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 Reasons To Love Being A Vacation Rental Host

5 Reasons To Love Being A Vacation Rental Host was written for Tripping by Volo.

1. Giving Money to the Local Economy

There are many studies that prove buying from independent and locally owned businesses have a compound effect on the communities in which they exist and their tax base.

The reason is that a substantially larger portion of your money spent is then used to make additional purchases from other local businesses, service providers and farmers (which will also reduce the environmental impact!).

Even if you aren’t a full-time resident where your vacation rental is, when setting up your business, think local and buy local when you can. It will enhance your business by way of a stronger and more attractive community.

2.Supporting the Preservation of Beautiful Locations

Cities that make efforts to preserve historic structures tend to be pedestrian/environmentally friendly (because of the time of their design), sustainable, and hold a high esthetic and economic value as they are places people want to live, invest in, and travel to.

They evoke a connection and are just good for your soul.

St. Augustine, FL, for example, was founded in 1565 and has structures dating back to the 1600’s- it’s considered one of the oldest cities in America. In 1999, Florida’s Department of Transportation deemed that one of America’s most unique bridges here was structurally unsound. An easy fix was to tear the bridge down but leaders and preservationists put forth a $77 million dollar effort to save the bridge as historic structures are a core value to residents and huge draw for tourists. Kudos, St. Augustine.

If you are looking for a new vacation rental, I wholeheartedly suggest buying historic or in a city that prioritizes tax funds to preservation and its natural resources.

3.Unique Experiences

“When people go on vacation they generally seek out destinations that offer them the sense of being someplace, not just anyplace.” Richard Moe, President, National Historic Preservation Trust.

Tourists want to feel local, albeit for a temporary amount of time.

One-of-a-kind vacation rental homes and service providers are what make locations distinctive and full of character. Small businesses (and your home!) have the ability to choose products that create a special experience, based on your own interests and needs of your guests; not on a national sales plan.

One of the best reasons to be a vacation rental host.

4.Local History

History is what grounds us and helps us better understand the world. So, seduce your guests with your town’s dynamic past! You don’t need a museum quality history presentation; opt for historic pictures throughout, blurbs of the famous (or scandalous) patrons of your home or street, and a sense of its story.

5.You Have a Profound Impact On Guests’ Lives

Think about it, most people are overworked and disconnected. They are just trying to make it through the chaos of life with one week of vacation being the yearly opportunity to check-out.

This business can provide additional income and eventually more life flexibility for owners. For guests, it provides a spectacular opportunity to connect with a location and those most important in your life.

The most successful owners are invested and truly care about creating an authentic experience, something unobtainable at a hotel chain (only you can show people around your home and town, your way).

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

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.

chart1

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.

chart2

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

Can Vacation Rentals and Hotels Work Together?

This post was written by Volo for Tripping.

Lately I’ve been hearing buzz about hotel brands entering the vacation rental market. Vacation rental owners and hoteliers alike understand that we have an attractive market; but leaders in both industries are often quick to point out the stark differences and disregard each other as competitors.

I’ve personally seen and achieved a lot of success in business through aberrant partnerships and I often ponder how such a partnership might benefit our growing industry. Take Target’s designer collaborations, for example (with the likes of Nieman Marcus and Jason Wu). Each collaborator understands what the other partner offers, how they are different, and how they can benefit each other. The goal is not to become the other.

Vacation rentals are distinguished by their unique brands and authentic experiences. What they lack is industry-wide guest service standards and independent brand awareness.

Even with great efforts to overcome these challenges by industry stalwarts, it is impossible for every owner/manager to create a brand presence that precedes them, as hotels do, simply due to the marketing expenses and execution time. It is particularly hard for new vacation rental owners. Often working families, they don’t have time to read every new post on LinkedIn and follow vacation rental blogs, let alone build and manage an independent website to build their brand.

But they do have a vision. Most have created a high quality experience with amazing guest service and are taking one step at a time towards running their business as a full-time career.

