From Phocuswright's 2021 STR study Through The Roof, 87% of travelers agreed or strongly agreed that they actively seek out properties with an interesting look and feel. "Character" was not a make it or break it moment of the conversion -- but definitely a big appeal.

Character is where a huge new wave of vacation rental entrepreneurs are investing: tree houses, tents, themed homes...etc.

So I wanted to start a discussion asking how do you convey "an interesting look and feel" in listings, websites, or in communication via email or text?

How do you convey character?

This is really a creativity question: hopefully by sharing how YOU convey character, we can inspire creativity and pull out character in other members!
 
Some aspects we used with my vacation rental company...
  • High-quality artistic photos (could include staging, lighting, lifestyle elements)
  • Provenance or stories about the home/name, the location, or our people behind the stay
  • Imperfections proudly/humorously embraced
  • Surprises that don't normally belong there
  • Looking forward to more ideas...
 
One of the things we do is include an "owner story" in our guest materials (house guide, messaging, listing, welcome kit, etc.) that shares how the house came to be what it is today. Guests frequently comment about how much they love the story and I personally think it changes the relationship they have not only with us but also with the property itself. Two examples attached.
 

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This is a great question!

Here's a bit of an off-beat answer! We don't really try to convey "character" in our listings or on our website, other than to appear very professional and well run.

Everything we do in our public touchpoints is designed to build confidence in us with our guests. Our belief is that confidence in us, our properties, our messaging (ie its accuracy and truthfulness), our processes and staff, are all crucial to getting that booking, and then allowing our guests to feel good about having booked with us right up to and through their stay. On our website at one point it says "Book with us and relax... before you arrive!" and we really mean that.

Guests always have a certain amount of concern, right up until the moment they walk into a property and find out whether or not it is what they expect it to be. My goal is to minimize that trepidation as much as possible, so that their stay becomes a promise kept. And their entire experience with us is an enjoyable one - not just while they are staying with us.

When you say "character" to me in relation to our properties, my mind goes to something about our first home that we never talk about or promote... rather we always leave it for guests to discover it when they stay, and hopefully it is nice little perk that some enjoy. And those who don't can easily ignore it because it isn't too 'in your face'.

Our first villa actually has a small bit of a 'pirate theme' to it! When I type it out like that, it makes it sound like a kid's party theme, but it isn't that. This is something that grew over time, and it started with a couple of pictures and a TV stand!

The TV stand in the living room is designed to look like a travel trunk set on legs. It even has straps with buckles that go around it, and faux stickers or stamps from various locals on it. It's a unique piece of furniture (a statement piece) that we like. And then, being in Florida, some of our wall pictures have palm trees, sailing ships, or maps included in their design. They're not photos or pictures of these things, just artistic images that incorporate those themes.

We also have a few travel boxes and souvenir items as decorations in the kitchen, on top of the cabinets. They suggest travel and exploration, some with a nautical theme.

And then one day, in a thrift shop I found a wall decoration that was a literal 3-D relief treasure map, with a dotted line and an X marking the spot, which I hung up in the small hallway leading to a couple of bedrooms and a bathroom. It's an obscure spot that leaves it waiting to be discovered.

Finally, I found a figurine of a pirate captain – a full on Jack Sparrow type done in the classic style of antique collectible porcelain (he's actually resin and quite tough), at a garage sale and brought him to the villa to set on a sofa table in the corner of the living room. (I couldn't believe my wife let me bring him home, but she 'got it' as far as why I wanted him and what I was trying to do with it.) The creation of the pirate theme at our villa was now complete.

This theming isn't overt, or in your face or crass, or anything like that. It's easy to ignore if a guest doesn't care for or about it. It's subtle, and I hope whimsical and fun for our guests. But it adds a playful character to the property that I really like. I think it conveys an attitude of "You're on vacation here! Don't be too serious. Relax and enjoy yourself!"

I know that at least one guest noticed and liked this aspect of the villa. She took photos of each of the elements and included them in her glowing Google review after her stay!

This is simply a way that we provide an additional element of delight and surprise for our guests that they only find out about once they arrive. It's playfulness matches the humour I try to inject into our communications, and becomes part of the character of our property.

After being so detailed and specific and exacting in our processes in order to take care of our guests, it's nice to share something with them that has no other purpose than to evoke a smile. That's part of our character too!
 
