VRM Intel Magazine Summer 2020

Page 1

Time to be a Little

Extra

Q&A with Vrbo's

Lisa Chen

Deal Seekers

and Daydreamers

Forecasting

& Scenario Planning

+ 108

Restoring Pricing Strategy

BOOKING PACE SNAPSHOTS: HOW COVID-19 AFFECTED OCCUPANCY OVER TIME VRM Intel Magazine | Summer 2020


premium property visuals

VRM Intel Magazine | Summer 2020

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United We Stand We've weathered storms before. And this time is no dierent. Despite these challenging times, we've witnessed vacation rental leaders display the true spirit of hospitality. This industry was built on human connection and experience, which is why you will come out of this stronger than ever. Know that your friends at NAVIS stand with you, always. 1-844-614-3157 | naviscrm.com

NAVIS CRM develops software applications that help VRM professionals drive more direct bookings through their websites, voice channel, & email. VRM Intel Magazine | Summer 2020

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VRM Intel Magazine | Summer 2020

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Contents On the Cover

40 Forecasting & Scenario Planning 46 Restoring Pricing Strategy 54 How COVID-19 Affected Occupancy 58 Time to be a Little "Extra" 70 Q&A with Vrbo's Lisa Chen

28 Deal Seekers and Daydreamers

Time to be a Little

Extra

Q&A with Vrbo's

Lisa Chen

Deal Seekers

and Daydreamers

Forecasting

& Scenario Planning

+

Restoring Pricing Strategy

BOOKING PACE SNAPSHOTS: HOW COVID-19 AFFECTED OCCUPANCY OVER TIME

Photo Courtesy of TruPlace and Stay in Tamarindo Vacation Rentals in Costa Rica

Special Feature

84

84 Letters to the Vacation Rental Industry 39 Executives Share Thoughts, Predictions, and Encouragement Marketing 21 Formula for Success: Diversification, Relationships, and Branding 73 Crafting Data-Driven Digital Strategies

Guest Service 26 Practicing Conflict Transformation 28 Is Your Call Center Ready for Deal Seekers and Daydreamers?

75 Navigating COVID-19 with Online Marketing 77 Recession-Proof Your Brand: Boost Revenues During Recovery 78 Attract the 5-hour Drive with Geotargeted SEO 83 Rethinking Distribution and Strategic Partnerships 10

VRM Intel Magazine | Summer 2020

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VRM Intel Magazine | Summer 2020


VRM Intel Magazine | Summer 2020

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Contents Business Strategy

Property Care

22 Airlines are not Waiting on a Vaccine. Why are We?

51 Leveraging Professionalism to Meet the New Traveler Persona

25 The New Normal: Adapting to a Changed Reality

62 Time to be a Little "Extra"

31 The Great Talent Shift 35 Be a Contrarian: Now is the Time to Grow Inventory

68 Tips to Make Guests Comfortable

Revenue

40 Game Plan for Forecasting and Scenario Planning

46 Restoring Your Pricing Strategy

70 Q&A with Vrbo's Lisa Chen

54 2020 Booking Pace Snapshot: How COVID-19 Affected Forward-Looking Occupancy in Real Time

70 14

35

51 VRM Intel Magazine | Summer 2020


VRM Intel Magazine | Summer 2020

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Dear Vacation Rental Industry, F ifteen years ago, when I started in this industry, I would never have thought I would write to Amy Hinote to simply thank her for what she is doing for the vacation rental industry. She has relentlessly pushed the industry forward, discovered amazing stories, and kept us all informed of what is going on and what is going to happen. She has been critical of OTA’s and mindful of all the property managers who deliver great services and professional guest experiences. This magazine has become The New York Times of the industry and nobody wants to miss it. Amy and her entire team are doing an incredible job for the industry, producing great conferences and content. The gatherings are always full of life, love, and happiness, while industry influencers gather and never miss an event with VRM Intel. The magazine is an integral part of these activities and we are all so proud to be part of that community. The COVID-19 crisis has us all thinking a lot, reflecting on what has happened and the impact on our future and the global future. I do believe we have become more mindful; maybe we have adjusted our values or at least started to think about what is really important in life. I find health, happiness, and mutual respect incredibly important, not maximizing profits. The crisis has shown how vulnerable we are and how little oxygen we have to survive if we have not built a meaningful and sustainable business. We are facing the worst financial crisis since after the second world war, and I believe many of us will reflect and make some drastic decisions that might not be understood at first, but after looking at them again might make a ton of sense. Now is the best time to stand even closer together, help the industry to come back, and start changing the way we view the big scheme of things. Thank you, Amy, for continuing to contribute to the industry. We need people like you who put sense in what we are doing and find answers to our challenges.

VRM intel magazine

Editor-in-Chief Amy Hinote VP of Operations Connie Carlisle, connie.carlisle@vrmintel.com Director of Design and Production

Donato Berbelja VP of Technology Rebecca Chapman, rebecca.chapman@vrmintel.com

Contributors Ryan Bailey

Cliff Johnson

Kameron Bain

Joe Joyce

Chirs Bettin

Doug Kennedy

Brittany Blackman

Betsy LaBarge

Jodi Bourne

Matt Landau

Sarah Bradford

Simon Lehmann

Melanie Brown

Angela Leone

Scott Bunce

Rebecca Lombarto

Scott Butler

Matt Loney

Tim Cafferty

Thibault Mason

Simon Lehmann

Ali Cammelletti

Andrew McConnell

Connie Carlisle

Andy McNulty

Zug, Switzerland

Lisa Chen

Audrey Miller

DeAnna Constant

Koryn Okey

Sincerely,

CEO, AJL Consulting

Address VRM Intel Magazine LLC

153 Old Mill Road, Fairhope, AL 36532 To subscribe to VRM Intel Magazine to request additional copies, contact info@vrmintel.com or go to www.vrmintel.com Š Copyright 2020 VRM Intel Magazine LLC. All rights reserved. We cannot accept responsibility for any mistakes or misprints. Reproduction in part or whole is strictly prohibited without written permission from the publisher. We cannot accept responsibility for unsolicited manuscripts or photographs damaged in the post. Material sent on speculation, unless enclosed with a stamped addressed envelope, will not be returned to sender. VRM Intel is not responsible and will not be held liable for the opinions expressed by contributing authors. VRM Intel Magazine LLC reserve rights of ownership

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VRM Intel Magazine | Summer 2020

Carlos Corzo

James Olin

Robin Craigen

Jennifer Perez

Rebecca Cribbin

Vince Perez

Jonathan Cunningham

Brooke Pfautz

Suzi Cusack

Amir Rashid

Justin Ford

Pete Smith

Jeremy Gall

Lisa Stinnett

Paul Gribble

Steve Trover

Randy Hall

Clark Twiddy

Jill Highsmith-McGee

Ed Ulmer

Michelle Hodges

Richard Vaughton

Vanessa Humes

Paul Wohlford

Alex Husner

Clairborne Yarborough


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Discover everything Kigo Marketplace can do for your vacation rental business and call 1.855.969.3702 or go to www.kigo.net/packnow. VRM Inteltrademarks Magazine | Summer 2020owners. ©2019 RealPage, Inc. All rights reserved. Kigo and RealPage and associated logos are registered trademarks of RealPage, Inc. or its affiliates. All other trademarks and registered are property of their respective

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By Vince Perez

Formula for Success

Three Fundamentals That Haven’t Changed: Diversification, Relationships, and Branding

A

s we come out on the other side of this pandemic and prepare for relaunch, it is important to recognize that there were already signs of weakness in our industry before the pandemic started. This situation has exposed many business models that were questionable or driven by irrational exuberance.

The economic recovery ahead of us will not be easy. However, the formula for success has not changed, nor have the factors that drive it.

B Expect OTAs to Become Even More Aggressive Vacation rental professionals have operated for years under the false assumption that the OTAs would change their habits.

The OTAs are valuable parts of our ecosystem and did a tremendous job of raising the profile of our industry. We traded our brand value for advertising, which culminated in an overall win for all stakeholders. However, those days are long gone; most OTAs will move to centralized platforms.

We can expect OTAs to make a bigger push to control your inventory, your policies, and your merchant of record. Without a strategy to diversify and drive more direct bookings, you will have a difficult time staying profitable.  Takeaway: Make sure OTAs are incremental, not detrimental, to your business.

C Relationships—with Owners, Team, and Guests—are What Matter If you were to strip away all the “tools” you use to run your business, you would be left with the foundational pillars, and one of these is trust. Now is the time to rely on the “trust equity” you have accumulated with each of these stakeholders. Our ability to communicate openly and honestly will carry us through this period.

What we have learned these past two months is that although not every conversation has satisfied the particular interest of these different constituents, the fact that we pick up the phone and remain accessible reaffirms our commitment to excellence and professionalism. We appreciate our owners’ loyalty, but at the same time we understand that some will have financial hardship, and we must stay flexible and willing to leave our comfort zone to help solve these issues.  Takeaway: Trust matters.

D Your Brand is Your Most Important Asset The OTAs have been silent and will remain that way for the remainder of the year. Now is the perfect opportunity to reach new people with your story.

For those brands that are OTA dependent, you have a clear path to highlight your distinct attributes with past guests or newcomers through social media channels, feeder market advertising, and newsletter/email campaigns.

For those that are not OTA dependent, what a great opportunity to extend your brands through alternative channels that will drive even more direct bookings.  Takeaway: The Time for brand optimization is now.

Vince Perez’s expertise spans across multiple disciplines in the hospitality and technology fields. Prior to his technology ventures, Vince served in executive leadership roles in operations, sales and marketing for Japan Airlines, Nikko Hotels, and Hyatt Corporation. Vince is a partner in California-based Beach House Rentals. Perez founded Fetch My Guest, an Intelligent Marketing Automation Platform that increases direct bookings through higher conversions while dramatically reducing marketing costs. VRM Intel Magazine | Summer 2020

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Airlines Are Not Waiting for a Vaccine.

Why are we? A

s states are buckling under the economic damage of stay-at-home orders, no industry has felt the effects of this order more than travel. The very nature of travel is the opposite of staying at home.

Many states are desperate to reopen; yet, fears of a second wave of infections are legitimate. To combat this, major behavioral changes are needed from the entire travel industry. Beyond new safety and cleaning protocols to be implemented in transportation, lodging, and hospitality, it has to feel safe to leave home if travel is to begin again, restarting this sector of the economy. The airlines have been first to seize the initiative, and as of early May, most major carriers, including American Airlines, Delta, United, Southwest, Frontier, Alaska, and Jet Blue have mandated face masks be worn by passengers and staff on flights. Several have extended this to cover check-in areas, premium lounges, and boarding areas. 22

VRM Intel Magazine | Summer 2020

By Robin Craigen CEO, Moving Mountains

OUR NEW HOUSEKEEPING STANDARDS AND CANCELLATION POLICIES ARE NOT ENOUGH VRMs have also responded quickly to the COVID-19 pandemic. Enhanced housekeeping protocols have been established to neutralize any trace of the virus, and most vacation homes will be cleaner than ever, which we can shout from the rooftops. Many VRMs are making cancellation policies more flexible so people will not be afraid to book. But this is not going to be enough. This is only the beginning of the changes that need to happen.

THE VIRUS IS STILL HERE Incredible gains toward reducing the growth of infections by “flattening the curve” have come from social distancing and a multitude of stay-at-home orders. But the US is still reporting between 20,000–30,000 new cases per day, as it has for the entire month


of April. COVID-19 infections have stabilized through social distancing, but they have not gone away.

Simple logic tells us that opening for business without keeping some strict social distancing measures in place will be risky, and right now the travel industry cannot afford to be blamed for a new surge in infections, which are likely with or without tourism.

SOCIAL DISTANCING—THE NEW NORMAL Social distancing measures are going to be necessary until a vaccine is available. Few medical experts dispute this, so we better get used to it. We can sit at home and wait for a vaccine (call me in two years), or we can be proactive and outline measures to be taken seriously by all to allow tourism to return to our communities without risk of rejection and shut down again.

IT’S NOT ABOUT POLITICS—IT’S ABOUT DOING SOMETHING Despite the political chaos of experiencing a pandemic in an election year and the information overload that has resulted, we cannot afford to get distracted from our mission—that is, doing what we can to reduce the spread of the virus. The virus spreading is what is hurting us. That is what we must fix. If we fail, we can expect a return to the economically brutal stay-at-home orders as quickly as the multimillion dollar US ski industry was halted (in about 30 minutes on March 15).

GETTING R0 BELOW 1—AND KEEPING IT THERE For the travel and tourism industry to regain any momentum in the next 18 months, we must succeed at reducing the R0 factor to less than 1. The infection rate of a virus is known as the basic reproduction number, or R0 (“R naught”), and represents the number of infections caused by a single contagious individual. If one person develops the infection and passes it on to two others, the R0 is 2. When this number remains above 1, virus cases in the population increase, as has been seen with COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported the reproduction number to be as high as 6.49 before social distancing was widely implemented in the US in March.

The actual R0 number depends not only on the biology of the disease but also on the actions people take. All indications are that this number is falling, and if new cases are not growing it is possible that the number has fallen to a value of 1 or even less. So how do we keep it there or reduce it further? We cannot survive under

stay-at-home orders until an effective vaccine arrives; therefore, our behavior must change so that we can take control of the R0. Maskwearing, hand hygiene, extensive cleaning measures, and adapting our operational procedures are all worth looking at if we are serious about cutting potential exposure to the virus at every level.

WHAT DOES THIS LOOK LIKE? FACE MASKS: Face masks covering our mouth and nose prevent the

dispersal of water droplets that could be carrying the virus. You might think you are healthy, but the contagious asymptomatic carriers are now identified as the cause of the rapid spread of the virus in March. It has taken over six weeks of lockdowns and social distancing to slow the spread, and over 70,000 have died in that time.

Face masks have other benefits beyond reducing your droplet spray. Once you get used to wearing them (and we can all agree it feels weird and uncomfortable at first), mask-wearing shows others that they should be doing the same. So masks visibly encourage good behavior by others for reducing the spread of the virus. They remind us not to touch our faces. They remind us to wash our hands, and they remind us that there is a highly contagious virus waiting to infect us if we let our guard down. It is going to take time to adapt to face masks. Eventually we will get more used to them and adjust them less often. If infection numbers stay low, they may not be needed for more than a few months.

SANITIZERS AND CLEANING CHEMICALS: Having hand sanitizer and

wipes at your fingertips is another new norm. No longer is it just the parents of toddlers who accessorize this way. We are all now germophobes, or should be, and keeping our hands clean is simply the responsible thing to do.

Cleaning homes to a high standard has always been important to VRMs. Enhanced cleaning with CDC-approved chemicals is no longer above and beyond—it is going to be expected, or you will be rejected by travelers who care about their health.

VIRTUAL CHECK-INS: Video technology has become part of every-

day business life, and now it could take an important role in social distancing by allowing check-in procedures and personal property tours to happen by Zoom, FaceTime, or Skype calls, rather than in-person. Verified guests can be guided through their home check-in without the need for face-to-face contact with staff. Minor problems can also be troubleshooted this way before sending a staff member into the field.

VRM Intel Magazine | Summer 2020

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This is a short list. It is by no means all that we can do. But we need to start somewhere and be sure that we are getting this right to reduce the possibility of transmitting the virus to others. The list goes on. Additional measures worthy of consideration include the following:  Commercial laundry of all bedding

 Removal of non-laundered items like decorative pillows and blankets  Fogging homes with approved chemicals between stays to cover all touchable surfaces

 Insertion of 24- to 72-hour rest gaps between stays to allow any potential virus to become inactive  PPE for housekeeping staff

 Additional signage at the front and back of house to reinforce policy  Daily staff symptom and temperature checking and reporting  Remote working and reduced staffing at central offices  Additional PTO for staff with COVID diagnoses.

 Disclaimer: VRM Intel currently doesn’t support 24- to 72- hour buffer times between stays as a solution for the professionally managed vacation rental industry.

THINGS ARE CHANGING FAST—KEEP UP! Everything about the COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented: the tragic impact on the lives of those infected and their families, the devastating economic impact on businesses, the lightning speed of response required by our medical community, and the decisive actions required by our government.

We could quickly get sidetracked on the politics of how the response to the pandemic could and should have been better, but in this moment, we need to look forward rather than backward to find solutions. The vacation rental industry now needs to respond in a unified way on a scale that is unprecedented. If we are to guide our guests through the experience of visiting our destinations without infecting our communities, we are going to have to be educators, facilitators, implementors, and ultimately enforcers of social distancing in every part of what we do.

A MASSIVE SHIFT JUST HAPPENED The actions of our national airlines to require face masks for travel is also unprecedented. In less than a week, they have mandated a massive shift in travel consumer behavior that will be more visibly impactful than all the post-9/11 security regulations that morphed into everyday travel protocols. VRMs need to get on that bandwagon fast and be sure this is quickly part of our DNA. If we do not, we risk being marginalized as risky, unprofessional, and unworthy of the trust of our communities and the elected officials who govern them.

FIGHT TRAVEL SHAMING AT THE LOCAL LEVEL In small communities like Steamboat where we are based, the vocal and visible travel shaming that has come from a legitimate fear of infection from the outside world highlights how tenuous our 24

VRM Intel Magazine | Summer 2020

return to “normal” could be. Citizens empowered by local health orders have taken it upon themselves to post notices on vehicles with out-of-state license plates telling them to go home. The local Police Blotter, a daily diary of law enforcement actions published in the local paper, is peppered with complaints about failures to adhere to social distancing. The locals are watching the numbers and are being vigilant.

These same concerned local citizens have the ear of elected officials who want to be seen to be doing the right thing, while allowing businesses a chance to get back on their feet. When restrictions are relaxed, if there is an increase in local cases—or worse, a surge—it takes little imagination to know what will be shut down first: lodging and tourism. The multimillion dollar ski industry was shuttered statewide in March as cases surged in Eagle County. We have no doubt this could happen again if we let the spread of infections get out of control as we try to start up again.

GET ORGANIZED, AND BE PART OF THE SOLUTION To get out in front of this, VRMs will need to organize with other local lodging entities. Together they must present a united front to work with their Chamber, local DMO and local government to establish mitigation protocols that support social distancing but still allow their businesses to function and welcome people from outside. It will be more work and more expensive to operate and might involve uncomfortable compromises on occupancy, but if your focus is on partnership and being part of the solution, you will have a chance at being part of the future too.

EDUCATE AND ENFORCE PROACTIVELY To change the behavior of employees, owners, and guests on a large scale is no small task. Clear and proactive communication is key. If you expect social distancing to be the new norm, you will have to explain and define what this means and then communicate this early, often, and at every level of your organization. If you have a team of staff, make sure they all understand the need for and the goals of these measures. Leverage your personal relationships with homeowners to get buy-in and support. Let your guests know in booking confirmations, terms and conditions, website content, social media, and blogs that it is safe to travel, and inform them what behavior is expected of them to keep it that way. Remember, this may not be the norm where your guests and owners live. To avoid an uncomfortable start to their visit, setting expectations before arrival will be super important. Make sure you have masks on hand in case they arrive without their own.

THE LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL? It is a cold hard fact that the end of the pandemic is not in our near future.

But that does not mean we should give up. Six weeks of significant social distancing cut the rate of infection in the US dramatically. The next move is on us. We have gained control in many areas of the country, but an erratic return to what was previously normal without strictly maintaining social distancing protocols until the vaccine gets here risks everything we’ve gained. We cannot wait that long, so we must do more and now.


The New Normal

By Clark Twiddy

Adapting to a Changed Reality

A

s the professional community begins to work its way through the COVID-19 curve and the associated rolling economic calamity induced by the virus, we all begin to wonder what our lives and livelihoods might look like in what will inevitably be a changed reality.

With all the changes we’ve seen in the past few weeks, what might we not be able to put back in the bottle?

Arm’s Length No matter the interest or industry along our streets, social distancing will be here to stay for the foreseeable future. This will impact us directly anywhere we’re used to encountering other people— stores, restaurants, schools, churches, medical care and so on. At some point, we’ll have to rely less on government regulations to enforce this restriction and take more individual responsibility to protect the health of ourselves and those around us.

Necessary Involvement In this new world, any organization that relies even in part on regulatory authority or government support to operate now includes in its core mission involvement with each—known by a variety of terms, such as external communications or stakeholder engagement, the bottom line is that a seat at the table has never been more important to the very survival of your organization. In other words, if your organization doesn’t have a seat at the table, you will very likely find it on the menu.

Selective Inputs We’ll have to monitor what we put in our minds with an equal diligence as what we put in our bodies. We may, through this crisis, move beyond the information age into the misinformation age. For example, social media reporting on the Outer Banks in the past few weeks has been corrosive, at best, to the public good.

Energy Management The border between work and play will continue to blur as working from home or even on the go become more common. As a result of this, our ability to professionally manage our energy becomes a key driver in our ability to be effective. Conversely, we’ll also have to expect more social exhaustion as we all navigate, to the best extent we can, the new world.

Local/Tourist Relationships

Commercial Spaces Office space will become less appealing and in less demand. With so many workers seeing firsthand the effectiveness of their efforts from home, we’ll see a sustained evaluation of who has to leave their home to go to work. On a related note, if the digital development of any organization wasn’t a top-three priority, it soon will be, and the faster the better.

Larger Government We’ll expect more from government than we ever have before. There can be no return to smaller governments in the near future, and although this comes as no surprise, the tensions around how to pay for it sustainably are where the real conversations will arise.

In some cases, we’ll have to work on repairing our reputation as welcoming places. While the tensions around health care and the economy will linger for many months, the reputational damage will take years to repair; for example, as Amy Hinote pointed out in “10-year anniversary of the BP-Deep Horizon Oil Spill brings comparisons to COVID-19,” the BP oil spill along the Gulf Coast of 2010 saw many of the same tensions arise, and it took two years for those on-the-ground tensions to abate.

But Most of All . . . Of all the changes we’d like to see and will need to see in order to continue our pursuit of happiness, one thing will remain certain— we will, as Mahatma Gandhi told us, all have to be the change we want to see in the world. Clark Twiddy is the Director of Twiddy & Company on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Twiddy & Company is a secondgeneration family business specializing in hospitality and tourism.

VRM Intel Magazine | Summer 2020

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Practicing Conflict

Transformation By Ali Cammelletti

A

couple of summers ago I was reading a book called The Whole-Brain Child by Daniel J. Siegel. I found it interesting that when children are acting out emotionally it is crucial that we hang out in the right side of the brain with them, empathizing and validating their feelings before bridging to the left side of the brain where we talk about the “why” and use logic. Totally easier said than done. All I could think of was, “I wonder how this applies to adults?”