One Way Vacation Rentals and Hotels Could Partner

A recent trend I’ve been noticing across a host of different vacation rental sites is the use of stamps of approval. A stamp of approval can certainly add some credibility but do guests really know what these mean and how it may add to the vacation rental standard and experience?

Guests know hotel brands and their standards (by way of millions spent each year in advertising), the biggest area of uncertainty for vacation rentals guests.

According to Oracle, 86% of customers will pay more for a better experience. If newbies (or vacation rentals in general) were able to get a “brand stamp of approval” from a relevant boutique hotel, would they see an increase in conversion, retention, and rates based on the perception of a more dialed experience?

At the same time could hotels also benefit by driving much needed patronage to their ancillary revenue centers (restaurants, spas, shops and activity spots) through recommendations from partnered vacation home owner(s)?

There are many logistics not addressed herein. Hotels, for one, would need to understand that vacation homes are independently run and a source of ancillary revenue. Independent homes would have to meet and adhere to select standards set by the hotel (that would not diminish their uniqueness, of course).

Is this topic off in left field or reasonable enough to test the possibilities? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

This post was written by Kris Getzie

Kris Getzie Hospitality Consultant

Distribution Channel Analysis: 5 Things To Know

The hotel industry has changed dramatically over the past 15 years. The most challenging of which is in the area of distribution.

Each distribution channel has associated costs, benefits and is evolving quickly. Online travel agencies battle with search engines, social media platforms and hundreds of hotel websites for the customers attention.

Intermediaries act as gatekeepers and impose increasingly higher fees for directing traffic to hotels, impacting distribution costs. Simultaneously, the transparency of hotel pricing structures online puts pressure on already competitive rates. With higher booking volumes passing through intermediaries, the costs imposed and pressure on rates, hotels are challenged to maintain profit levels.

Regardless of the distribution channel used by consumers, it is important that each hotel attempt to understand the dynamic of each channel and analyze the costs and benefits in a meaningful way to create sustainable revenue and profit streams.

When approaching your distribution channel analysis, these 5 things are good to keep in mind:

1. Share Shift

In a mature U.S. lodging industry, incremental demand by any one channel is difficult. However, each channel can advantageously ‘share shift’ from another hotel in its market. Hotels should develop tools to share shift from all channels, not just OTA’s (online travel agents) as receiving business through yourwebsite.com, for example, will incur lower transactional fees and may have less impact on ADR (average daily rate). Share shifting mostly occurs:

  • From one hotel to another
  • From one time period to another
  • From one channel to another

2. Conversion

Some hotel distribution models allocate resources to acquisition, persuasion and retention. Those hotels will benefit from working harder at converting existing traffic from all channels, and on retention, rather that emphasizing acquisition. Acquisition is expensive, especially if there isn’t a strong conversion and retention plan in place.

3. Costs of Distribution

Knowing the costs associated with each channel is essential for management in the fragmented distribution landscape, even when the costs don’t appear on the P&L statement.

4. Benefits of Distribution

Equally, it’s critical to analyze the full benefits from each channel including length of stay, ancillary spend, repeat and referral potential.

5. Commoditization

In the current marketplace, a common theme portrayed is that last minute bookings result in better deals. So potential guests wait to book. These price drops inform that your distinguishing feature is price, not the quality, experience or differentiation from other hotels. With third parties targeting the same guests, and sometime offering last minute deals, it’s important to be cognizant of who controls your guest relationship. It will strongly affect the value of your brand.

*Pictures from Google Images.

Mountain Money

Volo was recently on KPCW’s Mountain Money show with Larry Warren & John Wells to discuss a little of who we are and what we do for our Vacation Rental clients, specifically. Kris Getzie is on around minute 45, for the last 15 minutes of the show.

Click here to listen!

Insider Tips To Extend Your Rental Season

This post was written by Volo for Tripping:

I distinctly remember worrying about the looming slow season when I began my career in the vacation rental business. I worried about it before peak season even began. Like most people, everything I have I worked really hard for and the thought of losing money on my investment, and possibly foregoing my new career, was scary.

