​The Year of Crouching Tiger

Watch why this isn't just another predictions piece and how to capitalize on the collective wisdom below >>

​​2018 is shaping up to be the most ​dramatic year in the history of our young vacation rental industry.

From more unpredictable listing site changes, to the heightened demands of the traveler, to the unending flood of new vacation rental properties on the market, 2018 will likely be the year that both fosters the most success stories and simultaneously forces the most departures from the industry.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (in addition to being a great film) is a Chinese proverb roughly translating to mean “talented or dangerous person hidden from view​” and it is the core theme running throughout each of this year's trends. The teapot with a tiger and dragon figurine is given as a gift to someone who has ​lots of potential but hasn’t achieved all of it yet.

​In ​this trends piece, you'll learn how ​so many of​ the things needed to succeed as independent vacation rental professionals in 2018 are hidden beneath (or in some cases, within) us. ​

But as with all VRMB advice, theory only gets you so far. So we have also zoomed in on the concrete actions that will determine ​the dragons who thrive in 2018 and those who ​do not. ​Convergence of the three fundamental factors will determine which side of that razor edge a company is on — no matter how many years they have been in business — ​continue as follow: 

To help you on this journey, VRMB has put together three important frameworks: Listing Site Independence (LSI), Listing Site Non-Dependence (LSnD), and Limited Edition (LTD). The convergence of these three models will help define a business’s marketing sustainability and longevity in their respective marketplace. If you have not watched any of these workshops, 2018 will be a great time to brush up.

​4 Stages of LSI

​5th Element of LSnD


​Throughout this piece, you will see how the ​intersection of ​LSI, LSnD, and LTD ​is not just a viable option for independent property owner and managers...it is arguably the ​only way forward. And the good news is that none of it requires extraordinary budgets or unusual skills: ​in 2018, ​the Crouching ​Tiger ​has everything we need inside of us to change.

​1. Food Experiences

​Using food trends in your area to attract more guests represents a whole new opportunity >>

Over-archingly, a vacation rental property’s greatest feature is its kitchen: the straightforward economical value proposition of not having to eat out every meal while on vacation is a great allure. ​And what makes succesful vacation rental ​​​businesses different from the Extended Stay Hotel down the street, is the character with which we frame our kitchen uses.

According to a survey by Harris Poll/Airbnb, a majority of travelers (54%) like to cook as well as eat out while traveling. So it should be no surprise that food is ​the centerpiece of ​this significant trend in 2018: integrating food culture — local recipes, ingredients, restaurants, and classes — into the vacation rental experience. ​

To capitalize on this trend, Airbnb recently rolled out a series of Youtube videos featuring “Holiday Recipes from Around the World.” Local tourism associations are also investing big in gastronomic marketing campaigns. And no matter where you happen to be located, local culinary tips, from Orlando to Okinawa, can be woven into a vacation rental’s fabric at very low cost. ​

Innovation Example

​Hacienda Antigua: Local Food Tours

​Hacienda Antigua​ is a vacation rental ​business in the hills overlooking Lo De Marcos, Mexico (approximately 1 hour from Puerto Vallarta) that realizes a guest's visit to Mexico is not complete without a full dive into it's culinary offerings. ​

Since ​they don't live in Mexico, ​​the Hacienda's proprietors, Kelley and Frank Sanchez, partner with local chefs to offer​ food tours, in which guests visit the local market, taste local delicacies, and bring ingredients back for preparation and dinner.​ 

​Fresh fish from the local fishermen (Photo: Sabrina Garay)

​Blackberries, rasberries, and strawberries at local market ​(Photo: Sabrina Garay)

​Local tortilla factory, ​watching corn transform into fresh tortillas (Photo: Sabrina Garay)

​Local food tours are a great way to ​support​ the local economy too​, ensuring that visitor's dollars reach the ​actual roots of the ​surrounding community, ​where money goes further. ​Their tours add great value to the guest's stay, without costing the host much time or money. They take advantage of the aforementioned ​cooking allure. ​And they are ​adaptable: for areas that don't have structured food tours, consider propositioning your local favorite chef or favorite caterer in town.