A few months later, I was camping with friends, and the book was on the table. One friend saw the book and said, “Oh, you’re reading a Daniel J. Siegel book—that man is brilliant!” I responded thinking she also read the book because her child was only four years older than our little girl.

That wasn’t it, though: she had produced a course for the author as part of the production work she does for her career. She had to read several of his books to understand what he was talking about in his course. That conversation was the beginning of the path I went down to understanding more about Siegel’s findings and how we actually should be communicating in the same way with adults by hanging out in the right brain before bridging to the left. It follows the same concept I talk about with empathizing before educating, yet it explains more of the “why” behind it. 26

VRM Intel Magazine | Summer 2020


As humans, we cannot hear or grasp left-brain thinking until we feel heard, validated, and empathized with. Once we have this type of connection, our brains can relax and hear the next steps for resolving the issue or situation at hand. Siegel says that communicating in this way will help us live balanced, meaningful, and creative lives full of connected relationships.

Sometimes I feel like adults can be like a bunch of children running around on a playground lashing out at one another in frustration. I am not convinced that a high population of parents in the 50s–70s were reading books like Siegel’s, but here we are as leaders seeing we must change how we communicate with our team members and in turn coach them on how to communicate with guests. As I read more of Siegel’s books, I dug into his research about the prefrontal cortex. I learned the nine functions it encompasses: empathy, insight, response flexibility, emotional regulation, body regulation, morality, intuition, attuned communication, and fear modulation. These functions make me think of multiple challenging customer situations I have worked with over the years where these functions were affected.

Siegel shared a story of the son and husband of a woman who was in an accident where her prefrontal cortex was affected and would never be the same. I learned that the prefrontal cortex is compromised by repeated stressors, daily substance abuse, being incarcerated, criminal behavior, sociopathy, and lead poisoning. I also learned that in our state of Oregon, they only started testing for lead paint 15 years ago. What does this mean? I believe there are more people in our world suffering from prefrontal cortex challenges than we realize.

This is where emotional intelligence comes in. Emotional intelligence is defined as the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically. Often when I am coaching the root cause of a conflict, I hear that emotional intelligence isn’t being practiced. I feel that this leads to what Brené Brown refers to as compromising dignity, or dehumanization. Dehumanization involves depriving others of human qualities and is the opposite of connection, one of the top three needs in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The next time you hear team members verbally tearing apart a guest or coworker, what is your responsibility? We don’t know what people are going through or what they have been through. As leaders, it is our responsibility to educate team members on how to look at situations through different lenses and look at team members through these same lenses, giving them the tools to connect with others, give people the benefit of the doubt, and build them up.

Another part of the brain is the limbic system, which houses the fight, flight, or freeze stress response. I was told during our adoption process that my numbers showed I was in this state constantly, which I think was due to the amount of times we said yes and were still not picked by a birth mother. The limbic system also houses our emotional processing centers where we ask the questions, “Am I safe? Do people want me?”

I like to share the stages of grief with teams: bargaining, denial, depression, anger, and acceptance. We go through grief during any type of change, not just the loss of a loved one. Change is the loss of what used to be. This looks like welcoming a new family member, moving to a new home or city, changing in a jobs or careers, changing technology, facing the pandemic—the list can go on and on. We are living in a time of extreme and constant change. When you experience someone throwing an emotional volleyball at you,

because all humans do it at one point or often, don’t react by throwing it back, yet put it down and hang out in the right side of the brain. Change your vocal tone and facial expressions, eliminate judgements, and put your ego aside so you can really hear what is happening with the person. They may act like they are mad about the door code not working, for example, yet it might really be their anxiety from driving for five hours with a screaming child and a frustrated spouse.

We don’t know people’s triggers, either. If someone is upset about a sliding door not locking or not having window treatments in a room, it might be because they have experienced house robberies. We just don’t know, and the best thing we can do is believe that people are doing the best they can at that moment. I was coaching a person who was frustrated with another team member for not carrying their weight in the job, which was causing this person frustration and creating challenges with their job responsibilities. The easy reaction is frustration. The mindful and emotionally intelligent response is to approach the team member and ask how they are doing and if there is anything they can do to support them. This is connection, and connection is what dissolves conflict and builds strong teams. A simple way to keep ourselves in check is to remember The Three Ps by Lise D’Andrea, president and CEO of Customer Service Experts:  Be pleasant Present a calm demeanor through body language, tone of voice, and words.  Be patient Let them vent, and don’t give a solution too quickly. This is where empathy comes into play.  Be professional Give two options when possible so the customer feels they are choosing the best solution.

“For ‘full’ emotional communication, one person needs to allow his state of mind to be influenced by that of the other.” —Daniel J. Siegel

Ali Cammelletti of Cammelletti Consulting has over 30 years of experience in the hospitality industry from serving as a front-line restaurant and lodging employee to building and owning a successful event planning business and now running a consulting company. Her current area of expertise is leadership and sales coaching with a relationship building focus. Visit www.cammelletticonsulting.com for more details. VRM Intel Magazine | Summer 2020

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Dealers and Dreamers Get Your Reservations Team Ready for Calls from Deal-Seeking, Vacation Daydreamers By Douglas Kennedy President, Kennedy Training Network

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hat a crazy coup l e of months it has been for our vacation rental reservations sales staff, who were on the very frontlines of the pandemic.

First, they fielded a tidal wave of calls from panicked guests and had difficult conversations regarding cancellation penalties and the fine print of travel insurance. Second, came the flood of digital correspondence from those who booked via third-party channels, along with requests for documentation from finance managers responding to chargebacks. Third, came the eye of the storm, as everything grew eerily quiet after the initial chaos. This quiet phase will not—and in some destinations, did not—last for long. Now wise vacation rental (VR) managers and supervisors are preparing their reservations team for what is going to happen next.

Like the VR and overall lodging industry, activity at my company, Kennedy Training Network, Inc., has mirrored the same trends. We used our own “quiet phase” to develop new training content, which for now will be delivered via private webcam to our clients’ reservations teams, and to update our mystery shopping criteria and call coaching processes. Following are some of our reservations sales tips you can use for in-house training, but first let’s look at what comes next.

Although many are out of work, a huge chunk of the workforce is for the first time experiencing the work-from-home model, while simultaneously coaching their children through distance learning technology and attempting to tutor them. Workers in essential services are racking up overtime, especially superheroes in the medical profession and in biotech research, first responders, and those working in other essential services such as 28

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the food supply chain. Many people are still working in jobs that are completely unaffected, going home after work to do their part to flatten the curve, and missing social connections.

One thing most of us have right now is extra downtime at home. Pretty soon we will have cleaned out all our closets, washed the outside windows, walked our dogs to exhaustion, and grown tired of binge-watching Netflix. As a flattening curve brings hope for the end of social distancing, more and more people will feel safe enough to engage in what I call “vacation daydreaming.” The trickle of inquiries will start to grow into a stream and soon thereafter a flood. However, that’s not to say that things will return to “normal” for vacation rental reservations sales. Following are changes I anticipate along with training tips from our KTN training web coaching.

“Voice” Returns with a Vengeance There are several reasons I predict an uptick in voice reservations calls. First, those who have previously booked via OTAs and other third-party platforms have either experienced firsthand what this means during times of crisis, or they have read stories and heard firsthand accounts of the challenges guests have experienced. Also, guests are going to be looking for personalized reassurances about deposit, cancellation, and refund policies. They will be asking pointed questions about cleaning and disinfection procedures.

“Dialing for Deals”

Your agents’ ability to do this skillfully will vary greatly according to your property management system and your rate strategy. Ideally, they can reference a specific high-demand rate for what the same vacation home goes for during holiday periods. Here’s an example:  “Okay, in checking your selected home for those dates . . . the prevailing/normal rate is $X, but for your dates I’m able to offer you a rate of $Y.”

Position Rates as Being a Surprisingly Good Value Even if your agents are not able to easily see high-demand rates to reference, they can at least express that the rates quoted reflect value pricing. Here’s an example:  “In checking . . . Wow! At this time I’m showing the rate of . . .”

Creating Urgency—More Important Than Ever One unique challenge in the VR niche of lodging versus KTN’s traditional resort clients is that availability is completely transparent. In other words, when prospective guests search specific dates, they can see firsthand specifically how many homes remain open. Not only will this fuel the deal seekers, but it will also give prospective guests a good reason to put off their decision and perhaps wait for a better deal to surface. Here are some examples of how to create urgency when you are in fact “wide open.”

 “Yes, as you said, right now I am showing lots of availability, but it sounds like this home is a perfect match for your family vacation.”  “Yes, we do have homes open, but I have to say we have been recently getting a lot more calls, as people seem ready to travel again.”

Remove Barriers to Booking Now Most companies have relaxed deposit and/or cancellation policies. Be sure to coach your agents on how to explain this. First, they should create urgency such as indicated above, and then reduce commitment barriers by saying: As I have always heard from our reservations sales workshop participants, many of those who called previously were looking to negotiate special rates or to get fees waived.

Given that it’s no secret that the travel industry is going through hard times, we can be assured that what I call the “value-driven deal seekers” will be dialing for deals more than ever. Those who don’t call will instead shoot over blunt “let’s make a deal” emails like “I see the rental is $X for this week; can you check with the owner and see if they will take $Y?” Surely, the traditional sales training techniques that the VR industry has embraced will be important, such as connecting with the caller (or email sender), asking investigative questions, and using a storytelling approach. However, it’s a great time to revisit some of our more advanced sales techniques.

Use a “Rate Framing” Approach When offering any new quotes for any rates other than the very peak-demand rates, mention the “normal” or “prevailing” rate as a reference point. Marketing experts often call this “slash pricing,” such as used on OTAs and online retailers.

 “With our relaxed cancellation policy, I can lock this in for you now; if the situation changes you can always cancel before X date for a full refund of the deposit, less only a booking fee of Y.”

Personalize Follow-Up on Inquiries Despite one’s best efforts, many of our vacation daydreamers are simply not going to be ready to commit just yet. Therefore, it’s more important than ever before to obtain the caller’s contact information, send a personalized follow-up note, and then reach out again a couple of times down the road, alternating between phone calls and emails.

We hope that the above ideas are helpful for your in-house training. Stay tuned to www.KennedyTrainingNetwork.com as we continue to develop and launch new live web-training content in response to the VR industry’s reservations sales training needs. Certainly, your reservations sales agents need a break after the stress of the cancellation calls, and your company might also be looking to conserve cash on payroll and reduced hours. Yet, it is wise to also use this time to upskill your reservations team and get ready for the rebound. VRM Intel Magazine | Summer 2020

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The Great Talent Shift By Steve Trover

“In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.�

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—Albert Einstein

n these uncertain times, there is one thing the vacation rental management (VRM) industry can count on: We are on the brink of the greatest talent shift in modern history. This presents an incredible opportunity for vacation rental companies to identify and hire the best talent using the right strategy and plan of action. For industry professionals who are now on the hunt for a new employer, this shift provides an opportunity to work with a strong company that has made it through what may just be the biggest challenge to date.

A short time ago, the single biggest challenge our firm identified for this industry was an unprecedented talent shortage. In an industry that is completely reliant on people to provide exceptional service, this talent shortage was a significant problem for most VRMs. We constantly heard that applicant flow was anemic, with those applying for the many open positions lacking the experience and capabilities to properly fill the roles. With unemployment recently at a record low, managers were forced in many cases to hire individuals to be placed in the wrong seats. In most cases, there were no measures taken to validate that these candidates were a good fit for the roles. What a difference a couple of months can make.

At the time of this writing, it is clear that an unemployment rate of 20 percent or more is in the cards in the COVID-19 era. While many expect this to be short-lived relative to previous recessions, the sheer scope of this increase in unemployment is without comparison. In speaking with managers all over the nation, there is a strong consensus that as this crisis passes, vacation rentals will be one of, if not the most, attractive travel option. Before we had significant competition from cruise lines and large hotels. However, as the new

normal unfolds, the privacy, security, and safety a vacation rental offers will be more desired than ever before. After being cooped up for what feels like forever, families will look to get away with these assurances in place. Consequently, the combination of the return of rental demand and the talent shift will open up a significant opportunity for both businesses and individuals.

Where before it was exceptionally challenging to identify and hire top talent, there are more qualified people in play than ever before. For talented and passionate professionals, this is an opportunity to find a position with an organization that has weathered the greatest storm of our lifetime and is ready to take advantage of a period of growth like we have never seen before. To take advantage of this opportunity, organizations need a talent acquisition plan.

Most vacation rental companies have a multifaceted rental marketing plan. They have allocated a budget and have a well thought-out document compiled of tried-and-true marketing practices, along with new concepts used to attract new customers and retain existing ones.

What we find with most companies in our space is that their talent acquisition plans consist of online ads and postings of open positions on their websites. The selection process focuses on the resume, and the interviews are typically unstructured. In many cases, the person or persons responsible for hiring juggle this role along with many other competing responsibilities. This creates a lack of focus and allows for other distractions to deter them from allocating the right time to the process. Therefore, the hiring manager will hire who they think will be the right fit based on subjectivity and their own biases. In some cases, the hiring manager himself may be in the wrong seat. Companies must move swiftly to create comprehensive talent acquisition plans, leverage people analytics, and assign a point person to ensure consistency and effectiveness. These three steps coupled with a structured interview process will ensure a strong fit for your team. VRM Intel Magazine | Summer 2020

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 Increasing the talent pool through people marketing

The accountability chart

In rental marketing, we typically see a multifaceted strategy that includes a mix of search engine optimization, search engine marketing, social marketing, distribution, and more. People marketing should be done in a similar fashion.

Hiring the right person and placing them in the right seat feels like quite an achievement at this point; however, do not overlook the foundation of defining roles for your entire team. Organizational charts should be deleted and replaced with accountability charts. This reporting structure is said to be an organizational chart on steroids because it takes problem-solving and production to a higher level of performance. When employees know exactly what is expected of them and there is transparency within an organization, the business plan is carried out in a much more effective way than simply showing employees a chart of titles and direct reports.

One job posting is not enough. Put together a plan to distribute your job ads across multiple ad platforms such as LinkedIn, Indeed, ZipRecruiter, and CareerBuilder. Consider having a professional and polished looking career page on your website where all open positions are posted and include an email sign-up for job alerts.

Utilizing your team to get the word out is also an effective strategy. Incentivize this by paying a referral bonus to those who refer candidates that you successfully hire. Be sure to post any job openings on your social media outlets, paying special attention to LinkedIn, which according to Social Media Today, is the fastest growing social network. The ultimate goal of your people marketing plan should be to significantly boost applicant flow, so you have a strong candidate pool to select from.

 Narrowing the applicant pool using people analytics With an effective marketing campaign and increased applicant flow, narrowing the candidate pool down to the best potential hires is key. As Predictive Index certified partners, our firm utilizes behavioral profiling in the hiring process, for example. Leveraging a highly accurate, but simple and quick-to-administer behavioral survey gives you the ability to understand the job applicant’s behavioral traits. Prior to collecting these surveys, a job target is set by internal stakeholders based on the role. For example, are you looking for a reservations agent? What traits lend themselves to success for the role, according to those who interact most with that position? From this quick analysis, a behavioral target is set. Then all candidates are filtered through the process with the intent of identifying the applicants who closest match the desired behavioral profile.

As a next step, we recommend a cognitive test. Cognitive tests have been shown to be a high predictor of job success and are simple to administer. A cognitive test tells you how quickly this person will get up to speed with new concepts and necessary training. In most cases, the new hire will need to learn software platforms and systems they are not familiar with. It is crucial that they have the ability to ramp up quickly. The more technical the role the higher the cognitive requirements become. In the vacation rental industry, we often find ourselves interviewing applicants with little or no industry experience. Applicants with a higher cognitive score have a shortened learning curve and become more productive faster. The combination of having a candidate with the right behavioral drives and cognitive abilities has been shown to be a collective 51 percent predictor of job performance.

 Reducing subjectivity through the use of structured interviews Another helpful predictor of job performance (26 percent) is a structured interview. A structured interview is a standardized way of interviewing candidates based on the specific needs of the role they are applying for. Candidates are asked the same questions in the same order and responses are compared on the same scale. The key is to take the job description and build a group of interview questions that can properly access whether a candidate has what it takes to execute the job functions. This enables you to rate each candidate objectively and can greatly reduce hiring misfires. 32

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Onboarding is more than paperwork Once you do the hard work of identifying the best players for your team, it is critical to set new hires on the right track. Research by Glassdoor found that organizations with a strong onboarding process improve new hire retention by 82 percent and productivity by over 70 percent. On top of that, Gallup found that only 12 percent of employees strongly agree their organizations do a great job of onboarding new employees.

Most organizations stop the onboarding process after one week. But the best onboarding processes are no less than 90 days with some extending a full year, depending on the nature of the role. It is critical that the talent acquisition plan encompasses a structured process that ensures the new hire feels welcome, receives a proper introduction to the culture, and has access to the tools and knowledge they will need for long-term success at the company.

In closing In the vacation rental industry, the best teams win. It’s not the company with the best marketing person or housekeeping manager. It’s the company that has a cohesive group of professionals all rowing in the same direction to lead the team and the company to success.

The Great Talent Shift is an opportunity like no other to identify, hire, and retain the very best team. You may be simply missing a few pieces or need to build an entire leadership team as we come out of this challenging time. I would encourage you to focus on the talent acquisition strategy of your company and take advantage of the greatest pool of available talent in our lifetimes.

Steve Trover Steve has been immersed in the vacation rental (VR) industry since 1997. He has been involved in most aspects of VR, including marketing, management, business development, product development, architectural design, interior design/decor, and VR software. He spent time on the board of several industry associations, including five years as vice president and then president of the Vacation Rental Management Association. More recently, his focus has been on the people side of the business as a cofounder of Laveer & Co., a consulting and recruiting firm focused on helping companies identify, hire, retain, and inspire the best teams in the industry. Laveer & Co. offers executive search, talent optimization, and psychometric and cognitive testing as a certified partner with the Predictive Index. He resides in Orlando, Florida, with his wife Holly and their four children.


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Be a Contrarian Now Is the Best Time to Grow Your Inventory

By Brooke Pfautz CEO, Vintory

Great things can come out of a plague.

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sale” prices, yet they will most certainly go up in the long run. He was a contrarian and saw the opportunity: This is why he is a billionaire.

BEING A CONTRARIAN CAN PAY OFF

ONCE-IN-A-LIFETIME OPPORTUNITY

“Be fearful when others are greedy. Be greedy when others are fearful.” —Warren Buffett

“Whenever there is change, whenever there is uncertainty, there is opportunity.” —Mark Cuban

n 1606, a plague swept England, quarantining Shakespeare at his home. During that time, he wrote Macbeth, King Lear, and Antony and Cleopatra. Later that century, Cambridge University closed for a year because of the Great Plague of London. One of its students, a young chap named Isaac Newton, was sent home, where he discovered calculus and refined the ideas that later became his theory of gravity. The proverbial apple that fell onto his head did so under the restriction of isolation, not the familiar comfort of continuity. What many would have seen as a great inconvenience was the spark that inspired Newton to formulate one of the greatest theories of all time. It makes me wonder . . . what great opportunities will come out of this crisis?

Making strategic decisions that defy conventional wisdom can often pay large dividends. Earlier this year, hedge fund manager Bill Ackman believed the coronavirus pandemic was a massive risk for the United States, its economy, and global financial markets. He invested $27 million in hedges, which turned into $2.6 billion in less than a month. He then took most of those gains and bought the beaten down stocks of companies like Starbucks, Berkshire Hathaway, Hilton, and Lowe’s—stocks that were available at “fire

At the absolute height of the 2008 financial crisis, when markets were tumbling amid a wave of bankruptcy filings, Warren Buffett penned an op-ed in The New York Times urging investors that it was the right time to buy American stocks. He followed through on his own recommendations and purchased equities in many American companies, including Goldman Sachs. Ten years later, his advice proved to be correct. The S&P 500 was up 130 percent, and Goldman’s stock had jumped by approximately 196 percent. Both Buffett and Ackman demonstrate the immense benefits of going against the grain.

I believe we are at the beginning of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in our industry. More vacation rental inventory will be spawned out of this crisis, and during the next 6–12 months, we will see more management contracts change hands than we’ve seen over the past decade. Second homes that have never rented before will begin renting. “Rent by owners” who were frustrated by cancellations and dealing with irate guests will be happy to turn their properties over to professional management companies. VRM Intel Magazine | Summer 2020

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Unfortunately, some management companies will not be able to make it through this crisis. Vacation rental managers who seize the opportunity of this inevitable wave will be poised to grow exponentially and will be well positioned on the other side of this pandemic. A study by management consulting company McKinsey & Company found that when the economy took a downturn, as it inevitably does, the most successful companies looked for opportunities to expand. These companies increased their valuations by more than 38 percent over those companies that simply battened down the hatches.

The most successful companies found opportunities and pressed their advantages. As companies today look to weather this storm, they should consider that managing risk does not mean avoiding it altogether. Echoing this sentiment, a 2008 article from the Harvard Business Review talks about Steve Jobs’ strategy around capitalizing on the opportunity of doubling down during recessions: “. . . We would be ahead of our competitors when the downturn was over. And that’s exactly what we did. And it worked. And that’s exactly what we’ll do this time.”

WHERE WILL ALL THIS INVENTORY COME FROM? Our agency Vintory specializes in helping vacation rental managers grow their inventory. One of the steps in our sales and marketing strategy is to create and define personas of potential inventory targets. There are several personas that I feel will be changing hands in the current state of affairs: First-Time Frank, Home-Watch Hannah, RBO Ruby, Upset Ulysses, Venture-Backed Victor, and Shut-Down Sheldon. I will go into more detail on each persona below.

First-Time Frank During the Great Recession of 2007/2008, my business partner at Vantage Resort Realty and I were targeting just about every property owner in Ocean City, Maryland. As we started signing up new properties, we found an interesting phenomenon: about 25 percent of the owners we were signing up were “First-Time Franks,” second home owners who had never rented out their homes before. They were forced to begin renting their personal vacation homes, their prized possessions, due to their personal financial situation related to the downturn in the economy. Given the deep financial impact the coronavirus has already had in just a short period, I am predicting we will see a similar situation to the Great Recession in which countless homeowners will be forced to rent out their homes, whereas previously they would never have considered it.

