Page 1

Fall 2016


News and Information for Vacation Rental Professionals


Airbnb vs. HomeAway

Who's winning ? Converting First Time Guests

Guide to Listing Site Independence Phocuswright's

Douglas Quinby

on the Vacation Rental Industry


Best VRM

Websites of 2016

Social Betrayal Do you need a

Social Media Policy?


VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016


VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016

VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016



VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016

VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016



VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016



Keep up with demand and grow your business with Kigo, the most comprehensive property management solution for vacation and short term rentals. • Reservation Management

• Channel Manager

• Operations Management

• Contact Center

• Revenue Management

• Website Design

“The expanded Kigo product, especially the operations and management addition, has completely changed the way we operate and, ultimately grow our business.” — Jonathan Browning, Owner, BeachWalk Vacation Properties

KIGO.NET | 855-977-0483 © 2016 RealPage, Inc. All rights reserved. Kigo and RealPage and associated logos are registered trademarks of RealPage, Inc. or its affiliates. VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016



VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016

Lead Management Xtreme + Integrated Phone Control Trust Accounting Distribution Channels Auto Responders Custom Guest App Housekeeping Mobile App Maintenance Mobile App Owner Mobile App Responsive Websites Website Map Searching Electronic Signatures CRM / Guest Marketing Home & Lock Automation Yield Management Wordpress Plugin / API Dashboard / Advanced Reporting Guest Reviews / Surveys Social Media Automation Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Coupons / Gift CertiďŹ cates Concierge QuickBooks Integration Travel Agent Portal Point Of Sale

VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016


Contents On the Cover

44 Converting First Time Guests 50 Do you need a Social Media Policy? 60 Phocuswright's Douglas Quinby on the Vacation Rental Industry 64 Airbnb vs. HomeAway: Who's winning? 68 Guide to Listing Site Independence 70 Best VRM Websites of 2016

Housekeeping 86 Don't Skip Annual Deep Cleans 88 Marketing Your Housekeeping Department 88 Marketing Your Housekeeping Department

Education and CommunityÂ


Business 38 2016 Acquisitions of Vacation Rental Management Companies

48 VRM Intel Live! Comes to Wilmington and Destin

50 Social Betrayal: Tips for a Social Media Policy

93 Calendar of Events

53 4 Financial Figures Every VRM Should Know

94 Free Online Education Classes for VRMs



60 Phocuswright's Douglas Quinby on the Vacation Rental Industry

VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016


VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016


Contents Technology


22 Upgrading to Cloud-based Software

24 Vacation Rental Marketing Mixology

26 Vantage Resort Realty's Smart Home Technology

40 Conversion Goals and Tracking

28 Streamline Your Business with RealTimeRental

54 Marketing Success: Measuring Performance

82 Free Pizza? Using Creativity to Improve Guest Retention

70 VRM Intel's Best VRM Websites of 2016

84 Shopping for Smart Locks? 5 Considerations When Selecting a Smart Lock Provider

Customer Service 44 Train Your Team to Convert First Time Guests 46 Increase Revenue Through Reservations 57 The Economics of Really Knowing Your VR Guests 58 3 Ways to Cure the Problem of Missed Leads

Distribution 64 Airbnb vs. HomeAway: Who's winning? 70 VRM's Quick Guide to Listing Site Independence


73 10 Website Mistakes That Hurt Online Booking 81 Marketer's Resource Guide

Owner Relations 75 Grow Inventory & Attract Ideal Owners 76 Convincing Owners to Upgrade Furnishings & Decor

Human Resources 42 Engaged Employees = More Profits

Regulations 30 Help Them Help Us: Working with Policymakers 37 The Fight Over Noise 90 Working with Communities and HOAs

VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016



We advertise your properties everywhere guests book travel online. Come see us at VRMA! Sign up now at

VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016


BookingPal's managed distribution service enables vacation rental property managers to reach new audiences and increase their revenue.

myBookingPal Is a global distribution management platform built specifically for the vacation rental industry that provides seamless, real-time connectivity between Escapia and ISI link and the world’s most popular consumer travel websites to distribute your inventory, increase occupancy and grow revenue.

myOptimize TM Is a powerful reporting tool that assists vacation rental managers by scoring the way they have merchandised their vacation rentals and offers suggestions for improvements to maximize online conversion.

myInquiry Is a new service offered by BookingPal to assist vacation rental managers with responding to guest inquiries within 1 hour, 24/7 in order to maximize lead to booking conversion rates.

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VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016

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VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016

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VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016


VRM intel magazine

Dear Readers,

Welcome to the fifth issue of VRM Intel Magazine! Last year we launched this new magazine at the VRMA National Conference in October and have now published over 150 exclusive articles written specifically to help vacation rental managers navigate industry changes to build better and more sustainable businesses.

Even in one year, we have seen a lot of changes in the industry. As we learned in our interview with Phocuswright’s Douglas Quinby, the number of travelers staying in private accommodations has increased this year to one in three, up from one in ten in 2011…and almost 40 percent of those travelers booked online (page 60). Expedia’s purchase of HomeAway last year and Airbnb’s push into professionallymanaged rentals brought major shifts to the state of distribution, as VRMs are now transitioning from working with these channels as listing sites that advertise vacation homes to working with e-commerce sites that book vacation homes.

We have witnessed the acquisition of several well-known vacation rental management companies this year (page 38). In addition, we’ve seen regulatory threats come to fruition as the city of Anaheim initiated a ban on vacation rentals, and dozens of new destinations are finding themselves in battles over regulations that they never expected (page 30). At the time of publication, we also learned that HomeAway’s co-founder Brian Sharples resigned from his position as CEO and that one of the industry’s largest technology companies had been sold under less than ideal circumstances. As a result, vacation rental managers and industry suppliers are adapting and creating a fresh set of goals and objectives for the coming months and years. The saying, “If we don’t start today, we can’t get there tomorrow,” is especially true in our industry. As a vacation rental manager, if your goal is not to rely on thirdparty channels, it is time start today to implement guest acquisition, conversion and retention plans. If your goal is to sell your company, it is time to start today to get the books in tip-top shape. If your goal is having a sustainable business that survives multiple generations, it is time to start today to engage and attract the right people for your team. Here at VRM Intel, we also are starting today. This fall, we have begun building an industry reporting platform that offers every vacation rental manager easy access to in-depth reporting which allows you to compare your performance to the performance of the market. These reports will give you the right information and tools to make effective revenue management, marketing and staffing decisions.

We also are hosting two VRM Intel Live! events in Wilmington on October 26 and in Destin on November 30 (page 48). These educational seminars are designed to provide you with in-person advanced level education that is both timely and relevant in building your vacation rental business. Additionally, we added free online education classes throughout the year to stay up-to-date with what is going on in the industry (page 94).

At VRM Intel, we are working hard to provide you with useful information and tools, including our magazine, website, live events, online education classes and reporting platform. As your 2017 planning kicks into high gear, my sincere hope is that you find VRM Intel a valuable resource in building your business. Thank you for reading, and we look forward to seeing you soon.

Editor-in-Chief Amy Hinote

Director of Design and Production

Donato Berbelja

Contributing Writers Carlos Corzo

Amy Ochoa

Steve Craig

Vince Perez

Matt Curtis

Claire Reiswerg

Ben Edwards

Matt Renner

Scott Fasano

Dan Rourke

Josh Guerra

Peter Scott

Sue Jones

Vikram Singh

Doug Kennedy

Sherry Tomasso

Heather Weiermann

Copy Editor Kelly Mutual

Advertising Amy Hinote,

Address VRM Intel Magazine LLC

1222 Chicago Avenue, Suite 604, Evanston, IL 60202 To subscribe to VRM Intel Magazine to request additional copies, contact or go to


Amy Hinote Editor-in-Chief


VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016

© Copyright 2016 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 Magazine LLC reserve rights of ownership.



The Rules Change This Fall Take control of your properties and drive more direct bookings without the cost of a custom website.

The next generation of Rezfusion by Bluetent is launching this Fall.

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To request a demo: call 970-704-3240 visit or see us at Rezfest 2016 & VRMA

A Digital Agency for Travel, Tourism and Beyond VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016



VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016

VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016



VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016

VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016


| From Our Partners

Start Using the Sink Upgrading to a By Dan Rourke HomeAway Software


Property Management System


ere at HomeAway Software, we’ve upgraded hundreds of property managers from a server-based property management system (PMS) to one of our two cloudbased PMS products, V12.NET and Escapia. Most property managers are nervous to change such a fundamental business tool, and that’s understandable: changing your property management software often means changing your reservations systems, marketing tools, and distribution capabilities.

quired to run server-based property management software will inevitably become outdated or even be discontinued, forcing you to chase down old hardware on eBay or at garage sales, find a new PMS, or continue using unsecured, unsupported hardware.

Cloud-based systems, on the other hand, can be accessed from any device with an Internet connection and are designed to seamlessly integrate with the latest technology. Product updates, including new features and security updates, are delivered automatically. There’s no need to dig a new well if the first one doesn’t dry up!

Cloud-based software protects your business. Cloud-based property management systems protect your data better than server-based systems in two key ways:

Physical Security

Unlike server-based systems where your data is stored on a server in a utility closet at the back of your office, cloud-based systems store it on enterprise-grade servers in remote locations.

This is a tremendous advantage to all property managers, especially those in areas that sometimes experience natural disasters or inclement weather. If the servers in your utility closet are damaged, your operations come to a halt. With cloud-based systems, your data and business remain safe, secure, and operational in the face of flooding, wildfires, or even just a lightning strike or power outage.

Digital Security

The remote servers on which your data is stored are maintained by professional cloud-computing providers who implement some of the highest security standards. These protections typically include the following:

 Advanced encryption and 24-hour monitoring to protect against cyber attacks  Redundant backups so you always have access to your data, even if one server fails  Redundant Internet connections to safeguard against unexpected downtime

But, the property managers we speak to know that their business has outgrown their current PMS. Despite the anxiety and stress, their thoughts after the process are almost always the same: “I’m so glad we upgraded. It’s worth it.”

Cloud-based systems work anywhere.

Why is upgrading to a cloud-based PMS worth the stress?

In the office? Hop on your computer to check availability and complete a reservation. Meeting a maintenance team at a property so they can install a new appliance? Open your laptop and pull reports for your accounting teams while you wait for them to arrive. Need to know if a room is ready for check-in? Your housekeeping staff can use a mobile device to mark that they’ve cleaned a unit that is now ready for the next guest.

Cloud-based software is more efficient than server-based software. When was the last time you dug a well and pumped groundwater into a bucket to wash your hands? I doubt most of us ever have. Instead, we walk to the sink, turn on the tap, and water flows into our hands from the city’s water system. Easy access to the city system saves us the time and energy required to dig and pump so that we can quickly wash our hands and move on. The same principle applies to property management systems. Gone are the days when property managers had to buy expensive servers, set them up in a utility closet, and call a technician to repair them when they crashed. Cloud-based property management systems allow PMs to simply “turn on the tap” to access their data and delegate setup and maintenance to cloud-computing providers. Drawing water from the city system also saves us from having to dig a new well when the first one runs dry. The PC hardware re22

VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016

The most immediate benefit of a cloud-based property management system is that you can run your business anytime, anywhere, on any device connected to the Internet.

When your team can share or find information it needs at any time, your business can keep running smoothly all the time. As technology advances, so do the tools property managers use every day. It’s time to quit pumping, start using the sink, and enjoy the efficiency, security, and flexibility that cloud-based property management systems offer.

Dan is the Senior Director of Software Support for HomeAway Software. He has been a software and customer service geek for as long as he can remember. After a career in software development and management at IBM, Dan had his first assignment in Customer Support and has spent a long period in the trenches learning at the point of intersection of product potential and real world implementation success. Prior to HomeAway Software, Dan was Vice President – Global Customer Support and Training at Cadence Design Systems and had several planning, strategy, and software development positions at IBM.

The business of R&R is about ROI

Take a free 90-day Oracode test drive and find out how saving time and money makes sense. Go to

Guest keys are expensive to manage and a liability. The Oracode system lets you remotely activate and issue secure access codes directly to your guest’s smart phone or mobile device, eliminating guest keys altogether. Convenient, simple, safe and secure with total accountability, Oracode will increase operational efficiency, guest satisfaction and your bottom line – because if it doesn’t make dollars, it doesn’t make sense. VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016


Vacation Rental


| From Our Partners



In Hungary, never clink your glasses when saying, “Cheers!” In Russia, there is always a toast, so hold on to your drink until after the first one is made. In Germany, make and keep eye contact while toasting. In Ireland, if you buy one for yourself, buy one for everyone else; it will always come back to you by the end of the night.

Understanding the customs and languages of each channel and how to maintain distribution can be mind-boggling. When “buying a round for the pub,” be sure to include as many relevant channels as possible. Understanding the data as you go will help shift your revenue to the highest profit channels.

By Amy Ochoa Director of Marketing LeisureLink

The Perfect Recipes for Vacation Rental Marketing



There are hundreds of recipes for power shakes out there, but they all boil down to a few key ingredients: fruit, maybe some juice or protein powder, yogurt and possibly a few leaves of spinach. Is it possible to give a power boost to sales and marketing while also lowering guest acquisition costs? With the five ingredients of this hospitality power shake, it is. B Don’t hold back. Distribute widely. C Beef up your direct channel.

D Focus on rate integrity and promotions. E Dynamic pricing. Do it!

F Loyalty is where the revenue is.


When all five ingredients are added, the distribution power shake will increase new guest volume and set you up to decrease guest acquisition costs in the long-term.


(If only the recipe for the low season occupancy flu were this simple.)

e all know that marketing is not one simple strategy that you can set and forget. Property management companies need to mix different channels and tactics to create marketing strategies that have been customized for each particular property, market and goal. I’ve incorporated some of my favorite drink recipes to create the perfect vacation rental marketing mixology for all of us to try.

Rum Martinez: 23-year-old rum, toasted wood chips, a smoke infuser, vermouth, maraschino cherry and bitters. The ideal mix is simple and isolates the essential ingredients by automating, integrating and tracking. A successful revenue cocktail applies this mix to the following key areas: product, price, placement, promotion, people and process.



Without water or ice. Room temperature. The delivery is simple, but the drink is complex with the nuance of an aged scotch or thoughtfully crafted vodka. The best way to execute a successful marketing plan is by making it simple. ( Just because a plan may have straightforward, efficient execution doesn’t necessarily mean it is short on strategy.) This builds the most effective routes to reach the greatest number of new guests while employing partnerships and technology to make the execution as efficient as possible. 24

VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016



1 oz bourbon, 1 tbsp honey, 2 tsp fresh lemon juice and ¼ cup boiling water.

Naturally, the low season will never be as robust as the high season, but there are remedies that can make it more profitable. Boost mobile marketing for last-minute bookings, adjust minimums, create value rather than cutting prices, shift demand and publish seasonally appropriate content. LeisureLink helps propMake sure to experiment with different marketing strategies and find the ones that resonate. This is what mixology is all about. You can learn more about the right marketing mixology for your company by downloading our free eBook at LeisureLink. c o m / Va c a t i o n - R e n t a l Marketing-Mixology-Ebook.

erty managers maximize bookings online, offline, anywhere. Through industry-leading online connectivity tools such as distribution, yield management and booking engines, LeisureLink drives bookings through 60+ channels without the time-consuming work of managing multiple extranets. Learn more at



Industry Reports



News and Information for Vacation Rental Professionals


Go to to find out how you can participate.

Wilmington, NC - Oct 26 Destin, FL - Nov 30 VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016


| From Our Partners


Smart Home Technology

Proven Invaluable for Vantage Resort Realty Growth Strategy By Scott Fasano, Chief Real Estate Officer, Vantage Resort Realty


antage Resort Realty has developed a strong appreciation for Smart Home technology. This advanced technology not only helps our operations, homeowners, and guests but also aligns with our strategic growth plans for the Vantage Resort Realty brand.

Established in 2007, Vantage Resort Realty is best known for highend luxury vacation rental properties in Ocean City, Maryland. Thanks to our investment in Smart Home, we have extended “the Vantage experience” to New Jersey and Myrtle Beach.

Smart Home Value to Owners and Guests Everyone is finding value in our Smart Home investment. Both of our customer groups, homeowners and guests, are benefiting from this home-automation technology. PointCentral gives us the ability to continue to drive toward the goal of providing revenue for our owners while protecting their properties. We are up front with our owner benefits, displaying a forward-thinking approach and saying, “Here are all the things we’re doing for you—we’re keeping your utility bills low and your systems in check, and you’re going to be able to monitor your property in the off season.”

online system to generate a unique user code for the contractor (which is only valid for a specified period of time). The minute that code is used, we receive an alert informing us that the contractor is at the property. This has helped strengthen our partnerships with our vendors. It’s a win–win situation because contractors don’t have to go to the office to pick up or drop off keys, and we don’t have to worry about access issues. Operationally, the visibility that we’ve gotten from our PointCentral Smart Home system has been outstanding. Using the PointCentral dashboard, we can see when a property was most recently cleaned and inspected. We can even use one of the codes to find out when we changed the air filters; which, again, pushes value back to the owner.

Vantage was established in 2007. With more than 500 properties, Vantage is enjoying 20%+ growth rates and has expanded to new markets that include New Jersey and Myrtle Beach.

This approach translates to the guests, who always, at a minimum, expect the property to have what they have at home. With Smart Home, we are able to take that guest experience to the next level. For example, if a guest has an issue with a door lock, we can unlock it remotely. Instant gratification and speedy solutions make for positive guest experiences.

Thermostats are most valuable when we transition between seasons. When it started getting warmer in Ocean City, we found that the air conditioning systems were set either on “auto” or on “heat.” Thus, we were inundated with calls to the effect that the air conditioning wasn’t coming on. With our PointCentral Smart Home system, our team was able to get into the system for the property in question, click on the thermostat, and change its setting to “cool”—easily and efficiently solving the problem. The guest feedback we receive when we handle something on the first call has been positive, which is our ultimate goal from a customer-service standpoint.

Why Did I Choose PointCentral?

Operational Control

It started with the people. Adam and I jumped off to a fantastic start. Stan and Laura have been awesome. When I have questions, Adam is there. We text and bounce ideas off each other all the time. It’s a great relationship.

PointCentral has made a tremendous difference in our 24/7 Client Services department. For example, when we get a plumbing call and need to send a contractor to the property, we use our PointCentral

With the way we’re pushing forward, we are on a path to success that continues to increase our excitement and positive client feedback each and every day.


VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016

VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016


| From Our Partners



ealTimeRental paved the way as the first web-based vacation rental software on the market in the year 2000. Since then our clients have used RealTimeRental to book and manage over 2.3 million vacation rentals. Always striving to stay ahead of the curve with technology, RealTimeRental continues to develop and enhance the software while creating partnerships with leading tech companies. RealTimeRental's latest business collaboration is with Parakeet, a vacation rental home automation company.

“Our clients are always looking for new ways to use technology to enhance their guests’ experience. We are very excited to introduce RealTimeRental clients to Parakeet's suite of home automation products," said Sherry Tomasso, co-founder at RealTimeRental.

Parakeet’s smart home automation technology allows vacation rental property managers to have remote access control to door locks, garage doors, thermostats, and more. "One of our favorite Parakeet features is the keyless entry system that integrates with our software,” said Tomasso. “When you create a booking in RealTimeRental, Parakeet will generate a disposable electronic key code for a keyless entry.”

Keyless entry saves time for the rental property management company, as there is no need for rental guests to stop at an office to pick up keys. The Parakeet key codes are automatically sent to the rental guests' cell phone or email and are only active for the duration of the booking. The key codes expire at the end of the booking which therefore requires the generation of a new unique key code for the next rental guest.

SIMPLIFY COMMUNICATION WITH PROPERTY OWNERS AND RENTAL GUESTS Save time with RealTimeRental’s newest feature, automated emails. Schedule tasks such as notifying property owners when you create a booking on their home, send pre-check-in welcome messages, send post-check-out follow up, send late payment reminders and more. The automated emails are customized for each client and come with company logos. “We created the automated emails as a way to help our property management and real estate companies save time,” said Tomasso. “Since everything is automated, offices don’t need to worry about 28

VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016

forgetting to notify a property owner of a booking or sending a late payment reminder to a tenant."

The automated emails are generated and sent out based on specific triggering events in the RealTimeRental software. For example, when creating a reservation in the software, an automated email is directed to the property owner notifying them of the dates of the reservation. All automated emails sent can be tracked via an email log within RealTimeRental. The log keeps track of what types of emails were sent to whom and also notifies the user if there is a problem with the recipient’s email address. “Today’s traveler is accustomed to accessing their vacation rental information online. RealTimeRental makes it easy for rental offices to provide online access to their rental guests with the Tenant Portal,” said Tomasso.

