5 Red Flags to Look for on Airbnb and Other Vacation Rental Sites

Originally posted on US News, featuring Kris Getzie of Volo.

With the proliferation of vacation rental sites like Airbnb, HomeAway and TripAdvisor Vacation Rentals, you’ve probably tried, or at least toyed with the idea of, staying in someone else’s home. After all, with competitive pricing and more space and amenities than you would expect at a standard hotel, it’s easy to see why the key players in the vacation rental industry lure those seeking affordable, off-the-beaten path accommodations. In fact, Airbnb now offers more lodging options than heavyweights like Marriott, InterContinental and Hilton.

Yet, for all the advantages that vacation rental sites can offer, there are also a string of caveats and nightmarish tales that have left would-be guests wondering whether branching into the vacation rental market is a smart choice. “We’ve all heard horror stories,” says Kris Getzie, founder of Volo Vantage, a hospitality consulting firm. She suggests finding a vacation owner who does not “view the homes in their fleet as a commodity” but rather “actively engage[s] guests to experiences beyond what they could have thought up themselves.” With this in mind, U.S. News solicited advice from top experts for spotting common scams and smart steps guests and hosts can take to maximize safety and comfort.

Red Flag No 1: Sketchy Payment Sites

“Firstly, customers should always book through a secure service,” says Jeff Mosler, chief services officer at HomeAway. If a host suggests communicating off the official vacation rental platform, that could also be a bad sign, he says, especially if they are offering a service or product that isn’t available through the rental vacation provider. It’s also important to trust your instincts and ensure you use a safe payment method, he says, pointing to the HomeAway Payments system, which allows you to pay with major credit cards and ensures automatic coverage of up to $10,000.

And according to TripAdvisor Vacation Rentals spokesperson Laurel Greatrix, another major tell is being asked to pay through an instant wire service or bank. Instructions to pay a wire transfer to the bank account of a vacation rental site, such as TripAdvisor, FlipKey or Holiday Lettings, could be a scheme, she says. “We’ll never ask you to do this,” she explains. “If you pay through us, payment is taken through our online systems, never by bank or wire transfers.” Greatrix advises booking through the TripAdvisor Vacation Rentals’ payment platform to be automatically ensured with Peace of Mind coverage, a protection that insures the payment is not sent to the homeowner until a day after a guest has checked in for his or her stay. “Paying online and protecting your payment is the safest, securest way to pay,” she adds.

Airbnb advises guests to connect with hosts through their website to prevent phishing scams and help protect you from fraud and other risks. By paying through the platform, you can help secure your personal information, and you can rest assured that your booking will be covered by the site’s cancellation policies. Plus, interacting online allows hosts to be covered by the site’s Host Protection Insurance program .

Red Flag No. 2: Limited or No Reviews

“If the listing ad just seems too good to be true and there aren’t any reviews, I recommend to do a cross-search on various sites to be sure someone didn’t copy the listing as a scam,” Getzie says. She also recommends calling the prospective host as a safeguard for a faulty listing or unreliable property manager.

Mosler suggests calling the homeowner on the listing site as well as conducting a quick Google search or social media search of the prospective host to ensure a trustworthy experience before providing payment. He says reading traveler reviews can also be helpful. “With the Wild West nature of the Internet, sometimes fraudsters go to a third-party site like Craigslist,” he cautions. For homeowners concerned about fraudulent activity, he recommends counteracting scams with sites like TinEye.com, a search engine that allows you to input a property image and then directs you to where the image can be found on the Web.

Airbnb also recommends that guests protect themselves by asking for references, reading traveler-submitted reviews from Airbnb guests and looking to see that host profile pages display a verified ID badge. These IDs are issued by Airbnb after a user or host connects personal social networks, confirms personal information or supplies an official ID.

Red Flag No. 3: Shady Rental Agreement

When it comes to identifying vacation rental contract loopholes, “there can be many and they can be varied,” Getzie says. A smart way to ensure you’re covered if you’re a property owner is to get in touch with an attorney licensed in the jurisdiction of your vacation rental, she says. And as for guests, she says the key is obtaining a short-term rental agreement that comes in the form of a booking confirmation or lease if you’re communication directly with a property owner. She also suggests carefully reviewing the contract. “If you are booking through a vacation rental site, review the owner’s uploaded rental agreement, and the site’s dictated cancellation policy, as both will help [you] understand potential issues,” she cautions. She also suggests that vacation owners purchase insurance either directly through the vacation rental site or on their own, pointing to an emergency like frozen water pipes as a potential issue you’ll want to have covered by your policy.