Home-Watch Hannah With many markets completely shut down and lack of oversight within most vacation properties, there has never been a better opportunity to expand into home watch services. This is a great supplementary business model where you can generate predictable, recurring revenue that can cover much of your overhead, especially during these low or non-existent rental periods. In addition, by leveraging the principle of “small incremental commitments” highlighted in Dr. Robert Cialdini’s book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, these low-risk, high-conversion sales will be a great farm system of future leads for your vacation rental program in the upcoming months.

RBO Ruby RBO Ruby has been self-managing for several years now. She lists 36

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her home on Vrbo and Airbnb, and times have been good to RBO Ruby. She casually does this on the side while taking care of her two school-age children. However, recent events have changed how Ruby feels. The wave of cancellations, wrestling and arguing with guests over refund policies, and the loss of thousands of dollars pulled directly from her account have all left a bad taste in her mouth. Now, Ruby’s cleaner has stopped cleaning, leaving her in a pinch. She desperately seeks reliable, professional management. Ruby will be a prime candidate for your services.

Upset Ulysses Justified or not, Upset Ulysses has been extremely frustrated with his current management company. He feels that they have given “his money” back to guests. He does not understand that, in some cases, it was out of the company’s control and dictated by the online travel agency (OTA). Ulysses is also upset over the lack of communication from his current management company. Ulysses has already started calling other management companies looking to make a move.

Venture-Backed Victor Venture-Backed Victor is listed with a large, venture-backed, national conglomerate. He was impressed with their slick marketing and claims of technology. However, Victor’s management company has experienced sweeping layoffs and furloughs, leaving Victor unable to communicate with anyone. He has called and emailed dozens of times with zero response. His primary contact is no longer there. Even his secondary contact has been laid off. He feels vulnerable about the status of his home. He just wants answers; therefore, Victor will most certainly be looking for new local management.

Shut-Down Sheldon There is a new persona that we have never defined previously, but he will most certainly come into play in the near future: “ShutDown Sheldon.” Shut-Down Sheldon is a homeowner who is left without a manager after his management company has stopped paying homeowners, faltered, and gone under. This is an unfortunate consequence of our current situation. I feel great sorrow and pain for the companies that inevitably will have to close their doors due to this black swan event. Nonetheless, it is inevitable, and as a result there will be many Shut-Down Sheldons looking for new management. A well laid-out plan to get in front of these personas is essential right now; time is of the essence. Clearly defining each profile and segmenting your data by persona will make your marketing much more effective. Ideally, you can customize your messaging based on each persona’s pain points and show how each of your unique selling propositions solves those pain points.

CONCLUSION There has never been a better time to step on the gas and grow. As counterintuitive as it seems, do not hunker down. If the forward-thinking manner of Bill Ackman, Warren Buffet, Steve Jobs, and even Sir Isaac Newton can teach us anything, it is that great results can come out of a time of chaos and uncertainty. By using the unique circumstances we are all facing to your advantage, you can come out the other side in a fantastic position that could even set you up for years to come. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity—don’t miss out!


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Scenario Planning Determine Your Game Plan Using Scenario-Based Forecasting By Jonathan Cunningham, CPA

Determining Your Coronavirus Game Plan

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s states and nations start reopening their economies, the business world looks a lot different than any of us could have imagined 90 days ago. We are surrounded by uncertainty in our social and professional lives, and anyone who expects business as usual to return soon is mistaken. The remaining course of the disease, the economic impact of closures, the effects of unprecedented monetary stimulus, the changes in consumer behavior, and the course of public health regulations are all unknown. Vacation rentals have been severely affected and will continue to be affected. Many in this industry have wondered—at least privately—if their businesses can survive. Will yours? How do you know? Every business involved in the vacation rental industry needs an answer to that question and a clear game plan for the next year or more. “Winging it” is not a smart approach to get to the other side of this disruption. But with so much uncertainty, how is it even possible to plan or prepare?

SCENARIO PLANNING Today, “business scenario planning” is typically run as a type of sensitivity analysis to answer questions like “If I raise prices 5 percent, what happens to my profitability?” or “If I lose my top three homes, what happens to my cash flow?” This approach depends on stability in the larger environment that cannot be assumed with COVID-19. COVID-19 has closed restaurants, schools, and theme parks; reduced air travel to levels not seen since jet engines were first invented; and pushed the price of oil to $20 per barrel. So where do we even start when it comes to business planning now? As is often the case, military intelligence has tools that can be adapted for business. In the 1950s, Herman Kahn and the Rand Corporation developed an approach to scenario planning specifically to understand radical discontinuous change. There is no “crystal ball” to predict the future, but Kahn’s approach to scenario 40

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HOW TO IMMEDIATELY REDUCE RISK Unless you are Netflix or some other lucky business, the shortterm effects of the coronavirus are going to be bad. Forced public health closures, loss of customers and revenue, workers unable or unwilling to come to work, and vendors or suppliers who are unable to deliver are just some of the problems that are pummeling businesses. Here are eight important risk mitigation actions to take now: B Right size your work force. C Renegotiate subcontractor terms, including lease and loan commitments. D Review loans and commercial commitments and consider renegotiation or refinancing if financial or operational constraints need it. Consider emergency loans if available and needed. E Review credit risk of people who owe you money, as well as your customer credit and collection processes, even for long-standing customers. F Review vendors and companies that enable your business to stay afloat to confirm they will continue to supply you. Even your largest, most stable vendors may leave a geographic area or change their offering in a way that affects your business. G Identify contingency plans for any area that seems at risk. H Adjust your operating model to accommodate the right social distancing, PPE, sanitization, touchless operation, and other measures, to increase customer and employee confidence. I Review budgets and spending and eliminate expenses that are not needed or may not be needed in the short term.


planning can help businesses understand and prepare for a range of possibilities to get ahead of the curve instead of falling further behind by surprise. Kahn’s approach has four basic components: 1. Identify the drivers.

2. Set a time frame, link the drivers, and develop scenarios.

3. Consolidate the scenarios into two to four “stories” that describe the future.

4. Identify the implications for each story and what actions might be appropriate.

The three scenarios presented in this article draw on proprietary research completed by Cunningham CPA and can serve as a starting point for your scenario planning work. They should be adapted and customized for your specific situation and business. For example, a business that owns a portfolio of beach rentals in Florida has a different story than a ski condo owner in Colorado.

Scenario Planning Drivers for Coronavirus Uncertainties Your best coronavirus game plan will depend upon the unique characteristics of your business as well as the following:  The course of the disease;

 The path of consumer psychology;

 The duration and extent of shutdowns; and  Governmental responses.

The Generic COVID-19 Scenarios The following three scenarios are possible over the next 18 months: B SWOOSH—Best case: Swift opening for most jurisdictions in the spring/summer of 2020, constrained by consumer behavior and ongoing but light public health regulations. This scenario includes few new and ongoing hot spots and localized lockdowns even as business steadily returns to something that looks “normal.” C MEANDER—Mid case: Slower opening following a test, trace, and isolate strategy with more significant new and ongoing hot spots and/or regional and localized lockdowns. D RELAPSE—Worst case: Openings delayed and/or reversed with major subsequent waves; overwhelmed hospitals; and the resumption of concurrent regional, national, and/or global lockdowns. These scenarios rely on the assumptions below. But if the assumptions prove incorrect, the scenarios would be changed.  Breakthrough treatments and vaccines will not become available within the time frame of this analysis.  The federal government and the Federal Reserve will provide whatever level of fiscal and monetary stimulus is needed to avoid a deflationary depression.  Fiscal and monetary relief will not result in a major devaluation of the US dollar.  Economic distress will be tolerated by the population and will not lead to severe social unrest or crippling crime waves.  Supply chains will continue to adequately meet food, electricity, health, and other basic needs.

SCENARIO 1: SWOOSH Best-case scenario for a vacation rental business  COVID-19 is still “out there,” but a combination of distancing, hand washing, and warm weather keeps the curve adequately flat. Hospitalizations do not exceed capacity, and the number of deaths continues to decline week by week. The US avoids new acute waves like the ones that affected Milan and New York.  Public health authorities loosen restrictions, but some restrictions remain. Many businesses adopt incremental measures such as requiring gloves and/or masks to be worn by employees and/or customers. Temperature measurements become routine, and extra cleaning and sanitization measures become the norm. Properties may incorporate enhanced or certified sanitization and safety procedures. Large events like conventions and sporting events likely remain postponed, and venues like theme parks remain closed. If large events do occur, they fail to achieve historical volume.

In this scenario, restrictions on vacation rentals are lifted, and beaches and outdoor areas are opened. However, attractions such as concerts, festivals, and theme parks probably remain postponed or closed. Restaurants, miniature golf courses, go-kart tracks, pools, water parks, and other attractions may open but with reduced capacity.  Consumer fear broadly recedes, but individual behaviors and responses to COVID-19 are extremely diverse. Some consumers will be nonchalant and dismissive, and others will be extremely concerned and make significant changes. Behavioral changes noticeably reduce total demand for vacation rentals. Fewer people will opt for “fly-to” locations, and more will opt for “drive-to” locations. Some properties may be able to replace lost customers with new demographic segments. For example, vacationers who used to fly to Cancun or Orlando may become attractive targets for beach rentals. International travel remains limited; vacation destinations and properties that rely on foreign visitors need to attract new customers or face reduced occupancy.

Growing acceptance of remote working may create entirely new market segments for extended-duration “working vacations.” High-density urban properties and larger properties with crowded common areas and beaches may be viewed as less desirable. On the other hand, less dense properties such as single homes and duplexes with private beaches and limited-access swimming pools may increase in desirability. Properties relying on conventions, concerts, and retail shopping attractions to drive demand may suffer, whereas properties relying on low-density outdoor activities like beach activities or golf may experience increased desirability. Property managers will need to understand evolving consumer preferences quickly and adjust their offerings and marketing to keep occupancy and ADRs up.  Economic performance takes a deep hit, with the GDP contracting at a pace similar to the Great Recession of 2008. Higher unemployment drives consumer belt-tightening, and employers find it easier to hire and retain qualified employees. Federal spending on coronavirus relief and stimulus helps the economy recover steadily starting in Q3 2020 without triggering heavy inflation or major tax increases. Lingering concerns about safety, closed amenities, and household finances dampen the total demand for vacation rentals, but some properties perform well while others do not. Some properties will need intensive management to replace lost customers. VRM Intel Magazine | Summer 2020

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SCENARIO 2: MEANDER Mid-case scenario for a vacation rental business  In this scenario the disease does not fade into the background quietly but continues to keep at least some hospitals very busy, generate headlines, and cause an unsettling number of deaths.  Governmental health policy in the mid-case scenario follows a more cautious route; economic reopening is slow, incremental, and subject to rollback. Policy objectives are more ambitious and focused on eradicating the virus using tracing and quarantines of sick as well as exposed individuals and their immediate families. Social distancing, temperature checks, masks, and other measures are strictly enforced by many jurisdictions. In addition to the closures mentioned in the “SWOOSH” scenario, public health authorities close or limit boating, beaches, pools, and other activities. There may be a degree of flip-flopping as restrictions are relaxed and reinstated.  Consumer behavior remains diverse but with much higher concern and lingering levels of fear as many consumers hunker down, pending a vaccine or treatment. Concerns about the disease lead to less travel and less interest in vacation rentals. The impact is most severe in locations that have limited access to amenities or closed amenities of all kinds. Booking and refund policies may need to be relaxed to attract customers.  Under this scenario, the broader economy performs poorly. Unemployment remains high, the stock market stays low, and lenders continue to raise underwriting requirements. Policy makers in Washington view March and April levels of stimulus and relief spending as unsustainable, and the economy starts to show signs of stagflation.  In this scenario the vacation rental market reels from a loss of demand, and there is heavy price competition to attract visitors. Lower occupancy and ADRs are a reality; management fees, maintenance, and housekeeping fees suffer. Credit risk becomes a larger issue as many vendors go unpaid. In some cases, companies and/or properties may not have adequate cash flow to service debt and pay HOA fees and may choose to sell or contribute additional capital to keep going. Some properties may have problems with HOA collections, and leveraged units may end up in bankruptcy. There will be temptations to defer maintenance and cut corners. As in Scenario 1, there will be a range of localized outcomes but few “bright spots” for vacation rentals.

SCENARIO 3: EXTENDED RELAPSE worst case FOR A VACATION RENTAL BUSINESS  In the worst case, the disease continues on its rampage or reemerges with a vengeance after a pause in the summer of 2020. There are frequent and even concurrent waves in multiple regions and cities. These waves are broad and/or severe.  Public health policies revert to shutdowns as we saw in April 2020. While more relaxed periods may be sprinkled among the shutdowns, shutdowns continue to be in place for large parts of the population. These public health restrictions prevent resumption of normal commercial or social life. Many schools do not reopen after summer break; restaurants remain carry-out only; and shopping locations, bars, and other high-contact venues remain closed. Vacation amenities such as pools, water parks, and zip lines 42

VRM Intel Magazine | Summer 2020

remain closed; beaches are closed or highly restricted; and fear is the dominant sentiment for most consumers.  Consumer behavior in this scenario is constrained by public health policy, fear, and family financial conditions. The ability and willingness to travel for vacation and the willingness of vacation communities to open public resources are limited. A significant portion of the population experiences financial stress.  In the face of public health shutdowns and psychological fear, a stimulus is unable to force broad economic recovery. Job losses expand and become long-term, large corporations start closing capacity, and layoffs expand. While this scenario may cause fleeting spikes of demand in specific vacation rental markets, the overall industry is hit hard and becomes depressed. Vacation rentals carrying a mortgage are no longer able to service debt from vacation rental income, and there are few buyers. Foreclosures spike, and many vendors providing cleaning, maintenance, marketing, and other services within the vacation rental industry will close. In some cases, vacation rentals may be converted to long-term rentals for remote workers who want to escape the city. All options in this scenario will be constrained by depressed securities markets, loss of household wealth, and limited job and earning potential.

Understand Your Break Even Every business has a volume or revenue level that represents “break even.” Sales above that number are profitable, but if revenue comes up less than that number, the business will lose money. Be sure to understand your break-even point and the economics of your situation.

A rough break even can be calculated by subtracting necessary costs incurred on each sale (variable costs), like commissions, cleaning services, and labor, from the sale amount. Take this amount, the “contribution,” and divide it into the sum of the business costs that have to be paid every month regardless of sales (the company’s fixed costs), such as rent or mortgage and the cost of management salaries. Break-even sales occur when the total revenue equals variable costs plus fixed costs. Revenue less than this amount does not cover the fixed costs. Revenue higher than break even covers the variable cost with more than enough left over to cover rent, home office salaries, and other fixed costs.


How Does Your Business Perform Under Each Scenario? The three scenarios above are starting points. You may need to extend or revise them for your geographic, operating, and customer profiles. Once you have a clear vision of the scenario, the next step is to think through how your business would perform within each one. You may conclude that only small tweaks are needed, or that a full rethink and reformulation of the business is needed. The strongest planning approach would be to detail full COVID-19 plans for each scenario even if you do not implement them. For example, you may feel that Scenario 3, Extended Relapse, is unlikely and choose not to invest much preparing for it. However, if we get to December and the virus is starting to rage out of control, you can get a jump on future events by having your plan ready to go. There are five key areas to think through to draw out your COVID-19 plan for each scenario: 1. Customer relationships

STAY FLEXIBLE The vacation rental industry is already going through significant disruption, and that will not stop any time soon. Well-executed scenario planning will help you quickly understand the implications for your business as events unfold. Avoid the temptation to lock in one scenario; remain ready to adapt and update today’s scenarios (and the plans they spawn) as time passes and a different set of facts and uncertainties apply. Update your break-even calculations as your costs and pricing change, and understand how to maintain and drive profitability in a changing market. You may face decisions to close or sell underperforming segments of your business or to consider opportunities for joint ventures, collaborations, acquisitions, or new business start-ups as the environment changes.

No matter what, the sun is going to rise every morning and set every night; life and business will find a way, even if that road is not now completely clear.

How do your current product and service offerings align with changing customer psychology and demands for each scenario? Can the offerings be adapted to better match customer needs? For example, if you manage rental units, can you deploy touchless check-ins, more fully equipped kitchens with updated kitchen packages, and higher-speed Internet service? How do you build confidence in your customers that sanitization is complete between stays? Do your marketing messages, channels, and audience need to be adjusted? How will you replace lost customers? 2. Revenue

How does revenue change in each scenario? In addition to the level of revenue, are there changes in collectability? The pattern of revenue? Do you need to reduce pricing or offer incentives for retention? Is there an opportunity to increase price? 3. Cost and capital structure

How do anticipated changes in revenue play through in your cost structure? Business owners must understand their cost structure with attention to fixed versus variable costs. Fixed costs are things like rent or managers’ salaries, which do not change as sales go up and down. Variable costs do go up and down as sales go up and down and include things like sales commissions and costs of products sold. 4. Labor model

The labor model required to operate your business should be considered under each scenario. This includes the number of employees, the skills needed, and the anticipated wage levels and impact on the company’s cost structure. Is your staff prepared to operate in a virtual mode? Do you need to push some work to temporary or contract help? 5. Vendors and suppliers

Think through the impact of each scenario on your important vendors and suppliers. As we learned recently, assuming something as simple as toilet paper will be available can be a problem. Evaluate all services and products needed to operate your business. Are they subject to regulatory closure? Will they stay solvent and open? Are they adequately staffed? Is there a risk they will exit the market or increase their pricing? Do you have alternatives? This could be anyone from your IT vendor to your housekeeping service to a marketing service.

Jonathan Cunningham is a CPA and business advisor for a range of large and small enterprises. He has prior work experience with Arthur Andersen and PriceWaterhouseCoopers, and he owns Cunningham CPA (cghm.us) with offices in Fairhope, Alabama, and Del Mar, California. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree with Highest Honor from Georgia Tech and an MBA from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. VRM Intel Magazine | Summer 2020

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Dear VRMC Owner W

e hope this message finds you both safe and healthy. The last few months have changed our world so much. We have entered uncharted territory on reopening and then rebuilding our economy. We wish you the absolute best of luck and pray for a successful rebound for you.

We know that it will be nearly impossible for some you to dig your way out of the hole that has been created by this crisis. At no fault of our own, companies in our industry will have to sell or close their doors. It’s not fair, but unfortunately it is the reality of the situation. We experienced this with the 2008 recession, oil spill, SARS, and multiple hurricanes. At C2G Advisors, we have predominantly represented buyers for over 20 years who are looking to grow their business. Even during these perilous times, some of our clients have been able to both weather the storm and create an avenue to acquire more companies. We are completely compensated by our buy-side clients and represent them in all transactions. If you are at a point that you feel the best route is a sale, please reach out for a confidential discussion. No information will be divulged to anyone until you give us written permission. We would also urge, that if you do decide to sell, you hire representation that is experienced in these types of transactions. Vacation rental companies, as you know, are very different than a typical retail store, for example. Feel free to reach out to us at jolin@C2Gadvisors.com, or 850-699-1828. Again, the conversation will be free and completely confidential. We wish you the very best moving forward during these challenging times. At no fault of your own, this has become a very difficult time. Jim and Jacobie Olin C2G Advisors LLC


Restoring Your Pricing Strategy By Kameron Bain

COVID-19 Road Map to Recovery Key Indicators

Cancellations by Cancel Date

ravel trends are changing daily as the world navigates through the COVID-19 crisis, especially in the vacation rental industry. We’ve been monitoring markets affected by COVID-19 since January and have focused on key indicators to identify important trends ahead of time. Although there is still uncertainty regarding recovery, we wanted to share how we have been monitoring markets, so you can keep an eye out for signs that your own market is starting to recover.

As soon as COVID-19 cases began to rise in the United States, cancellations in the vacation rental market surged for about a week, signaling a weakening of travel confidence.

T

Although this initial wave of cancellations lasted a week, there is potential for another wave of cancellations for summer and fall reservations. We will probably see another round of cancellations for most markets as shelter-in-place restrictions extend further.

% of reservations cancelled

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Additionally, if there are flare-ups of a second wave of the virus in the fall, we may see more cancellations then. Always be aware of travel perceptions in the media as well as shelter-in-place restrictions in your part of the country; these factors will be early indicators of future rounds of cancellations.

US CITIES AVERAGE LENGTH OF STAY BEFORE

POST

Cancellations by Check-in Date In addition to looking at the number of cancellations made when travel restrictions are issues, we can also glean insight from analyzing the stay dates for those cancelled reservations to measure how uncertain guests are about their ability to fulfill their future travel plans. In most of the United States, we have not seen many reservations cancelled past mid-May (at the time of publication). This dynamic will depend on market lead time, but the majority of cancellations made were for bookings in the same 30- to 60-day period. Because this is a fluid situation, monitoring how far out guests are cancelling reservations is another main indicator of consumer confidence moving forward.

GLOBAL CITIES AVERAGE LENGTH OF STAY BEFORE

POST

Booking Pace Just as cancellation data can give insight into how optimistic guests are about fulfilling future travel plans, new bookings are also key measures of guest confidence.

As long as there is uncertainty surrounding the forecasted end date for most markets, we can expect the booking pace to remain slow. Guests are making few bookings farther out, and most bookings are made less than seven days prior to arrival, as a result of COVID-19.

Reservations: Booked at ( Indexed ) A change in short-term stay supply in the near future will benefit those managers who continue to practice solely shortterm bookings. Although it is too early to tell if supply has permanently shifted between different distribution channels (removing listings or shifting to long-term stays), this will probably appear in the long term and have an impact on prices across different channels.

Pent-Up Demand

Shifts in Market Pricing by Listing Type In addition to monitoring cancellations and booking pace, we have also seen a major shift in length of stay, particularly in urban centers. Looking at both US and European data, we see a clear shift to longer-term bookings. As a result, the ADR in the short term has also dropped significantly, given that most managers price their 30-plus-day rentals at a discounted rate compared with short-term daily pricing. This might change the supply of vacation rentals because many of these urban managers might shift toward a long-term strategy.

Unlike the gradual recovery of a stock market recession/depression, it is likely that when either a vaccine or antibody test (or both) are released to the general population, groups of individuals will reenter normal society after months of being cooped up at home.