​Self-prepared ​dinner using local ingredients ​(Photo: Sabrina Garay)

Innovation Example

​Gastro-​Tourism Campaigns

​Many vacation destinations are ​experiencing flourishing culinary scenes, and since no one ​restaurant or establishment ​on its own is nearly as ​strong as the collective whole, tourism ministries like Catalonia, Spain (above) are increasingly effective.

​"Food trails" or ​maps designating food institutions of a certain niche, can act as perfect complimentary marketing materials for vacation rentals in 2018. A wonderful example of this is Donna Martinez, the owner of Sea Ranch Abalone Bay, who provides ​a Sonoma/Marin Cheese Trail a​s inspiration for her guests' visit to her region in California.  

​Richard Craft (aka. Crafty) the owner of 206 & 307 Mayan Princess in Port Aransas uses the Texas version of a ​food trail in the form of the Texas BBQ Trail to encourage people ​to make the trip from Dallas Fort Worth. And Dawn Shears, ​the vacation rental website ​developer (and passionate local food systems supporter) behind Red Spiral Hand​ uses her local Oregon Coast produce map to point out, "Many communities have not yet caught onto just how much demand there is for ​local food tourism and how much it can boost ​the local economy," Dawn says.



​Food maps are ​increasingly effective because they require relatively little time to put together (in some cases, just a Google search and some graphic design) and they compel visitors to indulge in the local food landscape, an experiential-based value proposition setting one property (or destination) apart from the rest. Choose an area of food that's particularly close to your stomach for bonus points!


Innovation Example

​​"The Future of Dining"

​EatWith, ​for some referred to as "the Airbnb of ​dining," allows travelers to connect with independent restauranteurs (ie. not conventional restaurants), making the food experience of any ​destination much more intimate, unique, and surprising. By merely providing ​the connection platform, EatWith has lowered the barriers to entry for independent and aspiring chefs, ​and it's​ making vacation memories that much more delicious. It's decentralizing the world of restaurants!

​While EatWith is still only in a limited number of cities worldwide, it's hard not to see the trend here, away from the big-money, mainstream restaurant ​chains and towards the little guys, the holes-in-the-wall, the ​under-represented recipes of any identity or culture. ​This business model is a perfect compliment to the world of vacation rentals, where guests are seeking something new and story-worthy, and hosts want to suggest something unique.  

What To Do: ​The Most Delicious Market Research

1. ​Dine

​Time for a delicious business expense for your tax write-offs: go explore all the food ​experiences your destination offers. Try new restaurants, meet new ​foodies, taste the new trends. If you don't live in your area, make a food-specific trip and prepare to gain a few pounds. 

2. ​Take Notes

​ ​Document the most ​​interesting food experiences in an educational way: the simplest form would be a PDF or Word document. For more adventuresome hosts, link up with an ​photographer/videographer/graphic designer and document your findings in a beautiful way.

3. ​Order Up!

​Once you're ready to share your findings with prospective guests, include the offer in a P.S. statement in all email correspondence. Include a blog post about your region's food. Send out an email to all former guests with the news. And consider linking up with the included businesses for extra traction. 

​2. Learning from Hotels

​Viewing the hotel industry as a goldmine of information and expertise >>

​For decades, vacation rental operators have proudly turned ​our noses at the hotel industry. From​ spite ​to legal ​attacks ​to sheer competitive spirit, the conventional world of hotels has traditionally been the enemy that independent vacation rental owners and managers ​have found it unifying to rally against.

But as a consequence of vacation rentals' meteoric rise — with more newcomers than ever before choosing vacation rentals when they travel — 2018 will represent an important turning point for how ​owners and managers view, engage with, and learn from hotels.