Greatrix also says that while booking contracts can vary, if key components are lacking, like arrival and check-out times and cancellation policies, it be an indication of suspicious activity. And according the Mosler, in a good contract, typically the payment terms, including the security deposit and cancellation policies, along with the types of amenities, are clearly outlined.

Red Flag No. 4: Suspicious Rules or Restrictions

It’s also important to keep in mind that “not all cities allow nightly rentals, and others require business licenses to operate,” Getzie says. “And any [municipality] has the authority to shut down an illegally run business, if a guest is staying there or not (potentially leaving you without accommodations),” she adds. To ensure your prospective vacation rental is in fact legal, Getzie says it’s a smart idea to conduct a Google search on the short-term and vacation rental as well as transient rental licenses available in your desired destination. “And by all means, ask the owner/operator if they have a current business license if they are required,” she adds.

“Rules and regulations can vary considerably from city to city, state to state and country to country,” Greatrix explains. She suggests doing your homework and understanding the varied requirements across the U.S. by visiting the Short Term Rental Advocacy Center website, which offers regulations for short-term destinations in a variety of locations.

On Airbnb’s site, you can navigate to a “Your City’s Regulations” section, but not all cities are listed. Conducting your own research is especially critical if you’re planning on traveling to an unfamiliar destination or visiting somewhere overseas. Doing so empowers you to understand individual regulations by town, city, country and state, as there are different tax regulations, zoning restrictions, safety and health standards and licenses required.

Red Flag No. 5: Request for a Wire Transfer, Expedited Payment or a Discount

If a property owner or vacation rental site asks for a wired or international transfer, that’s a major red flag, Mosler says. A request for a discounted payment or expedited payment could also be a telltale sign of a scam, he adds.

Another suspect behavior to flag: a request to pay the full amount too early, Greatrix says. “You shouldn’t be asked to pay the security deposit (usually up to 25 percent of the total booking) and settle the full cost of the rental until about eight weeks before your vacation,” she explains. And if there’s a switch in the email address of the person you’ve been communicating with during the booking process, that’s another clue of a possible scam, she adds.

Which Amenities Should Vacation Rental Owners Invest In?

It’s normal for any vacation rental to need time to develop—it’s a living organism, so to speak, that must adjust to the demands of the market. Additionally, managing a rental can be daunting for newbie owners, as they must assess the amenities of their competitors’ properties and then evaluate what they can reasonably afford.

With that being said, I often get asked by vacation rental managers which amenities can help drive maximum profit (by way of increased rates), regardless of the owners’ duration in business.

Our friends at Tripping.com, the world’s largest search engine for vacation rentals, provided us data taken from ten cities in the U.S. to get a better understanding of this question. In general, a hot tub and killer outdoor space, conducive of al fresco dining, add the most value per night (per room).

Tripping Graph 1

Why These Amenities?

“Kitchen” in this data set refers to access to a private kitchen, which logically, is a huge selling point. Travelers often choose to book a vacation rental instead of a hotel to have kitchen access. It’s a mandatory feature and often the focal point in the most successful rentals.

kitchen-island

In addition to a kitchen, which allows guests to prepare and share food without having to eat at a restaurant, guests look for space and amenities that help them relax leisurely- something that outdoor space, pools, and hot tubs all do.

A Closer Look at These 10 Cities

vacation-rental-value-add

If we look at the ten cities independently, we see that the amenities contribute to a different value add, depending on the location. For example, we see that a hot tub is a great investment in Miami Beach and New York City but not in Chicago.

Although a pool on average drives the lowest increase, it provides the highest value increase when compared to the other four amenities, in Chicago and Los Angeles.

Which Amenity is the Best?

I think this data is a great gage, but ultimately, owners need to understand what will drive connection (between your guests in your home, to your home, and to the location), comfort, and enhance the overall experience you offer your guests.

If you are outside of these ten cities, research what your competitors offer in your local market then determine if your findings fit into your “brand”. Instead of choosing an amenity because it seems like a cool idea, think of such additions as an investment that should support your overall business strategy to get the highest return.

