Hosts just starting out and those looking to improve their operations and guest service often wonder whether they should provide checkout instructions to departing guests and what those checkout instructions should include.
Checkout instructions are an effective way to extend customer service to your guests as well to ease the transition to your next guests easier for yourself and your cleaning crew.
Why are Checkout Instructions Important?
Not every host considers checkout instructions important. Some don’t provide them at all or limit them to something like “Thanks for staying. Safe travels home.” Failing to provide instructions, however, is often a missed opportunity for hosts because the guest will probably expect them since most hosts provide them and may feel anxious if they aren’t forthcoming.
The checkout message is a key opportunity to ask for feedback – and even to ask for a positive review. This last point is quite controversial among hosts and will be addressed later in this post.
How to Relay Checkout Instructions to Guests
Most hosts have experienced the phenomenon that “guests don’t read,” so it never hurts to hedge your bets and use both these communication modes to communicate checkout instructions. A significant principle of instructional design is that people need repetition to absorb learning.
- Send instructions in message. Airbnb makes it particularly easy to send out a checkout-instructions message because the platform offers automated messaging. Some of the channel managers/property-management services also offer automated messages.
At this writing, VRBO does not offer them. The big question on messaging is when should you send checkout instructions? Many hosts send checkout messages the morning of checkout. Others have had plenty of experience with guests who reply after leaving, “Sorry, I didn’t see the checkout instructions before we left,” so they send them the night before.
Some hosts even include checkout instructions in their check-in instructions, which is not a bad idea, but should be reinforced with another message at checkout time. Still other hosts use rental agreements and include checkout instructions as part of those agreements, some even asking guests to initial next to the checkout time on the agreement.
- Print out and leave at property. Options for conveying checkout instructions on-site include listing them as part of your hard-copy House Manual, if you have one, and/or posting somewhere in the home, such as with a magnet on the refrigerator (some hosts suggest laminating this type of notice; a host we know posts on the fridge a QR code that links to checkout instructions).
What to include in your checkout instructions
Host opinions vary widely on what to include in checkout instructions. Some lists are long and detailed, with numerous cleaning requirements and punitive fines or fees for failing to follow all instructions. Others are quite short – just a few sentences. A good rule of thumb for a printed set of instructions is no more than one page; guests may feel burdened by more, and their eyes will glaze over as they read a huge list of requirements. A solid guideline for an electronic message is about 7-10 paragraphs, including bullet points.
Commonly included items
- Thanks for staying. Begin with a warm, personal approach that expresses gratitude for the guest’s stay.
- Checkout time. State your checkout time and consider framing it in terms of when your cleaners will arrive to begin cleaning. You may also want to note any charges for late checkout, and on the days of same-day turnovers, tell guests that timely checkout is critical so cleaning can begin because new guests will arrive later that day. Some hosts deactivate the guest’s door code shortly after checkout time; if you are one of them, ensure your guests are aware of that consequence.
- A reminder to check they have all belongings and policy for handling items left behind.
- Security instructions. Keyless entry at the main entrance may eliminate the need for any verbiage about locking doors, but on the other hand, the home may have other doors that need to be locked after a stay, such as doors to patios/decks and garages. If your short-term rental does use keys, you’ll want to provide instructions for what to do with the key once the place is locked up. You also may want to ask guests to ensure windows and sliding doors are locked upon exit. In a gated community, you may need to include instructions for returning a pass card at the security gate. Security instructions might also include asking guests to log out of any TV streaming services they may have logged into during their stay.
- Climate-control and power-saving instructions: You may want to ask guests to put the thermostat on a certain setting, open or close windows, cover the hot tub, and ensure lights, stove burners, fans or room air-conditioners, and other non-essential gas or electrical items (especially the coffee maker) are turned off.
- A request that guests notify host when they depart. While this piece is not needed for the many hosts who have camera/doorbell systems, others, especially those who do their own cleaning, need to know.
- Request for feedback. This is an often overlooked but highly strategic element of checkout instructions. This pre-emptive request for suggestions allows guests to vent about any negatives before they submit a review, which means they no longer feel the need to mention them in the review.
- Mention of or request for a positive review. See below.
- Expectations for cleaning and other chores. This is one of the most controversial aspects of checkout instructions and is covered in the next section.
What Cleaning Expectations Should You Have for Guests?
If you put 100 hosts in a room, it’s easy to imagine that 50 of them would argue for significant cleaning expectations of guests (even when hosts charge a cleaning fee), while the other 50 would support minimal expectations.
Hosts who place numerous expectations on guests to clean often do so because of the requirements of their particular cleaning teams. Cleaners may insist they cannot turn over the property in time for arriving guests unless departing guests perform such tasks as gathering and putting out trash and/or recycling, loading the dishwasher (or hand-washing dishes), starting a load of towels in the washer, emptying the refrigerator of any items guests put in, returning items to their proper places, and even sweeping up.