​The hotel industry has spent decades perfecting the art of the guest stay and finally vacation rental professionals can tap into their treasure trove of findings. No longer is it prudent ​to ignore hotels. Attending hotel-industry events, reading hotel-specific whitepapers, ​and utilizing ​​the following kinds of examples ​can turn ​this mentality into real ​action. 

Innovation Examples​

​Hotel-Tested Products

​Because the vacation rental industry is so new and undeveloped, ​there have ​never been many options for the vacation rental owner or manager to ​utilize​ ​the pantheon of ​time-tested hotel-​approved products, primarily because of the cost-structure of the distribution companies: ​a client purchasing sheets for ​two or twenty vacation rental properties simply ​was never​ the right fit for hotel ​supplier business models. ​

But ​companies like Abundle ​(also sponsors of A Sense of Place! Woohoo!) are ​beginning to change that. 

A subsidiary of the American Hotel Register, one of the largest hotel supply companies in the world, Abundle ​pivots ​to open up over a century of hospitality ​research and relationships to​ ​aspiring vacation rental professionals. ​Hotel-quality sheets, individually-packaged soaps and shampoos, business travel kits​. Abundle is like the secret back door that all savvy vacation rental professionals ​can use to get ahead in hospitality.

​Custom Branded Products

​Traditional hotels have always recognized the need for long-term branding, yet in ​these, the early days of the vacation rental movement, many have overlooked its importance, opting instead for quick marketing solutions in the form of listing sites.

But in 2018, with the ​rapidly-changing listing site landscape, getting a logo and building ​one's own identity ​will be more important than ever before. Weaving that logo into everything you do is the natural next step. It's a traditional small business best practice, but just now in 2018 ​it is really hitting the vacation rental industry hard.

Where ​can you find​ this stuff?

Attend most any vacation rental industry event and you'll ​meet Steve Zimmerman and his family company Beach House Logos​ ​selling custom-monogrammed products such as coozies, beach bags, ​mugs, towels and the like. ​In 2018, these are small but hugely impactful investments in your personal brand, every dollar of which creates a slightly more valuable business asset (and better reviews). 

What To Do: ​Double Down on Your Personal Style

1. ​Define

​Decide what magazine your property(s) belongs on the cover of, then ​use a company like NetMenCorp, where $150 gets you unlimited revisions and a top-notch final ​logo to evoke that formal hotel feeling. Mention VRMB and you get a free style guide too!

​2. Test

​Set aside a budget for some experimentation with ​products that fall under your travel brand and have worked in ​the world of hotels for decades. ​Custom robes, ​luggage racks, durable yet luxurious sheets. ​Put them in your rentals free of charge.

​3. ​Invest​​​​

Choose one hotel learning point you really enjoy and implement it in your business. If it comes at an extra cost, increase your nightly rate by a few bucks to compensate. Commit to use it for a period of 6 months and document the amount of time/money the full upgrade will cost.

​4. ​Inquire

​All the best marketing experiments have follow-up. Be sure to alert your guests about ​your hotel-quality investment and ask them what they think! Working ​guests in on your evolving ​professional brand ​earns underdog points too. At the mid-year mark, re-assess whether this upgrade is providing great value.

​3. Revert to Old-Fashioned

​The latest cutting-edge ​trend is actually a testament of ​old >>

​According to Forbes, vinyl record sales in 2017 neared $1 billion for the first time this millennium. Board games (tabletop games) raised more than six times more money than video games in crowdfunding platforms. ​Many of today’s consumers just want to own something that they can hold in their hands. ​In a virtual world, that is appearing to be a new luxury...again. 

​Much of the vacation rental industry’s growth can be attributed in some way to technology: from smart locks to online booking software to same-day deliveries of that pesky missing bottle opener, the more advanced technology gets, the easier it is to operate a world class vacation rental business. ​But this amazing new digital world opens up some ripe, counter-intuitive opportunities for differentiation: specifically, going the opposite way of modernization and reverting back to the classics.