The Tenant Portal gives rental guests the ability to view information about current and past bookings online. Every rental guest has their private secure login to the Tenant Portal to which they can view their booking information, property details including photos and amenities, send reservation requests on properties rented in the past, and more. Rental guests can even make credit card and E-Check payments online via the Tenant Portal. The portal efficiently gives property owners online access to their rental information. Property owners can sign-in to their individual Owner Portal accounts and view availability calendars and bookings made on their rentals. Owners can create their owner reservations and guest of owner reservations right on the portal. They can also access their property information, photos, and monthly statements.

ENHANCE MARKETING AND AUTOMATE TASKS WITH NFC CHIP TECHNOLOGY RealTimeRental's partner T.A.P. Tag Technologies is utilizing NFC chip technology in exciting new ways in the vacation rental and real estate industry. T.A.P. Tags are a small NFC chip-enabled item (think key chains, stickers, business cards, and much more) that can display a custom message on customers' phones with just a simple tap of an NFC-capable smartphone. "Our partnership with RealTimeRental allows property management companies to use NFC chip technology to automate tasks and market directly to rental guests on their smartphones," said David Berroa, T.A.P. Tag Technologies.

T.A.P. Tags and RealTimeRental have a fully integrated platform, meaning that T.A.P. Tags can display rental property information directly from the software, and automate simple tasks such as notifying the cleaning crew when guests have checked out of a rental property. “T.A.P. Tags can display virtually any URL, making them a simple and easy way to get future customers looking at your company’s message on their NFC-capable smartphones,” said Berroa. “The information the tags display is easily customizable via the cloud, so T.A.P. Tags can be used for multiple marketing campaigns.” To learn more about RealTimeRental vacation rental software and their suite of technology products, please visit

VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016


| Regulations

Help Them Help Us Working With Policymakers To Help Create Effective, Common sense Regulations By Matt Curtis, Senior Director, Global Government Affairs and Public Policy, HomeAway 30

VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016


y wife and I had a recent dilemma: What do we do in a hotel room when our six-month-old daughter has fallen asleep? The solution: Next time, stay in a vacation rental.

Like many parents, we got to the point when we needed to have our daughter on a sleep schedule. This hit us especially hard when we found ourselves in a small hotel room at 7:30 p.m. after we had finally gotten the baby to fall asleep. That’s when we realized we had no idea what to do! With extremely limited options, we sat on the floor on the opposite side of the room from the baby and watched TV shows on our iPads. In truth, we were staying for only one night, but when Christie turned to me and said, “If we were here for more than three nights we would have to rent a house or I would probably kill you,” I knew exactly what she meant. As parents of one six-month-old, I can’t begin to fathom this same scenario for families with more than one child.

As city policymakers discuss regulations, they might want to consider trading places with parents like us first to understand the demand for private home accommodations, otherwise they may also be hiding in the dark as they create onerous vacation rental regulations that drive family travelers away. Property managers and owners can help policymakers cast the right vote; they can join the conversation, serve on decision-making boards, and give their time to organize the industry.

People have used vacation rentals for years when traveling, for all kinds of reasons. Typically, it’s a family staying for a longer than average hotel stay. In fact, recent surveys show the average stay in a vacation rental is just over seven nights, which is a huge shift from the average stay in a hotel of just over one night. And the average size of the group is significantly different—four people in a vacation rental versus just over one person in a hotel.

The research group Longwood International recently outlined some of the reasons families travel. These travelers bring heaps of economic impact to communities, and the research found that this type of travel is often part of a decision to make a new life in the place being visited. The Longwood International study found that some families research towns based on whether they are a good place to live or a good place to start a business or career. The research also showed that some families decide to visit communities when seeking to determine whether they are good places to attend college, retire, or purchase a vacation home.

Of course, when families are making travel choices, we know they may need the option to rent a home for their visit, and as cities decide on regulations around home rentals, they may want to remember the needs of family travelers. And why not? Besides fulfilling a need for family vacations, short term rentals also provide economic benefits for the communities.

In the United States the travel industry has created 972,000 jobs and expanded employment 18 percent faster than the rest of the economy. Travel industry salaries have risen 10 percent faster than overall private sector salaries, and since 2010 the industry has created more jobs than the entire manufacturing sector.

In Nashville, the community benefited from $5.4 billion in visitor spending, and the visitors helped to support over 58,000 jobs. Now, that wasn’t all due to the traditional short-term rentals of visiting families, but an economic impact study of Nashville’s peer city, Austin, Texas, shows that the vacation rental industry helped bring $234.1 million in economic impact to Austin and helped support 2,500 jobs.

In little St. Joseph, Michigan, the vacation rental industry brings $24.4 million dollars per year to the community and supports more than 300 jobs. In larger Galveston, Texas, the vacation rental industry helps bring $283 million to the community and support over 3,100 jobs.

At the recent U.S. Travel Association annual conference, ESTO, the attendees spoke at length about some incredible statistics on vacations, including the following: 55 percent of Americans don’t use all their vacation time, 222 million vacation days went unused in 2015, and only 36 percent of Americans go into a new year with confidence they’ll take a vacation. In addition, the attendees discussed some other fascinating statistics. Traveling families are spending more on their vacations. In fact, families are spending on average 11 percent more, and families staying in vacation rentals in some destinations have been found to be spending two times the amount daily spent by the average traveler.

These conversations led to a common theme from tourism leaders: They want vacation rental managers and owners to get involved.

Time and again at recent tourism conferences we have heard heads of convention centers and visitors bureaus, tourism boards, and destination marketing organizations say that the demand for vacation rentals by family travelers is too great and the economic impact is too massive for property managers and owners to be left out of the discussion. One solution has been all too commonly discussed: join your Convention and Visitors Bureau. Be a part of the conversation.

Property managers and owners who want to help frame discussions occurring at the local or state level should join their tourism industry stakeholders. Strong consideration should also be given to joining local and state real estate and home-builders associations. These organizations should be part of discussions on how vacation rentals bring many jobs and have a massive impact on the economy and also meet the huge demand of family travelers. Managers and owners seeking to help advocate for effective, commonsense regulations should sign up to serve on local planning commissions, zoning boards, or building committees. These local advisory groups give policy direction to city councils and can benefit from sound voices of individuals who understand the industry.

To prepare for the growing discussions of how vacation rentals are becoming a more important aspect of the visitor industry and to prepare for the increasing conversations about regulations for vacation home rentals, managers and owners should also give their time and resources to form local and state alliances. Only when you are part of an organized group will policymakers fully hear your suggestions on how regulations should be created that are realistic to the needs of family travelers and property owners. Join, serve, and give. It’s that easy.

The economic impact of the visitor industry is gargantuan. City policymakers prepare to capture visitor dollars by investing in public spaces, parking, wayfinding, and cultural events. They analyze and decide how best to fund public art and bike and pedestrian infrastructure, and they encourage and invest in concerts and art festivals. Policymakers do all this while working to preserve heritage structures and the environment and provide walkable, transit-friendly town centers. And they know that visitors help fund all these efforts. These city policymakers need to understand why some people travel, why some families choose longer stays, and why for visiting famVRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016


ilies a vacation rental or traditional short-term rental is the best option.

One great mayor once said, “The visitors industry is the ultimate green industry. Visitors leave their money in our local economy, and take up very little footprint.” That is true, and policymakers need to hear from industry stakeholders on how to best understand the demand, the family traveler, and your business.

Although my wife and I found a way to get through the night in our tiny hotel room, cowering on the other side of the bed and watching iPads while our baby slept, I know that we will need the option to rent a home when we are staying for longer periods of time—there is no way we can go through life hiding in a dark room. I’d rather take a few extra minutes next time to research and find a great vacation rental. The demands of traveling families are great, and the economic impact they have is even greater. Cities will continue to benefit from visitors who choose to rent homes when they travel with their families or friends. And to help policymakers create effective, commonsense regulations, property managers and owners should join their local tourism bureaus, serve on planning commissions, and give their time and resources to organize local and state vacation rental alliances.


VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016

Matt Curtis serves as Senior Director, Global Government Affairs and Public Policy for HomeAway/Expedia. There he works with governments and industry around the world to create best practices and effective policies. He sits on the United States Conference of Mayors Business Council, the National League of Cities Corporate Council, the Sharing Economy Advisory, the Travel Technology Association board and serves on the Vacation Rental Managers Association board. Curtis understands that communities can achieve fair and effective policies through effective stakeholder engagement.

VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016



VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016

The Fight Over


Can Noise Monitoring Quiet Protests Against Vacation Rentals?


n regulatory battles over vacation rentals, there is a lot of noise about noise. While there are legitimate concerns over issues such as tax compliance, occupancy, trash, and parking; complaints about noise often incite the loudest objections. Yet these grievances are largely anecdotal and lack evidence or data to substantiate their validity, which leaves vacation rental managers and owners with little defense.

“The issue of noise elicits the most emotional and hyperbolized arguments by those opposing short-term rentals,” said Matt Curtis, senior director of global government affairs and public policy for HomeAway. “In city council meetings, vacation rental opponents approach the podium with enthusiastic complaints about perceived parties that may or may not have even occurred. We are not having discussions about noise based on hard data.” This absence of noise-related data has given city council members and representatives few options when talking to enraged constituents about parties at short-term rental (STR) properties. However, with recent innovations in technology, vacation rental providers now have access to a much-needed monitoring solution to address the issue of noise.

What Is Noise Monitoring? Until recently, property managers have had a limited set of options to monitor the noise levels at their properties. Typical solutions can be expensive as they utilize human resources rather than technology, e.g., roaming beach walkers and staff drive-bys. While these types of analog noise monitoring methods may have been sufficient in yesteryear, in today’s era of heightened scrutiny and

activated anti-STR groups, there is an obvious need for reliable, scalable noise monitoring solutions to address both perceived and real noise issues. Effective noise monitoring accomplishes the following:  Tracks the noise level at rentals in real-time

 Protects a guest’s privacy by not recording content

 Provides managers with the ability to customize noise level thresholds, which when breached, generates instant notifica tions directly to staff

 Keeps the noise level history after the fact, which is helpful in formation in instances of falsely and legitimately reported noise complaints  Integrates into existing management software and smart home control systems  Is scalable for portfolios of all sizes

Why Is Noise Monitoring Important? At the end of the day, noise issues are neighbor and community issues. Without noise monitoring technology in place, managers are reliant on neighbors and police to be their de facto noise monitors. When a manager finds out about his loud, partying guests after the disturbance has angered neighbors or 911 has been called, the consequences can be devastating. No one knows this better than NoiseAware co-founder David Krauss. In early 2015, Krauss suffered a loss of over $30,000 from a VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016


How Noise Issues Affect Regulations

single noise complaint. David rented his property to a couple who claimed they were in town for a quiet weekend. It was not until two days after the guests checked out that David received a letter from his HOA’s lawyers informing him of the police report generated by his not-so-quiet guests’ “mini-Coachella” party.

Neighbor relations soured badly, and he ultimately sold the property. Determined to protect himself from a repeat nightmare at his remaining short-term rental, David searched online for a noise monitoring solution but found nothing.

“I then teamed up with Andrew Schulz, a brilliant electrical and software engineer, to build a solution to my problem,” said Krauss. “A few months later, we installed the first prototype in my rental property. I quickly realized two things. First, it was a huge relief to be able to remotely verify that it was actually quiet during quiet hours, and secondly, I could finally relax knowing that if a noise violation did occur, the automatic text message alerts would ensure that I was the first to find out, not the last.”

In a growing number of cities, the “noise issue” is cited as the number one driving force behind punitive short-term rental ordinances and bans. In February 2016, in HomeAway’s hometown of Austin, Texas, the Austin City Council voted to ban Type 2 short-term rentals—homes not occupied by the owner. That same month, HomeAway launched its “Stay Neighborly” program, which features a zero tolerance policy for disruptive behavior of short-term home rental owners and travelers. Carl Shepherd, co-founder of HomeAway, is confident that noise monitoring technology, and the hard data that it creates, will be significant in defending mischaracterizations in the future.

“Anecdotes and stories about ‘party houses’ played a major role in Austin’s fight over short-term rentals,” said Shepherd. “We knew that the anti-STR crowd’s claims were exaggerated and the city’s own records of 311 and 911 complaints showed that. If we could have walked into those public hearings with data showing the anecdotes were false, I know it would have made a difference.”

As part of the Stay Neighborly program, HomeAway has partnered with NoiseAware to perform noise audit studies to collect anonymized noise data from short-term rentals in Charleston, Nashville, and Seattle. “It is difficult to deny that this is the perfect way to deal with this issue,” said Matt Curtis. “In every one of our conversations, elected officials do not have a principled objection to vacation rentals as an accommodations alternative. In most cases, these representatives regularly use vacation rentals for lodging on their own vacations. We as an industry, need to continue to find tools such as NoiseAware that offer real solutions to the concerns their constituents have about short-term rentals.”

Noise Monitoring Is a Long-Term Solution for Short-Term Rentals The growing number of short-term rentals in previously residential-only neighborhoods has brought about highly publicized protests, an increase in STR regulations, and in many cases the implementation of rental bans. If the industry can find technology solutions that address hot-button issues of residents in the same way that noise monitoring addresses noise complaints, perhaps the anti-STR tide can be reversed.

Tom Hale, former COO of HomeAway and current NoiseAware advisor takes the long view. “In the last few years at HomeAway, the perception that vacation rentals were riddled with noise issues became a top-tier concern,” said Hale. “Innovative technology like NoiseAware will reorient the conversation to focus on effective solutions, not just perceived problems.” Hale added, “More critical for the industry in the long run, I expect noise monitoring will become the norm, guests that otherwise may produce noise nuisance issues will adjust behavior, and the use of data—not just anecdotes—will provide objective information to help cities create more sensible and enforceable ordinances.” By Amy Hinote 36

VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016

VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016


| Business

Acquisitions of Vacation Rental Management Companies


This year has already seen key acquisitions by growing vacation rental management companies, with several big announcements on the way. For example, Florida-based Vacation Rental Pros has grown from managing 25 to more than 1,700 properties in less than 10 years, including its acquisitions of Jackson Mountain Homes in Gatlinburg and Waterfront Vacation Rentals in the Tampa/St. Petersburg market. According to its owner and managing director, Steve Milo, there are additional acquisitions in store for the company in the fourth quarter. “Vacation Rental Pros is getting approached by more and more sellers as the vacation rental market gets more complex due to technology and the significant changing business models with online travel sites,” said Milo. “The recent major changes at HomeAway with their business model, as well as ongoing negative performance with TripAdvisor’s Flipkey, have caused severe disruption in traditional relied-upon marketing channels.”


Milo added, “A growing segment of vacation rental management companies and owners are becoming concerned that they are unable to navigate this disruption, which has caused traditional revenue sources to decline and which many fear will only continue to change at a pace that will be difficult for them to keep up. Many of the sellers we talk to started out when there was little technology, and advertising channels did not change their business models on the fly with little or no notice to their client.” Besides changes in technology and distribution, Jim Olin, CEO at C2G Advisors, is also seeing the introduction of new business models into the mainstream acquisition environment: “2016 has been a brisk year for both acquisitions and the introduction of innovative ways investors are getting into the vacation rental space.” Olin continued, “From franchising to Aparthotels, our industry continues to expand its product offerings while still growing through traditional M&A activities. I believe 2017 will bring even more of these new initiatives as our industry gets exposed to more and more in the investment community.” In addition, according to Ben Edwards, the quality of the deal structure is improving. “At Weatherby Consulting, we are seeing a number of well-structured offers being presented to our client base,” said Edwards. “All of our transactions are being closed at or above market EBITDA multiples; purchase price offers include a minimum 50 percent down with fixed payment over time and a guaranteed rate of interest or, simply, all cash at closing.” Edwards added, “While confidentiality and business policy prevents our firm from advertising a number of recently closed transactions, we'll considerably outperform the number of prior year closings. This merger and acquisition climate is forcing a number of company owners to consider the possibility of selling.”

























































































































VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016

By Amy Hinote


ith the growing popularity of sites like Airbnb, it is easy to forget that the vacation rental management industry still presents stable investment opportunities. However, according to Weatherby Consulting president Ben Edwards, who provides transaction advisory services and consulting in the vacation rental industry, “With this increased awareness in the vacation rental industry, a stable, well-managed vacation rental management company is an excellent investment vehicle, presenting opportunities for both buyers and sellers.”

| Marketing

By Joshua Guerra


Tracking I

f you want to go the extra mile and prove to yourself proof that your email marketing strategies are working, configuring Google Analytics to track goals may be exactly what the doctor ordered. With Google’s extensive suite of conversion and goal tracking capabilities, you can see exactly how much money your email marketing strategies are making – you just need to make sure analytics is set up correctly! Here is a quick guide to setting up conversion tracking with Google Analytics

Enter the thank you page URL in the Destination field (Make sure it is “Equals To”) Hit Save

B Login to Google Analytics Repeat for all goals you may be tracking (Inquiries, bookings, forms filled out, etc)

C Click Admin at the Top

F Test to make sure Conversions are Working D Configure a Conversion Path Are you tracking bookings? Use your CMS to create an automatic thank you page redirect post-checkout. Make sure ONLY users that have booked a reservation can access this page. Also, if you’re creating other conversions, it may be a good idea to create these thank you pages now (for instance, if you have an inquiries function on your site, you could create a custom thank you page that users are redirected to upon completion of the email form). E Create the Conversion in Analytics Click Goals

Click + New Goal

Name Your Goal

Choose “Destination” as your Goal Type, then hit Continue

You can also utilize these goals to track events (such as clicking a button on your site) by following these directions. Both of these forms of goal tracking will let you track all your conversions done through your site; however, if you wish to track only conversions received via email marketing tactics, that can take a bit more work! Fortunately, most email marketing platforms offer Google Analytics integration; just talk with your provider and see what they can do to help you get this configured! Discount Code Tracking If you use a discount code in your email blasts and you wish to track conversions made from that specific discount code, you need to make sure to only use that code for email marketing. Do not let your sales reps use it on the phone; this way, you can truly track conversions of the email blast using that specific code! Conclusion At the end of the day, email marketing can become one of the most powerful marketing and public relations tools at your disposal. Just one blast can be the difference between a good month and a month for the record books. Just take the time to follow the steps above, configure your campaigns correctly, and put some TLC into your marketing message, and you too may see that success! Joshua Guerra has been actively involved in Internet marketing since 2005 and the vacation rental management industry since 2009. Joshua’s knowledge and passion for Internet marketing has led his business,, to become an industry leader predominantly focused on helping vacation rental management companies.


VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016

VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016


| Human Resources

Engaged Employees Lead to More Profitable Business Outcomes W

hat is it that keeps your employees coming back to work each day? Is it their paycheck or an opportunity for advancement? Is it having challenging assignments or a personal connection to your organization’s mission? Research shows that engaged employees result in a more profitable business. When employees are engaged in the business and believe in your mission, they work harder, are more productive and they feel successful. The Corporate Leadership Council conducted a worldwide engagement study and found that the most important driver of employee engagement is a connection between an employee’s job and organizational strategy.

Almost anything that happens at work has a direct impact on your employees’ engagement. The way your employees are coached and evaluated, the work environment and resources they use, their relationships with management and peers, and their opportunities for growth and professional development are all important to how connected and engaged your employees are. So how do you know if you have an engaged workforce? You can see it on your employees’ faces. Engaged employees are more focused. They are driven to work more creatively and efficiently. They openly communicate about their work, results and challenges, both verbally and nonverbally. Engaged employees are emotionally connected and committed to their organization. They care about the 42

VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016

work they do, and they care about their company. They don’t simply work for a paycheck; they focus their efforts on your organization’s goals and priorities. Engaged employees put forth their discretionary effort willingly.

In contrast, disengaged employees show it in their attitudes. It might be making caustic or toxic comments, rolling their eyes, or silently glaring in your direction. They complain and make excuses. They lack enthusiasm and initiative. Disengaged workers not only have a negative impact on employee morale, they don’t care about your company, and they have no intention of helping it grow. Research by McLean & Company found that disengaged employees cost an organization approximately $3,400 for every $10,000 in annual salary. That is a significant amount of money to spend on employees who aren’t connected to your business. You know that employee engagement is important, but are you aware of the significance it can have on your bottom line and productivity? Several studies correlate increased engagement to more profitable business outcomes, which provides strong evidence that higher levels of employee engagement will drive better results for your organization. Employee engagement is all about having a more enthusiastic and more committed workforce caring about the work they do.