This is a great question!

Here's a bit of an off-beat answer! We don't really try to convey "character" in our listings or on our website, other than to appear very professional and well run.

Everything we do in our public touchpoints is designed to build confidence in us with our guests. Our belief is that confidence in us, our properties, our messaging (ie its accuracy and truthfulness), our processes and staff, are all crucial to getting that booking, and then allowing our guests to feel good about having booked with us right up to and through their stay. On our website at one point it says "Book with us and relax... before you arrive!" and we really mean that.

Guests always have a certain amount of concern, right up until the moment they walk into a property and find out whether or not it is what they expect it to be. My goal is to minimize that trepidation as much as possible, so that their stay becomes a promise kept. And their entire experience with us is an enjoyable one - not just while they are staying with us.

When you say "character" to me in relation to our properties, my mind goes to something about our first home that we never talk about or promote... rather we always leave it for guests to discover it when they stay, and hopefully it is nice little perk that some enjoy. And those who don't can easily ignore it because it isn't too 'in your face'.

Our first villa actually has a small bit of a 'pirate theme' to it! When I type it out like that, it makes it sound like a kid's party theme, but it isn't that. This is something that grew over time, and it started with a couple of pictures and a TV stand!

The TV stand in the living room is designed to look like a travel trunk set on legs. It even has straps with buckles that go around it, and faux stickers or stamps from various locals on it. It's a unique piece of furniture (a statement piece) that we like. And then, being in Florida, some of our wall pictures have palm trees, sailing ships, or maps included in their design. They're not photos or pictures of these things, just artistic images that incorporate those themes.

We also have a few travel boxes and souvenir items as decorations in the kitchen, on top of the cabinets. They suggest travel and exploration, some with a nautical theme.

And then one day, in a thrift shop I found a wall decoration that was a literal 3-D relief treasure map, with a dotted line and an X marking the spot, which I hung up in the small hallway leading to a couple of bedrooms and a bathroom. It's an obscure spot that leaves it waiting to be discovered.

Finally, I found a figurine of a pirate captain – a full on Jack Sparrow type done in the classic style of antique collectible porcelain (he's actually resin and quite tough), at a garage sale and brought him to the villa to set on a sofa table in the corner of the living room. (I couldn't believe my wife let me bring him home, but she 'got it' as far as why I wanted him and what I was trying to do with it.) The creation of the pirate theme at our villa was now complete.

This theming isn't overt, or in your face or crass, or anything like that. It's easy to ignore if a guest doesn't care for or about it. It's subtle, and I hope whimsical and fun for our guests. But it adds a playful character to the property that I really like. I think it conveys an attitude of "You're on vacation here! Don't be too serious. Relax and enjoy yourself!"

I know that at least one guest noticed and liked this aspect of the villa. She took photos of each of the elements and included them in her glowing Google review after her stay!

This is simply a way that we provide an additional element of delight and surprise for our guests that they only find out about once they arrive. It's playfulness matches the humour I try to inject into our communications, and becomes part of the character of our property.

After being so detailed and specific and exacting in our processes in order to take care of our guests, it's nice to share something with them that has no other purpose than to evoke a smile. That's part of our character too!
Love this, I think of "build confidence" like trust.

I also love the little pirate touches. I remember in a building where I lived, the garage entry had this little cement block atop which were always a handful of small figurines (plastic animals, lego men..etc) and every day the configuration was different. It was like this little inside joke among the building inhabitants -- don't know why exactly I'm sharing this, other than it was memorable and contributed to the personality of the building / people.

That place had Character!
 
I love this thread!
I have two blogposts that I share with homeowners during the setup process about "Thinking Local" and "Thinking Like a Local."
And, yes, in sharing these I see that the images aren't coming through correctly! Next project! :)

When homeowners ask about furnishing and décor, I regularly answer that if guests wanted cookie-cutter, they'd stay at Extended Stay America or something similar. I don't encourage fake or dried flowers or anything that encourages the cleaner's ire or holds allergens, but local art - even if it's not original - is an awesome way to start and support the local economy... And maybe sway public opinion of vacation homes during a time of tumultuous regulation changes. The community knows *me* as someone who supports them, but seeing vacation rental homeowners do the same helps a step at a time.
 
