Holiday lets in an energy crisis – a PASC article

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this article has been sent to Visit Isle of Wight by Alistair Handyside, chair of the Professional Association of Self-Caterers – for more information about PASC please go to:

Holiday lets in an energy crisis

Guest Messaging on Utility Costs

We’ve all had that guest who arrives, turns the thermostat to 30 degrees, walks around in a T shirt all week in January, leaves all the lights on when they go out, and opens the window when it gets too hot.  Meanwhile we are quietly seething at the waste of our (currently very expensive) electricity/gas/biomass.  What can we do to prevent/minimise guest abuse, and how can we communicate reasonably with the guest? 

There are two parts to this.  Obviously, the way we communicate with guests is important, but we also all know that often guests don’t read/hear what we send them, so we also need to take steps to minimise the financial damage that a tone-deaf guest can inflict.

Mitigating Steps

  1. Make sure the property is warm on arrival.  If you have had the heating set to 10 degrees until half an hour before arrival to save fuel, the house will be cold.  Most guests don’t seem to understand that it won’t heat up any quicker if they turn it up to 30 than if it is on 20 or 22.  If it is set to a comfortable temperature when guests arrive, they are less likely to fiddle with the thermostat.  If you provide a log burner and logs, then if it is lit when guests arrive, the property will feel cosy.
  2. What is a “comfortable” temperature?  Unfortunately, that is highly subjective, and can vary significantly even between couples.  However, it is unlikely that the oft-cited 18 degrees will be warm enough for a large proportion of guests (especially if elderly or if they have young children, or if they are arriving late at night in a howling gale).  The NHS suggests that 21 is ideal for living areas, and 18 degrees for bedrooms (so make sure you have radiator/room stats so you are not overheating areas that don’t need it) – which is probably a reasonable starting point –
  3. Getting the temperature right if you have underfloor heating is particularly crucial, as it can take a long time to get to temperature, and the guest inclination is to keep cranking up the thermostat, so make sure it is a reasonable temperature on arrival.
  4. Make sure the cottage is draft-proofed.  Ye Olde Chocolate Box type cottages are hugely appealing to guests but are unlikely to have a particularly high EPC rating.  If you know that drafts/heat loss are a problem due to single glazing/16th Century doors, then make sure that you install excellent thermal blinds and thick curtains, to reduce drafts and heat loss (which will have them cranking up the thermostat).  It’s also worth adding plenty of snuggly throws (inexpensive fleecy ones work very well and are easily washed) around the cottage on sofas and beds, so they have the option of an extra layer.
  5. Set your winter pricing realistically – contrary to popular belief, something is NOT always better than nothing.  Some of the prices that get advertised for low season breaks cannot possibly be making a profit (and are likely generating a loss) when you factor in utilities, linen, cleaning costs, welcome packs, etc.  Yes, you have fixed costs to cover (insurance, council tax/business rates etc), but it really is better to be empty than to take a loss-making booking that isn’t covering your variable costs.  You need to set a base price that definitely covers your variable costs (including a reasonable estimate of use of utilities).  This will vary from property to property, and will depend on how efficient your property is, and what tariff you are on for electricity/gas.
  6. Is Wales an Exception? Given the current pressures on Welsh owners (who have to actually let for at least 182 days or face paying up to 4x the prevailing Council Tax rate), it may be tempting to offer very low rates just to attract guests to get your number of nights up.  This is likely to be counterproductive, cost you money, and still not achieve your objective, so be very careful with this.  Offering rates that are too low often doesn’t attract bookings, as guests assume that it won’t be good.  Anecdotally, guests who pay very little, often don’t “value” the place they stay, so you may also get more troublesome bookings.  Focus on providing value at a reasonable price point (the quality of the experience, the welcome, etc), rather than trying to have a price that is too low.
  7. Hot Tubs are great for getting extra low-season bookings, but are expensive to run, especially in low ambient temperatures.  If you have hot tubs, then make sure you know exactly what the daily running cost is, and make sure you are covering those cost.  Some operators offer two different price points (with hot tub and without hot tub), where the extra cost of the hot tub is reflected and covered.  Guests (and often owners!) tend to have little idea of how much they cost to run.  One owner has calculated the cost of running their hot tub for 2 days (water, chemicals, heating) as £171 at their prevailing utility price (Jan 2023).  Yes, £171 for 2 days.  So offering a week’s holiday in January for 4 for £350 including hot tub wouldn’t even cover the hot tub costs, let alone the heating, cleaning, linen etc –
  8. Ensure all light bulbs are low energy, and that appliances have a high energy efficiency rating.  Lights left on all day and night is a common occurrence but is far less painful if the total cost is pennies (with LED bulbs) rather than pounds (with 100w incandescent bulbs).  Don’t forget the outdoor lighting.
  9. Make sure there’s sufficient outdoor lighting (so they don’t need to leave the house lights on when leaving for the day).  Add PIR (passive infra-red) movement detectors to outdoor lighting to prevent guests leaving the lights on all day “in case it’s dark when we return”.
  10. EV Charging – If you don’t offer EV charging to guests, then it is worth stating this in your T&Cs.  You can say you are unable to allow EV charging because of insurance, and because you cannot meet the legal requirements for a dedicated socket – see 5.5.5 of – but do also provide a list of local EV charging points that they could use.  PASC UK has a “No EV Charging” logo which can be downloaded from the website in the Reports section – 