According to Gallup, employee engagement consistently affects key performance outcomes, regardless of the industry or company.

Gallup’s results showed that companies with highly engaged employees experience:  An increase of 10 percent in customer loyalty/ engagement  An increase of 21 percent in profitability

 An increase of 20 percent in productivity  A 40 percent reduction in turnover

Studies from the Society of Human Resources Management indicate that it can cost between six and nine months’ salary (on average) to replace a position. If you lose a position paying $40,000 a year, you can expect to incur $20,000 to $30,000 in replacement costs, not including the loss of productivity and team morale. Imagine what a 40 percent reduction in turnover would add to your bottom line. Employee engagement is about to become even more interesting as millennials grow into the largest share of the workforce. At a recent SHRM conference, Gallup Chairman and CEO Jim Clifton described how workers’ perspectives are shifting from “my paycheck” to “my purpose” and from “my boss” to “my coach.” With four generations in the workplace, employees are showing up each day with at least four different sets of expectations of work. Motivating employees is no longer a one-size-fits-all task. Creativity and flexibility are essential to keep employees motivated and engaged. Listed below are seven key strategies you can utilize to increase your employees’ efficiency and productivity, your business profitability, and your employee retention:

B Share your organization’s vision and goals. Employees are more engaged when they believe their efforts contribute toward a vision they can believe in and can contribute to. Business objectives and strategies need to be clearly communicated using multiple channels, and they must be continuously reinforced by line managers. C Empower employees. Employees want a stake in the success of the team and company; let them take responsibility for their work and their decisions. Allow them to exercise independent judgment in doing their jobs. Be clear about their performance expectations and levels of decision-making.

D Measure employee engagement. What gets measured gets done. Find out how engaged your employees truly are by using simple tools such as Gallup’s twelve questions or an employee net promoter score to quickly determine where your workforce stands. Follow up on your measurement by openly communicating with your employees about the findings and actions you plan to take. E Manage performance one day at a time. Managers are directly responsible for this critical element of employee engagement. Employees like to know where they stand and how they are performing on a real time basis. Find ways to provide meaningful feedback in a timely manner.

F Use “stay” interviews. Forget about conducting exit interviews. Start implementing “stay” interviews with your employees to find out why they are staying, what they like and don’t like about their current position, and what is important to them. Wouldn’t you rather know what keeps your employees vs. waiting until they leave to find out why they are leaving?

G Evaluate your managers. Most employees leave managers, not companies. Providing more manager training on soft skills such as how to give effective feedback, setting S.M.A.R.T. goals, and dealing with conflict will go a long way toward improving your employee engagement and retention. H Design and implement programs that target disengaged workers. This goes back to getting the basics right: getting the right people into the right seats, setting clear expectations, and providing the tools your employees need to do their jobs. Focus on dealing with disengaged workers on a one-on-one basis vs. a one-size-fits-all approach to drive higher levels of engagement.

Employee engagement can be difficult to quantify. A great place to start is to create a baseline using a net promoter score along with tracking key human resource metrics. A combination of the following metrics will provide you with a well-rounded assessment of your employees’ engagement:

Employee Net Promoter Score (NPS)

This measures how willing your employees are to recommend their workplace to friends and acquaintances. You ask one simple question such as, “How likely is it that you would recommend your employer to a friend or acquaintance?” The key to calculating an employee’s NPS is to use a scale of 0–10 with the responses divided into three categories: 0–6 = Detractors ı 7–8 = Passives ı 9–10 = Promoters Calculating your employee NPS is done by finding the percentage of promoters (9–10 ratings) minus the percentage of detractors (0–6 ratings).

Revenue Per Employee

This is a simple calculation that divides annual company revenue by the average number of employees or FTE’s (full-time equivalents).

Profit Per FTE

This metric calculates the amount of profit generated per FTE. You can calculate this by dividing the difference between your annual revenue and your operating costs by your total number of FTEs.

Turnover Rate

This metric tracks employees who leave your organization, either voluntarily or involuntarily, as a percentage of your headcount. You can calculate your turnover by taking the total number of terminations (involuntary and voluntary) and dividing it by your total number of employees (headcount). Making employee engagement a priority will improve your employee morale, create a more positive culture, and significantly improve your bottom line.

As former Campbell’s Soup CEO Doug Conant said, “To win in the marketplace, you must first win in the workplace.” Sue Jones, Founder and Managing Director of KLS Group, is passionate about creating strategic human resource programs and services to effect positive change in organizations. She is an innovative HR leader experienced with both large and smaller businesses. Sue has worked in many different industries and is adept with transferring her knowledge, skills and abilities across business channels. An experienced HR professional, Sue brings a fresh approach to her clients, addressing their needs in a personalized manner. Sue is a Veteran of the US Navy, holds a Master’s Degree in Business Administration from Northeastern University and is both SHRM-SCP and SPHR certified.

VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016


| Customer Service

Repeat Bookings on the Decline?

By Douglas Kennedy, President Kennedy Training Network

M Convert

Train Your Team to

First Time Guests 44

VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016

ore so than any other segment of the lodging industry, vacation rental companies have been able to count on a solid base of business from loyal, repeat guests. Often, it is the same family calling to book the same home or condo for the same week as the previous years. Many of my clients report repeat bookings as comprising 65 percent of their annual bookings, with some clients far exceeding even that percentage.

With this level of return guests calling in, it is easy for reservations sales agents to become complacent. Being in the reservations mystery shopping business, my staff of mystery callers hears this playing out every day. When we sign up new clients whose agents have not yet been trained, and when our KTN mystery shoppers reply “No” when asked if they have stayed with us before, we nearly always hear disappointment in the agent’s tone of voice.

Reservations sales agents in the vacation rental space need to be trained to know that the first-time caller is the best opportunity to truly impact the long-term viability of operations. Sure, these callers require more assistance and it takes more time to convince them to book, but the ability to close sales from new guests is truly the lifeblood of the vacation rental industry.

Unlike the Baby Boomers and Gen X-ers before them, Millennials, in particular, are fond of seeking new adventures when they travel. This is why they are the most likely age group to utilize traditional travel agents. According to the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) President Zane Kerby, “Millennials are leading the way in travel agent usage” and “30 percent have used a travel agent in the last 12 months.” These days, all generations seem to be increasingly interested in trying out new vacation experiences.

“In 2015, only 26 percent of U.S. leisure travelers chose their destination based on a prior experience, down five points from 2014,” according to the U.S. Consumer Travel Report Eighth Edition, a new report from travel industry research authority, Phocuswright. “This dip means travelers are looking for new places to visit and unique experiences to check off the bucket list. This shift can be attributed to several factors, like bigger budgets, traveler age, and the impact of social media on trip motivation.”

Therefore, as our existing guests move on, our challenge is to convert more bookings from first-time guests. While those guests might not come back the very next year, they will be making social media postings while visiting that will influence their friends and family. Even if these trends are not yet showing up in your company’s booking patterns, the time is now to prepare for the inevitable changes in traveler interests.

Here are some training tips:

Also, most agents send our mystery shoppers back online to view property photos and virtual tours. It seems clear to me that most rental sales agents are biased towards the repeat callers and therefore have an “order-taking” vs. “order-making” paradigm.

 Train your reservations sales agents to be on the lookout for these first-time callers. Emphasize how important they are to the future of the company.  Consider an incentive or contest for converting first-time bookers.

 Provide destination training on local area attractions, restaurants, excursions, and entertainment so that the agents can sell the authentic and genuine local experiences that today’s travelers covet.  Today’s consumers love “local insider’s tips.” Often the competitor is not another local rental property, but instead in a completely different destination.

 Encourage agents to ask more and better questions rather than reading off the same list of features that callers have likely already seen online. The most important question is, “As I’m checking rates, are there any questions I can answer for you about the location or amenities?”  Having used investigative questions to discover “the story” behind the caller’s plans, direct your sales agents to use needs-based recommendations, suggestions, and endorsements to help callers commit rather than to go back online.


VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016


| Customer Service

Increasing Revenue Through Reservations By Matt Renner


any independent properties are focused on increasing online bookings—an essential part of running your business for many reasons. Benefits of online bookings include less human resources required for processing, easily measurable attribution tracking, and lower associated costs. However, many people are not booking online until they speak with someone first, especially when reserving a vacation rental.

Why? Vacation rentals are not standardized like hotel rooms. Because the average booking is often two to three times the cost of a typical hotel booking, people want to speak with someone prior to booking to verify that they are getting exactly what they are looking for.

C Provide incentive opportunities that track agent performance to allow top agents to increase performance.

In many years of managing and directing sales professionals, one thing has always been true: showing agents (salespeople) how they are performing allows the cream to rise to the top. Simply put, top performers want to perform at a high level. Without measuring and showing them this data, there is no way for top performers to gauge themselves against the rest of the team.

Top sales performers will often be responsible for the majority share of revenues. Incentivizing employees to perform by showing them how they rank against their counterparts creates a positive, competitive atmosphere within your reservations team. There are many positive side effects of this type of sales culture, and this data can be easily measured by call/reservation software offering “dashboards.” Dashboards are great tools that can show individual or team sales data and how the team’s hard work is affecting your property’s business. D Increase reservations and recover lost opportunities by using outbound call blitzes to follow up with inbound calls.

If a property receives 10,000 calls and books 2,000 reservations, then there are 8,000 calls from travelers interested in booking who did not confirm on the first inbound call. If your team follows up on these 8,000 calls and 3 percent of them turn into reservations, then you are looking at 240 incremental reservations and, potentially, a revenue increase of upwards of $240,000 (at an average of $1,000 per booking).

3 Ways to Increase Bookings B Track all incoming calls to understand how many inbound leads your reservations team is receiving.

How does this help? Without knowing how many calls for availability your team is receiving, you have no way of determining your closing rate. Here is an example of how to determine a closing rate for a 150-unit vacation rental company:  A 150-unit vacation rental company could take as many as 10,000 calls in a year.  A 20 percent closing rate would equal 2,000 bookings.

 With a three-night average length of stay and a $200 average nightly rate, the company would have $1,200,000 in direct bookings.  If the company increases its closing rate by 5 percent (five bookings for every 100 calls), then 500 additional bookings times three nights times $200 per night equals $300,000 in incremental bookings.

This would be a big increase in top- and bottom-line revenues if you had the necessary tools to track and generate this revenue. Benchmark studies show that up to 79 percent of all inbound leads are lost in the first ten minutes. Who has your 79 percent? 46

VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016

Even incentivizing your staff with 10 percent commission would still deliver a net gain of $216,000 in new bookings. If you haven’t considered an outbound call blitz campaign to increase bookings on inbound calls, it’s time to do so. So why follow up with these leads? Because the Internet is the dominant way people plan, research, discover, and book their lodgings, it is vital to follow up with leads that do not convert on the first call or user session. If you don’t, then there is a good chance that the traveler will simply find another property management company with a similar rental at a similar price and book with it instead of you.

Consistently Closing the Sale A solid outbound calling and lead follow-up strategy allows your independent property to consistently close more business than your competition. We are dedicated to leveling the playing field for the independent property, and our customers are having great success using an outbound strategy that works for them. Happy booking!

Matt Renner is the vice president of sales for and TRACK, which offers the ability to track all inbound calls and agent performance for properties, save leads, and create follow-up opportunities to increase closing rates, bookings, revenues, and profits. Learn more at

Leveling the playing field for the independent property. Best-in-Class Advertising List Services Ninja Driven Digital Marketing and Web Solutions Cloud SaaS Solutions on Steroids

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One System Reservations, Sales, Marketing and CRM | Dynamic Reporting | Cool Dashboards World Class UI/UX | Industry Best Practices | Prospect to Property Management Features That Rock Alway Cloud - Secure and Agile | 100+ Years Combined Hospitality Experience Easily Implemented | Exceptional Customer Service VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016





VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016






8:00 AM TO 5:00 PM

8:00 AM TO 5:00 PM



KEYNOTE SESSIONS 30 YEARS IN VACATION RENTALS: EXPERIENCE IS THE BEST TEACHER Park Brady, President, Park Brady Consulting, Former CEO of ResortQuest, Former CEO, The St. Joe Company



LEGISLATIVE UPDATES Mike Harrington, Owner and President, Topsail Realty Vacation, President, North Carolina VRMA (NC only) and Denis Hanks, Executive Director, Florida VRMA and Steve Milo, Founder and Owner, Vacation Rental Pros (FL only)

MANAGEMENT SESSIONS PROFITABILITY: ROLLING UP YOUR SLEEVES AND WORKING SMARTER Ben Edwards, President, Weatherby Consulting, President, Vacation Rental Managers Association (VRMA)

NEW SOFTWARE: AN ANSWER TO PRAYERS OR YOUR WORST NIGHTMARE? Doug Macnaught, Founding Member, The VRM Consultants, Former President and Co-founder, Instant Software


ARE YOU MAXIMIZING PROFITS? WHY TRAVEL INSURANCE AND PAYMENT PROCESSING ARE “HOT” TOPICS." Laird Sager, President, Red Sky Insurance and Regina Ebert, President, Ascent Processing

MEASURING HOUSEKEEPING PERFORMANCE Durk Johnson, Executive Director, Vacation Rental Housekeeping Professionals (VRHP), Founder, Housekeeping Solutions Team


PLANNING YOUR DIGITAL MARKETING BUDGET FOR 2017 Peter Scott, Founder and President, Bluetent



TAKING CONTROL OF LOCAL AND NATIONAL SEO: THE LINES BETWEEN SEARCH AND SOCIAL HAVE COMPLETELY BLURRED. Amber Mayer, VP of Product Solutions, NAVIS, Former CMO at The St Joe Company, Former Vice President of eCommerce at Wyndham Vacation Rentals


2016 OTA UPDATES – AN UNFILTERED LOOK AT CHANGES IN DISTRIBUTION (FL ONLY) Steve Milo, Founder and Owner, Vacation Rental Pros



| Business

Social Betrayal By Anonymous


VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016

Tips to Ensure Appropriate Social Media Use by Employees “Need to find a new job that doesn’t require me to listen to people who complain that 75 degrees is hot. Shut the frick up, get in bed with no clothes on. I honestly don’t give a rats ass about any guests anymore. Not after 8pm.”


hen I read the words on the screen of my smartphone, I didn’t understand what I was looking at, and I certainly didn’t understand what it had to do with me.

The Facebook post had been forwarded to me by a business colleague. Like the dozens of texts I receive every day, I opened and scanned it quickly, searching for a piece of information or a bit of news, and I was poised to move on. My friend had written, “I thought you’d want to know.” Know what? I was puzzled.

I studied the picture next to the words and realized that I was staring at the face of one of my employees. I was looking at a post from her personal Facebook page. I quickly logged on to Facebook and found her profile page. Our company name and her job title were listed next to her name and picture. Over the next few days, as I contemplated what to do, I felt angry, shocked, hurt, and vulnerable. I never dreamed that one of our employees would have posted a comment such as this. Most surprising, this employee consistently rated highest on guest reviews, and she had advanced quickly over her three years with our company. I admit there were days when I wanted to ignore the post and pretend I had never read it. Then I’d reach for my phone and read it again. Each time I read it, I did more research and came closer to a decision. First, I studied our company’s employee handbook. The social media policy had been written several years earlier and it was broad, but fortunately, it covered the situation:

No employee or relative of an employee may maintain a website, social media site, blog or podcast on any computer, whether COMPANY’S or otherwise, which mentions, comments on, or relates in any manner to the employee’s work at COMPANY or COMPANY itself without obtaining prior approval from COMPANY Management for the website, social media site, blog or podcast. Any Employee who fails to comply with these requirements is

subject to disciplinary action up to and including termination.

Our Code of Conduct contained another relevant provision:

The following are examples of behavior and conduct that COMPANY considers inappropriate and which can lead to disciplinary action up to and including termination:

1. Failure to cooperate, assist, and promote teamwork among coworkers, vendors, clients, homeowners, and/or guests. I discussed the situation with our Human Resources consultant and weighed my options: disciplinary action or termination.

At the same time, I combed the Internet for stories about employees who had violated company social media policies. I found numerous examples: the elementary school teacher who posted a selfie smoking a joint; the waitress who complained about the tipping habits of specific customers; the sales manager who attacked a political activist with violent, racist tweets; and the travel agent who posted homophobic remarks.

In each case, identities and workplaces were traced and exposed. Employers became embroiled in the negative publicity. All the employees were fired. I also thought about the costs of exposure, including:  Guests would question our commitment to them.  Homeowners would lose faith in our company.  Undoubtedly, our reputation would suffer.

The harsh consequences of negative social media had already hit close to home. In early June, a major local attraction was the target of a false post about health and safety. The post went viral in three hours with more than 152,000 views. It consumed the time and resources of the business, its parent company, the local medical center, and our tourism officials. The rumors sparked by that one post continue to this day. The attraction’s business plummeted and never recovered.

In mid-June, a diabetic man went wade fishing in the bay. He had an open wound on his leg that was exposed to a naturally occurring, always-present bacteria, Vibrio Vulnificus. The bacteria flourished while he waited four days before seeking treatment, and doctors had to amputate his leg. Relatives called a news station and posted their story online. The headline on July 2: Flesh-Eating Bacteria Causes Leg Amputation. Hotel and vacation rental cancellations skyrocketed, and our area had the slowest holiday weekend in memory. We still get questions about water quality to this day.

Contemplating these events, I realized that I would never trust this employee again. She was unfit to be taking care of guests and homeowners; she was a threat to our reputation in the community; and she was a drag on the morale of other employees. The bottom line was that her post threatened the livelihoods of dozens of employees, hundreds of homeowners, and our numerous vendors.

I hadn’t fired anyone in many years; that task had long ago fallen to our managers, who hired, fired, and supervised employees. But in this case, the offense was deeply personal. This employee’s actions had extended far beyond expressing her frustrations online. VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016



The termination meeting was brief. She acknowledged the post with a shrug. I asked her to delete the post, her job title, and company affiliation, and she did it all in front of me.

I reviewed the company policies that had been violated, and she was indifferent. I knew then that termination was the right decision.

A week later, I was even more certain of my decision when I read her unemployment application:

FIRED. The company said that I broke company policy with a social media post, but I couldn’t find anything in my handbook. I was just writing what I felt about my job that night.

WRITING YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA POLICY CHECK: Check your social media policy, and update it if necessary. (I have updated mine, listing more specifics so there is less chance for confusion or misunderstandings.)

CREATE: If you don’t have a social media policy, create one. COMPARE AND RESEARCH: Discuss your needs with business col-

leagues, HR professionals, and labor lawyers. There are plenty of good examples online.


Whom and what should your policy cover? Homeowners? Guests? Employees? Their families? Vendors? Competitors? The company reputation and its services? Company strategy and confidential information? Illegal activities? Incitement to violence? Harassment? Discriminatory remarks about race, religion, nationality, gender, sexual preference, and so on? Obscenities? Are employees allowed to list company affiliation on social media sites? Which ones? (We allow LinkedIn only.) Will your policy provide a “take-down” provision? If your vacation rental company is also a real estate company, consider the Code of Ethics and state and federal laws.

THE BASIC CONCEPT: A social media policy is about risk management and setting clear policy. It should simply outline easy-to-understand common sense rules for employees.


Employers must take disciplinary action when they learn about posts containing language attacking people for their race, sexual orientation, gender, or religion, according to employment attorneys. If the employee isn’t disciplined or fired, employers run the risk of being sued under federal and state antidiscrimination laws for allowing a hostile environment to exist in their companies.

TAKE CARE: When creating your policy, be careful not to venture

into Labor Review Board regulations that allow employees to discuss workplace conditions.

REVIEW AGAIN AND AGAIN: Every January, review employee handbooks with all employees and, specifically, discuss social media policies. It’s important that employees fully understand the policy.


At every annual review, employees should acknowledge in writing that they have received, reviewed, and understand their employee handbooks.


VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016

DON’T DELAY: Don’t wait for something to happen. Be proactive and meet with your employees as soon as possible. BRANDING VS. ONLINE JOURNALING: Don’t underestimate the power and importance of these discussions. Many people are used to sharing much of their personal life online, and companies are spending significant resources on online branding and image. There is plenty of room for conflict. (At our meetings, employees relayed their own experiences with social media conflicts—at previous workplaces, their kids’ schools, their churches, within their families, etc.) A REAL THREAT: Explain that negative social media posts are a di-

rect and very real threat to the company and to everyone whose livelihood is connected to it. Use examples.

ZERO TOLERANCE: Let everyone know that offensive/negative posts will not be tolerated.