We might see a recession/depression as a result of COVID-19; however, we believe that travel, particularly for vacation rentals, will recover faster than most industries once the shelter-in-place orders are dropped for a majority of the general population. The signals we will watch for to measure this recovery are a decrease in cancellations, an increase in booking pace, and a lengthening of the booking lead time in various markets. VRM Intel Magazine | Summer 2020

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The Need for Active Revenue Management for the Recovery Despite decades of research and development, and millions spent on developing proprietary pricing algorithms, airlines and major hotel chains still practice “active revenue management.” This entails having revenue managers and pricing analysts constantly watch what their software is suggesting, so they can make judgment calls on behalf of their businesses. It is absolutely critical that property managers in the vacation rental space mirror these practices by investing time and resources into using objective data to make pricing decisions for their businesses.

Dynamic Pricing Is More Important Now Than Ever Staying on top of changes in supply and demand in your market has always been important, but with travel trends changing daily now, dynamic pricing is an important tool for the entire vacation rental industry. It will continue to be important to react quickly to changes in your market, moving forward. Using market-level data alongside individual listing data points allows dynamic pricing tools to stay competitive in a quickly changing landscape. Typically, market supply and demand do not shift much from day to day. This has changed recently, though; most markets around the world are changing daily as cancellations increase and booking pace decreases.

Bringing on New Owners Poses a New Challenge The lack of quality historical data during the months most affected by COVID-19 will make establishing initial rates for new properties much more challenging.

To confront that directly, take advantage of market demand to gauge how to best set prices and edit and adapt those prices almost daily for new listings as you monitor pacing. You can do so manually or with an automated dynamic pricing tool. In either case, spending dedicated time daily to focus on pricing will be critical for the recovery process.

Be Ready for a Flood of Short Lead Time Bookings Once restrictions are lifted, be prepared for a noticeable increase in short lead time bookings. With reservations slowing down dramatically for stay dates within the next six months, you’ll have more open calendars (even during high season) than you will have had in years prior. As a result, you’ll need to react quickly to adjust your last-minute discount strategy, override prices or minimum stay requirements, and reconsider new promotions or discounts you have in place. These nimble approaches will attract new guests during orphan nights (available nights positioned on the calendar between two other reservations) and uncertain times. The speed of the recovery is unknown, and every property management company will have to follow it daily to make the best strategic revenue management decisions for their organization.

A Caveat on Lowering Prices With a lot of uncertainty right now, we caution you against lowering prices too aggressively to gain occupancy in the short term. Lowering your prices to be more competitive can be easily imitated by your competitors and can ultimately lead to a nasty price war.

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Although occupancy may rebound quickly in the near future as guests begin traveling again, lower ADRs can take years to recover. Use market data insights to assess how aggressively you need to update your strategy on a daily basis. Avoid lowering prices just because demand is low for your market, and be sure to take a look at booking pace, pricing by listing type, average length of stay, and more key indicators to make informed decisions when it comes to pricing. Although staying competitive with your pricing is important, it's best to avoid digging price holes in the short term, which you could take years to emerge from in the future.

Revenue Management Is More Than Just Pricing Revenue management and dynamic pricing are not one and the same. Using dynamic pricing is a great practice, but with low demand in many markets, property managers are going to have to develop their strategy to stay competitive when markets begin to bounce back.

Dynamic pricing is one component of a larger revenue management strategy that should also include channel management, marketing, forecasting, and other methods. Right now is a great time to get a grasp on a comprehensive revenue management strategy to implement in your business, starting with the way your inventory is sold and distributed.

Getting Creative with Distribution If you are currently selling only on one channel (your direct website, Airbnb, Vrbo, or others), have you looked into expanding your channel presence and getting more eyes on your properties?

Low prices may not be enough to get occupancy levels up, and there can be completely new audiences for you to sell to on different channels. If you are not driving more traffic to your website via increased marketing efforts, then you should not expect more guests to find you. Expanding your online channel presence can be an easy way to increase your potential guest pool. As always, it’s important to be mindful of the cost of distribution on various channels, given that we know commissions and fees can vary. Be sure to review any costs associated with expanding to new channels as well as the net rates you would see after booking.

Kam Bain is the director of strategy at Beyond Pricing, the world’s first dynamic pricing platform for the vacation rental industry. Over his five years at Beyond Pricing, he has been enthusiastic about the transition of professional property managers from using seasonal pricing to dynamic nightly rates. He currently lives in Kauai but calls San Francisco home.



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Lasting Impact

Leveraging Professionalism to Meet the New Traveler Persona By Jeremiah Gall

I

’m writing this from quarantine in Pawleys Island, South Carolina, a market where vacation rentals have been on hold this spring and where the industry’s summer season also faces uncertainty. We are still deep in the COVID-19 storm, and many people around the world are hurting from the economic and social effects of the pandemic. Yet, we still have to plan for the future and believe we will travel again.

When we started Breezeway in 2016 and began speaking with industry leaders about operations, we often got a sideways look. The editor of this publication wanted to understand, “Of all the areas that you could focus on, why pick service and operations?” Over the past three years, we have written a handful of articles in these pages discussing parts of this story, including the following: the push for quality in traveler experience, the shifting identity of vacation rental operators, and communicating the full value of property care and service to homeowners. The theme is consistent: increased attention to the preparation of and service at properties is the critical point determining success or failure of professional hospitality providers. In fact, this is the overwhelming factor that identifies a “professional” operator.

Now more than ever, as we open our homes again in a world that has been so severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, professional managers have a unique opportunity to meet the demands of a new traveler persona. They must drive a wedge between their product and the “hobby vacation rental owner” and restart their gains in market share.

The New Traveler Persona Emerges Travel will resume at some point this year. People will emerge from shelter-in-place orders with an itch to move around, explore, and reconnect. According to a March 18 article in Forbes, 58 percent of Americans are planning to travel between May and September, provided their destinations are not still subject to restrictions. Data from companies like Key Data Dashboard support this trend and suggest a steadying of cancellation rates and a healthy number of reservations through the summer.

As bookings return, they will come with an altered guest psyche. Guests will have a heightened sensitivity to hygiene and safety, changing how they interact with physical space.

Guests have assumed that the property was prepared and cleaned. Now, this assumption will be tested, and the property will be scrutinized on arrival with increased concern for health and hypervigilance about property preparation and maintenance. This includes, during check-in, familiarizing themselves with the layout, ensuring that every high-touch surface is clean, identifying how to communicate with the property manager, and accessing amenities. Travelers will be more detail-oriented than ever, pushing already elevated expectations even higher. We soon will see the lines between safety, cleanliness, and quality blur.

Before, the concept of “quality space” centered around the propVRM Intel Magazine | Summer 2020

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erty’s brand—how guests felt when they entered the property. A property’s character encompassed aspects such as predictable amenities and services, artwork, décor, and thoughtfully arranged furniture and lighting. Our current climate gives “quality space” a new meaning. Managers will need to help guests feel more confident about their stay, taking every precaution to ensure that hygiene and safety have been accounted for.

These new expectations will shape travel’s “new normal” over the next year and beyond. According to Phocuswright, the growth of vacation rental market share and awareness ceased in 2019 for the first time since they began tracking this aspect. Now we have the opportunity to push that awareness and regain more of the travel market.

The cruise industry is in trouble, and ships will not be sailing at capacity for some time. Tightened borders, travel restrictions, and expensive ticket prices will curtail international travel. As social distancing continues, leisure travel to many urban markets will be less desirable. The majority of us will have been cooped up for two to three months and will be eager—bordering on desperate—for a change of scenery. Plunging oil and gas prices have prepared people for a summer season wherein they are open to hit the road. Consumers will be more comfortable traveling in their own cars than alongside large groups in airports or mass transportation. All of this should set the stage for a summer travel season dominated by trips to lower-density locations like beaches, lakes, and mountains in drive-to markets.

Vacation Rentals Are Well-Positioned for Changing Demand Shifting travel expectations and behaviors present an opportunity for professional managers to acquire market share. When stacked up against hotels, professionally managed vacation rentals often win out in cost, size, amenities, and quality. These advantages are historically amplified during economic downturns, making vacation rentals the most attractive travel option over the next year. The factors mentioned above are all considerations we’ve seen in the past, but none are more important now than the expectation of quality space.

Vacation homes offer guests an entire single-family home or condo, promoting social distancing with decreased proximity to other guests. Furthermore, the self-check-in process for vacation rentals often involves the use of smart locks, lock boxes, and key drops.

Another advantage is that vacation rentals have a longer average length of stay than that of hotels. In fact, 67 percent of travelers stay at least a week at a vacation rental, compared to an average of just 1.83 days in a hotel. This difference translates to significantly fewer reservations per unit in a vacation rental, and subsequently fewer guests, property managers, and service partners entering and exiting the premises. Less foot traffic helps guests feel more confident that their rental is clean and that they will remain safe and healthy to fully enjoy their vacations. These market dynamics have left many operators optimistic about activity in drive-to-market destinations.

Leaning into Professionalism to Take Action Now When travel resumes, guests will favor trusted vacation rental brands over hosts renting spare rooms with shared areas. Guests have always wanted professional, predictable, and safe places for travel. 52

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This means now is the time for managers to audit property operations, review internal protocols, and brand standards and reconsider how they coordinate remote staff. “Today’s climate serves as an opportunity for us to rededicate ourselves to best practices,” says Ashley Hamm, President of 360 Blue. “Our property care is foundational to the guest experience, so we’re spending extra time educating our teams so that everyone understands exactly how to perform their work at each property.” For managers who already leverage “professionalized” housekeeping programs for different event types (e.g., back-to-backs, owner stays, and standard departure), there are still calibrations that can be made to ensure an airtight process. For example, providers could increase the frequency at which they “deep clean” a property (although our clients average 2.4 deep cleans per year, many are considering performing these more regularly going forward).

Professionals could also consider taking extra precautions to supplement housekeeping checklists and protocols (e.g., wiping down high-touch surfaces, swapping in CDC-recommended cleaning products, replacing reusable supplies). This decision might add to the operational burden, but doing so will give brands an advantage and build more confidence that guests will experience a sanitized, clean, and disinfected space when they walk through the front door. Professional managers have been stringently cleaning their units for some time now, but communicating this level of comprehensive service to guests and owners is more important than ever. Customer service is a core competency in the vacation rental business, and the expectations for proactive client communication become heightened in times of uncertainty. What guests and owners really care about is what has been done to ensure the property’s quality, safety, and cleanliness. The programmatic communication of cleaning procedures reassures guests and helps demonstrate the full value of the services provided to them. Strategic client communication separates professional managers from the rest of the pack and is critical to reinforcing a trustworthy brand.

Expectation for Professional Management Demands Tighter Processes Traveler needs are changing, and that is nothing new to the vacation rental industry. Although COVID-19 has created extraordinary circumstances, hospitality providers have always demonstrated the ability to adapt and meet guest expectations. Professional managers should use the coming months to audit their operational processes, housekeeping protocols, and remote work coordination because doing so will enable them to accommodate the “new normal” and gain market share. Jeremiah Gall is a serial entrepreneur and vacation rental market veteran with a history of delivering great products to rental managers. Jeremy cofounded FlipKey.com in 2006, which grew into one of the largest vacation rental marketplaces in the world and was acquired by TripAdvisor in 2013. Jeremy cofounded Breezeway in 2016, which provides intelligent software to help property managers automate their property care and maintenance programs and deliver the type of quality experiences that guests and owners demand.


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Ben@WeatherbyConsulting.com

(888) 304-1405 VRM Intel Magazine | Summer 2020

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By Amy Hinote

Booking Pace Snapshots Examining Year-over-Year Adjusted Occupancy Rates, March through July A

s the United States slowly awakened to the reality that COVID-19 was putting a halt on travel, Key Data Dashboard’s Melanie Brown and I began tracking the pandemic’s effect on the forward-looking booking pace, taking snapshots of data for six regions: Hawaii, Oregon, California, Colorado, the Gulf Coast, and the Southeastern Atlantic Coast. Beginning on March 5, we documented the adjusted occupancy rate booked on that day and compared it to the same metric on the same day in 2019, looking ahead monthly to March, April, May, June, and July. We then continued to pull these same data sets every seven to 14 days through May 8 to track how vacation rental travel bookings were comparing to 2019.

Hawaii: YOY Adjusted Occupancy - % Change Hawaii: YOY Adjusted as of Occupancy [Date] - % Change as of [Date] 50.0%

Hawaii

The data sets provide a piece of history—one we have not had until recently with the wide adoption of benchmarking data.

-100.0%

March

April

June

July

May

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March

April

June

July

May

VRM Intel Magazine | Summer 2020

Adjusted Occupancy

Adjusted Occupancy

Adjusted

% Chg

2020

2019

% Chg

2020

March 61.7%

63.6%

-3.0%

67.6%

72.3%

-6.5%

55.2%

April

46.2%

41.4%

11.6%

50.8%

48.4%

5.0%

34.1%

May

30.1%

25.8%

16.4%

32.7%

30.2%

8.4%

28.9%

June

29.5%

23.0%

28.2%

31.8%

26.8%

18.9%

30.6%

July

23.5%

19.7%

19.5%

25.8%

22.6%

14.4%

26.0%

OREGON

20.0% 0.0% -20.0% -40.0% -60.0% -80.0%

As of

2019

Oregon: YOY Change in Adjusted Occupancy % Change as of [Date]

OREGON: YOY Adjusted Occupancy - % Change as of [Date]

As of March 13

2020

0.0% -50.0%

As of March 5

As of March 5

As of March 13

As of

Adjusted Occupancy

Adjusted Occupancy

Adjusted

2020

2019

% Chg

2020

2019

% Chg

2020

March 23.4%

25.3%

-7.6%

26.6%

27.7%

-4.1%

25.0%

April

14.2%

13.0%

9.3%

14.6%

14.3%

2.2%

11.6%

May

11.1%

11.1%

0.4%

11.7%

11.7%

-0.2%

10.8%

June

20.3%

17.9%

13.4%

21.2%

19.2%

10.2%

20.8%

July

32.6%

28.9%

12.8%

32.3%

29.7%

8.7%

32.0%


How to Read the Data As you will see in the charts and tables below, each region’s data set is characterized by an “as-of ” date (e.g., Hawaii: YOY Adjusted Occupancy As of March 5). The “Adjusted Occupancy” rate represents reservations on the books as of March 5, 2020, compared year over year to reservations on the books as of March 5, 2019. The “Adjusted Occupancy” metric measures paid occupancy, or nights available to rent, and excludes owner stays and maintenance holds. The data sets then compare this booking pace for 2019 and 2020 as of March 5, March 13, March 23, April 7, April 14, April 29, and May 8. Key Data sources and aggregates its data from thousands of professionalJune: Year-over-Year (YOY) Change in Adjusted Occupancy as of [Date] June: YOY Change in Adjusted Occupancy as of [Date] ly managed vacation rental companies and compiles it using direct API-driven connection with Hawaii Oregon California Colorado Gulf Coast SE Atlantic Coast property management software 40.00% systems. 30.00% Now that we have benchmarking 20.00% data, we must learn how to in10.00% terpret it. For example, the chart 0.00% to the right tracks June’s YOY -10.00% change in adjusted occupancy -20.00% rates across all the regions we examined “as of ” the days on which -30.00% we took snapshots. For example, -40.00% the SE Atlantic Coast region’s -50.00% bookings are still pacing 25 per-60.00% cent below 2019 for June occu-70.00% pancy booked as of May 8, 2020, 5-Mar 13-Mar 23-Mar 7-Apr 14-Apr 29-Apr 8-May compared to occupancy booked as of May 8, 2019.

March 23

As of April 7

As of April 14

As of April 29

As of May 8

Occupancy

Adjusted Occupancy

Adjusted Occupancy

Adjusted Occupancy

Adjusted Occupancy

2019

% Chg

2020

2019

% Chg

2020

2019

% Chg

2020

2019

% Chg

2020

2019

% Chg

74.1% -25.5% 50.7%

75.1% -32.5% 50.4%

73.6% -31.5% 44.6%

65.8% -32.3% 45.6%

65.8% -30.7%

52.5% -35.1% 12.5%

58.6% -78.7% 13.3%

58.7% -77.3% 10.0%

53.8% -81.5%

9.3%

54.0% -82.8%

33.8% -14.5% 17.2%

40.0% -57.1% 14.2%

41.3% -65.7%

41.3% -79.0%

7.6%

45.2% -83.3%

29.4%

4.4%

25.3%

34.5% -26.9% 22.6%

36.0% -37.1% 17.5%

36.6% -52.3% 15.4%

40.3% -61.8%

25.0%

3.8%

24.4%

29.7% -17.9% 23.7%

31.1% -23.9% 20.8%

32.0% -35.0% 19.9%

35.0% -43.3%

8.7%

March 23

As of April 7

As of April 14

As of April 29

As of May 8

Occupancy

Adjusted Occupancy

Adjusted Occupancy

Adjusted Occupancy

Adjusted Occupancy

2019

% Chg

2020

2019

% Chg

2020

2019

% Chg

2020

2019

% Chg

2020

2019

% Chg

31.2% -19.8% 22.5%

32.4% -30.4% 22.5%

30.4% -25.9% 22.1%

29.3% -24.5% 22.4%

29.3% -23.6%

17.1% -32.4%

8.7%

23.8% -63.7% 10.1%

23.8% -57.3% 11.0%

24.3% -54.6% 11.1%

24.3% -54.2%

13.2% -18.2%

8.7%

17.0% -48.8%

8.5%

17.9% -52.4% 10.2%

20.9% -51.3% 12.5%

25.2% -50.3%

20.9%

-0.2%

18.5%

24.3% -23.8% 17.8%

25.1% -29.2% 16.2%

26.7% -39.3% 16.4%

30.3% -45.8%

32.4%

-1.3%

31.1%

37.0% -15.9% 31.0%

38.0% -18.4% 29.9%

39.4% -24.2% 29.9%

42.3% -29.3%

VRM Intel Magazine | Summer 2020

55


-20.0% -40.0% -60.0%

March

April

May

July Colorado: June YOY Available Occupancy - % Change as of [Date]

Colorado: YOY Adjusted Occupancy - % Change as of [Date] 40.0% 20.0% 0.0% -20.0% -40.0% -60.0% -80.0%

March

April

May

June July Gulf Coast: YOY Adjusted Occupancy -% Change as of [Date]

Gulf Coast : YOY Adjusted Occupancy - % Change as of [Date]

20.0% 0.0% -20.0% -40.0% -60.0% -80.0% -100.0%

March

April

June

July

May

SE Atlantic Coast: YOY Adjusted Occupancy % Change as of [Date]

SE Atlantic Coast : YOY Adjusted Occupancy - % Change as of [Date] 20.0%

California

As of March 13

As of

Adjusted Occupancy

Adjusted Occupancy

Adjusted

2020

2019

% Chg

2020

2019

% Chg

2020

43.9% -11.9% 42.3%

48.5% -12.7% 37.1%

April

20.6%

19.5%

5.5%

21.0%

22.0%

-4.8%

16.9%

May

8.5%

8.5%

0.0%

9.2%

9.4%

-3.0%

8.6%

June

9.7%

10.1%

-3.7%

10.5%

11.1%

-5.2%

10.4%

July

14.7%

14.0%

4.6%

15.8%

15.2%

3.8%

15.6%

As of March 5

As of March 13

As of

Adjusted Occupancy

Adjusted Occupancy

Adjusted

2020

2019

% Chg

2020

2019

% Chg

2020

March 46.4%

51.2%

-9.5%

52.9%

60.1% -12.0% 40.5%

April

7.4%

5.5%

34.3%

8.1%

6.6%

22.4%

5.5%

May

2.9%

2.2%

31.7%

3.2%

2.5%

28.6%

3.0%

June

10.8%

9.9%

9.1%

11.5%

11.1%

3.9%

11.3%

July

14.2%

13.1%

8.3%

15.6%

15.1%

3.6%

15.2%

As of March 5

As of March 13

As of

Adjusted Occupancy

Adjusted Occupancy

Adjusted

2020

2019

% Chg

2020

2019

% Chg

2020

March 55.4%

60.6%

-8.6%

62.4%

67.9%

-8.1%

57.9%

April

28.9%

27.2%

6.1%

31.7%

30.9%

2.5%

25.6%

May

22.8%

21.3%

6.9%

24.9%

23.9%

4.5%

24.0%

June

28.2%

26.9%

4.7%

30.9%

29.6%

4.2%

31.0%

July

20.2%

19.3%

4.9%

22.3%

21.4%

4.2%

22.8%

As of March 5

As of March 13

As of

Adjusted Occupancy

Adjusted Occupancy

Adjusted

2020

2019

% Chg

2020

March 35.9%

40.5% -11.2% 43.6%

46.6%

-6.5%

41.9%

-60.0%

April

26.5%

26.7%

-0.6%

32.2%

31.7%

1.6%

27.8%

-80.0% 7-May

0.0%

As of March 5

March 38.7%

Colorado

0.0%

Gulf Coast

20.0%

SE Atlantic Coast

California: YOY Available Occupancy - % ChangeOccupancy as of [Date] California: YOY Adjusted - % Change as of [Date]

