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Never tell Guests a Lie

By William May
Published: 03/21/05 Topics: Comments: 0

In 1989 Robert Fulghum, wrote a perfectly mundane and strangely earth shaking book. The gigantic best seller was called "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten." I'd like to suggest you read it if you haven't already. And if you have read the book, take a moment to skim it again for those little nuggets of truth Fulghum so simply spells out.

Maybe I found the "Kindergarten" book profound because my son was born just weeks before I picked it up. Over the years I have referred back to it frequently as I've watched my newborn grow into a six feet five inches tall fifteen year old man. As all parents will agree, time has passed far too quickly. I am surprised at how many times over the years Mr. Fulghum's words would pop to mind when dealing with a certain kind of people.

I won't go into all of the twenty or so rules Fulghum describes in his book. But I would like to dwell on a couple of his thoughts and, if he'll forgive me for being so commercial, apply them to our little Vacation Rental Industry.


Certainly every business owner and probably every vacation rental owner has run into customers/guests who tell outright lies. One owner told me recently he was amazed at how often people developed life threatening cancer when, many months after making a reservation, they are reminded there is a cancellation fee. "Please help me," they beg, "I'm so sick I couldn't possibly go on vacation." It is equally miraculous to see how quickly they recover when they decide to take that reservation rather than risk losing money. Maybe the cure for cancer rests in the pocket book.

Allow me to share a little horror story.

We happen to own a number of ski-resort rentals just an hour's drive from downtown Seattle. The proximity makes them a popular destination but also attracts people who want to book them for parties of one sort or another. Without exaggeration, last year we turned away 100 prom-party requests. I really don't fault the 17 year old boys and girls who try to rent a house as long as they are honest about it (We gently turn them down, of course). But I do find some parents reprehensible.

For example - a woman I'll call Collen was very careful to say the June 10th Saturday single night rental was, "Really just for my husband and her kids." We weren't born yesterday and are very careful about the reservations we accept during that time of the year. We require a bigger deposit, and apply group rules and rates. Perhaps most importantly, we arrange for the caretaker to meet every family in person in May and June.

When Collen arrived the caretaker noticed something odd, she showed up on foot. Strange considering this is in a semi-remote area. As the caretaker showed her around the house he noticed several car loads of teenagers down the road a ways. They were milling about as if they waiting for something or someone. So he was careful to let her know, "I'll be working across the street at the other house, if you need anything just waive. We'll be able to see each other."

He watched in amusement as Colleen proceeded to sit in the living room for two hours, using her cell phone to talk animatedly with the kids in the cars, who were becoming increasingly impatient and loud. When it was clear the caretaker wasn't going to leave, Colleen walked back to the cars, got in one and left, never to return.

A month later she requested a chargeback on her credit card claiming the home was actually occupied by someone else. We were perplexed. The credit card honored the credit and debited our account so we filed a small claims action for the $1,000 involved (This is a very big house). Prior to the court date she contacted another tenant who had been staying across the street and asked their assistance. The other guests were from a local charity that we give free use of the residence for the disabled children they support. Their group has a van with their name and phone number on it and Collen had the gall to call them and ask, "Would you be willing to say you were actually staying in Unit #9 rather than in #12 because that's the only way I can win in court."

Thankfully the charity folks immediately sent us a letter explaining the deceit. We mailed Collen a copy and the day before trial she paid in full.

I only tell you this horror story because it was all a chain reaction of lies. First she said the rental was for her family, then she lied to the caretaker and the credit card company. If you have never experienced such a booking I hope you will take measures to protect yourself. Set up firm rules, understand the laws involved and be vigilant because you could be targeted.


It is an easy thing to blame others for being devious. But turning the mirror on ourselves can be illuminating. Recently I've read in a number of posts on owner blogs about how to handle a variety of difficult questions. I've been amazed at how disingenuous and dangerous some of the suggested answers could be.

During one particular conversation an owner asked, "I have only one week-long booking this summer and now I have someone who wants a three month stay, what do I do?" Immediately other owners suggested, "Tell the first booking you're selling the unit and cancel their stay so you can take the longer one." And, "Tell them you accidentally double booked the dates." Or that old stand by, "Tell them you're sick and wouldn't be able to clean the house for them."