SOCIAL MEDIA LITERACY: Individual exposure to social media plat-

forms varies widely. Stress that Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, SnapChat, LinkedIn, personal websites, and blogs, as well as Yelp and Google reviews, must be managed and used with care. Your employees can help fill in the gaps and drive the discussion.

PRIVACY: Explain that there is no privacy on the Internet. Identities

are easily traced via names, nicknames, e-mail addresses, relatives’ names, photo tags, face recognition software, phone numbers, reverse phone number searches, workplace identifiers, simple Google searches, organization and club memberships, and through the social media accounts of friends, coworkers, and relatives, to name a few.

PERMANeNCY: Talk about the fact that once something is posted, it stays, and it attracts comments and attention. Screen shots ensure that a post lives on long after it has been deleted.

EMPLOYEE RESPONSIBiliTY: Tell employees that to comment on an

offensive post is to condone it, and ask them to report violations they see. Stress confidentiality.

NEW EMPLOYEES: Discuss your social media policy in orientation. Don’t assume that new employees will read and understand the policy.

CONSISTENCY: Year-round communication and consistent enforce-

ment of the social media policies will avoid claims that employees were unaware of the policies.

VIOLATIONS: possible.

If the policy is violated, take action as quickly as

CONSULT: If there is a violation, your HR professional or company

lawyer will guide and advise you about the right steps, the correct words to use, and which actions to take, all of which will protect your company. This article was submitted by a coastal vacation rental manager who requested anonymity in order to be able to openly discuss an event that occurred at her company in August.

Managing Financial

Performance 4 Critical Financial Figures or Reports Every Vacation Rental Manager Should Know


s a vacation rental manager (VRM), your day is filled with responsibilities, most of which, if not all, are operational in nature. Most VRMs do not spend the day reviewing income statements, performing financial analyses, or calculating metrics; rather, we build the relational components and marketing aspects of the business. Frankly, if we all functioned like accountants, we would not have any properties to manage! Although we may all agree that managing the financial results of your vacation rental operation is not the most glamorous part of the business, it is imperative to understand critical numbers to ensure your business remains successful and profitable. Without tracking and managing certain critical financial components, you cannot make informed decisions about revenue, expenses, or profit. There are always opportunities to increase profit in vacation rental operations, which we’ve confirmed in every business we review. To help ensure your business is operating progressively and generating a meaningful profit, take time to review and manage these results: B Cash So many VRMs do not have a handle on their trust accounts or overall cash. It’s like flying blind; you’re probably not going to hit anything, but it is generally not a good way to do business. More often than not, VRMs struggle to maintain accurate and reconciled trust accounts. Certain states do not regulate short-term trust accounts, which makes maintaining them properly less of a priority for VRMs. Having a handle on cash allows VRMs to have the confidence and comfort in knowing that they can meet the company’s obligations at any point in time. Cash flow forecasts and monthly reconciliations of the company’s trust account are a cornerstone of vacation rental operation best practices. Performing these functions consistently and accurately is a sign that your business is in the black, grounded in solid financial management, and ready for the unexpected. In short, the business is poised for success. C Net Operating Income (NOI) NOI is also a good indicator that your business is healthy. Closely tied to cash, a vacation rental business can be profitable on an NOI basis and still go out of business due to a lack of cash. NOI and cash work in tandem, and you should review them regularly to ensure the business has a sound financial footing.

By Ben Edwards President, Weatherby Consulting

D Income Statement This is also referred to as the profit and loss statement (P&L). Most vacation rental companies operate with a P&L that could use some work. Often, it does not clearly present actionable data or provide accurate results. Understanding your company’s revenue and expenses is paramount to operating a sustainable and successful business. Two of the largest issues with P&Ls in the vacation rental industry are timeliness and consistency. The data is often inconsistent and cluttered among a number of unnecessary or unorganized financial accounts. Again, the key component is actionable financial data. If your P&L does not provide you with the information necessary to make critical business decisions, then it is time for a review. E Gross Rental Revenue (GRR) Most VRMs track commission income as opposed to GRR. The genesis of that format originates in the real estate industry; commission income is paramount in that field’s revenue process. However, with this model, the lack of visibility into GRR and the relationship between GRR and certain direct operating expenses create inconsistencies throughout the financial management process. This can prevent you from discerning certain drivers of key expense accounts or generating opportunities for further efficiency in operations. Reviewing management commissions as a percentage of gross is an excellent way to maintain the integrity of your commissions. Management commissions as a percentage of gross tend to diminish over time if not properly managed. Each of these reports individually will present opportunities to create efficiencies. However, managing each of these items in conjunction with each other will greatly propel the business.

If your business is lacking in one or more of these areas, it is important to act quickly to minimize exposure to adverse financial results. In the event your business lacks the resources to properly manage this process, please know that Weatherby Accounting Services handles accounting and financial management for more than twenty-five companies. By outsourcing certain components, or all financial accounting processes, VRMs can get back to more desirable areas of the business and focus on generating needed revenue for the company. BEN EDWARDS WILL BE SPEAKING AT VRM INTEL LIVE! IN WILMINGTON ON OCTOBER 26 AND IN DESTIN ON NOVEMBER 30. SEE PAGE 48 FOR DETAILS. VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016


| Marketing

Marketing Success By Vince Perez

You Can't Measure What You Can't See


decade ago, vacation rental owners and managers paid “listing sites” such as VRBO and Homeaway to accept their property information and use this information in the form of advertising to attract travelers (both new and returning customers).

It began as a helpful and inexpensive advertising service. However, once a listing site achieved a critical mass of inventory, the game changed to the detriment of everyone but the big sites. As vacation rental managers (VRMs) and homeowners, we were in a rush to save money but had no sense of the long-term, bigger picture. We did not ask the tough questions like, “Where do we think this will leave the traveler and the vacation rental industry five years from now?”

As a result, the traveler is ultimately paying more, and the owner/ manager is beginning to see margins shrink. As with any disruption in our industry, we must evolve in order to prosper. 54

VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016

Understand Your Distribution Now more than ever, it is critical to have a solid understanding of how and where your property data is distributed. Having a diverse split of booking channel revenue ensures that, if one channel goes down, you still have other channels you can rely on. Complacency tends to blind us when everything is going well, and in the first quarter of this year, many owners and managers paid the price for their dependency on one channel. The keys to long-term success are diversity and focus. Those who planned ahead are benefiting from the other options available to them. In today’s market it is important to understand how your data is performing at local and regional levels. By rationalizing the data, you can get a clear view of how your Brand (intentionally capitalized) is performing in the marketplace versus the noise coming from outside. Using hard data also uncovers opportunities to “get local” that will keep your Brand strong and relevant to the traveler. This is something big sites can never achieve.

Pillars of Success We can all agree that there are many levers to pull in operating a successful professional vacation rental management company. The most critical pillars to success in this business are marketing, operations, and finance. Marketing is the foundation of our business, as it allows us the opportunity to build up the other pillars. It is important to have a monetization strategy in place for every traveler who comes in con-

giving you the flexibility to make the best decisions to add value to your business. Partner for your success . . . not theirs. Having this mindset insures that all parties involved are invested in a positive outcome.

Engage Travelers Intelligently Who would have ever thought that the change from the “Inquire” and “Contact Us” buttons to the “Book Now” button would have such a critical impact on our business? Communicating directly with the traveler provides an opportunity for unique engagement with the traveler and gives the traveler an opportunity to build a relationship with your Brand. It also insures a higher degree of success in delivering the perfect vacation rental experience.

In the “Book Now” world, if you have not set up a marketing strategy for conversion and retention, now is the time. It makes no difference if you are new to the business or well-established, if you have one property or hundreds, the way you present your Brand to the traveler will make a measurable difference going forward. Implementing an engagement and retention strategy will allow you to intelligently monetize every traveler contact, make better channel and technology selections, and understand the true impact of your Brand’s performance.

Know What Success Looks Like  Lead with your Brand first in every interaction you have with the traveler, and carry your Brand’s message through the entire lifecycle of the guest experience. Travelers have expressed a direct intent to stay with you. Make sure they keep your Brand at the forefront of their minds.

tact with your Brand. Having this strategy in place will allow you to navigate industry changes, leverage opportunities that benefit your business, and be better able to predict future success in your business. Building a stronger marketing foundation will do wonders for your asset value.

Learning from Hotels Admittedly, hotels and vacation rental accommodations are not the same. That said, there is much to learn from the hotel industry in the way they approach marketing and managing their Brands.

Part of brand management involves managing your inventory (rooms or properties). Hotels are very proactive in managing their Brands’ positioning in the marketplace. They can exert control of their Brand by controlling inventory (assets) with online travel agencies (OTAs). Hotels also keep their data separate from the OTAs and proactively market to every traveler who comes in contact with their Brand. One of the most difficult lessons we have learned in the past few years is what happens when you put all your eggs in one basket.

An all-in-one property management system (PMS) can manage your OTA channels for you, but is that always the best decision? We recently worked with a VRM who had been using the same PMS for ten years. When the VRM decided to make a technology change to his business that improved his outlook for the future, the PMS pulled out . . . along with their data for the past decade! This serves as a cautionary tale of what happens when all your eggs are in one basket. Partner with a PMS provider that offers an API,

 Establish a strategy for conversion and retention based on previous guest experiences, event-driven motivations, and traveler intent. Social media is an excellent tool for communicating positive messages and driving traffic back to your site.  Monetize every traveler lead. Regardless of where the lead originates, capture the data and have a plan in case the lead does not book.

 For those who do book, keep them coming back and sharing their experiences. Repeat guests are a direct reflection of your ability to deliver on your Brand’s promise. At every opportunity, highlight your guests’ experiences and ask them to share these with your audience.  Look for ways to work with your professional community. The power of combining powerful local Brands increases traffic; increased traffic builds positive traveler awareness, and positive traveler awareness strengthens Brands.

Having a solid understanding of how your Brand is performing will net higher conversion rates, increase repeat guests, and build a funnel of intent that will secure your Brand’s foundation for years to come. 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. Perez will be presenting “Establishing Your Brand in a Competitive Landscape” at VRM Intel Live! in Wilmington on October 26 and in Destin on November 30.

VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016



VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016

By Heather Weiermann, NAVIS

The Economics of Really Knowing Your Vacation Rental Guests


e put many price tags on guests. How much is a guest worth? How much did that guest cost? When guests become names with a dollar sign attached, we lose sight of hospitality—and of human nature—but, ironically, it is by understanding human nature that we’re able to increase the value of the dollar sign. The human brain is bigger than other animals with similar body sizes because we are social creatures. We exist to have relationships of all different kinds—from a nod and a smile to a very best friend. Scientists know that humans with more social connections are happier. In fact, economists have put a price tag on relationships to demonstrate this, and the act of volunteering weekly is equivalent to increasing your annual income from $20,000 to $75,000. Having a friend you see most days is like earning $100,000 per year. This is how important connection is. And it’s important to guests, too. Of course, most guests don’t want to hang out and chat all afternoon, but they do want to feel welcome. Like they belong. They will do business with people they like—because, again, we are fundamentally social creatures.

When asked about their guest database, many vacation rental managers (VRMs) will reply with a number (e.g., our database has 45,000 names). This means very little because it doesn’t matter how many guest names are in a database. What matters is the depth of the relationship with those guests. How much information is there about those 45,000 guests? The more information about the guest that’s included signifies that a connection was made. An agent or a front desk manager was listening and engaging and walked away with knowledge of a person, a guest. So how does understanding the guest increase guest value? Creating relationships increases conversions for all the reasons above, but it also offers the opportunity to truly personalize guest outreach. To better understand your guests, find out their interests—whether they have children or are traveling with friends, whether they prefer a big kitchen for gatherings or intimate cabins, when and how they like to travel—this is where personalization happens.

For instance, if the agent documents the inquiry fully and knows that a guest who didn’t book on the first call is traveling with two daughters, wants to attend the sandcastle-building event the weekend before school starts, and is coming from a town 125 miles away, this information can be used to personalize an outbound call. During such a call, an agent could offer the family’s ideal-sized property on the appropriate weekend with access to the beach so the family can walk to the event rather than hassle with parking. A call of this kind creates trust that your staff understands what the guest is looking for, and this trust is where a lifetime guest can begin. Let’s look at the economics. If a property has 6,750 unbooked leads and begins a personalized outbound sales program with a 2 percent conversion rate, this equates to 135 new outbound bookings.

With an average stay value of $2,800, an outbound sales program would yield $378,000.

6,750 unbooked leads

x 2% conversion rate = 135 new bookings

x $2,800 average stay value

= $378,000 in untapped revenues Further, the level of guest information that was collected above allows for true segmentation, which opens the door to automated, personalized marketing. With NAVIS Reach LifeCycle, VRMs can segment based on a depth of information to create email marketing programs that actually speak to what the guest cares about. What if you knew that a return guest tends to start shopping in November but books a summer vacation for her family of twelve in January—after the holidays—and she always wants a big outdoor space with seating for large family dinners? Then an email can be crafted that will speak to that guest’s interests and needs, going much further than name personalization and instead becoming truly effective marketing. While the point is that we have to go beyond dollar signs when we think about and engage with guests in order to grow real relationships, the benefit is that, when we do this, we substantially increase the opportunity for revenue. The trick is to not only be aware of the economics but also care about more than just the bottom line, to genuinely care about serving the guest, and to connect and create an experience that is just right for their needs. To explore the value of going deeper with guest personalization and find out how much money is waiting in your pipeline, try out NAVIS’s Competitive Edge Calculator. VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016


| Customer Service


3 Ways to Cure the Problem of Missed Leads


he hospitality industry is suffering from a serious condition. Few recognize it, and therefore even fewer know how to treat it. The condition is one in which vacation rental managers (VRMs) devote more and more of their marketing budget to generating leads while paying exorbitant amounts for every inquiry, but at the end of the day, a huge percentage of these are going unbooked.

De • ma • nd-i • tis: when demand is plentiful, but not enough of it is being captured.

It seems natural to diversify—going after variety and volume— however, learning to turn existing demand into business is far more efficient and profitable. In hospitality, marketing budgets devour a huge percentage of overall revenue.

Consider a VRM with a $100,000 marketing budget. This company receives 9,000 inquiries as a result of its marketing efforts. This means that every inquiry costs $11.11. (We have seen this number climb as high as $30 or $40 per inquiry.) If reservations agents are 58

VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016

converting only 30 percent, this means that there are 6,300 leads that have gone unbooked—that’s almost $70,000 in leads. The cure for this condition is to increase conversions for existing leads by improving performance on the ground level. The three factors to consider are:

1. Training Traditionally, reservations agents have been treated as order takers: self-focused, following a script, filling out a form, and booking a home. To capitalize on existing demand, reservations agents should be thought of as sales professionals who are guest-focused and devoted to earning trust and loyalty, listeners instead of talkers, and creators of an experience. Reservations agents should be hired as salespeople and trained with the aim of creating an exceptional guest experience from the get-go. Successful training and coaching can increase conversions incrementally over time, so a 5 percent initial increase may become much higher in the long run.

2. Lead Management Improvements


Proper lead management is essential for VRMs. A typical scenario for VRMs: Three different home inquiries from one guest all become different leads. Multiple agents may end up reaching out to the same guest, in which case the guest experience is muddled and the guest story can get lost. Alternatively, agents may spend valuable time merging leads when they could be generating revenue through outbound calls or recording vital guest details. With true lead management software, the guest is the lead, and the lead is integrated with a CRM so that the whole story is captured.

The rising cost of guest acquisition is a hot-button topic. Yes, the cost is rising. The solution is not spinning your wheels faster to drive more demand—it is fine-tuning essential operations in order to capitalize on the leads that already exist. Have a serious look at how many leads are coming in versus conversion rates, and then consider what happens when you increase conversions by 5 percent through agents or add an outbound program that captures an additional 2 percent.

3. Outbound Sales Programs What’s happening with the calls that go unbooked? What about that other 70 percent? If you’re not following up, they are booking with your competition. Of course, in some cases, your properties just aren’t the right fit. In many cases, the guest is just in the middle of the decision-making process, and a thoughtful follow-up call that says, “Hey, we know you’re considering a Valentine’s Day visit to ski with your fiancé, and we have the perfect romantic home with a hot tub available during that time,” goes a long way toward showing guests that you are invested in their experience.

A portion of outbound sales can also be automated. For instance, an East Coast VRM with 200 units created an email program that triggered an email to be sent to “hot leads” four days after the last touch point with an agent. The email reminder—“Let’s finalize your vacation”—created 727 bookings with revenue of over $877,000 in just five months.

Then there’s the possibility we haven’t even discussed yet: implementing a marketing tracking program that shifts money from programs that don’t work to programs that do—this can add another 2 percent. This can look like hundreds of thousands of dollars that can go into enhancing the guest experience in myriad ways. The alternative is to keep sending that money out the door to other marketing programs to drive more leads, many of which will go unbooked without focusing on the foundation: curing the Demand-itis.

By Heather Weiermann, NAVIS

VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016


| Business

Phocuswright's Douglas Quinby on the Vacation Rental Industry O

ne in three leisure travelers has stayed in a private accommodation in the last year, up from one in ten in 2011, and almost 40 percent of those travelers booked online, up from 12 percent in 2008. We know this— and much more—about the vacation rental industry because of the research being conducted by Douglas Quinby and his team at Phocuswright, the travel industry’s research authority on how travelers, suppliers, and intermediaries connect.

Prior to joining Phocuswright, Quinby, senior vice president of research, led his own firm, which provided strategic research, communications, and marketing services to travel technology companies. Shortly after he joined Phocuswright in 2004, he began examining the vacation rental industry.


VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016

“We did a short analysis in 2004–2005 when HomeAway began rolling up URLs,” Quinby said. “At the time, there were a bunch of startups besides HomeAway, including LeisureLink and Zonder, who were working towards facilitating online booking on aggregated marketplaces.”

Phocuswright’s research in the vacation rental industry began to take shape in 2008 with its landmark study, Phocuswright’s Vacation Rental Marketplace: Poised for Change, which revealed the size and scope of the sector. Consequently, investment capital poured in, building up HomeAway, Airbnb, OneFineStay, HouseTrip, Zonder, Tripping, and more. Phocuswright’s follow-up study, U.S. Vacation Rentals 2009–2014, shed even more light on the industry as a $23 billion market with an online booking rate that had doubled in just a few years.

Quinby and his Phocuswright team have continued qualitative and quantitative research on the vacation rental industry, which has helped the broader travel market to segment and size the market and forecast consumer behavior in this high-growth and rapidly evolving segment of the travel industry.

Over the summer, VRM Intel partnered with Phocuswright to conduct a survey of businesses that manage vacation homes, condos, and other short-term rentals for travelers. This fall, Phocuswright published Phocuswright’s A Market Transformed: Private Accommodations in the U.S., which takes a 360-degree look at the current state of private accommodation rentals in the United States. I had the opportunity to interview Quinby to find out more about the growth in the vacation rental industry, his findings from Phocuswright’s most recent study, and what he expects to see in the category in the coming years.

AH: Phocuswright is now using the term “private accommodations” in its recent research instead of “vacation rentals” or “short-term rentals.” What does that term include? DQ: For us, a private accommodation is any type of rental where the renter is staying for travel purposes, and it includes vacation rentals, new-generation rentals, and shared spaces. AH: Since you’ve been researching the industry, there has been a huge shift in investment and interest from Wall Street and the broader travel industry. What is driving the escalation?

DQ: The industry has gone from one in ten travelers staying in private accommodations in 2011, to one in three in 2016. This kind of growth in a vertical category is unprecedented. To have a category explode like this into the marketplace and into the traveler consciousness is significant. Also, the big OTAs are under threat from hotels increasing their direct bookings and from enormous shareholder pressure to continue to grow, and they are looking for the next big, new category to drive that growth. The category has arrived. For years, it had been framed as “alternative accommodations,” but we are now at the end of that era. These “alternative accommodations” are no longer a nontraditional category. We are seeing the mainstreaming of private accommodations. AH: From your perspective, what have been the major milestones or turning points that have shaped the industry?

DQ: There is no doubt that HomeAway played a huge role in the development of the space. HomeAway brought profound disruption to the industry. By nailing down “shopping and discovery,” HomeAway took us to a place where they successfully aggregated supply and demand. As a result, property managers found themselves having to compete with homeowners, putting downward pressure on management commissions. This also forced property managers to up their game—by making properties more attractive to online consumers and to become more engaged with owners and guests. While HomeAway had a soft approach to supply with a subscription model, Airbnb had online booking baked in from the beginning because that is what consumers want, just like they want reviews. When it came to online booking and traveler reviews, HomeAway fell behind. Airbnb showed us that online booking does work. AH: Comparing HomeAway’s performance with Airbnb’s performance in the professionally managed space, which company seems to have the advantage?

VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016


DQ: In terms of sites used, and the HomeAway family of sites are far and away the most important for property managers. The vast majority list on HomeAway, but Airbnb has grown quite significantly. If you speak to the Airbnb guys, they did not consider traditional vacation rental accommodations to be part of their core business. They were supplemental to their core business, which was urban supply. They came later to vacation rentals as an obvious area of growth and revenue. In our most recent research, we found that the percentage of property managers listing on Airbnb increased from 7 percent in 2012 to 47 percent in 2016. The overall impact of Airbnb has been incredibly positive. AH: We’ve heard reports from property managers that Airbnb’s approach is hurting the industry, especially with its impact on regulations. Are you seeing any resistance from property managers in listing their vacation homes on Airbnb? DQ: In the course of the study we are doing, we are not seeing that as a big issue, and I think that reflects the maturation of the industry over the last decade. There is a realization by property managers that there are other models that are here to stay, and they need to adapt. And there is a recognition by the industry that these changes are going to come. Any animosity towards Airbnb is being driven by the hotel associations and by residents in certain communities.

AH: As you know, HomeAway and TripAdvisor recently adopted Airbnb’s revenue model by adding a traveler/service fee for bookings. In a recent interview with VRM Intel,’s David Mau said that this model is not sustainable. In your view, is the shift to this revenue model of having a consumer fee sustainable? DQ: I think it is still early days for the debate over the business model because there is still enough disparity of supply among the channels, so there is not as much of an issue. It may become more of an issue as there is increasingly more overlap across the major channels. We did see in the latest study that, among property managers, one in three are seeing and forecasting a drop in rentals from listing sites like HomeAway and VRBO, and we attribute that to the change in the business model. That being said, half of property managers are reporting that their business from third-party online channels is growing. AH: Is there room for another player in the OTA/intermediary space?

DQ: There is always room for great product and innovation, and there is always room for creating something customers want. There has been significant consolidation, and two online giants—Expedia and Priceline—have what many consider to be a duopoly. But then three guys without a lick of travel industry experience got together to create Airbnb, a company that is now the third-largest online seller of accommodations worldwide and is probably the fourth-largest online travel intermediary by gross bookings. So who says you can’t build an online travel company today? It doesn’t mean it is going to be easy, and it is going to require rolling up the sleeves, but it can certainly be done. AH: With the increase in the number of new travelers choosing private accommodations, are you seeing customers having higher hotel-like expectations for their accommodations?

DQ: It really hasn’t been an issue. When travelers want a hotel experience, they stay in a hotel. Even with the influx of new rental travelers, guest satisfaction has remained consistent. However, it does favor the RBO side slightly over property managers. While 62

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travelers who stay in professionally managed rentals say they have access to more services, those who stay in owner-managed rentals report higher levels of guest satisfaction, driven by increased interaction with the host or owner. Airbnb is the most standout example of this, as they have made the host the linchpin in selling of the property. The traveler is not just buying the place; they are buying the host. Property managers that are moving to a virtually managed experience with no interaction with the guest may want to reconsider by finding opportunities for personalization. If you are not interacting personally with guests, you might want to consider finding ways to make guests feel welcome. Personalized interaction does have a positive impact on guest satisfaction. AH: What trends are you seeing in the homeowners’ decision to self-manage their vacation rentals or work with a professional property manager? DQ: Owners who self-manage, we see, start out managing their rental by themselves, and after one or two years, they realize the time and expense, and they start to work with professionals.

We estimate that there are between 6,000 and 7,000 vacation rental management companies in the US, and most manage fewer than 25 properties. 35 percent of homeowners rent their vacation rentals through a property manager, 35 percent self-manage their rentals, and 25 to 30 percent do both. There is a full spectrum of services needed to manage a vacation rental, and homeowners choose a service level that falls somewhere along that spectrum. The RBO versus PM debate is so five years ago. There is no more “us and them.” Technology has broken all of that down, so that now property managers are competing on service. Looking forward, property managers should ask themselves if they are offering all of the services that their competitors are offering, including both homeowners and other property managers. AH: Looking ahead over the next two years, what do you predict will cause the biggest shift in the marketplace?

DQ: There has been substantial growth in online booking, which we expect to increase from just under 40 percent this year to 55 percent by 2018, being propelled by growth at Airbnb, changes at HomeAway, and adoption by property managers. But the big shift we are forecasting in the market is the increase in the number of bookings going through intermediaries. Rental sites and travel agencies will account for 70 percent of online bookings by 2018. Phocuswright’s A Market Transformed: Private Accommodations in the U.S. can be purchased on the company’s website. Douglas Quinby will be speaking at the VRMA National Conference in Chandler, Arizona, on October 19, at the ARDA Fall Conference on November 11 in Washington D.C., at the Phocuswright Conference, held November 14–17 in Los Angeles, and at the AirbnbOpen in Los Angeles on November 18-21.

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VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016


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Airbnb vs. HomeAway Who is Winning the Race to the Top of the Vacation Rental Industry?


here’s an ongoing debate about Airbnb and HomeAway and which company is going to win out as the leading marketplace for private accommodations. In August, Airbnb reportedly raised $850 million, bringing its total equity funding to approximately $3.2 billion, according to Equidate. With a $30 billion valuation and the best public relations strategy in the twenty-first century, Airbnb is no surprise as the media’s choice. However, there is compelling evidence that HomeAway is leading in the race for performance.

What HomeAway and Airbnb Have Done for the Vacation Rental Industry By aggregating supply, increasing awareness, and mainstreaming online booking, both HomeAway and Airbnb have played disruptive roles in the travel industry by increasing the number of visitors choosing private accommodations for leisure travel stays. According to Phocuswright’s A Market Transformed: Private Accommodations in the U.S., published this fall, the number of travelers staying in vacation rentals grew from one in ten in 2011 to one in three last year. 64

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By Amy Hinote

In 2006, HomeAway purchased, the industry-leading online marketplace that was the first to give vacation rental owners an avenue to bypass property managers and reach consumers directly. HomeAway continued to aggregate supply by acquiring dozens of regional online vacation rental marketplaces, and in so doing, it gave travelers a one-stop shop for whole home vacation rentals in leisure travel markets. Airbnb approached the industry from an entirely different perspective with a focus on hosted urban supply. In 2009, after its highly documented humble beginnings, Airbnb raised enough investment capital to mass-introduce online-bookable, resident-managed lodging in urban markets to travelers seeking either a “local” experience or value-oriented accommodations.

By 2013, as both companies promoted private home lodging, the two business models began to experience marketplace overlap in inventory between Airbnb’s urban accommodation alternatives and HomeAway’s whole home vacation rentals in resort markets, drawing daily—and often unfair—comparisons from the media and the investment community.

Airbnb and HomeAway: The Raw Numbers According to data provided by Beyond Pricing, Airbnb currently has approximately 2.8 million private accommodations listed on its site as of September, 2016, up from 2.2 million in March. In contrast, according to its latest reporting, HomeAway has approximately 1.2 million listings. However, comparing the two channels based solely on the number of listings does not tell the whole story.

Last year, HomeAway had an estimated $14–$16 billion in vacation rental bookings. By comparison, according to a Tnooz article by Sean O’Neill, “A new estimate by US investment bank Cowen & Company predicts that the [Airbnb] bookings site will process $12.3 billion in reservations this year, up from an estimated $7.2 billion in 2015.” Based on calculations of a generalized average annual booking trend, the numbers suggest that each listing on Airbnb generates an average of $4,000 in bookings per year versus $11,650–$13,330 per year on HomeAway.

All Inventory Is Not Created Equal What the investment community has not yet realized when comparing the two companies is something that vacation rental managers have long known—all inventory is not created equal. When examining Airbnb’s and HomeAway’s overall performances in the vacation rental industry, it is important to examine each channel’s inventory makeup.

Airbnb’s top markets City









Rio de Janeiro









New York















Data Provided by Beyond Pricing, September 2016

According to data from Beyond Pricing, only 16 percent of Airbnb’s listings, as compared to 33 percent of HomeAway’s listings, are in the United States.

HomeAway’s inventory is primarily made up of whole home vacation rentals, and their top US markets are resort areas such as Kissimmee/Davenport (Disney World area), Panama City Beach, Myrtle Beach, the Upper Gulf Coast, Hilton Head, and Breckenridge.

Airbnb’s top US markets for shared and whole home rentals are in urban markets such as New York, Los Angeles, Miami, and San Francisco.

HomeAway’s top U.S. markets City






Davenport, FL



Panama City Beach



Myrtle Beach



New York



Gulf Shores, AL



Orange Beach, AL



Los Angeles






Hilton Head Island












Park City



Miramar Beach, FL



Data Provided by Beyond Pricing, September 2016

The total number of listings is a titillating metric for investors, but the number is not indicative of revenue performance. The average nightly rate for the shared accommodations and urban apartments prevalent on Airbnb is substantially below the average nightly rate for the whole home vacation rentals comprising the bulk of HomeAway’s supply. In addition, the average length of stay and average number of available nights are significantly higher for the listings found on HomeAway. According to Beyond Pricing CEO Ian McHenry, “Approximately 44 percent of Airbnb’s 2.8 million listings have not received a review.” With Airbnb’s heavy focus on reciprocal reviews, this number reveals that a substantial portion of Airbnb’s listings have never had a booking completed through the site.

Performance among U.S. Vacation Rental Managers Although Airbnb draws the bulk of media interest, the majority of US vacation rental managers report that they receive more bookings from HomeAway than from Airbnb.

According to Phocuswright’s Douglas Quinby, “In terms of sites used, and the HomeAway family of sites are far and away the most important for property managers.”

“HomeAway’s performance decimates Airbnb’s,” said an executive (who wished to remain anonymous) at one of the country’s largest vacation rental management companies. He reported that VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016


HomeAway accounted for over 85 percent of his company’s total number of bookings from third-party channels, while Airbnb brought in less than 2 percent. John Banczak, co-founder at Turnkey Vacation Rentals, which manages 1,500 vacation rentals in 32 U.S. markets, agreed. “HomeAway does significantly more volume than Airbnb, although we still prefer the Airbnb pricing model,” said Banczak.

Since its purchase of, HomeAway has dominated resort markets, but now that Airbnb is focusing on growth within these nonurban markets, the tide may be turning.

HomeAway’s Connectivity Advantage HomeAway also has a significant advantage with its broad connectivity to the property management systems being utilized by vacation rental managers. In 2010, HomeAway purchased Instant Software, the largest software provider for vacation rental managers—a move that allowed HomeAway to secure direct connectivity to professionally managed, online-bookable inventory across the United States. In addition, HomeAway now offers almost all of the software platforms in the vacation rental market a direct connection to its listing sites. In contrast, Airbnb experienced a steep learning curve in building working integrations and has been slow to provide the same level of connectivity to property management software systems. Airbnb does not currently have direct connectivity to the HomeAway’s software systems.

“HomeAway Software is never going to give Airbnb access to its API,” said our unnamed source. “And the third-party intermediaries can’t make Airbnb work because of the way it is structured. They can’t handle multiple booking rules. Why? Because Airbnb’s senior leadership wasn’t committed to professional property managers. They didn’t think that property managers provided the level of service that individual hosts provide. Airbnb absolutely blew it.” Scott Breon, chief revenue officer for Vacasa, which manages 3,800 vacation rentals, has also experienced difficulty in connecting to Airbnb, but he is more optimistic about Airbnb’s future. “Airbnb’s API and closed-communication interface continue to be a challenge to integrate with,” said Breon. “But once they invest in the next generation of API integration, I see them quickly achieving 20 to 30 percent overall market share and the potential for upwards of 70 percent market share in West Coast urban and west coast ‘last minute romance’ markets.”

In August, Shaun Stewart, global head of vacation rentals at Airbnb and the company’s face to the professionally managed community, left Airbnb to join Google X’s Self-Driving Car Project.

Is HomeAway in Danger of Losing its Stronghold in Vacation Rentals in Resort Markets? Breon is now seeing mixed results with listing Vacasa’s properties on Airbnb and HomeAway. “HomeAway and Airbnb booking trends fall along some distinct but blurring lines,” said Breon. “I look at customers based on geo-seasonal-demographic-intent segments, and within each of those buckets there are definitive ‘winners.’”

Breon continued, “HomeAway wins in the trend toward traditional second home markets, older demographics, larger party size, longer booking windows, and East Coast markets. Airbnb skews toward urban markets, international markets (beating out, 66

VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016

younger demographics, smaller party size, smaller booking windows, and in proximity to San Francisco.”

More and more vacation rental managers are beginning to list on Airbnb. In the most recent Phocuswright study, research showed that the percentage of property managers listing on Airbnb increased from 7 percent in 2012 to 47 percent in 2016. Although HomeAway has dominated the US vacation rental industry for the past decade, there are questions surrounding its ability to sustain the leading market position because of increasing transactional costs for travelers and suppliers, along with changes to its criteria for search results. Turnkey’s John Banczak prefers Airbnb’s pricing model to HomeAway’s. “Owners see almost 11 percent commission and credit card fees from HomeAway compared to 3 percent from Airbnb, and it never sits well with them,” said Banczak.

Banczak also noted that HomeAway’s changes to “Best Match,” the search algorithm that determines the order in which listings appear for travelers, have caused friction. “Owners really want to see more transparency in the HomeAway search results,” he said. “We spend an unbelievable amount of time trying to explain to owners why their fully bookable, highly reviewed homes are showing up below homes without the book-it-now button and with no reviews. HomeAway has become the site of frustration for owners, which leads to frustration for us.” Professional property managers in core vacation rental markets are seeing a much higher number of bookings from HomeAway than from Airbnb. But the race is far from over. Over the next year, overlap between the two companies will grow as Airbnb pushes quickly into resort markets and HomeAway increases urban supply. However, while they rush to capture market share, both companies could benefit from making some internal improvements. The winner in the industry will be the company that provides the best booking experience for both the traveler and the supplier.

C O N S U L T I N G G R O U P TomK



Consulting Group

Consulting Group

Consulting Group





VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016


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Measure, Convert, Retain, Optimize By Amy Hinote

A Quick Guide to Listing Site Independence for VRMs


he number one request for information from vacation rental managers (VRMs) we receive at VRM Intel is about listing site independence. VRMs are looking for new ways to increase direct bookings, but it is becomming more difficult with HomeAway, Airbnb,, and TripAdvisor competing for vacation rental market share.

In an interview with VRM Intel, Phocuswright vice president of Research Douglas Quinby predicted that rental listing sites and online travel agencies (OTAs) will account for 70 percent of bookings of private accommodations by 2018. Over the next few years, the cost of booking through these channels is forecast to increase while the amount of customer data you receive is expected to decrease.

Continuing to find innovative ways to increase bookings outside of OTAs will become more important as costs increase and the amount of data received from those channels decreases. However, laying the groundwork for a profitable customer lifecycle is essential for survival in an OTA-led marketplace. Once the foundation has been laid, your marketing team can create and test new ideas knowing that a sound strategy is in place to convert leads to bookings and bookings to repeat stays. Steps to Listing Site Independence B Measure Performance on Listing Sites Knowing your performance on the channels you use is half the battle. Having the following metrics on hand will help you make the best decisions for your VRM and will help you compare the performance of each distribution channel:  Number of leads  Number of inquiries  Average and median booking window  Number of bookings  Number of repeat stays from bookings

Pro Tip: Tracking additional information about leads obtained from channels can help you make better marketing decisions and optimize your listings, conversion strategy, and retention plan. The following are examples of additional information that may be beneficial:  Party size and type  Feeder market  Special needs (e.g., pets, accessibility)  Reason for stay


VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016

If you don’t currently have a plan to track these metrics, you are not alone. But if listing site independence is a long-term goal, now is a great time to work with your reservations and marketing teams to implement a strategy that lets you start fresh in 2017. C Create and Implement a Plan to Convert Leads to Bookings It is difficult to justify spending money to acquire leads from OTAs if you don’t have a strategic plan to convert those leads into bookings. An effective plan includes collecting and managing lead information, selling to leads, and remarketing to leads.

Collect Lead Information Leads and inquiries are not the same thing. As Heather Weiermann points out in her article “Demand-itis” on page 58, the prospective guest is the lead. Often, a single lead will send several inquiries across multiple channels for information about your properties. The most effective and efficient way to manage leads is by using a lead management system that is part of or integrated with your property management software.

Without a lead management system, your reservation agents will need an internal system to manage leads and merge inquiries manually. Depending on the size of your company, that task can be overwhelming. Track the time it takes to manage leads internally and conduct a cost-benefit analysis to determine if you are better off purchasing a lead management tool.

Implement a True Sales Strategy Like any other business, a proven, measurable sales strategy that follows through the customer lifecycle is a necessity.

The articles, “Increasing Revenue through Reservations” on page 46 and “Demand-itis” on page 58, provide beneficial sales tactics. Keep in mind that, as a VRM, you are competing with homeowners in the sales process, and the response and follow-up from homeowners is highly personalized. Respond with your strengths.

If you are using an autoresponder, use language that communicates trust and professionalism (i.e., 24/7 service, professional housekeeping, keyless entry, additional amenities, and offerings). In addition, some autoresponders have artificial intelligence tools that can help personalize responses.

Create a Remarketing Plan If you missed the sale this time, chances are the lead will return to your destination. By creating a marketing plan to retarget leads, you increase your chances of reaching guests on their next trips. Besides general email blasts, consider special automated marketing based on the following factors:  Stay date  Date of inquiry  Reason for stay D

Create and Implement a Plan for Guest Retention

Repeat guest bookings are the lifeblood of VRM revenue. According to a recent study by Phocuswright (page 60), four of ten vacation rental bookings in 2015 were made online, and that number is expected to increase to 55 percent by 2018. As a result, direct interaction with your guests is decreasing. In order to have a business model that is sustainably independent of OTAs, it is critical that you develop an effective guest retention plan.

Personalize Your Relationship with Guests According to Phocuswright’s Douglas Quinby, travelers who stayed in owner-managed rentals reported higher levels of guest satisfaction that was driven by increased interaction with the host or owner. With the increased adoption of keyless entry, VRMs are challenged to create a meaningful connection with their guests. Talk to your team and brainstorm ways to play to your strengths to personalize the guest stay.

Collect emails from all of your guests, not just the ones who made the reservation Unlike hotels, the average stay for vacation rentals includes three to five people—depending on the destination—and it is not uncommon to have eight or more adults staying in a property. In many cases, the person who made the reservation was not the decision maker in the booking process. Consequently, you will find it beneficial to discover methods to collect contact data on all guests staying in your properties. Here are a few ideas:  Guest Apps: After the booking, guest apps provide tools to capture data from guests not listed on the reservation.  Internet Access: Use branded landing pages on the guest’s access point for Wi-Fi that collects names and emails. Silicon Travel is one company that provides a solution for Internet access landing pages.  Activities Promotion: When you book activities for guests, capture emails from all adult guests who will be participating.

 Surveys and Reviews: As you reach out to guests with surveys and reviews, find tactics and incentives to reach all the guests who stayed at the property.

 Pool Passes, Parking Passes, and Amenity Access: Many condominiums and communities require passes for shared amenities and parking. One idea is to require a record of the guest’s name, email, city, and home state in order to receive passes/access.

Target repeat guests with special offers and reasons to return Phocuswright’s recent study also showed that travelers who stay in vacation rentals take more trips per year than those who stay in hotels. Target those guests with special offers, event information, and reasons to return. Make an effort to communicate differently to guests who live in drive-to markets vs. fly-to markets. In addition, like your remarketing efforts to leads, automate marketing messages based on stay date, date of inquiry, and reason for stay. E

Optimize Channels

Once you have implemented plans to measure your performance, convert leads, and retain the guests you have, it is time to optimize your listings on OTA channels. Here are eight tips to update and enhance your OTA listings: B Monitor changes to OTA’s search algorithms and listing component recommendations. OTAs are constantly revising their sort criteria (e.g., HomeAway’s Best Match). Each quarter, take time to review the changes and adapt accordingly. C Take new professional photos. The size recommendations for photos on OTAs are changing, so make sure your photographer understands your photo size requirements. D Add an office photo to your listings to promote your brand and communicate professionalism. Don’t add language to the caption that violates the channel’s terms by encouraging guests to book directly with you. E Add floor plan images or links. F Use language in your listings that is professional, descriptive, and authentic. is a great tool to ensure that your descriptions are grammatically correct. Promote your strengths and professionalism (see Housekeeping Marketing on page 88 for more tips). G If a property meets special needs, make sure to include that fact in both descriptions and photos (e.g., pet-friendly, kid-friendly, easy access to activities, accessibility for older and disabled guests). H Don’t forget to write great headlines. Like search results in Google, merely appearing in the top results isn’t enough. Your headlines need to appeal to travelers searching for the right vacation rental. I Review amenities. Check your listings to make sure all the amenities associated with a property are displaying properly.