May

24.1%

23.1%

4.2%

28.4%

26.5%

7.2%

27.7%

June

38.8%

39.2%

-0.9%

44.8%

43.6%

2.8%

44.8%

July

July

39.3%

38.6%

1.8%

45.3%

43.2%

4.8%

45.6%

-20.0%

March

56

April

May

June

VRM Intel Magazine | Summer 2020

30-Apr

23-Apr

16-Apr

9-Apr

2-Apr

26-Mar

19-Mar

12-Mar

5-Mar

-40.0%

2020

2019

% Chg


March 23

As of April 7

As of April 14

As of April 29

As of May 8

Occupancy

Adjusted Occupancy

Adjusted Occupancy

Adjusted Occupancy

Adjusted Occupancy

2019

% Chg

2020

2019

% Chg

2020

2019

% Chg

2020

2019

% Chg

2020

2019

% Chg

51.0% -27.4% 37.2%

52.3% -29.0% 37.1%

51.1% -27.5% 34.1%

48.6% -29.8% 34.3%

48.6% -29.4%

25.0% -32.5% 16.8%

32.9% -48.8% 17.9%

34.4% -47.8% 17.7%

34.1% -48.2% 17.4%

34.1% -48.9%

10.7% -19.6%

7.3%

13.7% -46.6%

7.3%

14.9% -50.8% 10.7%

17.5% -38.9% 13.5%

20.9% -35.6%

12.1% -13.5%

9.3%

14.4% -35.5%

8.9%

15.2% -41.7%

16.6% -46.1%

9.7%

19.1% -49.0%

16.3%

15.2%

18.9% -19.7% 14.8%

20.8% -30.5% 14.6%

22.9% -36.1%

-3.8%

8.9%

19.7% -25.1% 14.4%

March 23

As of April 7

As of April 14

As of April 29

As of May 8

Occupancy

Adjusted Occupancy

Adjusted Occupancy

Adjusted Occupancy

Adjusted Occupancy

2019

% Chg

2020

2019

% Chg

2020

2019

% Chg

2020

2019

% Chg

2020

2019

% Chg

63.0% -35.8% 37.6%

64.2% -41.4% 37.1%

63.9% -41.9% 31.9%

57.0% -44.0% 32.3%

57.1% -43.4%

7.9%

-31.0%

3.7%

10.9% -65.6%

3.9%

11.8% -66.7%

3.9%

11.2% -65.5%

3.9%

11.3% -65.7%

2.8%

8.5%

2.6%

3.7%

-31.3%

2.5%

4.2%

-40.1%

3.7%

5.0%

-26.0%

4.6%

6.4%

11.9%

-4.8%

9.8%

13.9% -29.8%

8.7%

14.8% -40.9%

6.7%

14.9% -54.9%

6.9%

16.6% -58.6%

16.3%

-6.7%

14.1%

19.2% -26.4% 14.1%

20.7% -34.5% 14.0%

22.7% -38.2%

20.5% -31.3% 13.5%

-28.3%

March 23

As of April 7

As of April 14

As of April 29

As of May 8

Occupancy

Adjusted Occupancy

Adjusted Occupancy

Adjusted Occupancy

Adjusted Occupancy

2019

% Chg

2020

2019

% Chg

2020

2019

% Chg

2020

2019

% Chg

2020

2019

% Chg

71.6% -19.1% 54.6%

72.3% -24.4% 40.5%

63.8% -36.5% 48.2%

67.1% -28.1% 48.4%

67.2% -27.9%

34.9% -26.6% 14.2%

42.6% -66.7%

42.7% -88.4%

44.9% -81.3%

8.4%

45.1% -81.4%

26.8% -10.3% 19.0%

32.8% -42.0% 14.1%

38.6% -63.3% 17.3%

39.5% -56.1% 23.7%

45.3% -47.6%

33.1%

-6.1%

29.2%

39.3% -25.7% 27.3%

48.4% -43.7% 27.2%

45.5% -40.2% 28.8%

50.9% -43.5%

24.2%

-5.9%

23.0%

29.0% -20.7% 22.9%

34.5% -33.7% 24.4%

33.6% -27.3% 26.0%

37.6% -30.8%

5.0%

8.4%

March 23

As of April 7

As of April 14

As of April 29

As of May 8

Occupancy

Adjusted Occupancy

Adjusted Occupancy

Adjusted Occupancy

Adjusted Occupancy

2019

% Chg

2020

2019

% Chg

2020

2019

% Chg

2020

2019

% Chg

2020

2019

% Chg

48.7% -14.0% 41.8%

49.8% -16.0% 41.8%

49.7% -15.8% 38.3%

47.1% -18.7% 38.6%

47.0% -17.9%

35.2% -21.0% 20.0%

42.6% -53.2% 17.7%

45.2% -60.9% 13.3%

43.6% -69.5% 13.3%

43.6% -69.4%

28.8%

-3.8%

24.8%

33.5% -25.8% 23.4%

35.5% -34.0% 21.3%

37.2% -42.9% 25.4%

41.1% -38.2%

46.5%

-3.7%

44.0%

51.4% -14.4% 43.8%

53.3% -17.7% 41.5%

54.0% -23.2% 42.5%

57.2% -25.6%

46.2%

-1.3%

45.9%

51.1% -10.1% 46.5%

53.0% -12.2% 45.4%

54.0% -15.9% 46.8%

56.8% -17.7%

VRM Intel Magazine | Summer 2020

57


By Amy Hinote, with a lot of help from Breezeway CEO Jeremy Gall and TruPlace founders Suzi and Bob Cusack

Being Extra-Ordinary Now may be the perfect time for vacation rentals to be a little “extra” “She’s so extra!”

N

ow that we’ve all been exposed to Netflixdriven multigenerational dramas, you’ve likely heard the term “extra” being used to describe someone who is over the top and maybe a little dramatic, doing more than the situation calls for. Urban Dictionary defines this Gen Z use of “extra” as “Doing the absolute damn most. For no reason.”

In May, organizations (e.g., VRMA, Breezeway, AHLA, Vrbo, Airbnb, hoteliers, and property management companies) began publishing augmented cleaning guidelines to adapt to a changing world’s expectations for lodging safety and cleanliness. Although a handful of these guidelines are in themselves a little extra, the bulk of them are on point, and some are long overdue in the vacation rental industry. While individual homeowners may be a little slower at adapting to new protocols, professional vacation rental managers find themselves at a pivotal moment with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to come together as an industry and blow the socks off the hospitality sector. Let’s take a look, room by room, at what is old, what is new, and what is extra.

Resources for hospitality guidelines: Breezeway: breezeway.io/standards VRMA: vrma.org/page/covid19 AHLA: ahla.com/safestay

Stay In Tamarindo Vacation Rentals, Photos by TruPlace

For property managers determined to thrive amid the current challenges posed by COVID-19, it is possible that finding ways to be a little extra isn’t such a bad thing.


It’s always a little fun to start in the bedroom.

Old  Aged patterned sheets and bedspreads  Laundering bedding in the unit/home between stays  Small area rugs and excessive throw pillows  Ultra-dim lamps and lighting  Outlets hidden behind furniture  Unwashed extra blankets in closets  Homeowner items in closets or drawers

New  Professionally laundered bedding  Mattress and pillow protectors  Smart TVs with universal and disinfected remote control  Easy-access outlets  Professionally laundered extra blankets in closets  Clean closets with extra hangers Walker Luxury Rentals, Photos by TruPlace

Walker Luxury Rentals, Photos by TruPlace


 Bedside power stations for phones and tablets  Matching clothes hangers  Triple sheeting  Hospitality blankets, comforters, duvets, and top covers for professional laundering

 Pro Tip: We have been hearing from several PMs who are moving to hospitality blankets/covers/duvets that mills are overloaded with demand. If you are moving in this direction, order soon as many popular coverings are backordered for months. At VRM Intel, we will be comparing these options in early June. 60

VRM Intel Magazine | Summer 2020

Walker Luxury Rentals, Photos by TruPlace

Extra


Newman Dailey Resort Properties, Photos by TruPlace

Creating a hospitality standard for vacation rental bathrooms

Old

New

 Laundering towels in the unit/home between stays  Bathroom rugs  Old shower curtains and liners  Countertop accessories  Owner items in the cabinets, drawers, or linen closets

 Anti-bacterial liquid soap and hand sanitizer  Augmented schedule for shower curtain liner replacement  Cleaning inside drawers and cabinets  Professionally laundered towels and bath mats VRM Intel Magazine | Summer 2020

61


Walker Luxury Rentals, Photos by TruPlace

Extra  Professionally laundered shower curtains and liners  Branded hand sanitizer  Cleaning seal on toilet  Extra toilet paper  Makeup remover wipes

 Pro Tip: Design-folding towels into shapes is a step that can be eliminating as it indicates to guests that more hands have been on the towel.

Walker Luxury Rentals, Photos by TruPlace

62

VRM Intel Magazine | Summer 2020


With more guests opting to cook instead of dining out, expect detailed reviews about the kitchen.

Old         

Old and mismatched dinnerware and flatware Scratched and foggy glasses Charred, chipped, and scraped utensils, pots, and pans Knives that don’t cut Old coffee maker Leftover canned goods, condiments, and spices Cluttered surfaces Dirty oven mitts and potholders Pre-setting dining tables

New  Uncluttered and spotless surfaces  Matching and organized glassware, dishes, flatware, utensils, pots, and pans  Stored appliances (except coffee maker)  No food, condiments, or spices—unless provided in an amenity package or gift basket  Paper towels, dish soap, disposable sponge(s), dishwashing detergent, and hand sanitizer in an amenity package  Professionally laundered kitchen towels Walker Luxury Rentals, Photos by TruPlace

VRM Intel Magazine | Summer 2020

63

Vacation Homes of Hilton Head, Photos by TruPlace


Aspen Luxury Vacation Rentals, Photos by TruPlace

Extra  2-Way Brewer (Coffee Maker and Single-Serve Combo)  Packaged salt, pepper, and spices  Branded hand sanitizer  Standardized kitchen packages  Hospitality blankets, comforters, duvets, and top covers for professional laundering

 Pro Tip: Homeowners have been notorious for sending old kitchen

items to their vacation rentals as they replace things in their primary residences. This coronavirus challenge provides a unique opportunity to talk to owners about the importance of replacing kitchen items with new products.

 Pro Tip: Wholesale potholders are priced under .30/piece. In-house housekeeping teams can have these on hand to replace as needed.

 Pro Tip: VRMs that standardize kitchen packages easily replace items

as needed when all properties have the same glassware, flatware, dinnerware, utensils, pots, and pans. These companies’ cleaners count the items as part of their checklist, report what is missing, and the inspector replaces. There is an additional benefit in housekeepers spotting problem areas in cabinets and drawers when counting.

64

VRM Intel Magazine | Summer 2020


Living rooms and common areas hold hidden challenges. Eliminate as many hurdles as possible.

Old Small Area Rugs Clutter and over-accessorizing Excessive throw pillows Multiple remote controls Toys and games (If you keep them, you have to clean and organize them.)  Guestbooks . . . maybe     

Note: I read the guestbook in every rental I have stayed in as it offers a special connection and a glimpse into the lives of the people who have stayed there before, and have often dreamed of writing a book based on the guestbook stories of families who have stayed in the same vacation home. I hope that creative VRMs go beyond online reviews and find a way to reimagine guestbooks in a germ-free way. We are going to crave connection more and more, and there is an extra idea for guestbooks waiting to happen.

 VRMA Guideline:

“Using a pressurized pump sprayer to distribute a sanitizing product across all soft surfaces is best.” And “Use disinfecting products on all major surfaces and pay attention to all high-touch areas, including door knobs (inside and out), lockboxes or electronics lock panels, elevator buttons, stair railings, telephones, light switches, remote controls, arms of chairs, refrigerator door handles, sliding door handles, toilets, faucets and knobs, clothes hangers, touch screens, and play sets/toys, to name a few.”

New  Fewer, large utilitarian—and easy to clean—accessories (e.g., trays, bowls, game boards)  Professionally laundered and packaged sleeper sofa bedding  Cleaning under furniture and under cushions  Universal and disinfected remote control  Higher frequency fan cleaning and air filter replacement Vacation Homes of Hilton Head, Photos by TruPlace

VRM Intel Magazine | Summer 2020

65


Vacation Homes of Hilton Head, Photos by TruPlace

Extra  Performance-fabric upholstery, slipcovers, and pillow covers  Smart TVs with at least one streaming service account like Hulu or Netflix  Power stations and Hybrid USB/conventional outlets


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5 tips to make guests “feel” good when

walking in the door for the first time

1

Provide clear directions to the property at their fingertips.

First, provide guests with easy-to-follow directions via both text and email. Don’t bury directions in an app or in a pdf. Use a separate text and email just for directions and keycodes, and don’t be wordy. Test directions with Gen X,Y,Z, and Boomer team members to make sure they are understandable. If the property is in a rural area, do not rely on Google. That said, if Google isn’t showing easy directions, contact Google. They will quickly change it for you as Google Maps hates being wrong.

2 3

Start the stay before guests walk in the door.

Using a sports metaphor, you are “on the clock” the minute they pull up in the driveway. Keyless entry and lockboxes can be confusing. Text and email very specific instructions, and don’t bury these instructions in an app or in a contract pdf. Entry instructions should be the easiest thing they get from your company. And, please, leave exterior lights on.

And they’re in! Open up the best views and leave lights on.

When weary travelers open the door, first impressions are everything. If they feel uneasy or creeped out, everything will be scrutinized. However, if the guest walks into a vacation home that feels and smells clean, warm, and inviting, they will let down their guard and become excited to finally be on vacation.

The augmented cleaning protocols should take care of the smell. If you normally keep drapes/blinds/shutters closed, consider opening the window treatments exposing the best views when guests are arriving. Additionally, with guests getting to the home later as checkin times get pushed back, don’t let them come into a dark home. It is difficult to make a dark cabin in the middle of the woods feel

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VRM Intel Magazine | Summer 2020

clean and welcoming, no matter how hard you try. Leaving some strategic lights on will make the home feel warm and welcoming. And for those of you in cabin destinations, consider changing out dark lamp shades. In addition, leaving the living room TV on, set to a music channel is extra. Not only does it eliminate the eerie silence, it helps them operate the TV.

4

Staging

We often have pushed for inspectors to be titled “stagers,” as staging the home for arrival is critical. When pillows, cushions, accessories, and rugs are aligned in the right place, the whole home feels organized. Then, they see your clutter-free, shiny kitchen countertops with your welcome note and amenity package. As they move through the home and inevitably rush to the bathroom, they see the cleaning seals on the toilets, perfectly placed clean towels, and hand sanitizer. As they take their luggage to their bedrooms, they sigh in relief at the fresh, white, professionally laundered bedding in bedrooms and clean bedside lamps that give off the right amount of light.

5

The Cheerio Standard

In the past, a stray Cheerio or Goldfish cracker left under a chair or bed or in a cushion was a little annoying. PostCOVID, that same Cheerio represents to the guest that the home still has surfaces on which a child’s slobbery residue remains. In short, a guest does not want to see evidence that another human being has been in the home. When checking for Cheerios, check for flies, love bugs, lady bugs, etc. The only thing that will kill a vacation vibe more that a Cheerio is a bug. So don’t leave a bug or a Cheerio. Managing first impressions will put your guests at ease and allow them to begin their vacation at once. And your relationship with them begins.


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Q&A

with Vrbo’s Lisa Chen

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hile property managers have faced difficult internal challenges and decisions during this time, they have also had to work hand in hand with third-party booking providers to meet their mutual customers’ needs. And although the struggles at Airbnb have grabbed headlines over the last two months, Vrbo is still the primary third-party channel utilized by leisure-based vacation rental management companies. To find out more about Vrbo’s pandemic-related customer response, policies, and decision-making processes, we reached out to Lisa Chen, vice president of global business for property managers at Vrbo, to ask the most pressing questions we’ve received about the company. 70

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Amy Hinote (AH): How did Vrbo decide to handle COVID-19-related cancellations and concerns from travelers? Lisa Chen (LC): Our policy was driven by an effort to do what was right by everyone involved and by our trust that property managers would find the best solution—and so many did! It was important to us to try to balance partner and traveler needs to find the fairest way to handle a nearly impossible situation. By rewarding those who went above and beyond their cancellation policies to offer refunds or to provide a travel credit, we are encouraging property managers and owners to take care of travelers while giving them the agency to do what is needed. A couple years ago, we created a team dedicated to property man-


agers and their needs to continually learn and consider the nuances of how their business operates. By understanding things like legal obligations to homeowners; the need to pay contractors, vendors, and employees at various times; and accounting requirements, we made the decision to give managers the flexibility to do what is necessary based on their business processes, realizing there are likely many other things we’re unaware of or didn’t consider. Most important, the relationships we’ve developed with so many property managers over the years gave us confidence that their kindness and hospitality would lead them to go above and beyond for travelers whenever possible. We’re incredibly thankful that the vast majority of owners and managers went outside of their policies to reach a resolution.

AH: What has been the reaction from homeowners and property managers (PMs)? LC: Goodness, it has been (and will continue to be) a journey. I’ve observed property managers handle the situation much as I and our teams would have: At first, it’s a shock to the system with maybe a little bit of denial. Then we take stock and move to action. And we probably shed some tears along the way—I know I have. The whole experience has been humbling.

Despite the hardship the pandemic has brought, it’s been heartwarming to see so many in the vacation rental industry come together and help. For example, we are inspired by Danielle Dirks, a Vrbo partner in Detroit who has opened her vacation homes to medical personnel working long shifts at the local hospital. In addition to giving these hardworking heroes a place to relax and recharge, she’s been able to keep her housekeeping and cleaning staff employed and help local businesses in her community. And there are so many other property managers and owners who are doing similar things. We also have heard about acts of kindness from travelers—for example, when one Vrbo partner reached out to their guest to assure them that they’d receive a full refund without penalty, the traveler’s response moved them to tears:

“My husband and I could do nothing but cry in emotional gratitude. While we thought we were doing our best in the interest of our guests, our guests had a plan of their own to donate to our cause when we needed it most.” I’m proud of how the vacation rental community has responded and honored to be part of it all.

AH: How have your years of experience given you a competitive advantage during this time? LC: We call property managers “partners” for a reason. Only by working together and understanding their needs can we continue to help families everywhere take the best vacations of their lives. Despite social distancing, our team is still carrying on with feedback forums in virtual settings, like Rise and Shines and Customer Advisory Board meetings. From our front line agents, to myself and Jeff Hurst, president of Vrbo, everyone at Vrbo is prioritizing ongoing, open, and honest conversations.

Historically, we’ve used feedback from partners to build tools like MarketMaker and Win/Loss Cards that provide actionable insights on destination trends and competition. Meanwhile, we’ve configured our team to more rapidly provide tips and resources in different formats that help partners be more successful. We antic-

ipate these product features and resources will prove even more valuable as we navigate the uncertainties of recovering from a pandemic.

AH: What new features and functionality have you added at Vrbo that may have gone under the radar with the current events? LC: One of our main areas of focus continues to be price consistency and the features it unlocks (and don’t forget that managers see an average of 10 percent improvement in conversion after upgrading). For property managers who integrate through software, we’ve introduced the ability to include fees in the total nightly rate that travelers see, so that a consistent price is shown from search to the property page to checkout. When travelers select dates and search for a property, they will see the total price for the stay in addition to the average nightly rate. We’ve also introduced the ability for property managers to accept bookings with a length of stay longer than 32 days, up to 180 days, as well as more flexible cancellation policies and the ability for travelers to initiate a cancellation or change request, streamlining communication efforts and resolution. While every new feature is not yet available through all our software partners, our team is working with everyone to accelerate availability.

AH: Are there any new features you’ve added directly as a result of COVID-19? LC: Many of the features mentioned previously, which were already on our roadmap and have begun rolling out, should prove helpful as travelers and property managers navigate COVID-19. Importantly, we are seeing travelers have higher expectations for flexible cancellation policies. Vrbo is launching new ways for partners to merchandise their flexible policies and giving them tools to process cancellations and modifications more easily and efficiently. Travelers are also concerned about cleaning procedures, and this is an area where we are focusing sharply on education. Many vacation rentals are already professionally cleaned, and we believe property managers have an opportunity to highlight this value to travelers.

AH: What features have been added to Escapia that will help PMs navigate this situation? LC: In response to previous natural disasters, Escapia has always prioritized tracking and reporting. To provide even more tools and data during the pandemic, we will soon be releasing custom cancellation policies. We have already introduced automated email communications with travelers, the ability to customize fees by channel, and expanded length-of-stay options that will help Escapia partners adapt more easily to traveler needs, keeping pace with a rapidly changing environment as travel begins to recover. In an effort to save partners countless hours or even days when tracking how COVID-19 is impacting their business, the Escapia team quickly launched a comprehensive cancellation report that includes all important data, such as associated revenue and guest information. The cancellation report may also prove helpful as property managers apply for loan forgiveness and other government relief programs. Escapia customers can also use the Performance Dashboard to stay up to date with real-time pacing for bookings compared to previous time periods. The dashboard also includes a new option to see VRM Intel Magazine | Summer 2020

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the number of cancellations via the bookings tab. Some property managers have already used the custom cancellation reports and Performance Dashboard data to justify business losses and apply for the Paycheck Protection Program and SBA loans.

We’re grateful for the partnership and feedback from Escapia customers, and we look forward to continuing to work with them as we make even more investments to build the best platform for property managers.

AH: Are there changes to your payments policy and/or relationship with Yapstone? LC: For partners who process payments through Vrbo’s platform, we recently completed the migration of all partners from Yapstone to our in-house payment platform. We built our payment platform on three principles: security, reliability and choice. These are foundational, no matter the situation, and will guide our actions and policies ongoing. Property managers can continue using software to process their payments as we continue to work with Yapstone. As it did for many other operations, COVID-19 created unprecedented disruptions to payment flows, prompting Vrbo to temporarily delay refunds and payouts. These delays enable the teams to accurately process refunds by sending the correct dollar amount to the correct place and helps avoid scenarios where payouts are sent to partners only to turn around and have their account debited because a traveler quickly cancelled.

We continuously monitor and analyze booking and payments data, which informs how we evolve our processes and policies—not only to address the current situation, but also to adapt to future needs.

Property managers should continue to check Vrbo’s Discovery Hub for ongoing updates.

AH: Looking at booking activity, what are you seeing in traveler behavior or intent? What are your predictions for travel this summer in drive-to leisure destinations? Do you think the industry will see more aggressive pricing this summer? LC: Beginning in mid-April we started seeing encouraging improvement in U.S. traveler demand, especially for longer trips during the end of summer. Google search data also support these trends, revealing that interest in vacation rentals and Vrbo are beginning to increase from their lows. Meanwhile, almost three-fourths of travelers we surveyed indicated they are willing to stay in a vacation rental this year. As social distancing becomes the new norm (in the near term, at least), travelers may be more attracted to private vacation rentals with the space and amenities that allow them to take extra precautions.

The data also show that travelers who are dreaming about vacations are interested in traveling close to home, are curious about local recommendations for grocery pick-up and restaurant delivery options, and are seeking out listings with flexible and clearly stated cancellation policies. Specifically,

 Over three-fourths of travelers are more likely to book a rental with flexible cancellation policies  Almost half of travelers consider a flexible cancellation policy extremely important

AH: Are there actions Vrbo has taken to support PMs in this time? LC: Yes, the first action our team took was to reach out to property managers—to see how they were doing personally and to understand how their business has been impacted. I’ve noticed the pandemic is bringing everyone closer together, both professionally and personally. We are talking to even more property managers these days in a desire to connect, commiserate, share ideas, and just be there for one another.

These conversations have reinforced the rationale behind our COVID-19 policy and underscored the importance of continuing to give property managers the flexibility and agency needed to operate their businesses in this challenging environment. In addition to casual conversations, we’ve simultaneously increased the formal ways in which we gather feedback and investments through more educational resources and content.

