As vacation rental professionals, we need to stay agile and adapt to change. One healthy way to do this is to constantly challenge our own beliefs about the industry: to present the same arguments over and over again and listen carefully for feedback. Sometimes when a belief is water-tested, it becomes stronger. Other times, it doesn't hold up and fades away.
While running the Budapest Marathon yesterday, I had plenty of time to think...
[Thank to Motorcycling Stuart Hooper for the hilarious video motivation!]
I used that time to think about my industry beliefs and I have shared them together with their updated version 2.0's. To kick things off, the first idea has to do with the way we compare vacation rentals to conventional hotels...
- hotels vs. vacation rentals
I always believed that staying in a vacation rental is better than staying in a hotel. I used it in my marketing (for my own rentals), I acted upon it when traveling, and I sang it from the mountaintops to anyone who’d listen. Vacation rentals are the new best way to stay! End of story!
I’ve realized that this logic is flawed. In hindsight, think I chose the word “better” because vacation rentals were always the little guy — the new kid on the block — and to compensate for my lack of confidence, I felt the need to shout louder, to argue bigger. But in hindsight, the phrase “vacation rentals are better than hotels” assumes that I know what all travelers want and that there is only one best way. That is ignorant thinking. While there very well may be a great amount of travelers who find vacation rentals as the better decision for their next vacation, there’s an equal (and at the moment much greater) group of travelers who understandably prefer resorts and conventional hotels. They appreciate the predictability, they like the amenities, they get rewards points...etc. Put simply, for these people, vacation rentals are not better than hotels. And so I will begin to pivot my messaging: speaking about the wonderful virtues and unique allure of vacation rentals, as opposed to trying to outshine hotels...which will always have their place in this picture too.
The next idea has to do with our messaging and how we present ourselves to stand out...
- Better stories
I’ve always believed that the deep story — the emotional story about you, your business, or your community that resonates on a deep level with travelers (many of whom will not stay at your vacation rental, but some of whom will) — is the DNA of all great independent marketing. I’ve always believed that we all have these stories within us, and that (1) identifying them, (2) articuating them, and (3) distributing them is the recipe that makes up factor 3 of Limited Edition success: an irreplicable personality-driven small business.
While I stick to this philosophy wholeheartedly, lately I've met a number of folks who agree to the logic, but maybe don’t want to go full-frontal on this deep story for any number of reasons. Some were concerned about the privacy. Others were veterans with big businesses who felt that making things too emotional could be unprofessional. Their concerns were understandable. And so my improved perspective is that utilizing the deep story is not black and white: there is actually a spectrum of implementation, and that for the most reserved of us, the mere act of acknowledging the deep story is a huge leap over ignoring it all together. And so moving forward, I will think more broadly about how emotional connections are used.
The next idea is double-edged...
- Independent juju
I’ve always believed the traditional world of hotels would eventually try to enter the boutique world of vacation rentals or alternative lodging. I was always concerned for my colleagues who ran commodity vacation rental businesses: for fear that they were not unique or special enough to sustain the pressure. I feared that they would not be able to compete in a contest of strength with much bigger competition.
I’ve learned recently that big money is not always synonymous with successful execution of the vacation rental business model (Oasis, Tripping, LeisureLink, Luxury Retreats). Perhaps more importantly, some of the biggest hospitality organizations have yet to prove themselves capable of bottling the vacation rental magic we know and love. The circumstances should still concern commodity VR businesses. But it should also give great relief to the Limited Edition vacation rental operators. Not only are we onto something special (a version of the travel experience that is on par with the greatest hospitality brands in history) but that this formula could very well may be inimitable. Irreplicable. And so moving forward, I will try to remind "mom and pops" they can not only survive in this industry: it might just be the only way.
Which leads me to the following idea...
- Selling your business
I’ve always believed that if you are not passionate about your business, that you should sell it, close it down, or give it away (I sold my vacation rental business over a year ago and can attest). When assessing longevity of a VR business, I observe passion to be the top survival factor of it all: the element that allows the best independents to persevere, to grow, and to continue enjoying the lifestyle they have designed.
This conference season I’ve been made keenly aware of the massive wave of money flowing into the vacation rental industry. I’ve seen how bigger, richer, more savvy competition is entering almost all marketplaces (including yours), and how swiftly big companies are ready and willing to acquire smaller ones. This means that the old adage — “if you’re not passionate, now’s the time to sell” — is hypersuitable. More so now than ever before. I will begin to suggest more people contact Ben Edwards firstname.lastname@example.org for top level advice on the exit process.
The next idea has to do with the kinds of companies you choose to work with...
- Choosing software
I’ve had the pleasure of watching our industry’s software landscape evolve over the past 10 years. Some companies have grown with time, others have collapsed. We have today more tools at our disposal than ever before. But in such a time of rapid change, I have always believed that independent owners and managers should choose software providers for the people behind the tool (their values, their vision, their actions) as much if not more so than for the actual features and benefits.
Over this past conference season, I have seen more money pouring into the industry than has ever before in history. It seems unanimously inevitable (according to my industry friends) that soon enough someone with plenty of funds will come in and attempt to buy up all the best solutions and roll them together into one big beast. In fact, there is likely not a top-grade solution that hasn’t been propositioned yet. And with icons like Google entering the world of vacation rentals, we must think beyond the status quo and really double down on aligning ourselves with service providers whose values we BELIEVE IN as opposed to solely the ones we think work best. Moving forward, along with a fellow Inner Circle member, Terry Whyte, I will be sharing a new tool that will help to finally shed some light on the mysterious software landscape. Stay tuned on this.
The last idea is about how us little businesses can make real, lasting change in our communities...
- Giving back
I have always believed that vacation rental business owners are in a prime position to solve our own challenges and write our own stories. I’ve believed that a single act of kindness has the potential to send rippling effects throughout the world -- whatever or wherever that act of kindness may be. This is the premise of The Star Throwers (a private club we are building): that if documented, these singular acts can be replicated: that if an act can be replicated, good can be scaled.
Recently, I been helped to pinpoint two specific kinds of philanthropy that are applicable to every single owner and manager immediately. First, donating nights to a worthy cause. After meeting Megan Higgins from The Dream Foundation for terminally ill patients and learning that the single most difficult component of fulfilling their dreams is lodging (they literally have everything else figured out with the exception of places to sleep) I realized as small business owners we are in an incredible position to make a difference in someone’s life. The second has to do with donating your guest’s unused food stuffs to local causes. This is communicated best by Project Feed and it’s something every one of us could do (on our own) to make the world a slightly better place. Moving forward I will encourage folks who want to give back to try one of these routes or to explore a unique initiative on their own.
These are just a few of the recent observations I've had. Would you mind sharing your recent evolutions or updates on previously-observed ideas in the comments section below?
The more we can challenge our theories and observations, the stronger they get!