Pro Tip: Keep in mind that your company’s website is your most important channel. While you are optimizing your listing channels, make sure your website is providing a professional impression, updated photos and descriptions, compelling headlines, and an easy booking path. OTAs provide an effective way to attract guests to your company. With increasing costs, it is essential that you accompany your OTA strategy with an effective plan for conversion and retention. 2017 is the right year to lay the foundation that takes advantage of OTAs but that is not reliant on them. VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016


| Marketing


e are excited to announce the winners of VRM Intel’s Best Vacation Rental Management Websites of 2016. With more than three dozen entries, the competition was intense, and the bar was set high. This year, we increased the judging criteria from 20 to 34 factors, including categories in design, on-site search functionality, property display, booking paths, area information, search engine ranking, site errors, speed, and lead generation.

All of the Websites submitted were launched in the last 12 months, and their quality is outstanding: all entries have a responsive design, large home page images, and simple online booking paths. In addition, most have a detailed refined search option and professional photographs of their rentals. Many of this year’s entries have followed some of the best practices being utilized by major online travel agencies (OTAs) and have included a map view in their search results, the ability to search with flexible dates, and urgency marketing techniques. At VRM Intel, we want to congratulate all of the vacation rental managers who submitted sites this year. The level of professionalism in design and functionality is a testament to the commitment of both the management companies and their developers and evidence of a maturing industry. And the winner is‌ 70

VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016

1st Place Topsail Realty Vacations Topsail Beach, North Carolina

Developed by InterCoastal Net Designs (ICND)

Topsail Realty Vacations met all the major judging criteria with flying colors. The overall design is incredibly sharp and has a heavy focus on e-commerce with an Airbnbtype feel that also markets the destination and vacation lifestyle. The smart calendars and responsive design functionality perform well on tablets and other mobile devices, and professional photos, well-written descriptions, and an easy-to-understand rate table help to communicate trust and credibility.

Developed by Bluetent, Island Realty’s unique Website design is as attractive as it is functional. Its flexible arrival option in the search process and smart calendars prevent selecting dates under its minimum stay requirement. Island Realty also offers live chat to visitors and urgency marketing messages to encourage booking decisions. In addition, the layout of the property pages scored incredibly high in usability and design. The property photo slider contains full-screen, professional images that communicate expertise and trust, and its one-screen display of property information follows the proven design of the large OTAs. Detailed reviews contribute to providing an easy decision-making path for guests. Island Realty also offers online add-ons, including golf, fishing, and beach equipment rentals.

3rd Place Vacation Homes of Hilton Head Hilton Head, South Carolina

In addition, the Topsail Realty Vacations Website contains additional features that moved its ranking from great to exceptional. The site has urgency marketing calls to action, video tours, a split-payment option, a unique designation for properties that offer specials, and an attractive lead capture form that appears when the user is trying to exit the booking path. The ability to search for monthly rentals along with well-designed and well-written owner acquisition pages also stood out in their overall score. There is also a feature on the site’s property listing pages that allows visitors to submit a question about the property that subsequently creates a consumer-facing FAQ knowledge base for each home. In short, Topsail Realty Vacations got it right.

2nd Place Island Realty Isle of Palms, South Carolina

Vacation Homes of Hilton Head launched a beautiful site this year, but beyond its clean design, the Website contains a bundle of added features, including videos, floor plans, professional photography, and push-to-chat/talk functionality. Its responsive design, developed by Bluetent, scored exceptionally well in mobile usability as well as other technical criteria. Vacation Homes of Hilton Head also paid attention to the lead photos that display in the search results, making each property more likely to be selected. In addition, Vacation Homes of Hilton Head does an extraordinary job of marketing the destination and using site real estate to partner with area businesses, establishing itself as a trusted source of destination information.

VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016


4th Place

5th Place

Jackson Hole Resort Lodging Teton Village, Wyoming

Oregon Beach Vacations Seaside and Lincoln City, Oregon

Jackson Hole Resort Lodging’s new Website, developed by Bluetent, has a destination-focused design, high usability scores across devices, and a ton of bells and whistles, including site search, webcams, and page translation options for international visitors. The property pages have well-written descriptions, mostly large professional photographs, and a simplified rate table. The Website also has an enormous amount of area information and add-on options that give guests the ability to purchase lift tickets and packages to plan their entire vacation.

Developed by InterCoastal Net Designs (ICND), the Oregon Beach Vacations Website scored very high in technical categories with a fast, highly functional, responsive design that performs well on smartphones and tablets. Its search process contains urgency marketing calls to action, easy-to-navigate mapping, and detailed refine search options.

Its property pages have an easy-to-navigate, one-page format, a simple rate display, easy social sharing, and the same open Q&A functionality also seen in other ICND designs.

What Our Winners Did Better than the Rest: Site Speed/Performance

Our top Websites loaded quickly and scored well on Google’s Page Insights test.

Simple/Smart Site Search Experience

The Websites with the highest scores had intuitive refined searches or advanced search capabilities with a display of the number of rentals associated with each attribute. With an optimal search filter, when the user selects an attribute, the results automatically refresh to ensure that the user doesn’t choose a combination of attributes or amenities that would show zero results.

Smart Availability Calendars

Smart availability calendars appear when the user enters travel dates on the individual property detail pages. We encountered a few sites that did a fine job of ensuring that users could only choose arrival and departure dates that were valid; the industry has seen a marked improvement in the capabilities of smart calendars.

Beautiful Websites

When clients have large, professional, beautiful images, you can really tell that the web designers were inspired to create photojournalistic experiences throughout the web design.

Trust, Professionalism, and Credibility

This year’s submissions did an excellent job of inspiring trust and communicating professionalism with added features such as well-written descriptions, area information, add-ons, social sharing, detailed reviews, mapping, videos, and floor plans. In addition, these new sites provide smooth booking paths, secure payment processing, and travel insurance options that allow guests to feel safe, comfortable, and confident in their booking decisions. 72

VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016

By Vikram Singh

Top10 Website Mistakes

Mistakes Can Hurt Your Website Revenue

Regardless Of How Much You Love Your Design


ebsite design, like any kind of design, is subjective. Nothing is more painful than a website design “discussion” where stakeholders talk for hours about colors, content, and photos. For every extra person added to these meetings, more useless things are added to the website and useful things are taken out. By the end of it, you have a website that is not usable for potential guests, which hurts your conversion rate and more importantly your revenue. So let’s worry less about design and more about usability by looking at mistakes that can hurt your website revenue, regardless of how much you love your website design.

to make it easy for potential visitors to discover your exact location and even easier to contact you. Don’t bury this information in your footer. Would you wear your name tag on your shoe? Mic drop. Next.

C Fluffy Homepage Text and Taglines Vacation rental management (VRM) websites are notorious for fluffy descriptive taglines. I am not sure where this trend started, but it really has to stop. Your home page is prime real estate for you to talk about who you are, what you do, and where are you located. Marketing is not stuffing text like “extraordinary, blissful, memories that last a lifetime, etc.” on your home page. Providing the right information up front will lead your visitors deeper into your website for discovery and not on an expedition to try to find simple answers about who you are, where you are, and what you offer. You have a few seconds to keep a new visitor on your website. Let’s not use that time to bombard them with fluff.

D Music (Can you not?) This is a public service announcement: please don’t put music on your website. Anything (music, videos) that automatically plays on a website is a conversion death trap. The majority of bookings happen Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. People are at work, and nothing is more disastrous than suddenly having your office laptop broadcast the sounds of singing whales, crashing waves, or romantic piano music while you are trying to book your vacation—especially while your boss is waiting on that TPS report.

E Cannibalizing Your Own Traffic

B Missing Location and Phone Number Give website visitors your location and phone number right at the top of your home page. This is more important than your home page slider and even that oh-so-trendy moving video on loop that you recently added. Assuming that your phone number and location only matter on mobile is flawed thinking.

Sometimes people want to call you. When they are calling you there’s a good chance they’re going to book with you. Before they book they are very likely to search for information about your location. Travel research is still happening on larger screens. You have

VRMs often make the mistake of overusing tactics that actually drive visitors away from their website. Social media traffic is useful only when it’s pointing people to your website! I am always surprised to see social media exit signs all over these websites. Do you think anyone leaving your website to go to YouTube is ever coming back? I refer to it as the black hole of the Internet universe. If you’re using YouTube to embed videos on your website, then you can easily fall victim to this form of traffic cannibalization.

F Poorly Embedded Videos Videos can do wonders for your website engagement. I am always thrilled when an accommodation website utilizes videos. YouTube is a great place to host videos that you can embed into your website but beware of one small setting that can wreak havoc: suggested VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016


videos. This totally defeats the purpose of having video embedded on your website as people are now sucked directly from your site back into the Internet black hole of cat videos! What’s even worse than that? When your competitors’ videos start showing up! Now that is really embarrassing. When you are embedding YouTube videos on your website, make sure you follow these easy steps:  Copy your video embed code.

 Select the “show more” option.

 Uncheck the “show suggested videos when the video finishes” box.  Copy and paste the new code into your website.

G Bad Photography Photos make or break a VRM’s website. Still, many companies do not invest in photography at the level they should. I have seen some amazing website design themes ruined by bad photos. The importance of unique, high-quality photos is not limited to your website. They need to be used for every online travel agency (OTA) that you work with. Instead of updating photos once every five or ten years, make a plan to regularly update property photos and organize a seasonal photo shoot to cover the full spectrum of your location and seasonality.

H Press Releases Some find it hard to believe and even find this notion offensive, but I’ll say it anyway: a press release is not real content. Let me elaborate. A press release does not fall into any real content category people are using these days. Current news can be found on Twitter or on an actual news website. Topical discussions and viewpoints are offered in blogs and podcasts. Having a press release page on your website does not help educate your audience. You need to convert that information into useful content that potential visitors can use. A beautiful press kit available for download will run circles around any effort and money spent on press releases. News about new properties, area events, company sponsorships, and awards needs to be broadcast live on your vacation rental blog.

I One Call to Action With a heavy emphasis on direct booking, it seems like every website has become a big “BOOK NOW AND SAVE” destination. Your website needs to be a part of the larger travel booking conversation. If the only thing you are yelling is “BOOK NOW!” then you are not distinguishing yourself from the hundreds of other websites that are doing the exact same thing. You have to do better. Diversify your calls to action. Ask visitors to interact with you in other ways. Maybe your guests are still researching their options and trying to understand your location and value proposition. Make it easy for them to contact you by requiring very limited information in your contact form: “Give us your name and email, and we’ll get right back to you.” Help with the journey first, and the odds of visitors booking with you go up tremendously. Pro Tip: The number of questions asked in a contact form is inversely proportional to the number of people who will fill out that form and convert.


VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016

J Ignoring Reviews The OTAs know that travelers are much more likely to book when they see credible reviews and ratings. There was a time when travelers used to fret over whether they’d made the right choice with their accommodations, but the explosion of online reviews means travelers can now make reasonably informed decisions and have confidence in their booking decision with a healthy number of positive reviews. In fact, studies suggest that 95 percent of travelers now read reviews before booking, and 70 percent of them look at up to 20 reviews in the planning phase according to Tnooz (2016). As a result, 59 percent of accommodation owners said they will invest more money in online reputation management in 2016. Are you part of that 59 percent?

K Bad Booking Engines Booking engines deserve their own very special usability article, which I will get to in the near future. For now know this: For your guest, the booking engine is a part of your website. They do not know or care that you are licensing this cart from a provider that has been making booking engines since 1989 or from a guy in his garage. When you confuse your visitors with a bad booking experience, then you are doing two things:

B Tanking all the marketing budget you spent to drive these people to your website.

C Training guests not to waste time with you, and instead use an OTA that lets them book a room more efficiently.

Your website is your storefront. There is NO point in having all the great photography, content, ambience, and offerings with a broken cash register at the end of the experience.

Conclusion Yes, make a beautiful website! It should be modern, aesthetically pleasing and inviting and show off your properties, but also remember to avoid the pitfalls I have highlighted above. Start making your website perform. It’s hard to remember that these small things can matter more than the expensive design things, but do not give in to marketing peer pressure. Usability beats trends. Make sure your most profitable revenue channel is more than just a pretty face. Stay Woke. Vikram provides consulting services, portfolio-wide audits, and asset turnaround strategies, to real estate investment funds and property management groups such as Starwood Capital, MSD Capital, and Highgate Holdings. As one of the leading experts in the hospitality and travel realm, Vikram has presented at the US Department of Commerce, Travel Distribution World Asia, Arabian Travel Market, and Airbnb.

Grow Inventory and Attract Ideal Owners


s we settle into fall, now is an excellent opportunity to reflect on your inventory and determine whether to grow in the upcoming year. Why now? Property owners just wrapped up a busy summer season and may be ready to look for a new property manager. In addition, real estate sales across the United States were favorable, bringing new vacation home owners to the marketplace. As a result, if you have the resources and infrastructure to facilitate increasing your inventory, this is an ideal time to create a robust acquisition strategy designed to build lasting relationships and sustainable long-term growth.

The Strategy: Attract New Owners

The partnership between owners and professional vacation rental managers is incredibly unique. Owners are asked to entrust their most valuable assets with your team, and in return, owners request that your team make a healthy return on their investment. Sean Kelly, a senior strategic account manager at Bluetent, often says, “We choose beaches and mountains over Wall Street, but we are all still asset managers.” Your messaging and communication should reflect your deep understanding and respect of this partnership. The first step in appealing to new owners is to consider your brand and unique sales proposition during the following four key moments in the owner experience:

B Upset Moments: An owner has a negative experience with his or her current vacation rental manager.

C Buy or Sell Moments: Owners purchase vacation properties and begin to explore working with a professional vacation rental manager. D Need to Know Moments: An owner is interested in learning more about the benefits of short-term rentals, how to rent his or her home, or how to choose a property manager. E Overwhelmed Moments: Owners are trying to manage and rent their properties on their own, but are entirely inundated.

Your unique sales proposition must focus on what makes your company unmatched in the rental market as well as the benefits of professional management over rental by owner platforms. Once you identify your unique sales proposition for each moment, you’ll be able to establish consistent messaging for a saturation of media channels so you may attract owners at the right time, in the right place, and with the right message.

6 Marketing Strategies to Implement B Create Compelling Sales Collateral In only a few moments, you must explain how you will generate revenue for owners. Be clear, consistent, and powerful in your sales collateral. You’ll want to have a captivating brochure that speaks to all the aspects that make your company unique. You’ll also want to provide a revenue prospectus to reveal proven performance.

C Develop Engaging On-Site Assets Focus resources on developing areas of your digital presence that are designed to convert owners. This should include a unique landing page, educational blog posts that appeal to owners, and compelling owner testimonials. Your current owners are likely your fiercest advocates, so solicit testimonials and let them tell your story. D Design a Direct Mail that Inspires and Connects Create a compelling campaign that speaks to your brand and unique sales proposition. Your county assessor typically has a list you can buy to obtain addresses. However, it’s critical within this step to understand the laws and regulations of your market. For instance, in some locations it’s illegal to send postcards to only oceanfront properties, so you must send them to the whole neighborhood. Know your area and tailor your messaging and timing accordingly. E Stay Front of Mind with Digital Advertising and Retargeting Paid search, retargeting, and social retargeting are all exceptional opportunities to stay ahead of the competition and to be there when owners are searching. Even though paid advertising for owner acquisition campaigns typically has a low volume of traffic and difficult-to-track conversion rates, it’s great for brand recognition, owner loyalty, and competitive edge. F Capture and Nurture with Email Marketing and Automation Throughout each step of your acquisition strategy, you must gather the contact information of potential owners. As you do, enter these contacts into a nurturing campaign that will connect at each level of the engagement funnel. By providing the right message at the right time in the right place, you’ll be able to stay in front of owners and connect through simple, streamlined, and educational messaging. G Get Creative and Network Building personal relationships is one of the most important steps in acquiring new properties, so have fun and get out in the community. Participate in local chamber events, sponsor community fundraisers, use the local MLS to get in front of realtors, and create a referral program for current owners. We understand that creating and implementing a robust acquisition strategy is daunting, which is why our team is here to help. Across the country, Bluetent’s digital marketing team helps professional vacation rental managers grow their inventory and partner with ideal owners. If you would like help with your strategy, please don’t hesitate to contact us at or (970) 704-3240. About Bluetent: Bluetent is a digital agency providing strategic consulting, brand design, web development, mobile solutions, email, social media, and search services to the vacation rental, resort, and travel industries. Rezfusion by Bluetent is a powerful e-commerce platform that will process over $150 million annually in direct online reservations and supports more than 125 vacation rental and hospitality sites. Bluetent is dedicated to creating sustainable growth and delivering measurable results to clients through innovation and quality in the digital space. VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016


| Owner Relations





acation rental managers (VRMs) are tasked with maximizing rental income for property owners and ensuring a safe and comfortable stay for guests. To accomplish this, VRMs strive to ensure that the décor, furniture, and flooring for each rental property are kept up to date.

“If the property is dated and furnished with worn furniture, bedding, flooring, appliances, light fixtures, cabinets, and counter tops, or is in need of fresh paint inside, there is no amount of cleaning that will convince the customer that a property is worth what they have paid,” wrote Elliott Realty Beach Rentals, based in North Myrtle Beach, in a letter to homeowners. “Often times, poor condition is the cause of customer complaints, not poor cleaning. A poor cleaning can be corrected rather quickly at the beginning of a customer’s stay. Poor condition cannot be corrected as easily or quickly, causing the customer to feel misled and highly disappointed about the property they’ve rented.” Even though poor customer satisfaction, bad reviews, and lack of repeat stays have a proven negative impact on rental income, convincing owners to update their interior design and furnishings is an ongoing, uphill struggle for vacation rental managers. It is common to get responses from homeowners such as: 76

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“But we just bought that sofa in 2002.” “The wicker furniture is more ‘beachy’!” “We just replaced the mattresses right after Katrina.”

The conversation would be easier if home décor came marked with an expiration date. According to a study sponsored by the website Apartment Therapy, 54 percent of US consumers think furniture should last 20 years or more. While this flawed expectation is surprising enough in a private residence, in a vacation rental environment, it can be damaging to rental income and your company’s reputation.

All furnishings and home décor should be evaluated using at least three factors: safety, cleanliness, and appearance. Let’s look at few items that are frequently debated between managers and homeowners.

Mattresses Unlike vacation rentals, hotel operators place significant attention on the lifecycle of a mattress to improve guest satisfaction and reduce expenses. Regular flipping of mattresses helps to increase a mattress’s life span. One manager advised, “In May and November, flip them end to end, and in February and August, flip them side to side, but still plan on replacing them every five to eight years or so.” While flipping, rotating and cleaning mattresses on a regular basis extends the lifespan, ten years is about as long as even a well-maintained mattress can last. As a result, mattresses that were purchased before 2006 are in need of a serious assessment.

Carpet Most vacation rentals have a mix of flooring in each property, including but not limited to tile, wood, engineered wood, and vinyl; each type and brand has its own recommended longevity.

For example, let’s look at carpet, which is expected to need replacing every five to fifteen years, depending on quality and usage. In the hotel industry, operators often choose carpet over other options for many reasons. Carpets help to limit noise, which is a primary concern in accommodations. In addition, it is cheaper to clean carpets; things break more easily when dropped on hard floor surfaces; VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016


gouges in hardwood are far harder to fix than a spot on a carpet; and it is less expensive and time-consuming to replace carpet than other types of flooring. For vacation rentals, replacing flooring is a matter of when, not if, so the ease and cost of changing is a key factor in flooring selections.

Sofas Who hasn’t encountered a vacation rental marked by a sofa that’s clearly past its prime? If stains cannot be removed, the fabric is torn, the frame is sagging, or the cushions or springs have lost their support, it is time to replace the sofa or sectional. As the center point of living rooms, a sofa is generally the most used piece of furniture so it is best to keep it comfortable and clean. Vacation rental owners should expect to replace their sofa at least every 7 to 15 years.

through the platform to select inventory in categories such as home furniture, decor, accessories, kitchenware, appliances, and flooring. In addition, all communications sent to the vacation rental owner from DME appear from the VRM’s company brand under a private-label approach. DME’s proprietary, patent-pending suite of tools includes a VRM-branded mobile app with a custom-built company profile and recommended inventory, so that interior design choices are appropriate and add value to the vacation rental. The DME central application tool is designed around projects created for rooms with collections to choose from and connections to share with the va-

And more… A lot of attention is given to mattresses, flooring, and sofas, but other items require ongoing evaluation.