Specifically, we’ve continuously updated our COVID-19 resource page on Discovery Hub, created a resource center for Escapia customers, and launched educational webinars for topics like applying for economic relief. We’ll continue to add resources on topics like cleaning guidelines, with webinars and updates from leaders throughout Vrbo and Expedia Group. The Expedia Group government relations team also helped vacation rental managers and owners share their stories through more than 25,000 emails, calls and tweets that were shared into Congressional offices, highlighting the challenges property managers face and emphasizing their need to access economic relief programs. Days later Congress passed the CARES Act providing relief for managers across the nation. 72

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 Travelers are filtering out less flexible policies (i.e., using the “free cancellation” filter)  Listings with relaxed cancellation policies see more bookings  31 percent of travelers expect to book closer to their travel date None of us know exactly what the near future holds, as health experts debate possible scenarios that are dependent on governments, consumers, treatments and that will vary by region. In the face of uncertainty, the one thing we are certain about is that flexibility and real-time information will be more important than ever. This has certainly been true for my husband and I as we-counter to our usual last-minute travel habits-are planning vacations far into the future, focusing on vacation rentals with flexible policies. But the skies will clear and families will want to travel again. Vrbo will do everything possible to help property managers be there with open arms to provide spaces to reconnect and recharge.


Jennifer Perez, Production & Content Specialist, Bluetent

WHAT THE DATA SHOWS

Crafting digital strategies for COVID-19 and beyond

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or many vacation rental companies, stability and routine flew out the window in mid-March—along with a significant portion of their income. Proven digital marketing strategies became obsolete in just days.

In the wake of these dramatic changes in the industry, data analysts like Jack Scherrer, Bluetent’s analytics manager, began tracking traveler behavior. Scherrer’s findings show that (at the time of article submission) a travel rebound is underway. This data and other valuable insights can provide vacation rental managers with a basis for adjusting their digital marketing strategies both now and in the future.

Scherrer’s analysis includes data aggregated from 400 direct-booking vacation rental websites. In the first graphic below, you can see that 2020 bookings hit a low point on April 5. After an upward trend, 2020 bookings actually began to surpass those of 2019 on April 27—illustrating the pent-up demand for travel after the recent COVID-19 lockdowns.

In the second graphic, Scherrer tracks arrival dates for bookings made in the last two weeks of April. Surprisingly, the largest spike in arrival dates is on May 1, showing that many travelers are ready for vacation immediately. Another worthwhile note: these bookings were made by travelers from every one of the 50 states.

The data reinforce Bluetent’s belief that our industry is uniquely positioned to capture travelers before other tourism industries see a rebound. “Travelers still want to preserve a certain amount of social distance, even though stay-at-home orders and distancing requirements are relaxed. They’re going to want drive-to vacations where they can spend time with family in a private space, cook meals in their own kitchen, and stay apart from the masses,” asserts Bluetent’s president, Peter Scott.

BOOKINGS BY ARRIVAL DATE (April 19-29, 2020)

To address this new traveler persona, Brynn Flaherty, Bluetent’s director of marketing services, says, “Of course, targeting driveto markets is essential right now. But you should also consider loosening cancellation policies and accommodating longer stays in order to keep your brand in the running for bookings.”

Flaherty and her team are helping vacation rental brands adjust their messaging to focus on a continued concern for safety. “Travelers are looking for places where they can vacation responsibly. Creating and sharing content that addresses your cleaning policies, lists local restaurants offering take-out, or highlights socially distant recreation options can go a long way toward building trust—not only with potential guests but also within your community.”

Scherrer’s data even has encouraging news for those vacation rental companies not yet experiencing a rebound: travelers are researching future vacation dates in all markets. “We see this as evidence that travelers are still hopeful—and so are we,” Flaherty states. “Our advice to clients still waiting for bookings to restart is: Don’t completely pull the plug on your digital marketing efforts. Keeping your brand in front of potential travelers and giving them the confidence to book with you when the time is right is incredibly important. Once restrictions are lifted, travelers will be very ready to take a vacation. It’s just a matter of time.” Want more data? The digital version of this article on VRMIntel. com will include a link to updated, interactive booking data provided by Bluetent. Looking for help crafting a digital strategy designed to set your vacation rental company up for success after COVID-19? Our experts are here to help. Contact Bluetent at 970.704.3240.

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This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. We expressly disclaim, and you acknowledge and agree, that we and our affiliates will have no liabilities or obligations to you in any way in connection with this information.

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By Jill Highsmith McGee

NavigatiNG COVID-19 What’s Next in Marketing

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he vacation rental industry is a unique market that is constantly in flux, but one thing remains certain: vacation rental companies are as adaptable as they are resilient. At the heart of this industry are the relationships built among property managers, homeowners, and guests. As the rental landscape changes and unforeseen challenges continue to present themselves, this relationship is key and will always be the foundation upon which this industry is built.

In times of crisis, the most important thing to remember is to keep the lines of communication open and clear. During these unprecedented times, we are all left feeling a bit confused about what our next steps should be. However, one thing I’ve learned through our COVID-19 webinars and by listening to our clients in the property management field is that we all have a lot of fight left in us. At ICND, we want to use our experience and knowledge of the vacation rental industry to help guide you to sunnier days ahead. As marketers, we learn to think toward the future. Every action has a reaction, and it is our job, through data and analytics, to not only predict what that reaction will be but also to prepare a strategy to handle it and make it profitable. While your focus should remain on nurturing the relationships between your homeowners and guests, your marketing team should focus on what’s next and on making sure that your brand messaging stays relevant through this crisis.

bought a washcloth from in 2005. Now we are all wondering what is next. Here are our suggestions:  Stay relevant and send emails once a month at a minimum.  Promote future travel and community engagement.

 Partner with local restaurants that has been affected by COVID-19. This is great for brand reputation and for promoting community.

 Share your story. Are you giving to an organization or providing meals to your local hospital? Share your community involvement.

Social Media Keep your presence up on social media. Everyone in the world is browsing and dreaming of better days.  Create a Facebook quiz that goes viral.

 Start a photo contest to keep engagement active.  Share your company’s quarantine tips.

 Highlight local businesses that may be struggling.

 Ask followers to participate in a positivity post by sharing their favorite memory of vacationing with you.  Share updates of your location to keep guests dreaming.

Here are our tips to help your team navigate this pandemic.

 Share virtual tours of your homes and attractions to keep people interested.

Communication and Transparency

Google PPC

Online Website Chat With remote work distractions like pets, children, and spouses being inevitable, the best way to keep the lines of communication open while presenting a professional persona is through online chat.

The billboard effect carries a lot of value in future purchasing. Don’t pull the plug; just be smart. Reduce spending and narrow your keyword list to make it more targeted. As terms related to COVID-19 begin to trend, ensure that you add these to a negative keyword list to prevent spending on irrelevant searches.

Google My Business Remain in front of consumers:

Emails

 Post updates

By now, we’ve all received COVID-19 emails from every company we have ever done business with, including the company that we

 Keep your hours current

 Link to prominent pages

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Be an Authority Homepage Announcements This is a great way to get information front and center during any crisis.

Callouts Use callouts to increase click-through rates and to push your most relevant content out.

Rock Your Onsite SEO SEO and Website SEO should be a top priority. As the old adage goes, “this too shall pass.” When it does, you want to be prepared and not have any organic ranking loss.  Update content with relevant keywords

 Create fresh content, blog posts, key pages, and FAQs  Stockpile your content now while you can

New Landing Page Show potential leads, homeowners, and search engines that you are an authority and are being proactive.

Google’s algorithms scan your content frequently. If your competition is consistently making updates and you’re not, they will have the upper hand when the market bounces back.

Include:

 Travel insurance options  Cancellation policies

 Local hospital information

 CDC and WHO guidelines

 Links to the local authority pages of the county/town When the peak of this pandemic has passed, consumers will be ready to decompress in their favorite vacation spots. This isn’t a matter of if, but a matter of when, which is why it is so vital to remain proactive in your marketing strategy and to be prepared for what comes next.

About Jill Highsmith McGee

Jill loves the art of communication and analytics. She’s a graduate of the University of West Florida with a BA in Marketing, specializing in digital strategy and public relations. Jill grew up in the world of property management in Florida, where her parents owned a property management company. She took that knowledge with her to the Outer Banks of North Carolina where she spent five years working as a marketing specialist for a large vacation rental company. Her ability to think outside the box, her passion for analytics, her love of marketing strategy, and her demonstrated history in the real estate industry led her to her current role as a digital marketing specialist for ICND.

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By: Amir Rashid

Hospitality CRM

Recession-Proof Your Brand Key Strategies to Boost Revenues During Recovery

Build loyalty, leads, and a resilient brand with these revenue management and marketing strategies

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s travel restrictions and social distancing jolt vacation rentals, savvy leaders should ready their technology and data strategies for an inevitable market recovery. Now is the time to focus on ways to attract new guests and rebook existing reservations. While COVID-19 reactions are challenging, recessionary periods are nothing new for our industry. Downturns are part of the travel industry rhythm-and they can be weathered.

In times like these, it’s natural for VRMs to get defensive; but wholesale cuts in promotions, pricing, and staff may have more far-reaching consequences than a recession itself. Instead of engaging in a price war, consider tactics for optimizing systems, building relationships, boosting loyalty, and preserving long-term guest value. As you face the tough times ahead, consider proven strategies employed by NAVIS customers.

Turn to technology With the right technology, companies can grow lead numbers (guests who have previously enquired but do not have an existing reservation), add efficiency, support a remote workforce, and create future direct booking opportunities. They can also reduce knee-jerk pricing strategies with data-driven decisions. Here are five ways to harness and nurture direct demand to improve operations. B Reach out to past guests.

Understand what drives loyalty in repeat guests. Brand and property differentiators need to be emphasized during a slowdown. Appeal to your most loyal segments through the experiences guests love about your property, and leave rates out of the conversation. Kick off the conversation by speaking to their hearts, not their wallets.

C Make policies “people first”.

Rigid policy enforcement sets the wrong tone, especially in a downturn set off by illness and CDC recommendations. Ideally, vacation rentals accommodate cancellation requests while secur-

ing future bookings. In response to COVID-19, one NAVIS client allows for cancellations with a held deposit toward a future stay. Another now holds funds for a calendar year and encourages travelers to rebook. Your company can also consider backfilling cancellations with outreach to past Not Booked, No Availability leads.

Forbes reports that 62 percent of guests are more bothered by unfriendly staff than subpar amenities. Stressful times exacerbate sensitivities for both guests and staff. Adopting “more human” policies can ease tensions and create goodwill. Remember: Your biggest asset in the future is the relationships you develop today. D Give attention to your local market.

Yes, travelers are canceling flights and travel. But weary prospects and cooped-up families will need a break, especially after travel restrictions and illness concerns pass. Consider ways to leverage your “drive-market” and close feeder markets to stimulate local leisure business and energize demand once things clear.

E Grow-don’t shrink – your marketing investment.

A popular adage says, “When times are good you should advertise. When times are bad you must advertise.” Studies show the advantage of maintaining or increasing marketing budgets in weak economies. The reasons: competitive noise drops, cost of advertising declines, and mind share for future sales is up for grabs. Don’t miss this opportunity to rise above the noise and position your brand for future success.

F Avoid an ADR plunge.

Whatever marketing or loyalty call-to-action you choose, avoid reliance on price cuts. Published discounts may displace years of competitive positioning and erode brand equity. Instead, compete on quality of service or other incentives that resonate with specific segments. Resist the urge to reduce rates and continue to tell your brand story.

Times are tough-and they may get tougher. But when the outbreak ends, consumers will regain confidence. As VRMs anticipate this recovery, creating and converting demand with technology, service, and brand improvements is vital. For more resources to help aid in your recovery, visit naviscrm.com/recovery. VRM Intel Magazine | Summer 2020

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By Jodi Bourne

The 5-hr Drive Market

Targeting the “Five-Hour Drive” Leisure Traveler Using Geotargeting and Local SEO

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he COVID-19 pandemic will change the way vacation rental providers operate for the foreseeable future— cancellation policies, cleaning standards, procedures, and even the amenities and experiences you offer will be different. Rethinking how you market your properties will also change—from what you market to how and to whom. As you shift to a surgical focus on your drive-to market, this could be an audience who has been neglected by your traditional marketing for a while—those travelers desperate for ideas of where to go and what to do in their own neighborhood, so to speak. Search terms for “vacations within 5 hours of [my location]” and “places to go near me” receive massive amounts of Google searches each month, and there is little doubt people are anxious to take a vacation close to home. But how do you market to this audience? Luckily, with Google AdWords, Facebook and Instagram marketing, Pinterest advertising, and SEO, you can reach audiences looking for a vacation close to home.

Tips for Organic Marketing to Local Audiences In my experience, organic (i.e., unpaid) marketing strategies are often overlooked or incomplete. Time, consistency, staffing, and knowledge are extremely important factors of the equation, and paying for advertising often seems easier. When you pay for advertising without focusing some of your efforts on organic marketing, however, you will always have to pay for advertising. Why not focus on just a few keys now that can lead to a big payoff in the long run? 78

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Add Your Information—Everywhere First, be sure you are in all the right places and that your information is consistent.

Set up Google Business to ensure your business shows up on Google Maps. Add your full address, your service areas (be broad), and a phone number with regional area code. Use keywords in your description that include distance from key cities within your sixhour drive radius; include regional terms such as “The Texas Hill Country” or “Florida Panhandle.” Once completed, set your business information up with the native iPhone map tool as well as with Bing business tools.


Then, add your info to Yellowpages.com, Yelp, Foursquare, Whitepages, and other local listing sites such as your local and regional chamber of commerce. Be sure all your information is consistent across every site. Your name, address, phone number, services, service areas, and details must all be the same for search engines to make the connection.

Don’t Neglect Local SEO Looking at your website’s SEO, be sure your listing content, image tags, and meta descriptions include geographic location. Add your proximity to key cities and regions, such as “located two hours from Atlanta.”

Add blog posts to your site as well—this is crucial for SEO. Focus on the keywords “weekend getaways near (large city or feeder zone)” or “things to do with kids in Central Florida.” Ensure your content includes location information, proximity details, and other necessary info. Use a keyword tool such as Keywords Everywhere to find relevant topics.

Use Location Tags to Market Your Vacation Rental on Social Media Another great idea is to create a Facebook location tag for your business and individual properties and ask guests to “check in” on Facebook and “tag” you on Instagram. Let guests know before their stay that you would love to share their photos on your profiles (many people love being featured on another social stream).  Pro Tip: To encourage your guests to check in, add a short request to your welcome note in the rental, or create a “special place” for photos at your property—maybe it’s a deck with a view or something even more original. One homeowner had a large wooden frame built with a gorgeous view behind it. She encouraged guests to take photos and share them on social media. Now, almost every guest makes use of this feature, and her Instagram stream is full of location tags.

Add location tags to your Instagram posts, stories, Facebook photos, and videos. Mix up your location tags often. You may want to share one post from a property’s exact address, the next post from your town, and then the next from the metro area.

How does this help with geotargeting? People who click that geotag location (or follow it) can view all the other posts people are uploading at that location. Those people will see the vacation rental photos and videos you have tagged—and those posts will reach a new audience. Travelers can search the geotags to decide if they want to book with you. On Instagram and Pinterest, you can add location hashtags to your posts. People use hashtags to search for specific content. Think of it as a link to other related content. So, if you use the hashtag #bluemountainbeach or #30avacationrental in your posts, you increase your chances of being seen by people who search or follow those hashtags.

Although many people consider Pinterest a social media network, it is actually a top search engine, and location targeting on Pinterest is extremely helpful to your overall organic marketing strategy. In the example below, note the location-specific keywords used in the profile and on the Pinterest boards and pins.

Don’t try to rank your website for highly competitive content such as “things to do in San Antonio” with 74,000 monthly searches— find smaller, relevant searches such as “hill country road trip.” You can see from the image above a small inn has ranked fourth place for this term just by thoughtful use of keyword search and consistent, long-term blogging.

Use Social Media Marketing It is crucial that your social media sites include all your relevant location and proximity details. Even if you do not use all these sites for marketing purposes, create your account and claim your business name; basic profile details, including “vacation rentals in Marathon, Florida Keys”; address; and phone number to Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, and LinkedIn. VRM Intel Magazine | Summer 2020

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When posting new content from your website to your Pinterest boards, include those relevant location keywords as well as your proximity keywords. “Vacation Rental Cabin in Marion, North Carolina, near Grandfather Mountain in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Our mountain cabin is a two-hour drive from Asheville, North Carolina, and five hours from Nashville.”

Look at how many location-specific keywords are included in one description field!  Pro Tip: Use old-fashioned public relations to get your vacation rental in front of a nearby audience. Do you have a fun experience awaiting travelers? Can you add relevant and newsworthy information to a media pitch to entice local travel bloggers or regional lifestyle magazines or newspapers? Your farm stay, glamping cottage, or historic rental may have the perfect story—don’t hesitate to share your pitch with large regional and city newspapers whose readers are looking for somewhere new to visit. These articles are extremely popular.

Next, limit your geographic search. In this ad (bottom left), I’ll target Houston, Texas, so I will limit my ad geographic area to Houston and the surrounding suburbs. Fortunately, Google makes doing that a breeze.

If I want to target a specific region but remove a particular geographic region, I can do that too. In this example, I am targeting the city of Austin and the surrounding area but have removed all zip codes within 40 miles of the vacation rental. This is just an example—for the most part, you’ll want to exclude a larger radius around your destination.

Geotargeting in Your Advertising As you can see, adding your location in multiple places and in multiple ways across various sites can help improve your chances of being seen by audiences closer to your destination, but to guarantee more traffic to your website, consider geotargeted advertising as well.

Google Ads Geotargeting in Google Ads is a fairly simple process. First, set up your ad information, including the landing page you are sending traffic to.

It is key that your ad copy and target location are specific and congruent to your landing page. People want to recognize themselves and their needs in your ad and web page. If your ad targets a large city, mention the city in the ad copy. If your ad mentions a winery tour or romantic getaway, include that in the ad copy as well as on the page to which you are sending traffic.

Try a variety of copy, depending on the keywords and locations you are targeting. Think of who is searching for the terms you are targeting. Are you talking to busy moms looking for an inexpensive family vacation? If so, say that in your ad.

Facebook and Instagram Advertising Facebook and Instagram ads are similar to Google Ads in that you can target specific geographic regions; however, these are interruptive ads, so rather than targeting keywords people are searching for, target audiences by interest and demographics and then limit that audience by geographic region. I love these ads for vacation rentals for several reasons. First, people love great photos and videos of destinations, so it is easy to get their attention if you have good imagery.

A strategic process is definitely involved in connecting your ad, your audience, and your imagery, so pay careful attention to those details. For example, if you are targeting parents of toddlers and school-aged children, then you want congruency. First, create a great video, slideshow, or still image showing children happily riding their bikes on a trail, swimming in a pool, roasting marshmallows, or building a sandcastle.

Next, be sure your ad copy relates to the vacation experience for the kids 80

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and the mom. Speak directly to her: “Moms, are you ready to get your kids off the computer and out in nature? Plan a family hiking trip to the mountains—just a five-hour drive from Nashville. Visit our mountain cabin, and spend your days hiking, biking, and playing in the trees and your evenings roasting marshmallows.”

Third, set up your Facebook audience in Facebook Ads Manager. Choose demographics, behaviors, and interests such as women aged 30 to 45; parents of toddlers and preteens; and people interested in hiking, camping, and so forth. Don’t forget to target your specific city or region (the five-hour drive radius is great).

I encourage you to be creative with the ad copy, images, and videos you use in your Facebook and Instagram ads. With interruptive marketing (interrupting the user with something they may not be searching for), stand out in the newsfeed to entice the user to spend time with your ad, watch your video, read your copy, and ultimately click on your landing page.  Pro Tip: Set up multiple campaigns at once. Determine your budget, choose a few different audiences (including retargeting your website visitors), and create compelling content that speaks to the specific niches you are targeting.

Combined Advertising for a Winning Strategy One of my favorite strategies of late is to create geotargeted Pinterest ads that send people back to website content that is not a booking call to action. Using Pinterest keyword research, determine content you can create for your site, such as “10 great breweries to visit in North Carolina.” In your article, lead the reader with links to your booking page with gentle calls to action.

Pinterest ads are relatively inexpensive, so create a few different images or videos for the content and add your creative pins to a couple of different Pinterest boards. Then set up advertising for the pin using keywords and geotargeting. In the meantime, create a Facebook audience based on your Facebook pixels for your blog post page—that page only.

You can set up a Google AdWords ad for the same content. Then, let your Pinterest ad “seed” your Facebook pixel. This means your website traffic will increase from your Pinterest ad.

You can then remarket to that traffic in Facebook ads only to only those people who saw your content. You can now be even more specific with them, and they may be ready to see your message about your vacation rental within a few miles of those 10 great breweries. This effort definitely takes some planning, but this kind of campaign can create multiple audiences for future use. Add an email signup form to your blog page, set up new “lookalike” audiences, send the post to your current email list, and pursue many other options. It’s all part of a feeder-market strategy—and in these trying times, a strategy is what you may need to survive and thrive.

Jodi Bourne is a digital marketing strategist, web designer, and content creator with a passion for tourism. As the owner of a small consulting and web design agency in the Texas Hill Country, Jodi helps vacation rental owners market their destinations, attract better guests, and put more heads in beds. Learn more about Jodi at jodibourne.com.

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VRM Intel Magazine | Summer 2020


Distribution Policies

Rethinking Distribution and Strategic Partnerships in a Post-COVID World By Alex Husner CMO, Condo-World

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his year was off to a solid start for many vacation rental management companies. Summer reservations were pacing ahead of last year in popular beach destinations such as Myrtle Beach, Destin, Panama, City Beach, and several of Condo-World’s enterprise-level partners on the East Coast felt confident this would be another year of five to ten percent growth. Overtourism was actually a major concern for international destinations like Italy, Spain, and Amsterdam. As Simon Lehmann said in a recent webinar regarding the booming growth of vacation rentals, “Things were almost too good.”

Day-to-Day Turned Upside Down Fast forward to mid-March when we all witnessed our industry go into a free fall, seemingly overnight. Beaches, resorts, cities, and states were shut down like Fort Knox. Property managers dealt with the complexity of managing a fluid situation that necessitated sometimes daily changes to foundational business policies, including but not limited to completely rewriting cancellation policies. Balancing stakeholder interests became increasingly complicated as the weeks progressed. Managers have had to walk a fine line between upholding fiduciary responsibilities to homeowners while also working with guests to mitigate online backlash.

