At the recent sold-out VRMA International Conference in Las Vegas, I had the pleasure of facilitating a table at the VRHP Roundtables session. The topic of my table was “Standard Property Appearance (SPA) and Service Standards.” Over the course of the hour, I had robust conversations with three large groups, many of whom were housekeeping managers, business owners, general managers, and others involved in the back-of-house operations.
If you have a Standard Property Appearance (SPA) document in place (and you should!), it is both your quality control and your brand guidelines, defining each element of the “product” that is your vacation rental property. The SPA tells your team how properties are set up for guests (or owners), spelling out details such as:
- How blinds and curtains should be set
- How beds should be made
- Placement of towels, toilet paper, amenities, and remotes
- Where to put extra blankets or towels
- Thermostat settings
There were several themes and questions that came up across the different discussion groups when talking about the SPA.
- Is the SPA the same as an inspection checklist?
- If using property care software to assign inspection or cleaning tasks, does everything from the SPA get added there?
- What checks and balances can be put in place to ensure that the SPA is followed?
While many property managers may have similar procedures or standards, the SPA document will be unique to each individual company. This documentation (whether it be a PDF, Google doc, a video, slide presentation, or some other format) should be extensive, as it needs to communicate every detail that matters when making a property guest-ready.
That said, most of the SPA details will likely be too lengthy and too numerous to try to stuff into a task app for your operations team’s daily activities. In practice, it takes too long for someone to read the requirement, go do it, and then click to the next requirement (and repeat for potentially 50 or more checklist items). This just slows down your busy team members. In addition, having too many checklist items to click through in an app can lead people to just mindlessly click through the screens to close the overall task, which defeats the purpose of having a checklist to follow.
There are multiple ways to communicate your most important property appearance guidelines with your team while they are in the field. But first, I recommend that you leverage your SPA as a training tool across the business so that everyone (including reservations staff) knows what makes a property guest- (or owner-) ready. While team members in other departments don’t necessarily have to have the property appearance guidelines memorized, you want your operations teams to really get to know them inside and out. This takes time, effort, and the repetition of executing on them daily. Training your team on the SPA, incentivizing them to follow it, and then holding them accountable to it will give your properties that consistent, branded experience that guests want. Your team will also become more efficient when the guidelines are known, understood, and followed.
So, what information should be included in an assigned cleaning or inspection task? The operations professionals at our roundtable discussion had different approaches for this. One was to try to summarize or condense requirements into a few key phrases, organized by room type. Another method was to include only the items that are most frequently overlooked or missed by staff, which can work well as long as most of the property appearance guidelines are already being executed consistently by the team. Another approach is to use photos or video within your app to show the “right” way for each room to look.
For new team members who are still learning, having a printed copy of the SPA available that can be carried with them may be helpful. For those who eschew paper, try including a link to your documentation from within your app so that staff can refer to it as needed.
Holding your team accountable to your SPA at the task level can also take different forms. In addition to checking off items in a checklist at the completion of a task, many of the companies represented at our roundtables asked their staff to take photos of each room and upload them to the app. This way, if there were any questions later (for instance, if a guest or owner had a complaint), the photos could be reviewed. Staff can also be encouraged to enter comments or notes into their app. Depending on how roles and responsibilities are distributed in your business, you may choose to have inspectors, cleaners, or both documenting how the property was left before guest arrival.
Your SPA is the key to creating a fantastic guest experience and introducing consistency, efficiency, and better communication throughout your organization. After creating your guidelines, don’t forget to ensure that your team has what they need in order to execute on it properly. For more about creating Standard Property Appearance guidelines, see: https://arrival.vrma.org/blog/back-to-basics-revisiting-your-property-standards.
Michelle Williams, a VRMA director and chair of Vacation Rental Housekeeping Professionals (VRHP), is general manager of Atlantic Vacation Homes in Gloucester, Massachusetts. VRHP is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of back-of-the-house vacation rental professionals. For more information on becoming a VRHP member, visit vrhp.vrma.org.