Shower curtain liners: Because they are regularly exposed to water, shower liners are prone to mold and mildew. For this reason, it is best to replace them every four to twelve months. Pillows: Replacing pillows is also often overlooked. Most knowledgeable hotel industry professionals will tell you that with regular usage and cleaning, pillows should be replaced every two years.

Bath, door, and kitchen mats: These mats endure a lot of wear and tear during each stay, so replacing them every one to two years will keep the space feeling fresh and clean.

Accessories: Like major furnishings, accessories should be assessed based on safety, cleanliness, and appearance. New throw pillows and area rugs go a long way toward freshening the appearance of a rental. When replacing accessories, keep in mind that some home décor items, such as lamps with intricate designs, wall sculptures, and silk plants require more time dusting. In addition, styles and color palettes change in popularity. Comment cards, surveys and reviews often reveal when a vacation rental’s décor is past its prime.

New Technology for Communicating with Homeowners Communicating interior design needs with homeowners is both challenging and time-consuming, but one vacation rental owner and technology entrepreneur seeks to change that.

Sarah Honaker and her husband purchased a vacation home in northwest Florida that was in dire need of a design overhaul. She quickly discovered that redecorating a rental property from several states away was incredibly difficult as she struggled to keep track of purchase decisions and the total project cost.

“I kept thinking there had to be an app that does this,” said Honaker. But there wasn’t, so she set out to create one. The result is a technology platform called Design Made Easy. In September, Honaker launched a new tablet application aimed at helping property owners and managers communicate easily when updating and decorating vacation rental properties.

The Design Made Easy (DME) app eliminates the need for VRMs to send images via multiple texts or emails with suggested interior design changes to owners. With DME, homeowners have access 78

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cation rental homeowners for timely collaboration. Each step in the process allows collaboration, tracking of all design choices and costs, and allows vacation rental owners to reach decisions faster by choosing from virtual interior design boards—thus saving time and money. 360 Blue Properties, based in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida, has had success in using the platform. “The application has been very beneficial in assisting owners in how to visualize how different styles of furniture and decor can enhance the interior appearance of their home,” said 360 Blue’s Kim Catellier.

John Martin of Berkshire Hathaway Home Services in Watercolor, Florida also recommends the platform. “The app makes it easy to see rooms with new furniture, paint colors and pricing to redesign,” said Martin. “This tool has been a valuable resource.” “Having a clear, simple way to communicate and track the costs of interior design projects took hours off the process of decorating our family’s vacation rental, and we want to provide the same capabilities for owners and managers,” said Honaker.

By using advancements in technology, such as Honaker’s DME app, VRMs can streamline the process of communicating design challenges and updates with homeowners.

VRMs know there is frequently a gap between the guests’ and owners’ perceptions of what is considered worn and outdated. Creating a replacement schedule for common items and performing regular evaluations of home décor and furnishings based on safety, cleanliness, and appearance improves customer satisfaction, builds trust with owners, and increase revenues for years to come.

VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016


Changing your property management software? The consequences of a bad decision can last ten years. Let us help you make the right one.

Software Selection  Buy/Sell Transactions  Marketing Technology  Management Consulting  80

VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016

Marketer’s Resource Guide Online Tools to Manage Marketing With Ease and Success By Amy Hinote


n order to keep up with increasing competition, marketing expectations for 2017 and beyond are astonishingly high in the vacation rental management (VRM) industry. Today’s marketing managers are charged with being web developers, SEO/SEM experts, copywriters, marketing technology and automation specialists, graphic designers, media buyers, social media professionals, public relations experts, email strategists, and marketing analysts. In addition, marketing budgets are shrinking, making it very difficult to accomplish all that you need to do as an inhouse vacation rental marketer.

to correct grammatical errors including punctuation, capitalization, verb tense, spelling, and sentence structure. Your document is also checked for clarity.

The truth is that you can’t do it all. Here are a few tools that can help you accomplish your objectives, wow your team, and focus on the areas of your strengths.

Buffer is a free tool that saves a ton of time on social media marketing by scheduling posts ahead of time for your social profiles. You can batch the social media marketing process, do all your curating and composing at one time, and spread those updates throughout the next day or week. The free plan at Buffer lets you connect a profile from each network (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) and schedule ahead ten posts for each network.


It is expensive and time consuming to have to hire a graphic designer every time you need an image with text overlay for an email, an infographic for a newsletter, or a postcard campaign. Canva is a free online design tool that lets you create professional, branded social media graphics, email designs, flyers, brochures, posters, infographics and more. Using drag and drop functionality and professionally designed templates, it is easy to create designs with professional results even if you don’t have any graphic design experience. Canva also has an extensive library of fonts, photos, illustrations, charts, and graphics.

Once you’ve created an amazing video to share on your website or social media, where will you post it? YouTube is easy, but you want to avoid ads and suggested videos. Wistia keeps people on your page—or sends them precisely where you want them to go next. Once you’ve uploaded your video, you can go to the dashboard and add things like call-to-action buttons or email capture at the end of the video. Wistia also shows how long people view your video and when they pause or click out of it.

See what Google sees when they crawl your webpages. This search engine indexing simulator tool shows the source code of a page, all outbound links on the page, and common words and phrases found in the page copy. You can also compare pages and check keyword density.

From logo creation to data scrapping, connect with freelancers to help with your projects for a fraction of the cost of using an agency. Simply post your project and watch the bids come in. You will be surprised at the pricing. If you can think of it, there is a freelancer on this site who can make it happen. You can also run contests for design work. And you never know who you will meet. VRM Intel Magazine’s own director of design and production, Donato Berbelja, and I met on working on a postcard campaign. My fellow VRM marketers will nod in agreement that finding people to proofread your content is a constant challenge. It is difficult to edit and proofread your own writing and even harder to find other people you can trust with the task. VRM marketers manage a lot of content, including ad copy, property descriptions, blogs, press releases, newsletters, marketing materials, and more. ProofreadingPal is a lifesaver. Upload your file, pay online, and check a box for when you need it back. They can even turn it around in thirty minutes if you are under the gun. Every document is proofread by two editors


SEO Book’s Free Spider Test Tool

Google Search Console Formerly known as Webmaster Tools, Google Search Console gives you advanced website tracking with detailed reports on your search traffic, click-through rates, and mobile vs. desktop traffic. Through the Search Analytics Report, you can group, filter, and compare your data to tweak your overall digital strategy and maximize website performance. The alerts feature will notify you of any website errors that might affect your rank in search results. Google Search Console can provide your business with the tools to get an extra edge against your competition in search results. These are a few of my favorite tools, but there are many more out there to help you accomplish your goals. New tools are being created every day, so if you can dream up a new marketing idea, chances are there is now an online tool that can help you make it happen. VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016


Free Pizza?

| Technology

Using Creative Thinking to Convert Leads and Improve Guest Retention


ur industry is rapidly changing. With changes to Google’s algorithm, which gives established brands more credit, competition via online searches is becoming a losing battle. As a result, OTAs are becoming more prominent than ever before. They simply have the budget and the presence to dominate certain markets. How often have you searched “New York vacation rentals” only to find that the large vacation rental portals dominate paid and organic searches? In the past, this may have been a good thing. As a property manager, I can remember the days when we could not keep up with incoming leads from VRBO and HomeAway. Every year the number of leads seemed to grow exponentially.

Yet, in recent years, I have come to the realization that leads from these large rental sites have been drying up. Property managers everywhere are justifiably concerned about the current shift and feel as if they are scrambling for solutions, creating a situation that is forcing property managers to get extremely creative with their marketing. Fortunately, creative marketing isn’t as impossible as it may seem at times. Sometimes, all it takes is a guest/visitor mobile app with a visitor’s guide and some free pizza.

make that pizza absolutely free, no strings attached, for any guest who stayed at one of your rentals? As you might expect, this small kindness, though imposing no huge cost on your behalf, gives renters just one more reason to love the vacation they booked with your rental. Not only does this make your product more memorable, it puts your services in an even better light than ever before and can leave a lasting impression, something that is absolutely necessary for guest retention. Obviously, there are many questions that need to be answered before putting this plan into action. After all, that free pizza is only free to your guests, not to you. Fortunately, it’s quite easy to perform a cost-benefit analysis to make absolutely sure it is worth the time, effort, and money. Just ask yourself the following questions: How much does each lead/inquiry cost you today? How well does each lead convert?

How likely would it be for someone to get a free pizza during a vacation?

A Different Approach

How likely would it be to work out a great deal on free pizza with a local vendor?

Why pizza? Like it or love it, pizza is truly one of those quintessential “vacation meals” and one that guests almost certainly will seek out at least once during their stay. Now, what if you were to

Let’s take these answers and keep them in our back pocket.


VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016

How much money are you putting into other marketing efforts and organic search engine optimization?

The Guest/Visitor App Of course, simply offering pizza won’t be enough to improve profit and rental rates; you need a creative and interesting way to offer the deal in a manner that promotes the entire area, as well as your free pizza coupon. This is where the guest/visitor app comes into play.

Oftentimes used to improve guest experience in a chosen area, guest and visitor apps give renters the ability to learn more about their vacation destination, find out what’s nearby, and even get some choice coupons for their stay. But, before we utilize this app in conjunction with free pizza, it’s important to ensure that your app is actually worth using. In many cases, there can be hundreds of travel apps for any given destination, so how could you make yours unique and profitable for your company? Let’s take a look at a few things that can make you stand out from the competition: B Personalize the App

Did you just throw in every local restaurant or take the time to provide your honest feedback? Who is your favorite server in town? In other words, are you putting in the effort to educate your guests? C Make Sure Your Logo Implies Vacation Guide

Your app’s logo is much more important than you might think. You need people to see the logo in the app store and understand immediately what its use is. This will help draw clicks and ensure high download rates. It also helps avoid confusion. D Make Your App Easy to Find

The surest way to get low download rates on your app is by making it difficult to find on the app stores where it’s available. Refer to your app by its proper name in all your promotional materials and make sure it’s available on all major app stores, not just the Apple store. E Keep Your App Small and Useful

Some people want to save space on their phones, so you want to make your app as small as possible. Still, make sure you are providing all the information you need. Just make sure it’s optimized nicely and is not bogging down anyone’s limited memory.

At this point, if we are extremely successful, we have negotiated 100 free pizzas per month from our local pizza parlor, our guest/ visitor mobile app is in app stores, and we have created a creative and compelling reason in the local visitor guide magazine to download the app for a free pizza. (This is the most critical component to being successful.) Hopefully, by this point, hundreds of people are downloading the app with the hope of a delicious free pizza and more information about their vacation destination of choice. Finally, this is where the marketing spin comes in.

Marketing With Push Notifications When people download your guest/visitor app offered by Streamline, they will be asked if they would like to receive mobile notifications on their phones. Once this is approved, the property manager has the ability to send push notifications to each phone. If you don’t abuse this and use this marketing avenue to send specials for future vacations, then you are now exposing your property management company to guests who visited that destination in the past. This, obviously, has a myriad of marketing uses. Let’s say you promote a last-minute 40 percent discount to fill up rooms via the app’s push notification system. The people who see this discount are almost always going to be past renters in the area who would probably come back for a visit if the price was right. Best of all, because most of us have our phones attached at the hip and rarely ignore notifications that we receive, push notifications have a much higher chance of being noticed, especially when compared to something as innocuous (and annoying) as a spam email. Because of that, the number of people in this marketing list who will see your special will be astronomically higher than any email campaign that you send out. Add that visitors to the area who downloaded your guest app are the most likely to take the offer and it’s easy to see why this could become your most valuable marketing strategy.

Using Your Creative Side to Increase Conversion Rates As mentioned at the beginning, we have to get creative with our marketing strategies to survive in the cut-throat world of vacation rental management. But, that doesn’t always mean marketing to outside parties. Targeting past renters that have already had a great time at your rentals with the strategies outlined above is the ticket to increasing conversion rates, filling your rentals, and improving your reputation in the vacation rental community. This is precisely why guest retention should always be your number one priority.

Just remember, if the pizza is good, your vacation specials are the best in town and you utilize your guest/visitor app to the best of its potential, you may find a loyal guest—or ten—for years to come. This is an asset that will always be more valuable than attracting a new guest via conventional means. Be creative and see where that takes you; you’ll certainly be happy you did!

Once you have all this in place, it’s time to market your app on your website, in your local visitor guide magazine, and everywhere else you can, all with the promise of (you guessed it) a free pizza with download!

By Carlos Corzo CEO | Streamline Vacation Rental Software

VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016


| Technology

Shopping for Smart Locks? By Amy Hinote

5 Considerations When Selecting a Smart Lock Provider


he professionally managed vacation rental industry has seen a rapid adoption of smart lock technology over the last two years. The increased security that keyless entry offers to managers, owners, and guests is reason enough to invest in smart locks for rental properties.

However, smart locks provide much more than the ability to lock and unlock a door without a key. Today’s smart locks also track who is entering and leaving the property, provide real-time alerts and notifications, email digital codes to guests, ensure an increased level of security for both owners and guests, and offer networked home automation products that control and monitor thermostats, refrigeration, pool heat, and more. “Smart Home benefits all of the key stakeholders in vacation rental management,” said Greg Burge, president at PointCentral. “It provides a secure and convenient guest experience, cuts owner energy expense and maintenance, and delivers revolutionary operational benefits to Vacation Rental Managers (VRMs). Our customers have told us that no other investment has delivered as broad a set of benefits as their Smart Home investment.”

Key Advantages to Using Smart Locks Improves security for owners and guests Tracks activity in the property

Provides protection for VRMs

Eliminates the need for on-site check-in

Decreases or eliminates staff time addressing late-night key delivery to guests who are locked out of the property 84

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Provides connectivity for Smart Home automation systems that control thermostats, refrigeration, and pool temperature Because new smart home products and technologies are being introduced at warp speed, it can be challenging for VRMs to know the right questions to ask when selecting a smart lock provider. We reached out to PointCentral, LockState, and dorma+kaba (Dorma and Kaba recently merged) to find out more about differentiating between smart lock options and the key factors in selecting a smart lock provider.

From installation to networking, software integration and guest communications, there are multiple factors to consider. Consequently, at VRM Intel, we compiled a cheat sheet of questions to ask when shopping for smart locks for your vacation rental management company.

5 Considerations When Selecting a Smart Lock Provider B Hardware Architecture A primary consideration when choosing a smart lock provider is whether the lock system connects with the internet via broadband, Wi-Fi, or cellular-based technology. In some cases, providers offer a variety of options, but VRMs will want to dive deeper by asking additional questions about networking and gateways. What is the average life cycle for the lock? Three years? Five years? Ten years?

Does the lock system operate via broadband, cellular, Wi-Fi connectivity, or a combination?

Does the lock require a “gateway” or additional hardware?

If a gateway is required, what communication protocol does it use to communicate with the lock? Do I need to set up a new radio frequency (RF) network on-site?

If a Wi-Fi connection is required, how friendly is the “environment” to the new network? For example, are there concrete walls that would limit the range of acceptable locations for the gateway?

Does an RF technician need to be available for installation and support? If so, what will that installation and support entail? How often will the lock batteries need to be changed? Does the lock have a manual override option?

What happens if connectivity is dropped? If power is lost to my gateway, will I receive a notification or alert? Will the lock still operate normally? Will I still be able to generate codes for my lock? Will the lock location be exposed to extreme weather conditions? If so, does the provider have locks that perform well when exposed to the elements?

If I am located in a high windstorm area, is the smart lock approved or certified for these conditions? According to Rich Lang, vice president of sales at Oracode, “When deciding on hardware, one consideration is whether the smart lock is certified for installation in a high windstorm area. This feature could be essential for those properties located in hurricane-prone areas such as Florida.” Will the lock be purchased directly from the manufacturer or from a third party distributor?

C Enterprise Software Functionality and Integration The functionality offered by smart lock providers differs from company to company. In addition, most vacation rental managers require integration with their preexisting software systems. As a result, managers will want to understand the parameters of that integration, the additional functionality provided by the smart lock company, and the performance of the dashboard monitoring system. Will the system integrate into my current property management software? Is the software accessible from any mobile device without downloading apps? Can the software be embedded into my current property management software, providing seamless status management workflow?

Can the lock company’s platform expand into other services that I need (e.g., booking calendar synching, cleaning crew management, maintenance management, HomeAway/Airbnb, etc.)? Is there an enterprise-wide operations dashboard? If so, does it allow me to make one change and update the entire enterprise? What information is provided on the dashboard? Am I able to see the real-time status of all of the properties that I manage? How are automated alerts and notifications created and sent to guests and the manager? How easy is it to customize the notification business rules and messaging? Does the provider offer occupancy-based (reservation) control of other devices such as thermostats, plugs, cameras, etc.?

Are there multiple user levels and related data privacy and security restrictions?

For large homes and Home Owner Associations, can the lock company’s platform control all locks and access points in the platform rather than just individual unit doors—that is, sliding glass doors, elevator floor access, parking garage gates, and garage doors?

D Installation Installation can be a major factor for VRMs to consider when deciding between smart lock companies. Additionally, there may be internal resources needed for installation. You will want to have a comprehensive understanding of the installation process. How easy is it to install the lock and the connecting system? Is any network setup required (i.e., gateways)? Who will do the installation?

How long will it take to install smart locks at the property? Do I need to allot any additional resources for installation?

E Company Performance and Track Record According to Nolan Mondrow, CEO of LockState, “For property managers, connected locks are more than just hardware. They are new tools to help you better manage your business. The lock company you buy from should understand your business, not just the lock they sell you.”

It is critical to select a smart lock provider that has a comprehensive, specialized knowledge of the professionally managed vacation rental industry. Taking the time to research companies and check references from other VRMs who utilize these products and services will give invaluable insight into how these companies operate within the industry. What is the provider’s depth of knowledge about the vacation rental industry? Will I have dedicated project management of my account and installation?

Will the company provide relevant references whom I can contact?

Does the company invest in the ongoing development of smart home technology in the vacation rental industry?

F Support As with any technology used by VRMs, requests for assistance and support will need to be handled with speed and efficiency. For this reason, a company’s customer support infrastructure should be a significant consideration when you are selecting a provider. Is training provided to my staff ?

Does the company offer direct support for end users? How quickly are requests for support answered?

Do I need to have a local resource for ongoing support and maintenance? How robust is the lock company’s platform on which the lock is controlled? Can it handle thousands of locks in one user account? Is there a warranty?

Is there an additional cost for ongoing support? VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016


| Housekeeping

Don’t Skip Annual Cleans

By Stephen R. Craig Pro Resort Housekeeping


am often asked to explain why an annual deep cleaning of a rental property is critical to the success of a vacation rental management (VRM) company.

Many VRMs have excellent executive housekeepers and staff, but they have let homeowners persuade them to delay—or even forgo—an annual deep clean. Honestly, this is a critical error for both the company and the property owner.

Why Should Annual Cleans Be Required? During the busy rental season, housekeeping is necessary and is done in a way that combines a reasonable level of quality with the necessity of expediency. Why is that? • To do a deep clean after every checkout would be so time consuming and would require so many staff members that no VRM would be able to recruit enough people, especially in tight labor markets. • Even if a VRM wanted to perform a deep clean between stays, there isn’t enough time. Check out time is usually 10:00 AM, with a likely check-in time of 4:00 PM the same day or, in some cases, even sooner. Let me assure you, a unit not ready at 4:00 PM will do more to infuriate an arriving guest than anything. In actuality, many renters are sitting on the doorstep of the unit 86

VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016

The Importance of an Annual “Deep Clean” for Vacation Rental Properties

they booked well before 4:00 PM.

• Even if we could assemble the people to do all of this detailed cleaning, and if we had the time to get the cleaning completed by the check-in time, the cost would be prohibitive. Neither the homeowner nor the renter would agree to pay for the service. Many property owners balk at paying for a deep clean once per year, let alone after every departure.

Therefore, all vacation rental companies—every single one—sets standards. They have a process that cleans those items that are most important to the guest’s health and satisfaction and defers all of the other deeper cleaning tasks to a later date.

Between-Stay Cleaning VS. Deep Cleaning There is a marked difference between the cleaning done between stays and the cleaning done during a "deep clean."

For example, during a cleaning of a home between stays, the items that are crucial to the cleaning process include detailed cleaning of the bathrooms, floors, and kitchens.