I’m also a fan of leaning on the hotel industry—they obviously have a bigger research budget so research amenities at those targeting your guest demographic in your city. Borrow the information as you see fit and can afford.

Lastly, don’t underestimate good ‘ol common sense. In addition to considering your guests’ needs, it is important to consider the weather and also the logistcs and costs associated with maintaining these amenities.

8 Tips for Repeat Stays: Family Edition

This post was written by Volo for Dwellable.

Catering to families is probably one of my favorite vacation rental niches. Not just because I have two kids that travel with me a lot, but because of the connections that deepen and the memories that are created during those times.

That is what this industry is (or should be) about! Connections to something, someone, somewhere.

Most vacation rentals that are “family friendly” are actually pretty generic; generally a larger home (3+ bedrooms with a couple of bathrooms), are central to tourist draw of the given area, and may offer a few recreational activities.

While a foosball table and pool are great to have, there are many more opportunities to take a thoughtful approach to creating a family-friendly experience and making your rental a magnet for a specific guest.

“Obsessively specialize. No niche is too small if it’s yours.” Seth Godin

First, start looking for gaps. Who is catering to families in your market? What type of property are they offering? What’s missing?

You don’t have to have a large home to build a killer family experience. Understand what type of family you are catering to (or that needs to be catered to); a large, extended family or a young one with a toddler or two? Or maybe you have the ability to cultivate a family experience by appealing to an ethnic group? All can cater to families, but are extremely different experiences.

Regardless of the experience, there are some mandatory basics for “family friendly” rentals; safety items like a pool gate (if you have a pool) and hard-to-travel-with items like a portable crib, highchair and basic linens.

If you want to crush the competition, you have to step up your game from the basics. Even if you are on a tight budget, your guests will love the thoughtfulness. They will talk about it and probably even post pictures on social media (be sure to provide the appropriate links to be tagged). Some ideas:

Arrival snacks: I love my kids dearly but sometimes they can become pretty annoying after a long day of travel. Especially when they are “hangry.”

Taking into consideration that most kids, of all ages, are a hot mess by arrival, providing an assortment of healthy and kid-friendly snacks is an amazingly warm welcome for parents and kids alike.

Kids Welcome

Depending on the ages you attract, a fruit assortment with some juice boxes or Horizon milk singles is great. Complete the care package with a unique itinerary and small toys for kids to play with during their stay.

If you’re short on ideas, Pinterest never fails! ☺

Games! There will always be down time at your rental for guests. Some of it by choice, other times because of illness, fatigue or because of inclement weather. Additional activities are key when disaster strike.

Books, DVD’s and toys are great go-to’s. We turned one of my clients’ lofts into a rainforest themed Lego Land. Décor was complements of Ikea, so it was awesomely inexpensive. The walls were painted in chalkboard paint, classic books covered the shelves, and beanbags littered the floors.

When parents presented rental options to their kids, do you think this house was at the top of the list? Never underestimate the power of a child’s opinion.

Above all, I’ve found that the best activities are board games! Risk is quite possibly the best game in the history of the world, in my opinion, but be sure to include games suitable for all ages. I particularly love those that engage an entire family and create a good ‘ol fashioned connection.

Extras: Paying attention to details and being ample with extras are what make a good vacation rental great. Especially if there are kids! Kids are messy, they get sick, and they have different needs. More often than not, families need a true home away from home:

a. Linens: Provide extra sheets as no parent wants to wash a load at 2am if someone gets sick. Same holds true for towels, throw blankets, and pillows. Complimentary detergent (and other cleaning supplies) is also a plus if you can fit it into your budget.

b. To-do lists: have unique itineraries available! Both for nearby attractions and those requiring a small/medium length drive. You know the area best (hopefully), so share it along with tips and tricks you’ve picked up being a “local” (buying discounted passes, for example).

c. Kitchen: Stock your kitchen so a family can cook, and eat, a proper meal. This is one of the foremost reasons for choosing a vacation home. Unfortunately, so many kitchens I visit are devoid. If you’re going to spend money on one room, make your kitchen amazing.

This post was written by Kris Getzie.