For our Mexico property website, I created a shot list to tell a story about what it would feel like to live in this property. What would guests see, touch, use and experience that said "You're in Mexico!"

Professional photos showed made-in-Mexico textiles (bedspreads, bed scarves, decorative pillows), a hand-woven hammock, a clay sculpture, blue-and-white ceramic serving dishes, hand-blown glass vase with flowers, wall art scaled to the size of the walls, and black pebble floors in the walk-in showers.

Some of the photos were detail shots, which breaks up the "here's the bedroom" wide-angle images. Samples attached.
 

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Today I finally sent out a newsletter to my mailing list. The last one was sent out in August. They tend to be hit-and-miss these days.

But not forgotten.
It took me nearly a full week (or more) to convey our character: our house, our community, and ourselves.

From general concept to sloppy copy - worked and reworked, and reworked again- to edits with more rewrites- to finally feel secure enough to present our family, our home, and all its character - as well as its cast of characters - to 1000+ random strangers with a small mix of known past guests... I finally pushed the send button this afternoon:

Jorge raised a racket😱 You can too🏓

I was left with sensations of relief mixed with butterflies in my stomach and lots of hand-wringing, much as I had when I finally submitted my dissertation. Then I re-read it. Yup there it was a missed edit. Oh well...It was easier to focus on one too many "the-s" than to worry if I was conveying too much of us.

18 minutes, later I received notice that I had a message in my mail account. It was from Wendy 🤷‍♀️ of Kind Cellars, a winery in Napa who responded:
"Donna, We have never stayed in your home but I love reading your updates. Our family has enjoyed Sea Ranch via rentals for years. Thank you for reminding me how wonderful it is. Cheers"

Other ways of showing character:

-In the house - decor that reflects the environment, our unique architectural history, and while hinting at who we are and what we love.
-Website Pages: About us, Vision/Philosophy Statement, Blog
-Social Media- I manage our own FB Page, Tourism FB Group, a meager owner's group, and IG account. In all, I attempt to direct the conversation to experiences, emotions, and expanded understanding. My goal is to dialogue with the posters.
-Abalone: Our logo, our name, our purpose, our theme. The mollusk and its colors are incorporated into the house, the business, the website
-Whimsy: Articulating wooden models, and mid-century games framed in the game room
-Books for all ages that reflect our values, our interests, and instruct...as well as those that are whimsical: all things marine, children's stories that tell of inclusion, of stewardship, and just plain tongue-in-check fun (Are we there yet?Are We There Yet?: The Golden Age of American Family Vacations)

That's a start ...
Now I need to respond to Wendy...to convey to her she wants to stay at our place next.
 
Today I finally sent out a newsletter to my mailing list.
@DMartinez, congratulations on getting your engaging newsletter written and sent—and on Wendy's positive response!

I like the mix of captioned photos with the personal stories. I feel like I'm part of your family visit, and can imagine spending time at your gorgeous home with people I enjoy.

I was also happy to read the ping pong table decision had been made :) .

To simplify composing your next newsletter, consider the advice of a friend who's a magazine editor: create editorial departments. For instance (I'm making these up):
  • Area news: Favorites (restaurants, pizza, shops, bakery—like your including the pedicure salon); local guides; driving tips
  • Personal story about your house that reveals your standards of hosting: How and why you chose the sheets, window washing routine, native landscaping, the ping pong table debate
  • What's in season: produce, activities, photo opportunities, night sky viewing
  • Dog tips: What they'll sniff, where to run, favorite sleeping spots, dog-friendly places
  • Guest review: Reinforce one of your stories with a snippet of a guest review
  • Call to action: Subscribe to newsletter, share link with friends, inquire, reserve
Pick a rotation of what you can or want to write about for each newsletter. Of course, each story can turn into a post ("Do the work once and use it many times" is one of my favorite sayings.)
 
I have a loose-leaf notebook in each home with stories about the history of the farm and my parents. The homes were built by my parents and guests tell me they were fascinated after reading the story of how the homes were built - especially of the rocks being picked up from the river at the farm and hand-laid by them. Also the story of how my Mom became one of President Lyndon Johnson's favorite landscape artists. there are many representations of her artwork in the homes. I believe these stories help the guests feel a connection to the homes and really appreciate them. Knock on wood - we have never had a bad experience with guests abusing the homes in 12 years and I believe it is because of the connection they feel with the homes through the stories in the notebooks.
 