You can almost always tell when someone is advising you to lie because it starts with , "tell them ...."

And this kind of owner feedback is not unusual. In another situation an owner asked, "What do I tell a caller if they don't sound old enough?" They were advised to say "Tell them I'm not sure I have the dates available can you tell me who is in your party." Qualifying guests is important but you don't need to conjure a reason for asking questions. It's your business to run as you see fit (within the boundaries of the law of course) so skip the "I'm not sure I have the dates" bit, and be straightforward about it.

The key to finding answers to difficult questions is to speak in the most "general" terms first, expanding on specific details only when necessary.

Let's take a look at the three month booking we mentioned earlier. To save it you could say to the people who booked the conflicting week, " I have a conflict with another request, would you consider coming at another time. It would really help me out." Notice I didn't say reservation because we are dealing with a new request that is not yet a reservation. The devil is in the details. And it's not necessary to explain the three month request or any other details.

Another approach might be, "Something has come up, could I move you to a bigger better unit at my cost?" In most cases, if you can reward the guest for their trouble, like offering a bigger or better unit, you will find them especially flexible. Earning a three month stay is worth giving a little incentive to the person with the one week reservation.

But whatever you do, don't resort to lies, fibs, tall-tales, untruths, falsehoods, misinformation, half-truths, shams, make-believes or deceptions to get your way. First, it simply isn't honest, second, it's hard to feel good about your self if you conscious is nagging at you constantly and third you too could be cited for fraudulent activity.


In my eyes Fulghum's most important rule is his shortest. He says we should have all learned in kindergarten how to "play fair." Universal adherence to those two short eloquent words could just change the world and certainly should control most of the actions in any industry or business. Part of playing fair of course is to "Never tell a lie" because lying is, by itself, an attempt to NOT play fair.

As an owner, you have a right to operate your business as you want and you are entitled to protect that business but you should do so honestly and fairly.

Key to leveling a fair playing field is having a guest agreement that lays out the ground rules and works on your behalf. A guest agreement should include provisions that allow you to cancel a stay for violations of occupancy, noise, smoking, pets and anything else you prohibit.

In most states and many countries, short-terms rentals of less than 30 days are governed under "Lodging Laws" and may be specifically exempt from "Landlord Tenant" laws. This gives the owner sweeping power to protect the sanctity of their Inn (As many statues call them.) And that can include termination of an agreement for violation of any local, state or federal law.

Collen's request for the other guests to lie for her is called, "fraud." A guest who plans a similar deception in order to use your home in an improper manner is likewise committing fraud. That is sufficient reason to cancel their contract and maybe without refund.

What if the guest gives you an easy out like they fail to pay their deposit by the deadline? Haphazardly adjusting your policies to be stricter simply isn't fair if you didn't disclose the changes in advance. If your contract says you can unilaterally cancel a reservation of a guest who fails to pay on time and without a grace period or notice to them, then you have the right to enforce that penalty. Don't be afraid to do so.

Returning to our example, that means if the first group is already behind on their deposit you can take the three month reservation and send the first a letter explaining the cancellation. It may seem harsh, but it 's legal and you didn't even have to tell a lie. The guest has no one to blame but themselves in that scenario.

Playing fair does not mean you have to give guests special rights or privileges, it simply means being upfront about the rules you are playing by.


Oh, by the way some of Robert Fulgham's other rules are things like "Put things back where you found them" and "Clean up your own mess" among others. Boy don't we all wish every guest would read the book and follow those examples. Our jobs and maybe just the world in general would be a lot better off if everyone had been properly trained in Kindergarten.

You can learn more about Robert Fulghan and his books at (RobertFulgham.com)RobertFulgham.com and, of course, you can find new and used copies on many vacation rental websites include (Amazon.com)Amazon.com.

About the Author -- Along with his wife Penny Taylor, Wm. bought his first rental in 1999 and many more since. His experience as an author, speaker and leader in other industries led him to founding the first trade association for vacation rental - VROA - whose sole purpose is to help owners increase revenue, decrease expenses and have more fun. As well as being VROA's director and one of the newsletter columnists he manages his family businesses which include inns, rentals, commercial real estate, internet businesses and a marketing practice. You can reach him at William@VROA.org.

Author: William May – Volunteer, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0060 – 03/21/05

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