In a crisis of this magnitude, managers are forced to make quick decisions, evaluate the results, and then iterate. Many companies we’re affiliated with have made their best attempts to satisfy guests on a case-by-case basis in this order: 1) change dates in the same unit, 2) offer a credit toward a future stay, or 3) offer a partial or full refund. This hands-on approach, although tedious, has proven effective and necessary to protect the interests of our homeowners, our guests, and our businesses.

OTAs and Force Majeure Policies Although as property managers we have done our best to manage what is within our control, this entire crisis, and the responses of the channels we rely on, has been totally out of our control. Airbnb, Expedia, and Booking.com enacted force majeure to override all supplier cancellation policies prior to many state and local closures going into effect, which severely compromised the internal efforts that property managers had taken to protect their revenue. When push came to shove, the channels did not provide adequate customer service for guests who booked on their platforms, and their consideration for their suppliers’ concerns was virtually nonexistent. This brazen disregard toward partners magnifies a larger issue that could very well influence how much professional supply is distributed on their platforms coming out of the crisis, and I believe it is prudent for managers to start looking for alternative ways to distribute and market their properties.

Humans versus Algorithms: Putting the "TA" Back in OTA Whether you are an OTA that relies on suppliers for inventory or a property manager who relies on homeowners, we all have one thing in common: we wouldn’t have a business without each other. Condo-World has a unique perspective as we are both a property management company and an OTA, or hybrid OTA, as we like to call it. With 35 years of experience in property management, our offering is inherently different from traditional OTAs, which is reflected in our partner-centric mentality. It’s easy for big corporations to say that they care about their partners, but for us, it is true— we treat our partners like we treat our homeowners. Relationships guide our decisions, not algorithms. We uphold our partners’ policies, 100 percent of the time, and our partners are always Merchant of Record. In times of crisis, we work closely with our partners to determine the most efficient way to handle changes and cancellations. We’ve stepped in to help partners with emergency communications to their guests and homeowners, deployed email campaigns on their behalf, written copy for emergency response pages on websites, and temporarily handled social media. The benefits of having close relationships with the channels that drive significant revenue to your business are invaluable in times like these. If there is any silver lining in a crisis, it is the benefit of learning to lean in and connect with your stakeholders—this not only creates alignment but enhances your connection for future success.

Diversify Your Distribution Whether existing in a good or bad economy, vacation rental managers should always be looking to diversify their distribution. Partnering with niche websites that cater to your area or type of lodging allows you to reduce your reliance on the major OTAs and enhances your value proposition with potential homeowners. Homeowners can easily list their properties on Vrbo or Airbnb, but they can’t form strategic marketing partnerships like businesses with multiple rentals can. Partnerships with channels like CondoWorld often include additional opportunities to promote to large databases and reach customers you wouldn’t otherwise have access to, giving you a substantial advantage over your local competition. At the end of the day, there are many ways to drive revenue outside of the major OTAs. This is a great time to evaluate opportunities that allow you to reach new customers while protecting the longterm interests of your business. As Winston Churchill said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” If you’re interested in learning more about how we partner with resorts and rental companies, we’d love to hear from you. Visit us at Condo-World.com/Partners or email partners@condo-world.com for more information.

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Dear Vacation Rental Industry

Letters from Vacation Rental

Industry Executives

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s an industry, facing crises is something we do well. However, nothing prepared us for this. The seismic nature of this event affected everyone—each business owner, homeowner, supervisor, reservation agent, housekeeper, accountant, customer service agent, marketer, and guest all across the globe. For those of us who lost friends and loved ones, our hearts break together, and for each member of our industry that lost their job, we are determined to bring you back. Over the following pages, your peers and colleagues have written heartfelt letters to you sharing their thoughts, predictions, initiatives, appreciation, and words of encouragement. As you read these messages know that—while there is still much uncertainty—thousands of vacation rental companies are determined to make it to the other side of this challenge and be better for it.


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e will see not only the other side of this global pause in travel, but also the next levels for the industry and many property managers. We’re seeing clients and partners rethink their businesses and strategically plan for what we’re anticipating as a strong return for the vacation rental industry. Enterprise-level vacation rental companies are poised to emerge and take a leadership role in the future of travel. We’re excited to be a part of this community movement pushing forward and proud of the property managers, vendors, and industry leaders driving the new future of the vacation rental industry.

Ryan Bailey

CEO, TravelNet Solutions Minneapolis, Minnesota

with your head held high. If you are like me, some days you wake up and wonder how you can keep going. It’s hard— really hard. What’s your purpose?

I have sometimes struggled to answer this question over the past two months. I felt defeated and broken down. I questioned whether what I was doing to our employees, our business, our owners, and our guests was right and fair. After all, it is difficult to figure out how to make hundreds of people happy with your choices. But, as I communicated with hundreds of families while cancelling their beach vacations, I found the empathy from our guests toward our team and community heartwarming. A wonderful guest of ours wrote, “You all are always spoken of so highly on forums and in reviews. The same types of stories I tell you. I read the same sentiment of how easy transactions and working with you all are, as well as confidence from other renters that you all go out of your way to make sure our stays in your properties are spectacular.”

Brittany Blackman

Operations Manager Gibson Beach Rentals, Inc. Miramar Beach, Florida

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ou are all the heroes in the shadows of your own cities, whether you know it or not. You are resilient. You are brave. You are passionate. Recent times have stressed our organizations, our teams, our operations and processes, and our sanity beyond a level we ever thought possible. Kudos to you all for hanging in there

And it hit me. My purpose is to help alleviate the stress of others and offer them an opportunity to own and/or visit a vacation home where they don’t have to worry about a thing—an escape from their everyday realities. The funny thing about our industry is that no matter how much technology you have, how your operations are run, what type of bed sheets you use, or where your properties are located, the experience boils down to human interaction. Remember that you make your business succeed. You control your destiny and fate. As a united industry, I believe we’ll recover with grace and be able to offer a compassionate experience to our guests and owners alike. Don’t give up—it’s time to get your superhero cape on and fly high! “People do not decide to become extraordinary. They decide to accomplish extraordinary things.” – Edmund Hillary


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im and I have both been affected by COVID-19, both by having a full house when it all shut down (my companies) and by having 80 percent of our business over the summer months (Tim’s companies). We are focused on the positive, and we believe that professional vacation rental companies will fare best through this by putting forth high-quality cleaning standards, lots of proactive and personal guest and owner communication, and taking care of our staff while watching our budgets like a hawk. We have continued to record and release Sarah and T Podcast episodes, and that has filled us with much-needed energy. Check out our episode on every idea we could think of to weather this storm.

Sarah Bradford

Owner, Winter Park Lodging Company & Steamboat Lodging Company Steamboat Springs, Colorado

Tim Cafferty

President, Outer Banks Blue and Sandbridge Blue Kitty Hawk, North Carolina

We also recently interviewed Matt Landau and Sharon Keefe, covering the “underdog narrative” and creative ideas to connect with your guests and owners, as well as a good one with VRHP Advisory Board member Michelle Williams about specifics on altering our cleaning practices. We both believe the drive-to markets are the ones to target right now and that vacation rentals will recover faster than hotels because they offer more privacy. Keyless locks are more important than ever, and so is your return guest pool who already trust you. Keep fighting the good fight, try to stay calm, and remember Faye Wattleton’s words: “The only safe ship in a storm is leadership.”

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imes have been tough for everyone; we’ve had to make quick adjustments, learning to be nimble, keeping a close eye on how things are changing, and finding ways to reinvent messages and images that no longer work in the current climate. With increased bookings, a pivot to new marketing strategies, and a focus on safe vacation practices in our “new normal,” we are finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. We can see that everything will be okay—though a bit different than before—and we remain positive looking ahead to the rest of 2020 for Cabins for YOU and in the vacation industry!

Scott Bunce

COO, Cabins for YOU Sevier County, Tennessee


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his unpredictable and unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic has impacted us all in various ways, some more personal than others. There is sadly no shortage of stories about businesses that have been impacted, jobs that have been lost, and loved ones that have lost their lives and experienced serious health issues.

But as is often the case, particularly trying times tend to bring out the best in us. It has been refreshing and heartwarming to see the vacation rental community of property managers, vendors, and thought leaders come together to encourage and enlighten one another as we seek to navigate these challenging times.

Scott Butler

EVP, InhabitIQ Vacation Rental Division Mount Pleasant, South Carolina

I’m encouraged to see indications that we may be through the worst of it and am optimistic that the vacation rental industry will come back stronger than ever. If my conversations with friends and family are representative of how the majority of people feel right now, they can’t wait to get out of their own houses and get away for a week with loved ones to somewhere else they feel safe (a vacation rental, not a hotel). When that time comes, I know you will be there to provide a clean, safe, welcoming place for people to make new and lasting memories! Together we will weather this storm and come back stronger.

“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.”

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here’s something so special and indescribable about what we do! This industry not only has helped put the bread on my family’s table for over 30 years but also has been my life blood. For years when my children were little, and we would be in the car stuck in the never-ending summer beach traffic in Gulf Shores, they would whine, “Why is it taking so long?!” I would smile and say, “Mommy did this! I helped invite all of these people here.”

And I was so proud. I was proud because I knew that in a lot of those cars were people who had never before seen our beautiful beaches. Some of them would be seeing a beach for the very first time. Many had waited and saved for months— if not years—to get here. I knew that over the next few days, those families would spend time together creating memories that would last a lifetime.

Connie Carlisle

Vice President of Operations VRM Intel Gulf Shores, Alabama

I worked for one of the best property management companies there ever was, and after they sold, I helped build a new company where I met some of the finest homeowners on the planet. And the day I finally purchased my very own vacation rental condo, I felt like I’d come full circle in this industry.

Then I started working for VRM Intel, and I’m prouder than ever because I now get to work with colleagues, property managers, vendors, and homeowners across the globe. I no longer feel like it’s a circle—it’s an infinity sign. These past few months have been tough, but we—all of us—are tougher, and we will go on. And on. And on—to infinity and beyond!


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have never been more grateful and honored to be working in the professionally managed #vacationrental industry. I am proud to see how PMs are managing the effects of this crisis, including unprecedented cancellations, with such grace and integrity. In word and deed, you are carefully balancing both guest and economic considerations with humanity and clarity.

This crisis is clearly separating the truly professional PMs from everyone else.

DeAnna Constant COO, Ascent Processing Boulder, Colorado

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hese are tough times for all of us. No one has been immune to the impact of this pandemic, including Streamline. We have to stick together and stay positive. Let’s be strong for those who are counting on us for reassurance.

In Park City, our property management company has taken a unique approach. Along with you, we are seeing firsthand the impact of the situation, and as a result, we are trying to become more proactive and efficient.

This is a great time to assess and improve the entire life cycle of your guest. Refine your internal communication to better assist maintenance, housekeeping, and your entire team. Review all your critical documents and do the little things you were not able to accomplish before. Most important, stay connected with previous guests. This is a great time to showcase your best units to past guests because people have the time to daydream. Get them to your website, and they will have more time to engage with your portfolio.

Carlos Corzo

Founder and CEO, Streamline Chandler Arizona

I miss you all!


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t ’s been a rough few weeks, and it’s probably been a bit lonely (unless you’ve been endlessly meeting on Zoom like many of us have!).

This is an important time to realize that you’re not alone, and there are many great ideas out there about how we can get back on our feet as the economy moves toward a restart. Take advantage of the fact that you are in an industry that is generally okay with sharing ideas. Share your ideas and solutions, and you will get ten more back in return. See how others are overcoming their challenges and make that part of your recovery strategy. My second piece of advice is to take this unique moment in time to shore up a piece of your business that has always been lacking. Invest some of this time in yourself, your systems, your owners, your staff, and your guests. There has never been a better time to become better at some part of what you do. In that way, you will come out of this crisis stronger than before.

Robin Craigen

Cofounder and CEO Moving Mountains Steamboat Springs, Colorado

I cannot promise you that the next two years will be easy, but I can assure you that if you are willing to put in the effort, you’ve got this!

Why have the numbers stayed low? Australia has the advantage of being able to seal itself off from the rest of the world on top of locking down each state to prevent new sources of the virus entering from overseas. The Australian government acted quickly and, like other countries, introduced many restrictions.

Rebecca Cribbin

Owner, Holiday Rental Specialists New South Wales, Australia We will bounce back bigger and stronger together!

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ustralia has a population of 25.5 million, of which 40 percent live in Sydney or Melbourne and 49 percent live in the 16 other major cities, so, contrary to popular belief, Australia is predominantly an urban population. Because of this, the government has managed to quickly restrict the spread of COVID-19. At the time of writing, the confirmed cases (6,738) and recorded deaths (90) can be considered a positive outcome in the larger scheme of the world pandemic (even though no one wants to see any deaths).

The restriction that has most affected our industry is that it is now illegal for anyone to stay in short-term rental accommodation or even their own second home except under specific circumstances. It was made clear that no one should stay anywhere other than their own permanent home, and individuals (and businesses) could be fined or even imprisoned if they break these rules. There are some exemptions, which include frontline workers, caregivers, or those staying in STRs for education purposes.

Travel and tourism is one of Australia’s biggest industries, contributing over $50 billion per year. COVID-19 has had a serious impact, and I had to make some major decisions very quickly. We have had to close our offices, but I want to keep my staff employed. I need to manage my owner and guest expectations, and I need to work on strategies for bouncing back. The Australian government introduced a JobKeeper allowance, which has allowed me to keep 22 staff employed and working from home. This obviously has its challenges, but I am blessed to have such a great team who have responded admirably. The biggest challenge we all have is that we don’t know exactly when these restrictions will be lifted and when the demand will return, or even what shape this demand will take. Therefore, my focus has been on what happens next.


While the reality should not be dressed up, it has been important for me to remind my team and owners that there is a light at the end of the COVID tunnel, and a large proportion of my day is spent working on the future. Some of the questions I have asked myself are: How will this change our industry? What can we do better than we did before? What can we do to improve our guest experience? What other revenue streams can I introduce? Our industry is unique and strong and a wonderful space to work in, and, as global travel restrictions and social distancing measures are eased, demand to travel and holiday again (especially within one’s own country) will return just as quickly as the virus hit our shores. Let’s work collectively on the future and bounce back bigger and stronger together!

and Certifications Programs Division at Breezeway, we’ve developed checklists that are unique to short-term rentals that help ensure managers have the resources they need to make their rentals safe. I am proud to be a part of a team that now certifies vacation managers as Short-Term Rental Safety Inspectors or STRSIs. You can begin a greater focus on safety now by accepting that smoke detectors are the most important item in your rentals. With that initial focus, you’ll be on the path to operating a more successful rental agency.

Paul Gribble

Justin Ford

Director of Safety and Certification Programs, Breezeway South Freeport, Maine

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hile vacation rentals have existed since the mid-1600s, a focus on safety is still very new. Many of us, including myself, started out managing vacation rentals because of the unique opportunity to set our own hours, develop our own business, and be around the joy of people vacationing. Of course, the lure of the money that comes with it is very nice too! Unfortunately, many of us skipped the boring or hard parts of the business in the race to get our first rentals advertised and rented. One of those hard parts (certainly not boring) is safety. As a result of skipping safety, I got caught up in an accident that resulted in a life-long injury to one of my renters in 2013. That accident changed my destiny forever. I now share what I have learned and continue to learn with all of you so you don’t have to go through the challenge of attending to an injured guest, or worse, a death in one of your rentals. Safety is the one thing you can absolutely control in your rentals because accidents are 100 percent preventable. In the Safety

Founder and General Manager Georgia Mountain Cabin Rentals Blue Ridge, Georgia

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e’ve been using a lot of our time on the phone with guests. We’ve found that they very much want to travel and are appreciative of our calls, heck we are now on first-name basis with almost all of them after talking to them so much. They are upset when we tell them they can’t come, but they understand, especially after we tell them we want them here just as much as they want to be here. However, (at the time of writing this) the government will not allow us to accept them into our community as our guests. We’ve found that they will keep rescheduling and are looking forward to coming as soon as they can.

We have used this opportunity to collect a lot of positive reviews (in the queue at Google) from them, even though not all of them have actually had their stay just yet. The people we speak with are patient, kind, and fun . . . in most cases. So, consider this a time to grab some positive reviews, then blow them away with a little gift upon their arrival at the property. This will help turn them into guests with your company for a long time. Keep your head up, become a stronger company, and show how we have learned to be professionals in our industry!


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Randy Hall

President Liquid Life Vacation Rentals Alabama Gulf Coast

eople are the true essentials in our awesome industry! As early messages about closing down were coming through and taking hold worldwide, it was quality people on the ground who were absorbing new information, changing plans hourly, and adapting to the unthinkable. It was a team of essential people setting aside the shock and adjusting to a new normal. No website flying in “internet outer-space” was coming to the rescue. No fancy idea, underwritten with private equity money, would save the day. Nope! Digital “ones” and “zeros” flying through the internet are only valuable in a supporting role. The true stars are teams of people.

In the future, the essentials in our industry will continue to be the local people who open doors, clean floors, wash towels, make beds, answer phone calls, and welcome guests. They can never be replaced.

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t seems like a decade ago, but it was just in 2019 when I sat down to consider a three-year Vivid Vision plan for Meyer Vacation Rentals. I wrote out plans for what 2021 would look like, and this plan has served as a road map for our team in goal- and metric-setting. Although I know we can never anticipate the unexpected, I certainly didn’t expect a massive, worldwide pandemic impacting our business. But as I reflect back on the very first page of our Vivid Vision, there is one thing that is still relevant and unchanging: our culture.

Just as adults sometimes reflect on the impact of childhood on our personalities and character traits as we age, I believe that the foundation of an organization breathes life into the culture, mission, and the core values that an organization will develop. As an organization, we were raised to envision the magnificent future that we could achieve as a team, working together and in unison to share the dream of real estate ownership on our stretch of the Gulf Coast. In 1967, our founders could have been plenty successful trying their hand at nearly anything other than a startup real estate company in a little-known and underdeveloped area, but taking the easy route wasn’t the point. We were birthed to feed a dream—a vision—of what an old fishing village could become, which started a ripple effect that continues today. We were born to create, to innovate, and to be the pacesetter. The dream was never a one-person job; it always has required a team of dedicated and diverse individuals who wanted to be a part of something larger than themselves, to be a part of a ripple effect that they could carry forward and extend beyond themselves. Indeed, we were made for this.

Michelle Hodges

President, Meyer Vacation Rentals Alabama Gulf Coast

We love successful years that we can end in celebration of record growth, but, more often than not, we have seen those years come after the hard work required to survive an unexpected loss, struggle, or unforeseen challenge. Wherever you are, whatever your impact, remember where you come from and what you are made of. Together, we will all see this through and be a stronger industry on the other side. Stay strong, my friends!


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he past few months have been unprecedented, to say the least. What have we learned? We are indeed stronger together as an industry. ICND is known for offering the best websites and marketing for direct booking strategies, but when the traffic came to a halt, we knew we needed to shift our focus from direct bookings to collaboration with VRMs.

Vanessa Humes

Director of Sales and Marketing Intercoastal Net Designs (ICND) Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

ICND has put together a webinar series not to share promotions for ICND’s services, but to give the stage to VRMs to share what they are doing to get through these tough times. VRMs share homes, hospitality, and memories with their guests. They share revenue, property care, and ideas with their owners. Today, it is more important than ever to share with your colleagues. Share experiences, thoughts, inspiration with each other. And, when the traffic and demand come back, we’ll continue to offer insights on how to recharge your marketing efforts and come back stronger than ever, together.

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hile none of us ever expected an event of this magnitude would become the common denominator across our world and businesses, there are always silver linings in times of crisis. If there was ever a time for our industry to prevail, it is now, as long as the appropriate actions are taken. Many of the investment-funded companies that have dominated headlines and conference stages for the past few years will not survive this. The rubber has met the road for some of these companies, and we are reminded that profitability and solvency have always been the necessary elements to keep doors open in good and bad times.

So where does this leave the traditional vacation rental companies, from boutique to enterprise, that have been the backbone of our industry for decades? History has proven that economic downturns provide an opportunity to gain market share, so adopting an action-focused, resilient mindset is imperative right now. There are large growth opportunities waiting for us on the other side of the pandemic. Get your head around the idea that any action is better than none and that the more actions you take, the more solvent your economy will become. Now is the time to tackle projects that have been on the backburner, refine better processes, and trim the fat from your organization; this will set you up to thrive in all areas of your business: marketing, operations, homeowner acquisition and retention, and customer service. Use this time to seek out strategic relationships with other companies within the industry. Get creative with your offerings and find new streams of revenue. There has never been a better time to hit the reset button.

Alex Husner

CMO, Condo-World North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

In January, I attended a conference that featured world-renowned speaker and business leader Les Brown. He told us, “Your life in 2020, 2021, and 2022 will be different, better, and more magical.” He was right: 2020 has been very different. But the future is bright for all of us in the years to come. In times of gloom and doom, it’s time to boom. Best wishes to everyone!


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’ve now been part of this amazing community for over a decade, and I was in a reflective mood even prior to COVID as a result. The challenges ahead of us have constantly reminded me of how resilient people in this community are. I use the word “community” intentionally because no matter how big or small your company is, all of us bring tourists to communities around the world to help them experience a connection they rarely do elsewhere. Those connections and lifelong memories happen with the family and friends that join them for their travels, but also with the local people they meet, and the experiences they have while they stay in vacation rentals. I have a four-year-old girl and a two-year-old boy who dominate my thoughts and act as my primary motivators to be a better person every day. I also have some of my best memories of their young lives watching them experiencing new things for the first time in vacation rentals around the world. We are fortunate to have the opportunity to travel, and it is one that I didn’t often have growing up. Hopefully we can all pull together and continue to give people those wonderful memories when they need them the most.

Cliff Johnson COO, Rented.com Atlanta, Georgia

Many people have experienced unthinkable tragedies due to this pandemic, including the loss of loved ones far too soon or caring for and losing patients at an inconceivable rate. They’re going to need places to heal, and I’m certain that our community will be there to help them, as I’ve already seen many of you step up now as you always have in the past. We all need to pick each other up throughout this time, and I’ll certainly do what I can on my end to help!

As we all know, PMs are the heart of our vacation rental industry. We would be lost without these local experts who enthusiastically serve as our travel guides, trust accountants, travel insurance agents, and even grocery specialists, amongst many other critical functions. Simply put, they are the best asset managers in the world.