I am working on some "About us" copy for my updated and improved website. Thoughts...

##

When I was growing up, every vacation my family took was spent at the beach. We would rent a cabin and spend our time enjoying the new home with all of its surprises and treasures. I still remember the excitement of arriving at a new place and rushing in to see what it had to offer.

After college I started a fitness consulting business and raised my 3 children. Our favorite places to go were always, somewhere near the Ocean. At some point I began looking for a house at the beach that we could call our second home.

The minute I saw Beach Cabin I knew I had found our beach house. It was in rough shape and needed lots of work but I was excited to make it what I knew it could be. So I decided to buy it, fix it up, and rent it out as a vacation rental to help pay for itself.

As I worked on fixing up the home I grew frustrated with all the shortcuts the builders and subs had taken. I decided that my next home would be one that I built. I loved the location of Beach Cabin so I bought a nearby lot and worked on designing and building my first house, Seagrass.

I knew what the kids and I would love to find in a vacation rental, so that's what I started putting in mine. I enjoyed the creative process of designing, building and creating spaces for vacation. After a while the homes started having less and less time available. It stopped being a part time gig and became more of a full time job.

I decided I wasn't going to try to amass a bunch of homes, but rather, take a small number and make them something special. I evolved into a small boutique vacation rental company and named it Beachhousewa.

I spend many Friday evenings driving to the beach with my dog, Patty, in a truck loaded with tools and supplies. There is always something that needs to be fixed or replaced. If I'm lucky I will get an evening where the wind is calm and the stars are on full display. I will set down my toolbelt, whistle to my dog and walk to the beach, pulling a wagon loaded with firewood and a cooler. Reclining under the stars, looking out over the Pacific Ocean I will try to soak it in. Life is short and work is right around the corner, but at this moment I am exactly where I want to be.
 
I am working on some "About us" copy for my updated and improved website. Thoughts...

##

When I was growing up, every vacation my family took was spent at the beach. We would rent a cabin and spend our time enjoying the new home with all of its surprises and treasures. I still remember the excitement of arriving at a new place and rushing in to see what it had to offer.

After college I started a fitness consulting business and raised my 3 children. Our favorite places to go were always, somewhere near the Ocean. At some point I began looking for a house at the beach that we could call our second home.

The minute I saw Beach Cabin I knew I had found our beach house. It was in rough shape and needed lots of work but I was excited to make it what I knew it could be. So I decided to buy it, fix it up, and rent it out as a vacation rental to help pay for itself.

As I worked on fixing up the home I grew frustrated with all the shortcuts the builders and subs had taken. I decided that my next home would be one that I built. I loved the location of Beach Cabin so I bought a nearby lot and worked on designing and building my first house, Seagrass.

I knew what the kids and I would love to find in a vacation rental, so that's what I started putting in mine. I enjoyed the creative process of designing, building and creating spaces for vacation. After a while the homes started having less and less time available. It stopped being a part time gig and became more of a full time job.

I decided I wasn't going to try to amass a bunch of homes, but rather, take a small number and make them something special. I evolved into a small boutique vacation rental company and named it Beachhousewa.

I spend many Friday evenings driving to the beach with my dog, Patty, in a truck loaded with tools and supplies. There is always something that needs to be fixed or replaced. If I'm lucky I will get an evening where the wind is calm and the stars are on full display. I will set down my toolbelt, whistle to my dog and walk to the beach, pulling a wagon loaded with firewood and a cooler. Reclining under the stars, looking out over the Pacific Ocean I will try to soak it in. Life is short and work is right around the corner, but at this moment I am exactly where I want to be.
Hey Toby Toby I always like to recommend a Limited Edition kick-off sentence: "We are a family-owned vacation rental company locally-based in X, that specializes in Y type of properties. This distinguishes you immediately from commodities.

Your About Us definitely conveys character. But I'd suggest adding some elements of what the final product does for your and your family: describe a moment or favorite thing you guys like to do at this YOUR beach house (so guests can associate). And maybe even the FEELING that having this home brings now ...that "soaking it in " - is it pride, joy, connection with loved ones...etc. In general, if you could inject a little more emotion into that story (the frustration is good) I think it'd be a nice finishing touch.
 
