Guest services

With many people opting to holiday at home this summer, there’s no better time to trick out your cottage and make it the best it can be.

by Colin and Justin

In Canada (and indeed across the globe) people are looking to their own countries as optimal vacation destination for summer 2021. With attitudes to global travel (as yet) undecided, the trend looks set to continue, with sales of RVs and camping equipment through the roof, and the cottage rental market enjoying its most buoyant period in recent years.

Transforming an everyday vacation respite into a standout retreat can make a huge difference to marketability and potential profits, so it’s worth investing a little sweat equity to fine tune your prospect – prior to entering the rental economy – when COVID restrictions finally lift.

To appraise the market, we caught up with Jayne McCaw, one of cottage country’s premier rental hosts, and owner of elite agency Jayne’s Cottages. Whilst chatting, the business maven underlined that the market is hotter (and therefore more competitive) than ever.

Furthermore, Jayne explained that whilst typical overseas guest levels may have dipped, they’ve been replaced – and then some – by new rental aspirants (often from Toronto), a demographic looking for a luxury escape, nearer to home, yet still far from the madding crowd.

And with enticing prospects like a private Muskoka island for $82,500 a week, to a beautiful cedar clad retreat on Haliburton’s Drag Lake (for an eminently more modest $19,900 a week), the portal proffers an amazing range of elite cottages for those looking to spend time surrounded by the wonderful bounty Ontario offers.

Jayne started her business in 2013, using her own cottage as a means with which to offset its expenses, but, in early course, she also found herself making enough money to fund several overseas vacations.

“The business idea came from renting my cottage and making it extra special,” explains the entrepreneur. “Adding extra touches, and making sure every detail was lovingly considered, allowed me to create a unique rental experience, while testing ‘the point of resistance’ as far as yield was concerned. These days, I share all that knowledge with renters from Muskoka, through to Haliburton, Prince Edward County and beyond.”

In 2019, Jayne’s business earned the Start Up prize at the RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards, so clearly she was on to something.

But don’t worry if your property portfolio doesn’t boast a private island: at every price bracket of the cottage leasing market, there’s money to made by adding special touches, and by ensuring your prospect stands out from the crowd.

Safety First

Your cottage should have functioning smoke detectors, fire extinguishers and a first aid kit close to hand. Check that barbecues and outdoor fires are compliant with safety regulations and, if you have kayaks or canoes, include plenty of life jackets for everyone.

In the current climate, guests will more than likely enquire about your COVID protocols – so wax lyrical about your cleanliness and hygiene regimes, offer contactless transactions and place keys in lockboxes so no one has to hand anything over.

Improve your curb appeal/lakeside allure

First impressions matter, so make sure your cottage looks good from the get-go. Keep paths clean and defined and ensure the approach to your lake is tidy and easily navigable. Bear in mind, too, that good photography is essential, especially if planning to feature your cottage on an internet rental site.

Spell it out

Create a “bible” that outlines the mechanics of your property. Cover off how to operate heating, water and septic and include television/satellite guides, municipal dump information and anything else with which you think guests might struggle.

Add a guide to the locale and include areas of scenic beauty, restaurant recommendations and other interesting highlights. And, while you’re at it, explain cottage rules and etiquette so renters respect your neighbours.

These details will impress upon guests that you want them to have a great time without worry. Renters are more likely to care for your space.

Installing bunk beds in a small bunkie bedroom will increase overall capacity and rental return.

Beds equal dollars

We installed four sleeping stations in a small bunkie bedroom to increase the cottage’s overall capacity. Providing dedicated and neatly attired beds (rather than have people crashing on air mattresses or sofas) looks better and means everyone can enjoy personal space when sleep beckons.

Open concept layouts work best, as far as dining/living spaces are concerned, as they provide a focal point for gatherings and good times.

Create a big, sharing kitchen

Make the most of your food prep zone by equipping it with all manner of pots, pans and gadgets. Create an environment that encourages sharing and get-togethers: something as simple as adding an overhang to the countertop of an island will create a handy breakfast bar. And, if you can, go open plan as far as dining/living spaces are concerned to further enhance the community feel.

Enhance the visitor experience

Do everything you can to create an inviting sun deck or dock, and, if possible, add lots of toys like kayaks and peddle boats to create a holiday cabin that guests will rebook year upon year. Building a dedicated fire pit or outdoor fireplace will enhance the overall vacation experience while allowing guests to enjoy endless summer evenings sitting around the flames telling stories, singing songs, drinking beer and guzzling s’mores.

Auspicious vista pruning of trees and bushy plants will open up views and keep mosquito numbers down.

Make more of views

Many Canadian cottages are situated in beautiful countryside locations, yet many have small windows that effectively diminish views towards the great outdoors. During previous projects, we’ve cut entire wall sections away, and installed full height windows, to allow guests to visually connect with the landscape. Hey: go big or go home, huh?

If alterations don’t figure on your hit list, at least ensure renters can see the lake: auspicious vista pruning of trees and bushy plants will open up views and keep mosquito numbers down.

Give your cottage a clear design identity

Position furniture to make the most of your room’s shape and use art and accessories to add style and colour. Take pictures of rooms and appraise whether – or not – you’re happy with the vibe. Is it Insta-ready?

Use lighting to adjust mood and make more of everything. From adding a dimmer switch, to installing an overhead fitting, and from positioning table lamps to adding floor lighting, imaginative illumination always amplifies the luxury factor.

Comfort = luxury

It’s worth spending a little more on comfort, so (if budgets permit) upscale mattresses, chairs and sofas to make guests feel indulged. Layer in textural throws to beds and sofas, and use feather filled cushions (instead of foam) for extra thickness and chop-ability.

Keep guests connected

These days, technology is part of life: from Facebook to Instagram and from Netflix to Youtube, Wi-Fi strength is everything, so it’s imperative your service is up to the task. If this simply isn’t possible, make up for any failings with an extensive movie library and box upon box of board games.

Hey, you could even suggest that being disconnected is a good thing. Slow life at the lake, huh? Now doesn’t that sound inviting?

Get some help

To make renting as pain free as possible, we advise linking up with a reputable agent to deal with pricing, deposits, timetabling and all other requirements. Visit the Ontario Cottage Rental Managers Association (OCRMA) for a list of members and an agency in your area.

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