Joe Joyce

Senior Account Executive Beyond Pricing Park City, Utah

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hile we have lost face-to-face connections, this new normal has brought out the absolute best in the Beyond Pricing team. We’ve discovered secret talents: Carrie the landscape painter, Sammy the cellist, and Mila the poker queen. Most important, we now regularly celebrate our much-better-halves—the doctors and nurses on the frontlines. Our fellow vendors are also sharing their creativity: from Streamline’s dance-a-thons to Bluetent’s team scavenger hunts and Direct’s hackathons. Our property manager partners are taking this creativity to another level per usual. A couple of favorites include Taylor-Made’s Jodi and Chad’s sibling-rivalry cookoff (sorry Jodi, but Chad wins in my opinion) and Natural Retreats’ Sarah Franzen’s insanely cool acapella sessions on Facebook.

The best part of my job over the past decade has been seeing firsthand the immense impact that property managers have on our local economies. When our economy comes roaring back, it will once again be due to these hard-working, innovative family-run businesses that serve as the boots on the ground that spearhead our recovery every single time. Here at Beyond Pricing, we’ve always been humbled by the generosity exhibited by property managers in giving people exceptional experiences and vacations. In that spirit, we thought it was our time to lend a helping hand, which is why we’ve decided to give our data away for free. You may be feeling like you’re flying blind in this new normal and that the future is uncertain, so let us help give you a bit more footing on the path to recovery. Simply put, we’re here for you.

We can’t wait to see everyone on their home turf at the next St. Paddy’s Day parade in Savannah, the next Ironman in Big Island, or the next Destin Seafood Festival (which is still one of my personal favorites). Come to think of it, I think the whole Beyond Pricing team is most excited to see Luxury Gulf ’s Chuck Steeg get back to his day job of preaching to his Sunday “congregation” at the Florabama. Stay safe, stay healthy, and let us know what we can do to help.


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ork–life balance: we hear this term frequently, especially from our millennial employees. But what does it really mean on an individual level? During the past several weeks and now months, I’ve pondered my personal work–life balance. Over the past few years, I’ve clearly leaned too far into the work side of an unbalanced lifestyle. With my vacation rentals being closed for several weeks, and with only one employee and a lot less work to do, I’ve been able to bring a bit more life balance into the picture. However, almost everything I like to do on the life side of this balancing act is temporarily unavailable, with restaurants and activities closed, all national forest recreation sites near my home closed down, and stay-at-home mandates directed from our governor. However, I’m finding new ways to enjoy my life, including cooking at home a lot more (and trying new recipes), picking up books that are sitting on the end table waiting to be read, and walking around my neighborhood discovering little things I had never noticed before and talking with neighbors I had not taken the time to get to know.

Betsy LaBarge

President and CEO Mt Hood Vacation Rentals Mt. Hood, Oregon

I’m uncertain how my work–life balance is going to shape up in the months and years to come; however, I’ve made a commitment to put much more effort into the life side of the equation.

A hard reset.

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ou’re probably familiar with the scene: your computer or television or internet router doesn’t work, so you hop on the phone with tech support and follow the instructions for a hard reset. A hard reset isn’t merely powering off the device and then restarting it. The hard reset means turning off the device, holding down some combination of buttons for some period of time, erasing all the information you have put in it and returning it (hopefully) to the state it was when new. If the hard reset works, your device is ready to go.

While certainly not invited, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced every vacation rental manager to pull the plug on their operations, step back from the day-to-day, and reflect on what they want from their business moving forward. What was working and what wasn’t? What fun stuff should we do more of ? What annoying aspects can we cut out for good? This process is especially powerful in our niche because so many pros got started accidentally without any specific plan or map. This is a healthy recalibration.

Matt Landau

Founder, VRMB.com New Orleans, Louisiana

The pandemic has done to your business what the malware, glitch, or accident did to your device. Use the mindset of a hard reset to marry the best of what you had in the past with the future you envision. We are standing at the gateway of a new vacation rental future. Everyone is at the starting line, which means that, if your hard reset works, you’ll be ready to roll.


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s small-business owners and leaders in your community, you are the backbone of this great country, and your grit and determination through this pandemic have helped keep me going. Seeing and hearing your examples of perseverance have made this difficult journey feel more surmountable. As the great Admiral James Stockdale stated, “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever that might be.” These may be unprecedented, challenging times, but we will never give up, and we will rise even stronger! A hui hou, and may God bless each and every one of you and your businesses.

Angela (Angie) Leone Owner, Coconut Condos Lahaina, Hawaii

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e miss you. That’s the universal sentiment throughout the industry at this time. It’s not that we don’t want to be together right now, enjoying sweeping views of the horizon and transfixing our gaze on tranquil waters. We do. But “the powers that be” have insisted that being apart right now is for our own safety. That doesn’t make it any easier. Just remember that families all over the United States are not longing for an impersonal and endless hotel hallway right now. Moms, dads, kids, grandparents— they’re all counting down the days until they can run up the steps of your property, kick off their shoes in the foyer and jump into the backyard pool, or cozy up on a big couch in front of a fireplace. So, the minute those restrictions are lifted, you better be ready for one big warm embrace. Hang in there, VR. Stronger together.

Rebecca Lombarto

Vice President Sales and Marketing, TruPlace Kensington, Maryland


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our resilience, a trait forged by building an industry where none previously existed, never ceases to impress. I have learned over the past month to take solace in the counsel of many who have been instrumental in establishing the very framework upon which our industry now operates. There is a calm that can be found in the eyes of those who have faced the many trials of our industry, whether it is a hurricane, fire, or even a pandemic. As I was assured during one such conversation, “This will not define us—we will persevere.”

Matt Loney

Thank you for the lessons that you have taught me both personally and professionally. I am forever grateful.

President and CEO, Xplorie Destin, Florida • Bans on vacation and short-term rentals apply differently across world regions (e.g., bans throughout Spain, but none in next door Portugal).

• Demand has disappeared in some places (e.g., northern Italy) while other areas are currently hosting guests (e.g., frontline workers in Missouri, stranded Russian travelers in Bali, digital nomads in Budapest). • Urban rental empires built by Airbnb hosts are crumbling in some US cities, while others have quickly switched to offering longer stays and have been able to get occupancy back up (at low ADR). Beyond these contrasts, I have witnessed again what makes property managers such great individuals to rub shoulders with:

Thibault Mason

Founder, Rental Scale-Up Gustavia, Saint Barthélemy

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iversity in professional backgrounds has always been high in our industry. This is what makes it so interesting and so much fun to hang out with fellow industry members late at night at various conferences. I know a property manager who used to be a female world cup paragliding champion (Adel H.), another who was a flight attendant (Antonio B.), another who was an IBM consultant (Andrew M.), and yet another who is a microbiology expert (Richard V.). While offline conferences have temporarily closed their doors, I’ve had the chance to talk on Zoom with dozens of vacation rental managers from all over the world in the past weeks, from Bali to Puerto Rico and from New Zealand to Barcelona. These property managers are facing contrasting, uncertain, and shifting situations:

• Proven resilience: Many came to this industry as a way to reinvent themselves. Now they may have to do it again, but they already have proven that they could do it once, so I know they can do it again. • Proven adaptability: I’ve listened to great stories about property managers adapting to longer stays by changing their model (e.g., length-of-stay discounts), rebalancing their urban property portfolio by reaching out to seaside and countryside property owners, and adding new revenue streams by acting as consultants for large resorts that are not as savvy on Booking or Airbnb.

• Proven interpersonal skills: Some property managers have needed to negotiate temporary flexible policies with homeowners, convince guests to reschedule their trips instead of opting for a refund, or explain to staff what the current situation is. Some have had to do all of the above.

Once again, I’ve been impressed by property managers. This is a difficult time, and, for some, this is about either surviving the crisis or escaping altogether from the industry. Yet, whatever path each of us will be taking, I look forward to hearing about your unique stories. At a bar after a conference. On Zoom. At one of your properties. We will meet again.


our homes, or the fact that our conferences often feel as much like family reunions as educational events, ours can feel like an industry that is as steeped in friendly collaboration as in competition.

This approach has always made our industry special. It makes it even more so today as people around the industry and around the world dive in to help one another. We’re helping companies navigate the current uncertainties so that they can survive to the other side of this. We are helping those who find themselves suddenly and surprisingly unemployed to find new jobs and help pay the bills in the meantime. We’re helping local communities who, now more than ever, are missing the liveliness, and the livelihood, that vacation rentals bring. We are doing all of this and more because we’re all in this together.

Andrew McConnell

Founder and CEO, Rented.com Atlanta, Georgia

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here to even start? These past several months have been unlike anything most of us have ever experienced. Even with recessions or prior dips in travel, rarely have our personal and physical safety been put at risk in quite the same and sustained way as at present. This time really is different. And the toll it is taking is just as new as it is different and difficult. Perhaps that is where we can start with the positives. Because it is so new, and different, and downright difficult for all of us, we are connecting in ways that are just as new and different. This has always been an industry based on relationships and personal connections. Whether it is our core business of welcoming families into

In the present environment, you could be forgiven for failing to plan ahead. Simply keeping your head above water day-to-day may seem like a herculean task in its own right. But even though it is forgivable, it is not recommended. The truth is that although things are different—although things have changed—markets will open up. Travelers will come back. When that happens, you want to be ready. The time to prepare is now. No one knows for sure when things will get back to normal, or what normal will even mean on the other side of this. The one thing I can say with almost 100 percent certainty is that, as an industry, we will come out of this more connected and more resilient than when we entered it. We will come back from this in an even better position to succeed in the long term, but only if we take the difficult steps required and make the necessary investments today. None of this will be easy, but, then again, none of this ever was.

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espite the virus being possibly the worst negative shock on the global economy over the past decade, it has paradoxically also delivered some of the most uplifting human stories of our time. There is no better example than Captain Tom, a 100-year-old veteran who helped raise £32 million for the UK’s National Health Service (NHS). It's not about the money. It is about the spirit, the determination, and the resulting smiles his actions sparked. It’s human to the core.

That very DNA of humanness is something the vacation rental industry has buckets of. As we struggle with business, let’s not forget what we’re great at: being human, putting smiles on faces, and helping create wonderful memories. We may not have that opportunity right now, but guests will return, and when they do, they’ll need us to help revive and restore them. We’re innately better positioned than any other form of accommodation to do this!

Andrew (Andy) McNulty Founder, TouchStay Brighton, United Kingdom

I’d also like to give a shout out to Hostfully, a fierce competitor of ours when it comes to guidebooks. We had such fun collaborating with them on To Guests With Love, a celebration of our industry. We both dropped our competitive barriers for something far bigger than ourselves, and I can confidently say that we’ve now become friends through the process of sharing stories of our own lives, swapping photos, and encouraging each other through these tough times. That’s what I'm talking about. That’s our industry to the core!


I feel your pain, and I am sending you hugs from Maine!

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offer you a beautiful quote from Sister Joan Chittester as we reassess who we are and what we do. I have been quoting this to my owners and guests as we make our way through this challenge.

Audrey Miller

Co-Founder Cottage Connection of Maine, Inc. Vice President, NEVRP Boothbay, Maine

“Hospitality means we take people into the space that is our lives and our minds and our hearts and our work and our efforts. Hospitality is the way we come out of ourselves. It is the first step towards dismantling the barriers of the world. Hospitality is the way we turn a prejudiced world around, one heart at a time.” Be well, and no jumping off the ledge!

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hen I walked into a small office in the heart of Boston 12 years ago, I had no idea that I’d fall in love with the vacation rental industry. Sure, I’d always had an affinity for travel, but I didn’t fully understand the extent to which accepting a job at a travel start up would shape my career, identity, and love for the vacation rental community. In the seven years I was with FlipKey/TripAdvisor, I learned firsthand how big an impact distribution can have on small businesses and about the immense benefit of collecting and sharing guest reviews in building a brand. Then I dove into an often-overlooked part of the business: back of house operations. Scaling Breezeway these past four years has helped me realize just how instrumental housekeepers, inspectors, and maintenance teams are in ensuring well-maintained properties and providing amazing experiences at vacation rentals.

In between these two experiences, though, I took a break from the industry. I thought I was ready for a fresh start, but I quickly learned that I was wrong. I missed the vacation rental community and the people who make it so incredible. After more than 10 years, I’ve gotten to know many of you and heard about your families and life events: the weddings, babies, vacations, and losses. And it’s because of these people that I know our industry will come back stronger and more determined than ever. The past few months have, no doubt, been challenging and have forced uncomfortable decisions like letting go of staff and accepting hundreds of cancellations.

Koryn Okey

Vice President, Breezeway Boston, Massachusetts

But make no mistake. Whether it’s next week or next month, those same people faced with the hard decisions today will put on a smile and welcome guests back to their respective markets. And, hopefully, we’ll all be a little kinder to and more thankful for one another. I know I will.


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e overcame 9/11. We overcame SARS. We overcame the Great Recession. We overcame hurricanes and fires. We overcame oil spills. We overcame no snow. We overcame earthquakes. And we will now overcome COVID! If nothing else, this pandemic has shown us how fragile our lives and our economy are. We must make sure our industry gets stronger from all of this, and I truly believe we will.

James (Jim) Olin

Founder and CEO, C2G Advisors Franklin, Tennessee

The PointCentral Team All over, United States

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ou support the memories we cherish for a lifetime: laughter around the dinner table with families and hugs with loved ones around campfires. Right now, things are anything but normal, but this is not the first challenge our industry has faced, nor will it be our last. We built our businesses through vision, grit, and ingenuity. Together, we will get through this and come out on the other side, creating even more memories to carry with us.


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e have crazy times out there, but we will pull through this. Self-isolate, stay home, and have robust conversations in your business about best- and worstcase scenarios. Plan for both. Take time to sharpen the saw so that your business is the best it has ever been. Give some extra love to your staff and your owners, as you are going to need them to be resilient and stand by your side when we come out of this, as we still have some water to flow under the bridge. Once we get rolling, give your guests a free night or something special, as now is the best time ever for your business to shine and show that you really care. Plan for the worst; hope for the best. See you all on the other side, where the good news is that everyone will need a holiday/vacation.

Pete Smith, aka “Aussie Pete” Founder and CEO, Weekenda New South Wales, Australia

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our vision, expertise, and dedication have built an amazing industry that is a fundamental part of American life. There’s a strong spirit among travelers who want adventure and those who host them, and that spirit won’t be broken by this crisis or by anything else.

For myself, my team, and our clients, this crisis has summoned a passion and perseverance in all of us more than ever before. Your challenges are our challenges, and we’re linked arm in arm with you, fighting the good fight. As we start to see the results of pent-up demand, I can’t wait to celebrate our swift recovery with you!

Lisa Stinnett CEO, InhabitIQ Knoxville, TN


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espite the mountainous sea of changes caused by the coronavirus, we have been comforted in some ways that, despite the complexity, the fundamentals of our industry remain largely intact. Quality inventory built on trust, service expectations that meet the needs of guests, and a professional team focused on a great guest experience remain the name of the game. Happily, this is still a people-focused business. Organizational agility and on-the-ground engagement count for more than ever, as do local relationships across interests and industries. Trust—hard-earned over time—in every direction remains the single most valuable leadership currency. In a crisis, credibility is hard to underestimate.

While automation remains tempting, we are reminded at times like these that there is no substitute for knowing your customers as people. Candid, accessible, and transparent information communicated regularly wins the day, even when much of the information is imperfect or even unknown. Social engagement is messy . . . but don’t hide from it. Problems are best identified at the front line. They are best solved there as well—empower your team to act.

Clark Twiddy

President, Twiddy & Co. Outer Banks, North Carolina

It’s easy to get paralyzed by confusion or competing demands. We simply come to work every day and say we were going to try to do the right thing and do the best we can, time and again, day in and day out, until we are through it. From a leadership perspective, when times get hard, I think simplicity is what carries the day. If nothing else, lead by example and take care of your people. Make sure they are giving a day of their life to something that makes a positive difference.

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e will come out of this stronger because disruption makes us think creatively instead of just continuing what we have done in the past. For many PMCs, the past few years have held a disruption of another kind: the loss of control. For both owner and guest, local expertise and professionalism did not seem to matter quite as much as they had in the past. With COVID-19 this has changed, and you have an opportunity to reclaim that power.

Ed Ulmer

CEO, Barefoot Technologies Henniker, New Hampshire

Travel will not just open; it will be a process that differs for each market and will be accompanied by enhanced cleaning, clear and concise information, and services that really can only be provided by someone familiar with the area. What you sell and provide has been altered. It is still a property, a vacation experience, and your local expertise, but what is most important is trust. The trust with owners that you are not just doing the bookings but also managing some of their biggest assets. The trust with guests who need a safe, remarkable vacation, not just a unit. I’d be happy to talk in more depth and share relevant experience and thoughts.


not as enjoyable anymore. Although I’m definitely webinar-weary, the use of virtual communication is here to stay and will continue to reduce travel. Large businesses will have realized that full- or part-time work from home can save office space costs, reduce staff travel and stress, and help people be more productive. The shorter the trip, the greater the chance of it being replaced by the virtual world. Rural real estate is now rising in price as many city dwellers have not enjoyed this experience, and the denser a population becomes, the greater the dangers. Combined with virtual communication, local neighborhoods may see a new resurgence.

Richard Vaughton

Founder and Director, Rentivo Exeter, United Kingdom Reflection

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his crisis has given time for reflection. Less travel, less expense, and less of a carbon footprint have made me and many of my colleagues realize that we are on the cusp of a new era in business and personal focus, accelerated by this crisis. I have also enjoyed less pollution, cleaner air, less noise, dark skies, and bright stars with no vapor trails, and so has the planet.

In the vacation rental world, the hidden enemy is not going away and has highlighted the burden of an increasingly mobile population and its travel disappointments. With an increasing corporate focus on efficiency, concern about terrorism, bag-size checks, grumpy staff, plastic knives and forks, and so on, frequent travel is

Many small businesses have been on the proverbial hamster wheel for years and never looked outside the cage to realize that they are powering the corporations’ light bulbs and hoping for a few nuts on the way. Actual holidays and major events will still be high on people’s personal agenda, but this will have its own new battleground: hygiene. The impact of this virus is only just being felt, and this is where the major corporations will have a powerful influence and are currently setting their stalls out to influence guests and your business.

Escaping the rodent cage is a common discussion in times of reflection. The togetherness and selflessness we have witnessed during this period has shown the true nature of the human spirit. This spirit should be harnessed in the business world too, where we all work toward a common goal and healthy independence. Collaboration, slowing down, and planning to power your own hamster wheel, but only when you need the lights on, has to be important. In fact, this can bring about a true sharing economy. Unless we reevaluate our approach to the whole ecosystem now, the next global crisis could be the last.

what to do now. Our business was forged in the fires of the last great economic calamity, a time we had to look hard for silver linings. Silver linings are tough to see right now. Here’s one. People are fantasizing about travelling when this is over. People are focused on what they love and value in their lives, and for many, it’s travel. After WWII and the Great Recession lodging came roaring back. Is COVID-19 the perfect storm of isolation and pent-up demand to inspire travel to high-value lodging, safely socially distanced from the masses? This is our moment to prepare for the light at the end of the tunnel.

Chris Bettin

CEO, Premier Vacation Rentals Group Durango, Colorado

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his is our moment. Getting through to the other side may require the flexibility of a contortionist with a side gig as a catnip farmer herding felines cats through fields. Let’s face it; if we can’t imagine what the other side looks like, then it’s tough to know

How are we to help our communities now, when everything is vacant? For many of you, in times of forest fires, hurricanes, or other large-scale events, there was an obvious answer. We asked our homeowners if they’d donate their homes to frontline workers in need of isolation. Our owners responded with enthusiasm, and we formed a coalition with the vacation rental companies in our area called Vacation Rentals to the Rescue. It has filled a need in our community, and it has been a way for our companies to shine in a different light. It has brightened this time for us. Media attention inspired paid travel directly to us where appropriate. We can’t help but wonder if many who are cooped up in their homes, after seeing that coverage and longing to travel to their special places, will think of vacation rentals first. Until then, this is our moment.


A worldwide pandemic is something I had read about in history books and fiction novels. I never would have imagined living through one. Putting personal inconveniences aside, COVID-19 has put vacation rental managers around the world in unprecedented situations. Some countries shut down completely, whereas others skirted the fine line of being precautionary and resistant.

I’m grateful to say that the state of Florida and its leaders have made the right, albeit tough, decisions. It’s not easy to shut your doors in a month that usually sees hundreds of thousands of families enjoying their spring break vacations. It is bizarre, to say the least, to see the “World’s Most Beautiful Beaches” in Panama City deserted except for the occasional seagull.

Paul Wohlford

Vice President, Resort Collection Panama City Beach, Florida

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e’ve all joked about how the vacation rental industry is like the Wild Wild West. I never truly believed that this analogy would become our reality. I have been in this wonderful industry for over 30 years, and while the past 10 years or so have been challenging with the Great Recession in 2008 and the Deep Horizon oil spill in 2010, the last two years have been unimaginable after being hit by Category 5 Hurricane Michael in 2018.

In 2020, in a world we thought would resemble the Jetsons, we are all quarantined at home, forced to close our businesses and beaches and to wear masks to protect our families from what some call an unseen killer and others call a media-driven virus. Regardless of where you fall on that spectrum, nobody is exempt from its effects.

Having said that, what I’m most proud to have seen during this time is a team who has made huge sacrifices to serve the greater good. My work family has been challenged in more ways than one; many have not yet recovered from Hurricane Michael and have now had to face more unknowns about their future. But, as they say, through adversity comes strength.

We know this to be true now more than ever before. I’m fortunate to have peers and colleagues who have become like family to me, especially through organizations like the Onsite Property Management Association (OPMA). Although we are all affected equally, not a day passes where I don’t send or receive a text, phone call, or email just to “check in” and support one another. While we remain mindful of the situation, let’s not be fearful. I pray for our safety and health, and I look forward to seeing you all (hopefully on the beach) soon.

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s we come out of these times, people will be chomping at the bit for a vacation getaway with their family. No one is more uniquely qualified to provide a memorable experience than you are. I am confident we will come out of this stronger than ever.

Claiborne Yarbrough

Director of Sales and Client Success, Barefoot Technologies Richmond, Virginia

Thank you for your resilience time and time again in the face of adversity. When talking with so many of you in the industry before this crisis, I was reminded daily of your remarkably creative and innovative instincts. It is obvious that you love what you do, and it shows in how you take care of your staff, vendors, owners, and guests. This is a winning combination, and I look forward to seeing how our industry becomes even more professional, vibrant, and integral to our well-being—because we all know everyone values vacations and travel experiences. I look forward to continuing to hear and learn from you.


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