Hey Toby Toby I always like to recommend a Limited Edition kick-off sentence: "We are a family-owned vacation rental company locally-based in X, that specializes in Y type of properties. This distinguishes you immediately from commodities.

Your About Us definitely conveys character. But I'd suggest adding some elements of what the final product does for your and your family: describe a moment or favorite thing you guys like to do at this YOUR beach house (so guests can associate). And maybe even the FEELING that having this home brings now ...that "soaking it in " - is it pride, joy, connection with loved ones...etc. In general, if you could inject a little more emotion into that story (the frustration is good) I think it'd be a nice finishing touch.
Alright, thank you for the input. I have worked on it some more with your feedback in mind. Here is 2.0
Love your critiques, don't hold back :)

Beachhousewa is a small, local business that is focused on guest experience, we are unique in that we not only own and manage all of our boutique vacation rentals, but we have also built or remodeled each one.

When I was growing up, almost every vacation my family took was spent at the beach. We would rent a cabin and spend the whole drive there anticipating what we would find. I still remember the excitement of arriving at a new place and rushing in to see what it had to offer. The joy of those moments and the memories we made as a family, stayed with me.

After college I started a fitness consulting business and focused on raising my 3 children. Our favorite places to go were always somewhere near the Ocean. At some point I began looking for a house at the beach that we could call our second home. I looked at listings at least once a week for 6 years before I found the right place.

The minute I saw Beach Cabin I knew I had found our beach house. It was in rough shape and needed lots of work, but I saw what it could be. The process of getting a mortgage for a second home that was not finished, while self employed, was a delicate dance. Commuting 2.5 hours to Long Beach WA every weekend to work as long as possible before I had to drive back home for my work week, taught me to appreciate coffee for the first time in my life. Yes, I did not start drinking coffee until my 30’s. Thank you Beach Cabin.

As I worked on fixing up Beach Cabin, I grew frustrated with all the shortcuts the builders and subs had taken. Essentially the job of a finish carpenter is to cover up the mistakes made when building a house and still make it look good; and I was only pretending to be a finish carpenter. I decided that in order to avoid all this frustration I would build my next home from the ground up, and do it right. I loved the location of Beach Cabin so I bought a nearby lot and worked on designing and building my first house, Seagrass.

So, long story short, building a home is really frustrating. And what was once a novelty drink of coffee a few times a week, became a cup a day habit. Thank you Seagrass.

I knew what the kids and I would love to find in a vacation rental, so that's what I started putting in mine. Everyone questioned all the amenities I was putting in my homes saying, “why are you doing that, they are only rentals.” And the answer was simple, because most of my best memories were made on vacation with my family. Why wouldn’t I want to make these homes as special as possible.

My goal was never to have a bunch of houses that I could rent out to maximize profit. My focus has always been on creating beautiful spaces for families and friends to gather and make lasting memories.

One of my favorite parts of doing this is receiving the occasional message when people arrive telling me how much they love the home, and how happy they are. It takes me back to those moments when I arrived, excited for a family vacation, rushing in the house and looking around at our home for the next few days. There is nothing like staying at a beautiful home by the beach.

I spend many Friday evenings driving to the beach with my dog, Patty, in a truck loaded with tools and supplies. There is always something that needs to be fixed or replaced. It is deeply satisfying to look at how far my homes have come and to remember the journey. I always think I will have plenty of time to get everything I have planned done, but it never seems to turn out that way. But every once and awhile, I will get an evening where the wind is calm and the stars are out. I will set down my toolbelt, whistle to my dog and walk to the beach, pulling a wagon loaded with firewood and a cooler. Reclining under the stars, looking out over the Pacific Ocean I will try to soak it in. Life is short and there is always stuff to do, but at this moment I am exactly where I want to be.
 
For our Mexico property website, I created a shot list to tell a story about what it would feel like to live in this property. What would guests see, touch, use and experience that said "You're in Mexico!"

Professional photos showed made-in-Mexico textiles (bedspreads, bed scarves, decorative pillows), a hand-woven hammock, a clay sculpture, blue-and-white ceramic serving dishes, hand-blown glass vase with flowers, wall art scaled to the size of the walls, and black pebble floors in the walk-in showers.

Some of the photos were detail shots, which breaks up the "here's the bedroom" wide-angle images. Samples attached.
These photos are gorgeous. Excellent inspiration.
 

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