Kris Getzie Hospitality Consultant

5 Tips On Prepping For The Spring Rush

A long busy season can cause wear and tear on a vacation rental and its supplies. With the end of the winter season nearing for some and the spring hustle looming for others, this is a great place to start to get your home dialed for the next round:

1. Freshin’ Up Your Linens

I’m a bit of a freak with linens. It’s these details that can make a great stay exceptional! One of the biggest differentiating factors is giving your guests the best night sleep they’ve had since forever… it will keep them coming back, for sure. As such, make sure your sheets, pillows, towels and mattresses are refreshing and in great shape. After the busy season or a few weeks before the new season (giving myself time to make adjustments), I tend to stay at my vacation homes for a weekend to get a true feel of things and replace linens at the first sign of wear and tear. It’s also a great time to change your linens for a more seasonally appropriate option; LL Bean flannels to something with light, natural fibers allowing for circulation during the summer.

2. Double Down on a Deep Clean

In larger vacation rentals, it can be hard to do any variation of deep cleaning during the busy season, so put this at the top of your end-of-season list to keep your home in great shape. Clean out junk drawers and the closets; it’s amazing at how much stuff people leave behind. Pull out appliances and large furniture, scrub baseboards and walls and make a list of what needs the attention of handyman, before it could become a bigger problem (leaks, wiggling porch stairs, and so on).

Again pay attention to the details; rewash everything from the silver wear to crockery. Wash out all the cupboards, drawers and the refrigerator in the process. Guests notice the difference.

3. Stock Up On Complimentary Items

I leave an array of complimentary goodies for my guests. Spices, coffee, crackers and other local luxuries are nice touches, but even in small individual packages, they can go stale. Always check them between seasons (or more frequently, if possible).

4. Replace Utility items

Make sure these items are in working order and that there are additional replacements. Lightbulbs (and the working condition of lamps) tend to be overlooked as well as batteries. Think of all the flashlights, smoke detectors, remotes and electronic key entry systems that are battery operated. All are essential to the flawless functioning of your home.

5. Update Your Welcome Information

This includes your house book, local magazines, and the travel brochures you provide. Make sure they are current, seasonally relevant and in good shape (no one likes coffee stained or crinkled materials!). Many guests rely on such things, so be generous with your stash and thoughtful of the activities for your location.

This post was written by Kris Getzie

Kris Getzie Hospitality Consultant

Reducing Your Vacation Rental Minimum Night Stay

This post was written for Tripping by Volo.

Years ago I read a great quote, “Your career is long and the business world is small. Always act with integrity. Never take the last dollar off the table.” – Joanna Shields (President of Bebo.com at the time) quoting her father.

I fell in love with that quote. Unfortunately, in the business world most of us become too competitive, obsessed with short-term performance, or succumb to the pressure of kicking off a new business to be cognizant of such advice.

When applying this to vacation rentals, minimum stay requirements come to mind.

Long Term vs. Short-Term Stays?

Seen as a strategy itself, minimum requirements reflect seasonality and what the competition is doing. Take a Martha’s Vineyard cottage in the summer, for example. Most require a seven-night minimum stay, which is on-par with guest needs. However, if your property is new, has lackluster occupancy, or is just outside the prime location, you might consider dropping your minimum stay requirement (among other branding exercises) down to five nights to capture those who just cannot swing a full week vacation: a secondary market.

During the shoulder or off-seasons (assuming your vacation home is still accessible) you might even consider dropping the requirement further, especially for short holiday weekends like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or Presidents holiday which can generate more profit than other days.

Keep the Guest in Mind – But Be Smart

For me, building a financially healthy business is a top priority. But so is the human side of the business. Really, it is the reason I’m here: to help vacation rental owners and guests connect to life again.

My minimum stay requirements are general guidelines to maximize my profits.

If someone is asking for a reduced stay, I find out why… are they not able to afford the full stay, are they short on time or just the wrong guest?

I’ve had people ask for reduced stays because they couldn’t swing the costs for a full week. Skiing with a family of four (plus food, gear, lift tickets and so on) is expensive! In such cases, I consider the overall demand for the requested dates, my gut feeling about the person and their intentions.

Meanwhile, of course, I’m considering my ability to negotiate without creating the perception that my home is a commodity.

In my experience, those guests I have flexibility with become very loyal… which actually decreases the cost of future bookings by way of repeat visits. My point of this post is to have clear strategies in place based on your knowledge of your market. But be prepared to bend when it makes sense.