Old-fashioned gestures such as handwritten notes, in-person check-ins, and small, meaningful gifts are a throwback to the trust and relationships of bygone era. They provide the kind of tactile physical experience that has ​begun to get lost in ​travel. And the old-fashioned is such a perfect fit because the majority of the vacation rental industry’s stakeholders know (and love) ​it fondly.

​We're not sure if this is just a cultural moment or a tipping point, but ​reverting to old-fashioned -- the gestures that cannot be accelerated or mass-produced -- is not just a defense mechanism for independent owners and manager in the face of large-scale commodification: it’s re-emerging as the bleeding edge for ​vacation rental leaders of all generations. 

Innovation Examples

​WOW Moments

​Linda Sylvester and Amy Grant of Great Vacation Retreats in Kauai, Hawaii sit down with their staff once a week to outline the incoming guests, and to figure out a unique gift that can be tailored to each arrival. ​The team at GVR recognized the overdosing of digital interactions, ​and the growing interest and enthusiasm for cutting back on digital time and focusing more on person-to-person interactions -- gestures that could not be replicated or automated. 

​A welcome gift for a guest at Great Vacation Retreats

If their plane is late, guests might find breakfast waiting for them in the fridge. If they're arriving to Hawaii for the first time, a hand-crafted old-school lei at the airport. The sole goal of these WOW moments is to WOW the guest -- to exceed expectations: nothing more. ​Oftentimes, they find it has great marketing ​impact too. ​

? [Watch Linda and Amy's Wow Moments ​In Action]​

​Family Heirlooms

Debra Haddock, the proud owner of Casale Pratto delle Cocchinelle in Umbria, Italy, is someone who recaptures ​the old fashioned characteristics, feel and value ​in almost everything she does. At first, Debra was hesitant to bring antique handmade quilts from her family's homestead in Mississippi...but when she did, all her guests started raving about them and ask thousands of questions. So Debra "smuggled" back to Italy her family's hand embroidered pillow cases too.

​Around the holiday time, Debra places 'Umbrian born' chocolates called 'Baci' on the pillow ​(bonus points as they ​are designed by a local Umbrian lady). ​And even simple things like linens at Debra's Casale are old-fashioned: she's frequently interrogated: how ​do you get the linens to smell so fresh? "Simple marsiglia soap and line dried...here we've got wind power!" Debra says.

? [Watch Debra's Old-Fashioned At Work]

​Personalized Welcome Beverages

John Oden is the owner of Heidtke House, a contemporary ranch home about 15 minutes from downtown Nashville, TN. Prior to arriving, John asks each of his guests what their favorite beverage is -- he then gifts it to them when they arrive.

This "costs" John about $20-40 per booking, but he views the money more as an investment in the whole package that the guest is purchasing when they book his home. He gets reviews frequently about this gesture, which, along with the hand-written notes he presents to each guest, evoke an era of hospitality lost. 

What To Do: ​Turn Back The Clock!

1. ​Brainstorm

​Sit down​ and identify some gestures or products that you remember from ​your childhood: things that have been all but lost in these frantic modern times. Things people don't take the time to do anymore...​but they really should. Watch an old movie or two, envision your rental existing 50 years back.

2. ​Choose

​. Choose one old-fashioned gesture to work into your business. Don't try for all of them or you'll never really do any of them. Either implement it yourself (if you're the host) or train an individual (cleaning staff, maintenance manager) to ​implement it for you. If you cannot think of anything, buy $500 worth of puzzles and board games.

3. ​Survey

​For the first few months of guests, follow-up after their stay and ask what they thought of your old-fashioned gesture. Tell them you're experimenting with it, and you're wondering if it made a difference...this is a great chance to also build a relationship with them for future stays.