Some cleaners also refuse to do certain tasks, such as cleaning the grill. Hosts who communicate few or no cleaning expectations typically feel guests should not have to perform any cleaning tasks because they are paying a cleaning fee.
Recent viral social-media posts from guests suggest that host cleaning demands have gotten out of hand. Their reasoning is that hotels don’t have these chore lists, so some guests have gone back to favoring hotels over short-term rentals.
Best practice is to strike a balance between host/cleaner cleaning needs and the desire to provide optimal customer service to the guest. If the demands of your cleaner are the reason behind a big list of cleaning expectations, consider negotiating with your cleaner, finding a new cleaner, or charging a higher cleaning fee instead of giving your guests a long list of cleaning expectations.
Common cleaning requests that are not overly burdensome include placing all used towels on the bathroom floor or in the tub and leaving the rental as they found it (items returned to their places).
Some hosts like beds stripped, while others prefer beds left unmade so they can be checked for stains and rips. One way to soften a list of cleaning expectations is to include tasks that are appreciated but not required. A host we know takes this approach with washing dishes (“Washing dishes is not required but appreciated”) and finds the vast majority of guests do wash dishes.
Bottom line on cleaning expectations: It’s not wrong to have a hefty list of expectations, even with a cleaning fee, but do consider each one to determine the necessity of passing that task onto the guest, especially if you start to get pushback from guests or you notice some of your regular guests aren’t returning.
One host we know ties checkout procedures and cleaning expectations to the guest review, using this verbiage: “Below are our checkout instructions. Let us know if you have any questions. Completing the list just about guarantees a 5-star review from us!”
Should You Mention or Ask Guests for a Review?
As noted above, this is another area in which host opinions are divided. Some hosts are horrified by the idea of even mentioning the review process, finding the notion incredibly brazen and tacky.
Others think nothing of, not only asking for a positive review, but asking for a 5-star review. Every host must do what they feel is right, but those who experiment with asking for 5-star reviews may be quite surprised at how effective this approach can be.
The Boldest Approach: Asking for a 5-Star Review
Here’s an effective strategy for asking for a 5-star review:
- Thank the guest, using “5-star verbiage.“ Example: “Thank you for choosing [name of property] for your 5-star stay.” This language will get guests thinking in those terms.
- Mention your review of the guest. State that you are looking forward to giving them a great review. “Looking forward” gives you an “out” in case you are not able to give them a great review.
- As mentioned above, ask for feedback on any areas of the stay or property that could have been improved. The guest has the chance to get negative feedback out of their system.
- Briefly explain the importance of 5-star reviews for hosts and say you hope they’ll consider leaving a positive review. In addition to the verbiage in the sample below, variations include:
- “A 5-star rating means a lot to me and goes a long way toward my small-business success.”
- “Positive guest reviews help our small business thrive! We sincerely hope you had a 5-star stay!”
One more note: Some hosts feel the need to offer a lengthy explanation of the Airbnb star system, and how a 4 is not a good rating. It’s much easier and more effective to simply ask for a positive or even 5-star review.
Sample check-out-instruction message using this approach:
Airbnb Checkout Instructions Template
This template covers a lot of territory and may be more than you need. Choose the items on the template that are important to you.
Thank you so much, [guest first name], for staying at [name of property]. You were a delight to host. I look forward to giving you an excellent review.
CHECKOUT PROCEDURES (checkout is at 11 a.m.):
- Please leave beds unmade [PLEASE DO NOT STRIP BEDS] so I know which ones were slept in.
- If you turned the thermostat(s) up, please turn back to 60.
- Please put everything back to where you found it. If you don’t remember, check the House Manual binder or ask host. This is a house rule.
- On your final exit, be sure front door is locked.
- A message telling me you’re leaving is always appreciated.
I’d love to know of any areas of the house or your stay that could have been improved. As you probably know, we Airbnb hosts live and die by 5-star reviews. I hope you will consider a positive review for your stay. You are most welcome to return anytime and send your friends!
Thanks so much again!
Template # 2
Thanks so much, [name of guest], for staying at [name of property]. We loved hosting you and hope you’ve had a wonderful stay.
Here are our Checkout Instructions:
Checkout is at [time]. [mention cleaner arrival and any consequences for late checkout]
Please be sure you’ve gathered all your belongings. [mention policy for returning left-behind items]
Please secure the property on exit by [list locking and log-out procedures].
Please be sure you have turned off … [electrical and gas items].
Please help us prepare for our cleaners by … [list cleaning expectations here; try not to go overboard if you charge a cleaning fee]
- Additional tasks
We’d appreciate a message when you leave so cleaning can begin.
We welcome your feedback! Please feel free to share suggestions that would have improved the property or your stay.
[OPTIONAL: We’d greatly appreciate a positive/5-star review for your stay.]
Thanks again so much for your stay! We encourage you to stay again in the future. Safe travels home!
In closing …
Don’t miss out on the opportunity to serve your guests, your cleaners, and yourself by providing an informative and appreciative set of checkout instructions to your guests.
Related: Top Locks to Use in Vacation Rentals