Nothing is Ever Black and White

The goal for any vacation rental strategy (i.e., minimum stay requirements, pricing or market position) is so that you don’t leave any money on the table. In a way, it’s taking that last dollar by encouraging guests to pay an optimal rate and stay an optimal duration based on seasonality.

But, like most things in life, nothing is black and white.

The quote continues, “You can always do a slightly better deal, but that incremental dollar or windfall is not worth creating an imbalance that affects the relationship. You have to have the intuition to know when to say, ‘I’m going to make sure that we walk away feeling like we’ve both done well.'”

This post was written by Kris Getzie

Kris Getzie Hospitality Consultant

Insider’s Guide to Buying Vacation Rentals

This blog was written for Tripping.com by Volo.

The process of purchasing a home is the biggest step to starting your vacation rental business. It is also the most daunting. That being said, I’ve partnered with one of Sotheby’s top agents to help answer frequently asked questions for those potential investors.

Nancy Tallman sells vacation properties in my hometown Park City, UT so I’m very well acquainted with her strategies and work. In fact, she helped me find my first rental in Park City. Being that she is based locally, local examples will be used, but the principles apply anywhere.

First things first, any good agent will want a clear understanding of your goals. So when a client tells Nancy they are interested in purchasing a vacation rental property, she asks a lot of questions to ensure no stone is left unturned and that the client finds the best home for their situation.

Regardless of the your personal goals, all successful vacation rental properties share these same characteristics.

1. Best location.

We’ve previously covered tips for choosing the best location, which focused on local elements; local landscape, the surroundings, and understanding if nearby businesses and homes are complimentary to your intended experience.

Nancy actually helped me navigate some of these topics (i.e. the water main situation at my Park City rental), so I knew she’d have additional input on choosing the best location:

Best, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, so again, it’s important for the agent to understand your goals. Do you plan to spend any time in the rental property? Is this a property you hope to live in one day? If the answer is “yes” to either or both of these questions, then your lifestyle and personal taste come into consideration.

If the property is going to be rented 100% of the time, then you are looking at a pure economic decision. Economic decisions are always a dance between the price and income the property is expected to generate.

From experience, the exact location may not be the strongest indicator of return on investment. For example, the rental differential on a ski in/ski out property may not be sufficient to justify the higher purchase price. An older condominium project with a low price and HOA dues could have hidden costs if there is deferred maintenance and planned owner assessments.

Take time to understand your intent (and financial needs) for the vacation home, so your chosen real estate strategist can better work for you.

2. Expected Appreciation

In Park City, just like in any other town, the location will drive the appreciation. Appreciation is based on supply and demand. There is always going to be a limited supply of properties in walking distance to Historic Main Street, the ski slopes, and other amenities. There is also strong demand for new construction, which has seen strong appreciation even when located further from amenities.

The “average” annual appreciation in the USA is about 3%. In hot neighborhoods, we have seen 10-20% annual appreciation in the past couple of years. For some investors, cash on cash return is more important than appreciation. It depends on your individual goals.

3. Positive Economic Signals

As a property investor, you should look at unemployment, job creation, population migration, economic stability, housing prices and rental yields when deciding where to buy. An unfortunate negative example of the above factors moving in the wrong direction is Atlantic City, New Jersey, where casinos are closing and people are losing jobs.

On the other hand, Park City for example, has all of these factors moving in the right direction. Park City is just 30 minutes from Salt Lake City, which has one of the strongest economies in the USA, and is one of Park City’s major feeder markets for resort real estate. Vail Resorts recently took over two of Park City’s three ski resorts and has promised to make a “significant” capital investment in both resorts this year. The Sundance Film Festival also inked a long-term agreement with Park City, which means we can expect the world famous film festival to continue to draw vacationers to Park City for years to come.

Driving maximum profit starts with a detailed understanding of your home’s location as well as the economy, as we described in planning for vacation rental success. Ideally, it is best to purchase an investment property when the economic indicators first turn in the right direction to purchase before prices have been driven upwards.

4.Reasonable Vacation Rental Costs

Costs can vary significantly from home to home or condo. It’s easy to detail fixed costs, such as the mortgage, property taxes, HOA dues and utilities as the previous owner can typically provide records for the past year(s). However, the cost of maintaining and managing the vacation property will vary; if the property is part of an HOA, some or all of the utilities and maintenance may be covered.

The costs unique to owning a vacation rental can be more difficult to figure out. They may include marketing, furnishing, property management, listing site subscriptions and website development costs.