Guest Comms

It is important to remember that guests have booked your property to have a relaxing stay.  Obviously as operators, we are concerned about running costs, but in an age where reviews are important, it is essential that you get the messaging and expectation right, rather than leaving them feeling freezing cold and lectured (which is likely to get you a poor review).

Can/Should I charge extra for utilities?

  • Firstly, if this is not already in your T&Cs, then no, you cannot suddenly add a surcharge for utilities for guests who have already booked.  The T&Cs at the time of booking are those that govern their contract. 
  • Secondly, when the hospitality world is moving towards fully transparent pricing (the price you see is the price you pay – even the OTAs are moving away from adding on cleaning/booking charge on top) it is unlikely to go down well with guests that you are going to charge them extra for being warm, even if you have a “fair usage” policy.  Taking meter readings under the stairs on departure is unlikely to leave your guests with a warm fuzzy feeling likely to generate a glowing review.  Obviously, it depends on your price point and market positioning, but generally you would be better off increasing prices to reflect “average” usage.  Some guests will inevitably use more, but others will use less, so it should balance out.

Electricity and Heating Use Messaging

Getting the tone right is important here.  They’ve booked and paid for use of your cottage, so many will be less interested in your woe than their own comforts, however justified your concerns.  If you make the messaging less of a rant at the guest/whinge about your finances, and more of a message about your sustainability credentials as the reason, then it is likely to go down better.  

You need to change the details to fit your property!  Example below:

We want you to be really comfortable during your stay.  The heating is fully controllable for your comfort.  However, our business is also fully committed to our sustainability principles, and for this reason we would ask you to help us reduce our carbon footprint by observing the following:

  • If you are going out for the day, please do not leave the heating on and the windows open, otherwise we are just heating (insert county name) and wasting energy!  The heating controls in the cupboard under the stairs (location) can be switched onto Timed, and you can set it to come on half an hour before your expected return, so that the cottage is up to temperature when you get back.
  • If you are cold, please remember that the cottage won’t heat up any quicker by turning the thermostat up very high, and then needing to open the windows to cool down 😊.  20/21 degrees is a comfortable temperature setting for most people, though we do understand that some older or less mobile guests may need a slightly higher temperature. For security reasons, and to keep any unexpected rain out of the cottage, please ensure that all windows are closed before setting off for the day.
  • Please also remember to switch the lights off before leaving the cottage.  The exterior lights are on a motion sensor, so will come on when you return.

Many thanks for your cooperation with this.  We do our best to minimise the carbon consumption of the business, not just for cost reasons, but also for environmental reasons, and your help is very much appreciated.

Members of PASC UK can also access papers the papers on Guest Comms and on EV Charging Policies from the Members Area –

A Word About PASC UK

PASC UK is the Professional Association of Self Caterers, whose sole purpose is to lobby Government(s) on behalf of our sector.  With everything going on at the moment, this is a really important role – to protect our interests as self-catering operators.  While access to their weekly newsletters is free, they also provide a large number of papers and educational webinars to the sector, on topics as diverse as EV Charging, Hot Tubs, Health & Safety, Legal templates (e.g. Cookies & Privacy policies), sector protocols and others.  Many of these are only available to paid-up members of PASC UK.  Membership fees are modest (£70 for a single cottage) and enable PASC to continue to offer high quality guidance and lobbying for the sector.  To sign up for the newsletter (which is free) please email  To find out further details about PASC UK’s activities, including the archive of papers and recorded webinars, or to sign up for membership, please see