From a drought in California to snow in Texas, transportation blocked by ice storms and blackouts—not to mention the introduction of “polar vortex” into everyday vocabulary—it’s been an unpredictable season for traveling.

What do you do when your guests’ vacation is derailed by extreme weather—or worse, they can’t even make the journey to start their trip?

How you respond to any particular situation depends a lot on you and the relationship you have with your guests; there are no clear-cut answers, and it’s unlikely you’ll hit the same unexpected situation twice. But here are some ideas and best practices from other vacation rental owners.

Plan ahead for yourself and your vacation property

“When an emergency strikes, there are two things you need to protect: Your home and your guests,” we advised in a blog post about disaster planning for your vacation rental. This means

  • having the right insurance
  • regularly doing preventative maintenance (or hiring someone else to)
  • providing your guests with appropriate supplies, an emergency plan, and a contact person.

Encourage guests to buy travel insurance

Always encourage your guests to buy travel insurance for themselves. Depending on the plan, travel insurance can cover a lot of expenses that you won’t.

For example, your guests can purchase coverage that will help if their flights are delayed, their bags are lost or delayed, or they need to cancel at the last minute due to unforeseen circumstances.

Put it in your policies

While there are legitimate situations that arise, your policies should anticipate both big issues and minor annoyances. Heather Bayer offers solid advice about making sure it’s included in your policies.

“Of course you can use your discretion in terms of refund or compensation but it is good to have a clause in your contract that you can refer back to in case of unreasonable complaint,” she wrote about compensating guests over complaints or negative situations.

Again, if your guests have good travel insurance, some of the situations can be mitigated so that the focus becomes the quality of the service you provide rather than the financial details.

In case of emergency—major or minor

When it comes to good customer service, HomeAway suggests a great way to be a proactive owner. “In the case of a major disaster, call your guests to discuss their concerns or, if need be, any evacuation procedures,” they advise for owners facing bad weather conditions.

“Call all guests with reservations up to two weeks from the start of a natural disaster. While you may not know much more than they do, they will likely be very grateful you called, especially if they are just seeking reassurance and comfort.”

If the situation is of a more minor nature, consider the impact of the situation on your guests and see what you can do to mitigate it; when you’re on vacation and in unfamiliar territory, even minor problems can seem significant.

  • Address the problem as soon as possible.
  • Offer alternate accommodations, if necessary. Connecting with other owners in your area can help you refer with confidence.
  • Consider a partial refund, or a discount towards a future visit.
  • Look for another way to make their visit special, like dropping off a bouquet of flowers or a gift certificate for a local business.

Whatever you try to plan for, you will always run into the unexpected. By doing what you can to be proactive, then taking reasonable steps to fix a problem or address a situation, you can still help your guests make the most of what might be a bad situation that’s out of your control.

How have you dealt with travel interruptions? Share your advice in the comments below!