It’s really important to have your real estate strategist help you determine the property specific costs. A good agent has worked with many types of properties and buyers and can easily dig into the details (HOA logistics, for example). After all, you don’t know what you don’t know so it can be hard to ask!

5.Expected Profits

The expected income and expenses of owning a property will determine the profit. For some clients, spending Christmas with their family in their vacation property will be more important than the income they are giving up.

Even a property with a negative cash flow can be profitable when considering tax savings for depreciation and the property’s appreciation. On the other hand, if cash flow is important, vacation rental properties have the potential to generate tremendous income relative to their cost if they are managed like a business with a high level of customer care and an outstanding presentation.

This post was written by Kris Getzie

Kris Getzie Hospitality Consultant

Planning For Vacation Rental Success

This blog was written for Tripping.com by Volo.

Many first-time vacation rental owners come to me about six months into their venture, stressed that they aren’t on track for their only two goals: 100% occupancy and $50k+ in booking revenue.

While developing goals during your venture is good, I can’t stress how important it is to create a strategic map before you purchase your new home. If you can’t afford risk, you can’t afford having unrealistic performance expectations and you certainly can’t afford to make things up as you go along.

So what is a strategic plan? It’s a set of goals and framework that guides your decisions with an end vision in mind. You will constantly make decisions; like dealing with short-term guest complaints to long-term property additions. The plan prevents you from drifting, or worse, copying everything your competitors are doing.

Where Is Your Vacation Rental Business?

Vacation rental success starts with knowing exactly where you are with a detailed understanding of your home, the market, and industry. Start by researching a series of questions:

Your Vacation Home

  • How does it compare to other similar vacation rentals?
  • Do I have an intimate understanding of all aspects of the home, BEFORE closing?
  • Does it need to be renovated? If so, how much will this cost?
  • What are my setup costs (furnishing, linens, listing site fees and so on)?
  • Who are my customers? Can I divide them into key segments?

Your Vacation Rental Market

  • Do I have a lot of competitors, or only a few?
  • Is overall demand increasing or decreasing?
  • What are the barriers to entry?
  • What drives the market? Price, quality or both?

The Vacation Rental Industry

  • Key trends: Are vacation rentals being squeezed out?
  • How are guest needs and habits changing?
  • What is the general economic outlook?

These few questions aren’t comprehensive but are often overwhelming to newbies as research isn’t everyone’s favorite thing (hence my job as a consultant). But please do put in a valiant effort to understand your current situation as the effectiveness of future decisions depend on the accuracy of these answers.

Once your information is gathered, it’s time to interpret it with a good old fashioned SWOT analysis (taking you back to college, Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats). Understanding your strengths and weaknesses essentially helps you answer “where am I?” based primarily on facts, rather than opinions, which is ineffective.

Where Do You Want To Go?

The purpose of a strategic plan is to make you more goal-oriented, so you will need to define your goals next. Many owners stop at the desire to achieve “excellence” or 100% occupancy.

Be more specific when answering “Where do I want to go?”, so you can begin to work backwards with a clear path. Put it in words. Literally, just start writing down your thoughts as they come and organize it later. Hotels, or any business for that matter, often have their goals framed up in vision and mission statements.

They can be a powerful driving force; the vision describes where you want to be and the mission how you will operate while you get there, inclusive of your homes unique and authentic culture/experience. You don’t even have to create formal statements, just create memorable phrases that are realistic, challenging and then actually use them.

How Will You Get There?

Any goal, vision or mission is pointless unless you can make it happen (where most newbies become overwhelmed).

Your strategy will generally define the route you will take. For example, one goal might be to achieve a 40% repeat customer base within your first three year’s operating. Your strategy would then involve actionable steps to get there; understanding guest expectations for your experience, how you will exceed said expectations to drive retention, and how you will measure their satisfaction, for example.

Whatever goals and corresponding strategies you come up with, it’s important to realize you will probably not get there within three months. This plan, preferably created BEFORE you buy the home so you start with eyes wide open, breaks it down into small manageable pieces that can be tweaked as the market and your business develops.

No amount of knowledge (even if you come from the hotel industry) or hard work can compensate for a lack of direction. Effort and excellence are not the same thing. After you’ve dialed your plan, make sure you check back in to measure your progress!