4. ​Assess​​​​

​After a certain period, you should be able to confidently decide whether or not your gesture is adding value to the guest's stay. If it's working, keep doing it. If it's not working, revert back to step 2. And remember, the less replicable a gesture or investment, the better it will defend ​you from competition.

Enter your text here...

​4. Local Partnerships

​If we don't solve our problems, then who will? If not now, then when?

​Partnerships with local businesses or freelancers have always been important in the vacation rental industry, because they present win-win-wins for hosts, their travelers, and the organizations they link up with.

But in 2018, these partnerships will go beyond “casual, unplanned, and convenient" — they ​need to become organized, deliberate, and professional. 

Vacation rentals tout themselves as small businesses that are good for communities, but it’s time to really step up the game and make sure that vacationer dollars are landing in the right hands, that community challenges are being directly addressed, and that everyone is doing their little part to create a long-term sustainable outcome for everyone involved. 

In 2018, vacation rental owners and managers must do what needs to be done in their local communities, or accept the undesirable result of where they are headed. 

​The Star Throwers

​Socially-conscious vacation experiences are on the rise: activities that go beyond just lounging by the pool, these local opportunities give travelers the chance to participate in a meaningful cause and give their vacation more purpose.

The Star Throwers is a quietly growing collective of vacation rental owners and managers who are ​not content just to profit from their businesses: they're picking up the slack and mending the societal safety net that has been left to fray by choosing unique solutions in ​their respective communities. As opposed to waiting on the sidelines while traditional institutions may or may not act, Star Thrower solutions involve organizing and taking action directly and weaving their cause into their business:

Bob Garner of Casal Dei Fichi in Le Marche, Italy is dedicated to "combating climate change, one plate at a time," with an initiative that offers guests deals at local restaurants, discounted bills that are then donated to Treedom, a platform that plants trees around the world.

? [Watch Bob's ​Treedom Star Throwing]

And it isn't just vacation rental hosts who are participating: vendors can too. Dawn Shears of the vacation rental website development firm Red Spiral Hand is passionate about food security. Her Star Thrower initiative is all about urban gardening: committing a percentage of all vacation rental website ​revenue towards the actual building of local gardens and the education on how to sustain them.

​Pat Styles is the owner of The Coolwater, a cluster of vacation rental villas located in Kamala, on Phuket Island, in Thailand. Pat found it startling that a collection of minority groups, referred to as Hill Tribes, were ​too remote to get most government support. ​His Star Thrower initiative​ ​uses a portion of the income ​from the villas ​to support the children of these villages by giving them important supplies. 

​Curated Local Tours

Partnerships with local businesses or freelancers have always been important in the vacation rental industry, because they present win-win-wins for hosts, their travelers, and the organizations they link up with. 

The world of alliances is nothing exceptionally new to hospitality, but in 2018, these partnerships will go beyond “casual, unplanned, and convenient" — they will become organized, deliberate, and even ​profitable for vacation rental businesses. Vacation rentals tout themselves as small businesses that are good for communities, but ​2018 will show that it’s time to really step up the game and make sure that vacationer dollars are landing in the right hands, that community challenges are being directly addressed, and that everyone is doing their little part to create a long-term sustainable outcome for everyone involved.

​Vespa food tour through Rome, curated by Treasure Rome

​In Rome, Henrietta Kiss, the mind behind Treasure Rome, offers a fleet of insider experiences -- like the Vespa food tour, which reveals some of the less-obvious (but no less delicious) delicacies of the city -- ​tours that can be booked directly through her reservations specialist.

? [Watch Henrietta's Vespa Food Tour​]

​Wine tasting in Ensenada, Mexico curated by Blue Water Vacation Homes

​A trip to San Diego is not complete without an afternoon in Mexico wine country. Book a vacation rental with Bluewater Vacation Homes and you'll have the chance to "add on" this or a number of other adventures ​(at an additional cost). The ease with which one can do any number of tours with Bluewater adds great value to the nightly rate.

