Cancellation Without Tears

Sooner or later every owner will have to deal with a cancellation.  Mostly this will be a straightforward request for a return of deposit or a final payment, but occasionally there’s an emotional call involving a death or illness in the guests’ family that is more difficult to handle.

In the first year I was renting my property, and before I really understood it was a business and not a casual way of making some income, I dealt with a very difficult cancellation situation. A guest called, a day into their vacation, to tell us her mother had passed away and she and her family would have to cut short their holiday in order to arrange and attend the funeral.  Obviously this was a highly emotional phone call and at that time we didn’t discuss the potential of any refund – the guest simply stated they would have to leave.  About ten days later, she called again, but this time with a different attitude claiming we should refund the remainder of the vacation her family missed.  She could not be helped to understand that there was no way of refunding a fee for a vacation that was already ‘taken’ and that it would not have been possible to re-rent the property at that short notice for the remainder of her vacation week.  At that time we did not have a cancellation policy so it all came down to arguing our case which the guest was not in a good place to listen to rationally.  In the end we did not refund them any money but offered a free low season week, which was refused.

It was all very distressing because although I was convinced we were right to stay our ground, it was clearly not a good time for the guest and she turned to anger and ultimately verbal abuse.

Over time we went through our share of guests booking, and then cancelling a few weeks later because they found something that suited their needs better.  Over those weeks while the property was showing unavailable on our calendar we missed the potential of others finding and reserving that rental period.  A more restrictive system was needed to prevent the ‘cherry picking’ practice.

Since then we have adopted a clear cancellation policy and offer our guests the opportunity to purchase travel insurance through a third party insurance provider.  On the occasions we’ve had similar cancellation requests through illness, it is so much easier to deal with since we offer the choice of insurance, and if it was turned down, it was their choice.  Here’s a summary of what our cancellation policy states:

If you need to cancel for any reason and have not purchased our travel insurance plan:
  • You will receive a refund of your rental fee (either deposit or full payment) less a cancellation fee of $150, IF we are able to re-rent the period booked.
  • There is no refund of any monies paid if we are not able to re-rent the period booked.
  • We highly recommend purchasing insurance to cover cancellation and read the exclusion clauses thoroughly. 
It’s simple, effective and we’ve not had any problems since.