This post was written by Kris Getzie

Kris Getzie Hospitality Consultant

How Far Should You Go For Your Guests?

This post was written by Volo for Tripping.com

In the hospitality industry we often talk about the importance of helping guests. Really, helping anyone inclined to inquire about your home, or with questions on your area.

The justification to do so is usually two-fold. First, it feels good to give knowing you probably just made their vacation the most memorable they’ve ever had. Also your kindness will not be forgotten, creating a repeat and high referral guest base.

I’ve had friends probe me on my varied ways of giving. “You just sent that guest to another house! They were ready to book with YOU!” Or, “Why spend a lot of money on gifts? The house is already great.”

For me, it’s about making sure someone’s vacation is perfect. It brings a little bit of light to people and gives them a well-deserved break from working long hours. I’m appreciative that they trust me and my home for their vacation, giving me the freedom to pursue my own independent work. Helping is the least I can do for them.

The Importance of Give and Take With Your Guests

Being probed prompted me to do a little bit more research on the impacts of giving, to which, I stumbled upon Give and Take, by Adam Grant. It’s an incredibly interesting book, grounded in research of why giving (i.e. helping) can have a more significant impact on our personal and professional success than taking or matching.

Giving, taking or matching are “reciprocity styles,” or way we relate to each other. Givers tend to have a relating style that is more concerned about creating value for others, than claiming value for oneself. Takers, on the other hand, seek value for themselves (in sometimes an insincere way- by pretending to be a giver) and matchers (most of us) desire equal giving and taking.

Through his many examples, Adam aims to prove that not only do givers perform the worst (compared to matchers and takers), but that givers also tend to outperform them to a higher degree, consistently. I tend to have a great disdain for labels, but I challenged myself to read this book with an open mind and to understand how my tendencies, according to his behavioral indicators, may impact my future growth in hospitality. I also didn’t read this book unquestioningly; “givers are great, therefore I will always give to my guests.” That would be silly.

Guests are not always right, and should not be given into, especially if there are malicious and disrespectful actions towards you or your staff.

I’m especially protective of my teams and have asked guests to pack their bags immediately. Of course, I help said guests by suggesting vacant places to rent, and offer a refund, but what matters more is that my team knows I have their back; it builds trust in me, our business, and the stretch goals we may place upon them.

Like me, many of you also move between giving, taking and matching in life and in your hospitality career. This book provided stories, research, and insights that were very interesting and applicable to our work as vacation rental owners and prove how giving (i.e. genuinely helping) can exponentially grow you and your business.

This post was written by Kris Getzie

Kris Getzie Hospitality Consultant

Your Vacation Rental Name Can Impact Search

This post was written by Volo for Tripping.com

With over five million vacation rentals around the globe, and only three seconds to capture the attention of potential guests, the importance of creating a dialed brand is critical. A brand should quickly and clearly define the experience or product, with the actual name being very much central. For example:

Apple: Think Different

De Beers: A Diamond is Forever

Nike: Just Do It

There are a lot of great blog posts online providing clear tutorials on naming your vacation rental business and the subsequent impact on bookings. In short, a name should be memorable, unique and representative of what you offer. It should be easy to connect with.

“Coral House”, for example, is much more appealing than “5 bedroom, 5 bath Caribbean beachfront rental”.

Recent property branding and naming exercises got me thinking about some words of wisdom from a particular client. He built a fortune (billions) creating and branding products for his many diverse companies and also happens to own $500M+ in vacation rental real estate globally.

He’s absurdly brilliant, humble, and arguably “the most interesting man in the world”. So naturally I asked him how he does it. His reply was to simply consider everything. Everything? Okay.

He’s not joking. He’s created success by paying attention to (and researching) consumers idiosyncratic habits and desires throughout the product purchasing and consuming cycle. Every behavior, from holding, smelling and sipping a beverage, for example, to every word and punctuation on a label. Everything matters.


Consider Property Type When Naming Your Vacation Rental

Heeding his advice when devising clever vacation rental names, I started considering the importance of the property “type”. Often used in the actual property name, types can range from a loft, castle, to cabin. Are these just catchy naming additions or can one be strategically used increase your bookings by way of more search yields? According to Tripping.com’s data, I’d say so.

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Villa is remarkably the most searched property type. By definition, a Villa is a large and luxurious country home, particularly in Europe, but the term is often used for beach homes as well which may account for the large volume difference.