? [Watch Bluewater's Mexico Wine Tour]

​Rafting in Blue Ridge, Georgia curated by Southern Comfort Cabin Rentals

​Rivers run like lifelines through Blue Ridge, Georgia, so it's no surprise that a choice to go white-water rafting is a simple reservation any booking with Southern Comfort Cabin Rentals can curate in an instant. Here's SCCR's CJ Stam enjoying the partnership building process, first-hand.

? [Watch CJ's White Water Rafting Scene]


It's ​easy to call the vacation rental industry fragmented, but what are you doing about it? 

Debi Hertert is not just a concerned vacation rental professional, she's someone who decided to do something about her concerns. Along with her husband Rob, they're the owners of Oregon Shearwater and the creators of Host2Host, ​an Oregon-registered, membership-based, non-profit 501(c)6 trade association​ that seeks to protect and enhance the interests of Oregon’s home-sharing host community. ​

​Now in their third year, Debi and Rob's Host2Host aims to unite ​independent host's voices, skills and neighborhoods, ​to enhance their collective hosting. And the voice is getting heard! "Last week ​we were in the Mayor's office," Debi says, "and tomorrow we'll be back in City Hall. H2H is developing a presence with our local government!"

What To Do: ​Formalize Your Local Partnerships

1. ​Connect

​Schedule a sit-down with a local partner business, organization, foundation...etc. And outline the way your relationship works: no money needs to trade hands, but the formality of sitting down and having that conversation should make responsibilities clear. 

2. ​Officialize

​Take a photo of this meeting ​or document the relationship in the form of a blog post or email newsletter: share personal information about the local partner and why they're such a great fit for visitors to the region. Reference back to your agreement around the 6-month mark to reassess.

3. ​Replicate

​Gauge the impact of your local partnership and suggest that other vacation rental and businesses forge similar arrangements. Quantify the amount of "good" you've accomplished and envision what it might look like replicated multi-fold. Be consistent in your application.

​5. Blockchain

​Blockchain is a new technology ​(note: not to be ​mistook for​ crypto currency) that appears set to decentralize much of the business and travel world in the coming decade. In 2018, versing ourselves on how ​blockchain can be used is a crucial step to being in the right place when ​implementation is in full swing. Here's a super TED video to understand the basics...

For those unfamiliar, the ​blockchain can be best explained as follows: in a game of backyard football, all the players on both teams know the score at any given time...and nobody can change the score without convincing everyone there's a good reason for doing so. Blockchain is ​essentially a ​ledger of records (​blocks), which are linked to one another and secured using cryptography. The only way this ledger can be changed -- ​a ledger with ​the potential to host smart contracts, payments, and identification/security mechanisms -- is through a collective arbitration process. It's a way to remove middle men and to ​shift more power to the individual stakeholders. 

The following trend overview is written by Inner Circle ​blockchain enthusiast, Andrei Jagodin, Co-Founder of StayBit Booking Platform

Blockchain has applications in the vacation rental industry on many levels, but let's consider the most prominent use cases:

  1. Blockchain can increase trust by programming money flows and giving protection to both guests and hosts. 
  2. Blockchain can reduce transaction costs by using crypto currency instead of fiat money and by letting Smart Contracts resolve most common conflicts.
  3. Blockchain can enable vacation rental professionals to self-organize in a decentralized way in order to standardize business processes, for example, listing reviews and verification (previously possible only with large-scale organizations).

At this time none of the short term rental platforms utilize blockchain technology yet. You may find only single cases when owners accept Bitcoin or Ether as an alternative payment solution. However, several startups were founded during the last year for the purpose of bringing Blockchain to the vacation rental industry: Beetoken​, CryptoBnb​, Lockchain​, StayBit​ and Zangll.