Areas likely not to undergo cleaning after each stay include the areas behind heavy items of furniture, the floors under beds, sofa sleepers, couches, ceiling fans, hidden areas (especially those high up on the cathedral ceiling), windows, screens, cleaning behind kitchen appliances (refrigerator/stove), shelves inside all kitchen

cabinets, and blind slats. These items should undergo a thorough cleaning between rental seasons, or the long-term accumulation of soil and abuse is something that one cannot evade with a regular checkout clean. The deep clean should include an annual carpet extraction, upholstery cleaning, and cleaning of all windows and screens. Homeowners should also be aware of the following:

• No company has exceptional housekeeping quality that doesn’t require at least one annual deep clean. I’ve not seen one yet! • Many companies require two deep cleans each year.

• There is also a trend for the owner to pay for “mini-deeps” or "periodic cleaning" every six or seven renters so that the unit does not look worn and shabby by the end of the rental season.

I like to explain that it is no different than periodic oil changes in your car to "eliminate the filth in the primary operating system." If you never change the oil in your vehicle, the performance will ultimately diminish. The first thing guests look for in the fulfillment of the house is "whether it is clean." In every survey about a VRM’s performance ever taken by either a guest or homeowner, quality housekeeping is their number one concern.

To guarantee a professionally managed vacation rental experience, a VRM must require an annual deep clean in every home. In fact, it should raise a red flag to homeowners about the legitimacy of a VRM's program if it is not part of the contract.

Don’t Let Owners Do Deep Cleaning Not only should an annual deep clean be required per the property management agreement, it should be done by the in-house staff and not by the homeowner.

Without a doubt, some homeowners can do an excellent deep clean, but that is extremely rare. Having the VRM’s professional in-house staff do the work also eliminates the need for a great deal of unnecessary, time consuming communications with homeowners about authorization and scheduling.

It also prevents an embarrassing confrontation with the owner. Inspecting and evaluating the work of an owner to make sure all the cleaning is standard, and then having to point out how bad the work was done, doesn’t help in your relationship with the owner. If you have the right staff, standards and processes in place and the housekeeping still isn’t being completed at the acceptable level, only the VRM is responsible. Regarding deep cleans, in summary: Deep cleans must be done at least annually—no exceptions, and your in-house housekeeping staff should do the deep cleaning. If you allow the owner to do the deep cleaning, you either must have it inspected by your housekeeping manager in the presence of the proprietor. Or—if the owner does not wait for the inspection—your housekeeping team must have the authority to make any needed corrections and to bill the owner a flat rate per hour for doing so.

VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016


| Housekeeping

Market Your Secret Weapon

Your Vacation Rental Housekeeping Department


he performance of a vacation rental manager’s (VRM’s) housekeeping department is more important to vacation home owners and guests than ever before. Owners and guests are on the two sides of your business model equation, so for both of these customer groups, trusting in your commitment to housekeeping excellence is a key factor in their decisions to choose to work with your company.

On the owner side, vacation home owners want and need to know about the quality of your housekeeping department, and they want to believe their big real estate investment is being cared for by the best. On the guest side, according to a research study carried out by Emprise, 97 percent of guests agreed that a clean establishment was the most important booking factor, and a negative online review lost the business of 30 customers on average. With increased competition in the industry, guests are looking for ways to differentiate between properties when making their vacation rental booking decisions. The more assurance VRMs provide about the level of cleanliness guests can expect in the homes, the more comfortable guests will be in making reservations. VRM marketers are beginning to realize that by tweaking their marketing content to promote housekeeping excellence, they can yield an enormous boost in customer acquisition and retention.

Steve Craig, founder and president at Pro Resort Housekeeping, has compiled a list of ideas to promote the quality of your housekeeping quality to your customers.

Marketing Housekeeping Excellence to Owners When Owners Shop for a PROPERTY MANAGER  Create and send press releases to your local media that show off your housekeeping department. Here are a few examples: “Meyer Vacation Rentals Employee Gwen Polk Receives National Vacation Rental Housekeeping Professionals Award”

“Mountain Vacation Rentals Housekeepers Receive National Certifications” “Lakefront Vacation Homes Gets Top Marks for Housekeeping Excellence from Spring Break Families”

 Use blogs and social media to promote housekeeping awards, certifications (e.g., training, accolades, etc.), and key stats that show excellence in performance.  Use search engine optimization (SEO) techniques to optimize your website for prospective owners who are searching for VRMs focused on housekeeping quality.

 Provide uniforms. Your housekeepers in the field are more of a marketing tool for your business than you realize; their appearance and behavior are direct reflections of your company’s commitment to quality. Your prospective homeowners will notice.

In Marketing Materials for Owners  Include the Vacation Rental Housekeeping Professionals (VRHP) membership logo (if applicable) on your site and include additional writing, e.g., “XYZ Vacation Rentals is a proud member of VRHP, and we follow strict standards to ensure a clean and safe environment for your family.”  Add materials in owner acquisition packets that outline your excellent departure cleaning standards and training programs.  Promote your process for screening housekeeping staff, including background checks, if applicable.

 Add testimonials about housekeeping from other homeowners to your website and printed marketing materials.

To Retain Owners  Send results from guest surveys, comment cards, and reviews to homeowners.

 Use emails and newsletters to communicate positive news and achievements about your housekeeping team. Consider including information about training completion, attendance at conferences/ seminars, improvement in performance, relationships with new vendors, changes to supplies that are more safe and green, etc.

 Send each property owner an email with a picture and short bio of your housekeeping manager and/or the assigned housekeeper and inspector.  Show before and after photos of deep cleans (annual cleans).

 People are less likely to criticize other people when they know them personally. Find ways to personalize the relationship between homeowners and your housekeeping team (e.g., notes from the housekeeping manager left in the home for owner stays or personal meetings before or after deep cleans).

Marketing Housekeeping Excellence to Guests When Guests are Shopping Online for a Vacation Rental  Provide language in your property listing descriptions that promotes your housekeeping guarantee(s) or commitment to excellence. Here are two examples: “We are committed to housekeeping excellence and provide you our Island Housekeeping Guarantee so you can rest assured that your vacation rental will be clean and safe upon your arrival.”

“Our professionally trained and certified housekeeping team and inspectors are dedicated to making sure your stay is comfortable and stress-free.”

 Add a photo and/or photo caption to listings to depict your commitment to providing clean and safe accommodations.  Use social media to promote your housekeeping team’s achievements, high ratings, and exceptional guest reviews.

On Your Website and in Email Marketing to Guests  Provide statistics from your guest surveys (e.g., 98 percent of guests rated our properties as “very clean” or “exceptionally clean”).

membership logo (if applicable) on your site and include additional writing, e.g., “XYZ Vacation Rentals is a proud member of VRHP, and we follow strict standards to ensure a clean and safe environment for your family.”

To Improve Guest Retention The number one thing you can do to encourage guest retention is to provide a safe, clean rental that meets or exceeds your guests’ expectations, but there are a few extra measures that can help create a good first impression. Here are a few examples:  Open the toilet paper, fold it to a point, and put on a sticker with the company logo. This adds a touch of class and style.  Put cards on beds promoting your laundry commitment.

 If your guest is arriving after dark, leave a couple of lights on. No guest likes walking into a strange, dark house at night.  If you are on the water, leave window treatments open so that guests focus on the view before the cleanliness.

 Leave a note upon each arrival, including housekeeper and inspector names, a phone number, and a generic email address to the housekeeping department.

 Communicate your use of safe and environmentally-friendly (and pet-friendly, if applicable) chemicals and supplies.

 Call guests after arrival to make sure they are happy with the cleanliness of their vacation rental. You want them to tell you before they tell the world online.

 If you have staff on call 24/7, make sure your prospective guests know that.

Cleanliness is very important to your customers, so it only makes sense to promote your housekeeping team’s performance in your marketing efforts. Focus on your team’s strengths and get creative. A little housekeeping promotion will go a long way toward acquiring and retaining owners and guests.

 Promote that each vacation rental is cleaned with a strict set of standards and inspected for cleaning quality before each arrival.

 In the same way that you market to owners, include the VRHP

VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016


| Regulations

Working with Communities and HOAs By Claire Reiswerg Sand `N Sea Properties

Galveston Island Homeowner Pens Letter in Response to Proposed Vacation Rental Ban


n Galveston Island’s west end, there are approximately 41 different resort subdivisions, each with its own set of deed restrictions. Only two neighborhoods ban short term-rentals via their deed restrictions.

In 2004, six property management companies organized the Galveston Association of Rental Managers (GARM), to proactively prevent additional deed restriction changes.

We worked closely with all the West End neighborhoods to create our strategy: good neighbor policies, universal registration, guest “code of conduct� forms, and most important, patrolling off-duty police who are available 24/7. In 2010, a homeowner sought to amend the deed restrictions in her subdivision and ban vacation rentals. There were numerous meetings, and neighbors debated the idea among themselves. GARM also participated in the discussions.

Recently, I stumbled across this letter which was written anonymously by a homeowner in the subdivision in response to the proposed ban. Even though it was written several years ago, the positions presented in the letter are valid and relevant today. I have adapted and updated the letter in hopes that it serves as a template and provides positioning assistance to other companies, neighborhoods, and homeowners facing the same challenges in their communities. 90

VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016

A Letter To Our Friends And Neighbors Regarding Changing The Deed Restrictions In Our Subdivision: A survey has been sent to everyone in our neighborhood proposing to change our subdivision deed restrictions to exclude short-term rentals. As you contemplate this proposal, there are various factors that should be considered.

Life can change, so maintain all your options. It is risky to unnecessarily restrict property ownership rights. Storms come, finances change, or family dynamics shift. When these life events occur, property owners should not be restricted from adjusting their investments—including real estate investments—to meet their needs. In our resort subdivision, for example, many large beach homes were built by the rich and famous of Houston. Those vacation houses were well used and enjoyed for many decades; however, the owners aged, as did the homes, and circumstances changed. Some of the homes became vacation rentals, which enabled the homeowners or their heirs to defray expenses while continuing to utilize the homes on occasion. The fact that these homes became rentals did not diminish the value of the subdivision.

Vacation rentals and renters drive the real estate sales market. Vacation rentals are the driving force behind the real estate market on the West End of the island. Countless buyers start out as renters of vacation homes, learn to love the island and then purchase a home. Local Realtors® report that most clients won’t even look at beach properties in areas where vacation rentals are restricted. Even buyers who have no intention of renting do not want their options limited. It is frightening to think of trying to sell a home in Pirates Beach West if rentals were restricted. The number of buyers will be limited, and real estate values will go down.

Vacation rentals are not a problem in our subdivision. If rentals were to become a problem, negotiations with the property management companies for more stringent policies would be a better solution than a drastic change in deed restrictions.

The Galveston Association of Rental Managers (GARM) is an established organization made up of seven property management companies which are dedicated to good-neighbor policies. GARM carefully monitors renter activities via carefully crafted, universal registrations, on-site check-in procedures, and year-round, off-duty police officers who patrol our area and monitor renters’ activities 24 hours per day. GARM companies manage several vacation homes in our subdivision. When there is a problem, we have one number to call for assistance, 24/7. In addition, several homes are managed individually by their owners—Rent-By-Owners. Report directly to these homeowners, your neighbors, if you feel their renters are breaking subdivision rules or are out of bounds. Most people are reasonable and we are all dedicated to maintaining a peaceful neighborhood.

The Reality There are ten summer weeks and a couple of festival weekends a year when rentals are at a peak. During the other 42 weeks there are approximately ten families in residence in our area. To change the deed restrictions for those ten weeks and those ten families seems extreme. In reality, we are a community of absentee owners.

Are you certain of the legality of the proposed deed changes? These changes propose grandfathering current owners. Will you be ready to defend yourself in a lawsuit if you fail to disclose to a new owner that their deed restrictions are different than those of their neighbors and different than what you enjoyed?

A change in restrictions that does not restrict everyone equally will be confusing and risky. If the new deed restrictions do not comply with fair housing rules, would individual homeowners be liable? What if one section decided to change and another section didn’t? Does that help the marketability of the neighborhood to have a plethora of different deed restrictions? Most important, who is going to police this restriction and how? Will our property owners association be responsible? Will we have to increase our dues to make it work?

Let the market determine the rules. Why put your fate in the hands of someone else?

Our current deed restrictions are moderate, just enough to ensure the beauty of our community. The initial platting with the wide concrete streets, the curving roads, the separation from the highway and the set back requirements are the real reasons for the success of the subdivision, not the deed restrictions.

Many neighbors go far above and beyond deed restrictions with beautiful landscaping, clean wetland areas, stunning architecture, and year-round property maintenance. Our beautiful entrances and cul-de-sac landscaping are mainly the result of homeowner donations. Cooperation among neighbors has been key to the success of our neighborhood.

We will always be friends. Thank you for your consideration of these points. Many of us in the neighborhood are against the change in the deed restrictions. We want to remain anonymous as we care more than anything about the sanctity of the subdivision as a collegial environment. No other neighborhood in the area has what we have—our monthly parties, our Christmas celebration, and the July fourth festival. Let’s all decide this issue privately, vote anonymously, and stay friends. The outcome of the neighborhood debate discussed in the letter: the homeowners voted overwhelmingly to maintain the original deed restrictions and allow short-term rentals.


GARM celebrated its twelfth anniversary this year and now has eight member companies. Over the years, we have become a known entity at City Hall and the go-to organization when any questions arise about vacation rentals. Over the past two years, we participated in the formulation of a city-wide, short-term rental ordinance along with representatives of the RBO community. Our ordinance requires that: B All vacation rentals register with the city. C All vacation rentals pay lodging tax. D All registrations list a 24/7 contact who will respond to problems at the property.

We remain proponents of the “good neighbor policy” and strongly believe that our work—started over 12 years ago—has contributed to our community having (mostly!) positive attitudes toward vacation rentals. VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016


Your Statewide Vacation Rental Managers Association The Florida VRMA represents the professional management of vacation homes, condos and resort units throughout the state of Florida. We are your statewide vacation rental management industry association dedicated to supporting and protecting the $31,000,000,000 per year economic impact realized through the Florida vacation rental industry. The new Florida VRMA continues to deliver the educational programs, legislative advocacy and member benefits to help you to grow your segment of the industry throughout the state of Florida and beyond. Explore what our new regional chapters can mean for your business as a professional in the Florida vacation rental industry. The Florida VRMA is the largest statewide association in the US market today supporting property managers with tens of thousands of vacation rental units. From major Florida attractions to local supporting tradesman, the Florida VRMA has various participation levels for all businesses and industry partners.

Find out what the new Florida VRMA can do for you at or call us at 407-218-6600 THE OPMA DIFFERENCE Constant focus on the future and the shaping of the lodging industry Controlling our own destiny through leadership initiatives and not simply relying on advocacy and secondary support roles Targeted growth and strategy: Aggregating the most condo hotel rental inventory in the most popular vacation destinations. REPRESENTING




877.870.6510 THEOPMA.ORG 92

VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016

Assisting our members in measuring and delivering their collective economic impact in the local markets they serve Develop and introduce training programs that provide uniform messaging and that enhance the sales and service levels and the proďŹ tability of the membership Minimize the number of suppliers in any product/ service category translating into more signiďŹ cant long-term relationships with OPMA onsite managers



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VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016


| Education

Online Learning

Free Online Education Classes for Vacation Rental Managers

Scaling Vacation Rental Property Management October 25, 2016, 2:00 ET/11:00 PT

Managing rental properties changes as you move from five to ten to fifty plus units. Adding management and monitoring technology through one online portal to handle up to hundreds of units can position your company for seamless growth. Presented by Nolan Mondrow, CEO, LockState

Near Field Communications and its use in the Vacation Rental Industry November 2, 2016, 2:00 ET/11:00 PT

Learn how NFC chips, through integrations and platforms, can help vacation rental managers enhance their presence and become more efficient while offering guests and owners many conveniences. You’ll also learn how the technology can help you as a storefront office, with your sales side of your business, as well as keeping information in your prospect’s hands at all times. Presented by Sherry Tomasso, RealTimeRental and Tap Tags Technology

Connecting with Your Guests and Adding a Revenue Stream with Online Stores

November 15, 2016, 2:00 ET/11:00 PT

Looking to increase your revenue with an online store? Do you market to family reunions, destination weddings, sporting events, or corporate retreats? is a portal/ store designed to connect with your guests where they can order apparel and all the goods that they would have brought with them in the past. Now you can share in the revenue, grow your business, and provide a more full service to your guests. Presented by Steve Zimmerman, President, Beach House Logos

KPIs and Reservation Agent Performance

November 29, 2016, 2:00 ET/11:00 PT Understand how to set goals, measure KPIs, and implement new strategies that increase the performance of your reservation and contact center teams. Webinar also details best practices for following up with leads and how automation can actually increase guest engagement. Presented by Matt Renner, VP Sales, TRACK 94

VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016

Today’s Mergers and Acquisition Activities in the Vacation Rental Industry December 13, 2016, 2:00 ET/11:00 PT

An overview of the ever changing environment of buying or selling vacation rental companies. Topics covered will be deal structures, pricing, financing, new players, and other items relating to deals nowadays. Presented by James Olin, CEO, C2G Advisors LLC.

Comparing Your Performance to the Market

December 15, 2016, 2:00 ET/11:00 PT

Benchmark reporting is essential to the vacation rental industry in order to implement true revenue management and to track our performance in relation to market performance. Hotels have a STAR report to guide yield management, but we haven’t had a “VRAR” report…until now. Presented by Amy Hinote, Founder and Editor-in-Chief, VRM Intel Magazine

Start Off 2017 Right by Adding to Your Bottom Line

January 10, 2017, 2:00 ET/11:00 PT

Learn more about lowering your Payment Processing costs by reducing unnecessary losses and processing fees and add that savings to your bottom line. Presented by Dawn Yeskulsky, Director of Business Development & Partner Relations, Ascent Processing

Employee Handbooks: Key Changes for 2017

January 24, 2017, 2:00 ET/11:00 PT

If your handbook hasn’t been updated in the last six months, it is most likely out of date. Although creating and updating employee handbooks may be a daunting task, employee handbooks can be powerful tools for communicating policies, standards of conduct, and values to employees and supervisors, however, they also can be a source of employment law liability. This session will help participants get the most out of their employee handbook while avoiding liability. They will learn about common mistakes often made in drafting policies and important strategies to eliminate those errors. Presented by Sue Jones, President, KLS Group

REGISTER aT Understanding the Buyer's Journey

February 14, 2017, 2:00 ET/11:00 PT

This presentation will outline the typical buyer’s journey. Understanding how a traveler researches and plans for vacations will ultimately help you find new channels for marketing and better assess the channels that you are currently utilizing. We will be discussing abandonment rates on your website, the purchase cycle of a traveler, understanding how this displays in your analytics, and ways to increase lead capture throughout the buyer’s journey. Presented by Tim Schutts, Resorts and Lodges

How to Diversify Your Online Distribution Strategy

February 28, 2017, 2:00 ET/11:00 PT

The internet has deeply transformed the tourism industry and allowed big new companies such as OTAs to develop and grow quickly, making it difficult for small rentalpreneurs to stay visible to their customers. However, vacation rentals would be guaranteed a higher occupancy rate by diversifying their online distribution channels. Throughout this webinar, we will present to you the unmissable platforms of the industry, and the characteristics of each of them. We will also focus on the different types of connection that Xotelia proposes for each of its partners. This is an opportunity for you to know more about the new certified connection with Airbnb. Presented by Silvia Escudero, Xotelia

The Basics of Professional Vacation Rental Housekeeping March 14, 2017, 2:00 ET/11:00 PT

Housekeeping is the most labor intensive department of the vacation rental company. Having it run efficiently is not rocket science. There are several basic pieces of knowledge that when mastered will allow the department to run smoothly. Presented by Durk Johnson, Executive Director, Vacation Rental Housekeeping Professionals (VRHP)



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VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016



VRM Intel Magazine | Fall 2016

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comes through when plans don’t.

Offer your guests the most comprehensive destination specific travel insurance available in the Vacation Rental Management Industry.

re dsky insurance .com • 8 6 6 .5 4 9 .5 2 83 underwritten by Arch Insurance Company (a Missouri corporation, NAIC #11150) with executive offices located in New York, NY. VRMisIntel Magazine | Fall 2016 98 Coverage Not all insurance products or coverage are available in all jurisdictions. Coverage is subject to actual policy language.

VRM Intel Magazine Fall 2016  

VRM Intel Magazine's fall issue provides features and education for vacation rental professionals.

VRM Intel Magazine Fall 2016  

VRM Intel Magazine's fall issue provides features and education for vacation rental professionals.