Of course, just because villa is the most searched property type doesn’t mean you should call your home one when it is clearly a mobile home. Your business name needs to be an honest representation of what you offer.

When we look at more data, however, it does make sense to tweak the type, when fitting. For example, you should brand a mountain property simply as a “cabin” instead of “log cabin” or “mountain home” to yield more views.

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Perhaps the most difficult feats for owners, particularly those dependent on listing sites, is to be reasonably ranked in search results. Putting aside premium packages and featured listings, property type could be the biggest factor in helping owners overcome the ‘searchability’ barrier.

From here, you just need to ensure the rest of your listing ad is dialed (and on-brand) to drive conversion!

This post was written by Kris Getzie

Kris Getzie Hospitality Consultant

Three Vital Tips to Protect Your Vacation Rental Profits

This post was written by Volo for Tripping.com

Now that you’ve opened your vacation home, hired your help and are maximizing occupancy, it’s important to know how to protect your vacation rental profits.

Having managed $100M+ businesses at one point in life, I can tell you that the backbone of fiscal control is managing information. Unfortunately, clear bookkeeping is the easiest for newbies to overlook, which can really hurt your chances of managing (and controlling) the business. Quickbooks, a must-have for any vacation rental business, makes it easy to record every transaction, and even create budgets, so you won’t be open to inaccurate data, waste, and poor decision-making. But above and beyond Quickbooks, follow these three steps to help protect your assets and increase your vacation rental profits.

1. Budget to Protect Vacation Rental Profits

The single best method to increase your bottom line is by way of a thoughtful budget. In corporate settings, it’s not uncommon to pad the budget to give room for error. A good leadership team, or you in this case, should flesh out the padding so you see the actual state and potential of your business.

To do so, create your budget line by line. Take each line back to zero; don’t apply a factor (inflation or otherwise) to last year’s figures, however tempting. As by doing such, you are accepting inefficiencies of the prior year(s).

A Practical Example

Let’s use “Guest Supplies” as an example budget line. To create this, you investigate every item that goes into this category. Let’s just say there’s one item, shampoo, for the sake of this example.

First understand your operating standard. Will you provide fresh shampoo bottles daily, or just one (per shower) upon arrival to get your guests started? If you operate a luxury home and adhere to the standard of providing fresh shampoo bottles daily, examine the size and cost per bottle. Does it make sense to reduce the size of the bottle, and thus the cost, while maintaining your level of service?

Assuming you move forward with the existing bottles of shampoo, simply multiply the cost with the number of forecasted nights booked and the number of showers in your home.

Now that you have an idea of what the shampoo costs should be, compare it to the previous year. Is there a large difference? This exercise will probably make you reconsider how your goods are bought, stored, and controlled.

2. Be Smart About Your Vacation Rental Inventory

Never buy too much at once, keeping your stocks as low as possible. Not only does this preserve interest-bearing cash, but your inventory is much easier to control.

If your supplier offers you a 20% discount to buy 100 cases of shampoo bottles at the start of your season, for one or two properties, proceed carefully. Shampoo sitting in a closet will not earn you any money and they will be hard to keep an eye on. Your kids might decide to give them out to friends, or your cleaning staff might feel the need to pocket a few every visit.

If your stocks are low (and delivered “just in time”), it’s much easier to recognize when items have gone astray and subsequently take action to protect your profits.

3. Liquidity is Crucial to Your Vacation Rental Business

Remember the 2009 recession? In case you’ve forgotten, in the prosperous years prior to the recession, people and companies freely spent all of their income to acquire more, and not necessarily pay off, existing debt and assets.

In terms of vacation rentals, I knew many owners who bought into the temptation of rising property values and used all of their equity to purchase additional vacation rentals. Bookings were used to pay mortgages, not to build savings or pay off the existing debt. They over-leveraged themselves. My point? Cash is king. You can have all the illiquid assets in the world, but if you don’t have cash when your credit and/or bookings decrease (the economy is cyclical), you won’t be able to buy groceries, let alone keep your investments.

If you are achieving high occupancy and are ready to expand, go for it! But pay attention to your bank balance and I suggest not tapping into more than 50% of the value of your existing home(s). This may be conservative… but at least it will always be your home.

This post was written by Kris Getzie

Kris Getzie Hospitality Consultant