We have good reason to believe that when blockchain becomes ​more widely deployed and adopted by the general public -- something that seems to be universally agreed upon by tech ​experts --​ then the vacation rental industry will be way more appealing in the eyes of the customers than conventional hotels.

Innovation Examples

​Bee Token

​Beenest is the home sharing platform of The Bee Token: in their words, "a decentralized marketplace where hosts make additional income, guests find unique accommodations and mediators resolve disputes quickly and easily." Again, in their words, ​"this blockchain-based start-up creates and preserves value for hosts, guests, arbiters, and developers within a decentralized autonomous organization ​and offers offers distinct advantages over the predominant, centralized home sharing model."

In summary, if it was to reach some level of critical mass, Bee Token could help take the power out of the hands of the few, and put it into the hands masses.

​Winding Tree

​Winding Tree, in their own words, is a "blockchain-based decentralized open-source travel distribution platform. We make travel cheaper for the end user, while making it more profitable for suppliers." ​

“A lot of people are asking me whether the online booking sites or GDSs have to go, and the answer is no,” said Winding Tree's Maksim Izmaylov in Channel Shock, The Future of Travel Distribution, by Skift. “They don’t have to. What has to go is the rent-seeking business models, the abuse of power that they’re exercising and that they are able to exercise today. The path between the ability to exercise monopolistic power, and actually doing that, is very, very short."

What To Do: ​Familiarize Yourself with Blockchain

1. ​Learn

​Because this technology is so new, nothing is going to radically change the industry over night. But as with all great 'Crouching Tigers,' staying aware of the near horizon is key. So read up a bit on blockchain and verse yourself with the idea. 

2. ​Update

​Because the blockchain landscape is likely going to change rapidly, add a Google Alert and follow it in the news. Stay roughly abreast ​of its progress -- and the progress of companies like we mention above -- try explaining ​blockchain to other people to get a better idea of what it is yourself.

3. ​Ready To Pounce

​Soon will come a day when some kind of blockchain solution is introduced to the vacation rental industry, and when it is, ​consider ​becoming an​ early adopter. Becoming fluent in blockchain ​today ​means capitlizing on it down the road.

6. Commitment to ​Visuals

​Doing ​your vacation rental justice, visually >>

​10 years ago, a vacation rental needed a great description and a few decent photos to garner bookings. 5 years ago, a set of professional or “architectural” photos became the gold standard. And in 2018, the standards for visual literacy in vacation rental marketing have been ratcheted up even further.

​Thanks to increased competition and improvements in technology, the independent owner or manager who wants to get ahead of the curve ​can invest​ in high-quality ​visuals — both in their marketing and guest communications. High-quality visuals can take many forms, -- graphic design, photography, video -- and the pursuit of them is really never-ending. 

​Video in particular is poised to make a great breakout this year. Cisco reports that video traffic will be 82% of all IP traffic by 2020. According to Facebook, in five year's time, Facebook will be all video too.

In addition to its ability to communicate new experiences in quick succession, video is also incredible cheap paid advertising material these days. To jump on ​the video trend, consider our show: A Sense of Place, which meets new destinations through vacation rentals and their hosts.

Does this mean that everyone has to create a vacation rental show? Of course not. A high-definition webcam for video emails, hiring a local film freelancer for special events, even exploratory videos in town with your iPhone: video is one of those secret weapons that we should all be using in 2018 to better connect with our guests.

​Calling All Influencers​​​

Kim Bergstrom of Vacation Rentals Manzanita learned the power of influencers the fun way. She hosted Liz and Sam from The Pretty Life Girls blog along with their families for a few days of relaxation in Manzanita, Oregon, in exchange for a wonderful write-up. This kind of exchange is very common in the world of PR and as vacation rental hosts, we hold a very valuable and sumptuous trade offering.

​PLG Shot of Kim's block from the beach

​The result was more than just great ​media assets: hosting the influencers meant seeing ​Kim's home and her area through fresh new eyes. It gave her photos to use in future promotion, perspectives to consider for future shoots, and actual human models (!!!) which, when done right, can convey great emotion and feeling. 

