a house manual, I used a binder. The binder was great because I could change out pages easily as needed. However, even with page protectors, the pages got grungy fairly quickly. Many times pages would be ripped out or written on!

When I purchased my Hochatown vacation rental, I came across several platforms that let you create online manuals. I loved the idea of being able to virtually share our manual with our guests, but I especially loved the idea of easily being able to create changes whenever I needed.

Should I completely replace my hard copy book manual with a virtual manual?

Online house manuals and area guides allow you to create your house manual and share it with your guests in an app form on their phones. You can include directions to your cabin, rules & policies, how to work appliances, a packing list, departure instructions, and more. Best of all, the changes you make to the manual are updated in real-time so your guests are always seeing the latest version of your book.

Guests love that they can view your manual before their trip. Flipping through the virtual pages builds excitement and anticipation for their vacation.

Most guests will never look through the printed version of your manual, but it is nice to have a copy in the cabin, just in case. Fortunately, you can easily print out your online manual once you've created it online! Put the pages in sheet protectors in a binder, and voila! Creating a house manual has never been so easy!

What apps or platforms can I use to create my manual?

The two most popular choices for creating house manuals are Hostfully and Touch Stay. Both platforms let you create sections for each item in your cabin, as well as an area guide, arrival and departure checklists, and directions to your cabin.

Hostfully is a FREE guidebook creation tool and I happen to think it's fabulous! It has almost all of the same features as Touch Stay, as well as an ability to print it out, if you'd choose! (Keep reading for a sneak peek of my manual!)

Touch Stay costs $99/per for one property. The price for additional properties exponentially decreases. Exclusively for HC VIP members: Use code BCC10 for 10% off your first year! Check out Touch Stay pricing here.

Although there is a cost associated with Touch Stay, many owners I've spoken to love the platform and say it is worth the price. It is easy to use and has a beautiful layout. You can see some awesome real-life Touch Stay manuals here. (Keep reading to see a local owner's actual Touch Stay manual!)

Take a look at both platforms before you decide. Touch Stay has a free trial period and I always suggest that you spend some time playing around on the back end of the platforms before deciding which will suit your needs (and skills) best.

Now, it's time to create!

If you haven't yet, I suggest you spend a few days in your own cabin as a guest. Pay close attention to items around the house that might need further explanation. The most common questions I get from guests are:
  • What's the wifi password?

  • How do I turn on the fireplaces?

  • Why does the hot tub have a weird code on the display?

Make sure you have these topics covered, at the very least.

Also, think about things like, where do guests find extra linens? How do they use/run the dishwasher and laundry machines? Where can they find the crockpot? Seriously, act and think like a guest and your guest book topics will come to you!

Need more inspiration? Check out these local cabin owner's house manuals! (Shhh! If you copy some of the wording, we won't tell! It's great to be a VIP, isn't it?)

Will my guests actually read the manual?

Once you have created your house manual, the next hurdle is to get your guests to actually open and read it!

First of all, decide how and when you are going to send the link. We know most people will read emails, eventually. However, also consider that these days, especially Millenials, look at their texts more often than their emails. I prefer to send an email with details followed up with a text that lets the guest know there's an email from me in their inbox.

As for when to send the link to the manual, I like to send it in an email immediately upon booking, another one 3 weeks prior to their stay, and again the day before arrival. (I'll go further into the emails I send in another blog post where I'll talk about automating communications with your guests so be on the lookout for that in the coming weeks!)

Be sure to say something in your email like, "Click here to access our house manual and get access to the perfect packing list for your trip!" or "Read through our online manual for some great tips on things to do and places to eat while you're in Hochatown." You will want to entice them to open the link because once they do, they will usually be intrigued enough to flip through it.

What if I still get calls from guests with questions?

That's where the beauty of online manuals comes in! I always say, "There's a guest behind every topic in my house manual", meaning that it's often these guest questions that help me come up with more and better content for my manual. Since the content is online, it's just a matter of logging in, making the addition/change, and saving. Voila! Your guests instantly see the updated version!

What does the future hold?

The next phase in virtual house manuals will be apps that actually connect with modules or pods you can place around your cabin. When a guest brings their app near the pod, your house manual will pop up with instructions or details about that item! It may be a few years before we see these in the market, but it's always exciting to see how the vacation rental market is growing and improving!
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