The truth is that a well-positioned vacation rental home, with a thought out marketing plan, should reap rewards. Regardless of your situation, it is possible to increase your revenue substantially by extending your season into the shoulder months, or creating a new one completely.

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How to extend your booking season

1. Have a game plan! Define your plan 3-6 months prior to start of your slow season so you have enough time to attract the right guest(s).

2. Should you find a tenant? Retired couples are great candidates for 6-8 month leases. Ensure you are crystal clear about the lease duration when it is less than one year.

3. Is there a market to continue renting your home out nightly or weekly? If so, assess your rates and reduce your minimum stay requirements to 2 or 3 nights. Also provide reduced rates for weekly and monthly stays.

Many travelers are growing to appreciate less traveled times across the globe. Fall seasons, for example, see lower traffic and have milder, but equally beautiful, weather. Lower prices don’t hurt, either.

4. Promote the advantages to staying at your home in the off season. What is there to do nearby? What is the weather like? Be generous with the attraction information and add photos of events, scenery and your home during those months.

vacation concept background with interior elements

5. Suggest off season getaways on your website. Mountain towns are known for their winter months, so I suggest that my local clients create summer and fall getaways packages. For example, guys mountain biking trips, girl spa weekends or even Olympic Park adventure trips.

Partner with local businesses for discounted gift certificates to create really unique and tasty (literally- include restaurants coupons!) experiences for your guests.

6. Understand life events. Graduation, both high school and college, can draw travelers in June. Wedding are booming in the fall, a shoulder season for most locations.

How can your home accommodate these groups? Vacation rentals can certainly be a more affordable housing option than a hotel, so be sure to suggest it as such. Provide groups with flexible check-in and departure days if you normally regulate them.

For one reason or another, you might be looking to extend your booking season. If you market your home appropriately, and price it well, you can certainly increase your revenue with a little extra effort.

When/How To Work With Volo

Like most business decisions, those that are thought out, and not reactive at the last minute, yield the best results. The same holds true with vacation rentals!

I’ve gotten a surge of emails in the past week (in regards to Park City income properties specifically) asking when the best time to reach out to Volo is… so I thought I’d give provide some general time guidelines.

But first, please do email me with more specific questions and/or if you are interested in working together. I give all potential clients a free 30 minute consultation (in person, phone or Skype) to understand your needs and the scope of your project. We’ve actually solved client issues during this initial consult! Some ‘fixes’ are super simple, just not often thought about. It’s not my goal to cost clients hard-earned cash, if it’s not necessary.

Back to project timing:

In general, vacation rentals are booked 3 month out from the start of the season but start seeing inquiries 6 months (or more) in advance. In Park City, our season kick-off is really at Christmas (but there are definitely early season visitors!). My local vacation home, Casa Blu, is already fielding Nov-Dec inquiries and booked the first December guest.

With that being said, it is my recommendation that we begin scheduling out projects related to the ‘selling’ of your rental early (defining your market and guest, name, logo, tagline), website/listing site (the writing of your ad, photo’s, etc); 6-7 months out. This ensures maximum exposure with a great presentation.

Not everyone needs help setting up an entire VR business. In fact, a lot of clients need help with small projects. Examples, the writing of a house manual, creating a simple and efficient guest experience (from booking, communication and checking in/out), to understanding how to create memory moments and upgrading furniture). I love these projects! And they can often be done closer to the start of the season… but please do reach out soon to schedule.

My work for local clients has already begun (working on some cute Park Meadow homes with week!)… but let’s face it, it feels like the season just ended!!! No problem if you haven’t thought about it yet. There is still time. But I do recommend you schedule the larger projects to be completed from June to October for sure.

For those of you with income properties in summer destinations, fall is a good time to start working together with Volo.

Kris Getzie

Vacation Rental & Hospitality Consultant