​PLG in ​Kim's kitchen

​PLG in Kim's bed

​Reaching out to influencers who specialize in your kind of product, takes a little bit of work, but in Kim's case, ​they found here, and it was totally worth it. ​If you decide to invite an Instagrammer or travel blogger during the low season, chances are, the nights ​could be empty ​otherwise!

​Drones More Accessible than Ever Before

Sibylle Kim of Villa Ausblick had great visuals dropped into her lap when Peter Labick, a 16-year-old guest at her vacation rental in Vermont, ​reached out​ post-departure with an offer to touch up the gorgeous drone photos he took. Amazed with the quality and accessibility of drone photography, Sibylle keenly took the young entrepreneur up on his offer. "I have a high-school freshman son​," she responded to Peter, "and this may just inspire him. He is very techy-minded like yourself, but as of right now more into robotics. Well, let's talk business."

Drone shot of Villa Ausblick by ​Peter Labick

​Reaching out at the local arts college or posting an ad on Craigslist is likely to find someone with a drone that can capture the view of your vacation rental like nothing else. ​

​Finding "The ​Money Shot"

​Kristie Wolfe's Big Island Treehouse, Hawaii

In the photo above, you can see Kristie Wolfe's Big Island Treehouse, a limited edition vacation rental that's booked all the way into 2019. Kristie built this vacation rental with ​one single, striking vision in mind: ​"the money shot" or featured photo captures it all: it stands apart from all other listings on Airbnb Hawaii. 

​We refer to that one single spectacular photo as "the money shot" and in 2018, consider hiring a photographer to upgrade yours. Time of the day, day of the year, seasons, lighting...all these things play into the perfect picture. But when you've got it, you've got it. A strong money shot will increase your pageviews and inquiries, guaranteed. In 2018, consider doing like travel magazines do and splurging on a world-class photographer with one single ​outcome in mind.

What To Do: ​Diversify Your Visuals

1. ​Diversify

​Having one set of great photos is now the bare minimum. Commit in 2018 to hiring an artist to film, photograph, or graphically depict your vacation rental or your area in a new and unique light.

2. ​Get The Pieces

​Be sure to ask for ​the artwork's raw files for future use. If video, this might be the unused b-roll, if graphic design perhaps the individual icons. Save these visuals on your desktop and play around with them throughout the year.

3. ​Barter

​Using your low season to host any kind of ​visual artist is key in 2018: whether it's with an Instagrammer, a Youtuber, or just a travel blogger, give these folks priority and lock those dates in now.

Conclusion & Requests

This was a really fun ​piece to create, mainly because it involved ​going through so many success stories and seeing so many smiles. ​Just about all the individuals featured are Inner Circle members -- pushing the boundries of what's possible and what's realistic -- and I am so proud to call them colleagues!​ I can confidently say that today, more than ever before, vacation rental professionals are in the business of creating smiles. 

​It looks like 2018 will be hugely successful for some VR professionals and hugely disappointing for others: ​and ​an increasingly less amount of people​ in between. ​All "Crouching Tigers" ​have something special within them -- but ​sometimes ​they need nudges to get started: ​this year, enjoy realizing that ​you are no longer ​"starting" ​your vacation rental businesses, ​you are ​officially "running" ​it! ​Tough times call for ​tough measures. But be honest with yourself (even if that means taking a step back) and be confident in your pursuits (no matter what they entail): you'll appreciate it down the line.

Lastly, we are always keen to welcome newcomers to our community. What have you noticed about the industry as we head into 2018? What are some of the struggles that you feel? What are some of the areas you've felt yourself and your vacation rental business start to grow? Feel free to email matt [at] vrmb.com with the subject "TRENDS INPUT" along with your thoughts -- I ​read everything 🙂

Matt Landau
Founder, VRMB