Sense of Place [Episode 11, Nashville]

A Sense of Place is a travel show that meets destinations through the eyes of vacation rental properties and their most incredible hosts. Follow our Facebook Page or YouTube Channel for updates. ​

​When staying in a vacation rental for the first time, all travelers have expectations. Expectations can range from good to bad to accurate to totally unfair. But whether we like it or not, those first expectations play an important role in the overall experience. If our expectations are met or exceeded, then we’re leave feeling thrilled. If they’re not met, then we’re typically left feeling disappointed, sometimes even deceived...

And the same is true about destinations! Before arriving to Nashville, my expectations were high: world class country music, dazzling barbecue, and the Tennessee Titans, but I didn’t know a whole lot more than that!

My good friend Mary, was going to be in the area and I convinced her to fly in and join me in seeing how those expectations would be met! ​We stayed with the great John and Ellen Oden at Heidtke House, a contemporary ranch home about 15-minutes from downtown Nashville. 

​And l​​ike most people who visit Nashville, we certainly got to experience all that. But on top of it, we were exposed to a second, totally unexpected layer to this place. In choosing to stay with John and Ellen, we got to know their Nashville: a city, a people, a style through their personal lens. This visit was a masterclass on the new power of hospitality. A lesson that the best people and businesses and places a lot of times aren't predictable at all.

Nashville: Deconstructed

Each destination and host has multiple layers to its success. So we decided to pull back the curtain and share commentary on the people, places, and best industry practices that made this destination so unique.

​To record this video, I've used the Logitech c920 webcam, the Blue Snowball microphone, and Camtasia screen recording software.

The Learning Center

The following series of videos are designed to help better understand Nancy's secrets to success. Watch each short clip and think about how it might apply to your vacation rental business.

​​1. Validation as Fuel

Validation is huge. And seeing the result of hard work is a really important thing. In many industries, professionals don't get enough of it. But in vacation rentals, our work is directly validated -- reviews are the vehicle for this validation and John considers his collection one of the most precious things he owns.

2. "Market Research"

Ready for the most enjoyable market research ever? John recommends investing in a stay at the nicest vacation rental you can find. Take notes about the experience and how you can improve. Ask the host questions about how they operate and what products they use. Sit down at the end of the stay and create an Action List of next steps. Oh and in the process, don't forget to sit back and relax: this is the vacation rental industry after all.

3. Pushing the Envelope

Constantly look to improve your guest experience -- don't ever sit still or get complacent: this is one of the universal attitudes we've observed about the world's most successful vacation rental professionals. John is always on the look out for amenities or upgrades to his home -- in fact, he aims to have at least one improved element before any guest stays a second time. Not sure what to upgrade? Abundle (this episode's sponsor) is an easy go-to. ​Invest a few hundred bucks and assess ​your response from guests.

4. Kaizen: Continuous Improvement

Upgrades to your vacation rental properties should be viewed as investments. Not only are they generating better reviews, commanding a higher price per night, and setting you apart from the competitor down the street. But they are actually investment assets, increasing the overall value -- on paper -- of your business. 

5. The Cost of Doing Business

"The cost of doing business" is a phrase we heard from John several times. It can be easy to disregard small gestures like welcome snacks or courtesy drinks as additional expenses. But John views them as integral elements in the guest experience -- and so they are not added costs, but rather costs of doing business. Calculate these costs into your total nightly rate so that it's quite literally a line item in your business expenses.

6. A Different Kind of ROI

One of the biggest “disrupting” factors about the vacation rental industry is that many hosts define success in ways other than cash flow. This “lifestyle” element of the business — getting to meet new people, pursuing passions, creating one’s own schedule — changes the terms of the playing field. It means hosts are making decisions through a different lens and the results are surprising.

Not long ago I knew next to nothing about Marbella as a vacation destination. I knew it was in Southern Spain and I knew it was on the coast. That’s about it. So when I arrived at the nearby Malaga train station from an amazing night in Madrid, I’d be meeting Borja Rodriguez a native of the area and one of the most forward-thinking vacation rental professionals in Spain.  I was pretty intent on letting Borja tell me precisely what to do. In the end, he’d teach me much more than that.

We met at the gate of the rental where I’d be staying, one of about 30 properties Borja’s company Vacation Marbella manages with white gloves. The rental complex was located about 100 meters from the lapping waves of the Mediterranean and was mostly what one would expect from a European beach complex: neatly manicured grounds, elevators with requests that you dry off before entering, a gate with a guard who is sometimes there and sometimes not. What was totally unexpected, however, about my vacation rental for the next few days was the level of standards and the business savvy Borja injects in pretty much everything he does.  

In a lot of ways, Borja represents a much greater trend of professionals in one industry leaving their well-paid jobs to get involved in the vacation rental movement full time. These people are finding the landscape of the profession that they thought they would do forever — in Borja’s case it was finance — changing in front of their very eyes and are therefore are encouraged to venture out and explore new, often-entrepreneurial lines of work. The vacation rental industry is such a good fit because it’s so new…nobody has been formally trained, and pretty much everyone got started accidentally…which opens up the door wide for opportunity and cross-pollination. In meeting the various friends, family, and colleagues who revolve around him — you sense that Borja’s adventuresome instincts seem to be rubbing off.

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