The various individuals, companies, efforts, and ideas that have been carving out their streams in the landscape for the past two decades will, in 2019, converge to form their most cohesive and identifiable shape as a collective river -- earning vacation rentals a mainstream seat at dinner table discussions -- establishing a permanent place in future of travel.
2019 will represent the most singular and cohesive "voice" of vacation rentals for a few reasons. First, the industry's stakeholders. A worldwide movement does not form without passionate, intelligent, and hard-working ambassadors working towards the same value proposition: "come stay in a spacious home for less than the cost of a traditional hotel."
Because most stakeholders found their success in vacation rentals from the ground-up, they have a very firmly rooted understanding of how it should be done right, how much time it takes to do it right, and what should happen when things go wrong. Having the guts to stand up to influences who dare to go against these fundamentals -- and protecting their backyard at all costs -- has played a key role in the formation of healthy streams. Now it's those same courageous stakeholders who get to enjoy the collective force of a river.
Second, the rise of Airbnb has inserted the idea of alternative lodging in the public forum. Travel journalists, always on the quest to consolidate grand ideas into simple wording, are enamored with these 6 letters. Business thought-leaders go bonkers for this story of disruption ("it started with an air matress!!!) that's challenging all the conventional power structures. And most importantly, consumers can browse, book, and experience the Airbnb style of vacation rental quickly, easily, and with less doubt than ever before.
Airbnb has earned this clout. And major marketing dollars by companies like Expedia (HomeAway) and Booking.com are rounding out the sound, setting up 2019 to break all exposure records: more travelers (who haven't done so in the past) will consider vacation rentals for their next trip in 2019: the category awareness will reach its all-time peak.
The third big reason vacation rental streams will form their river in 2019 is the convenient rise of "experiential travel" -- a trend towards experiencing a destination by engaging with its history, people, culture, food and environment. This trend away from all-inclusive resorts and bubbled tour busses is less a singular choice or standalone purchase and more a style or way of exploring. Seeing as though the homebase for any kind of vacation is the accommodations, for experiential travelers vacation rentals emerge as an ideal fit: providing the kind of access to a destination once reserved for celebrities and VIPs.
Throughout this piece, you will find a handful of trends that fall under the umbrella of "when streams became a river" that are designed not just to give you specific examples but action items -- to get ahead of the game.
Controlling the foundation makes all the difference >>
"Own the racecourse, not just the racehorse." This concept by internet marketing maven James Schramko assumes that all small business owners put in the hard work -- but the individuals who have built the right infrastructure beneath the hard work get to benefit the most. In addition to owning the racehorse (your business), this year vacation rental leaders will begin to find ways to own the entire racecourse compound.
Many vacation rental professionals are naturally great content creators because they possess great insight about their areas and they are generous in sharing that knowledge with others online. However many hosts are not getting the most out of their time and energy because they are investing it solely in third party platforms.
With some best practices, hosts can create their own sustainable racecourse -- beneath their own business -- and earn control and compound interest (on that very same amount of effort) for years to come. This is not to say social media and listing sites aren't important: in fact, they are arguably the most valuable tools to modern day small business and should be leveraged fully. But because the terms and the control of these platforms lies not in our hands, our pages on those platforms should be leveraged as tools to build a greater asset. They are not the asset itself.
If you are having any challenges or frustrations "owning the racecourse" consider this way to dismantle the intimidation..
A fantastic innovator in the "Own the Racecourse" field is Great Vacation Retreats, out of Kauai, Hawaii. Carey Sprenger (the team's newsletter wizard) sends out monthly newsletters as good as any hotel you will ever find -- these newsletters are made from the perfect blend of local information and personality, and they keep Kauai front of mind for anyone considering a stay.
GVR's newsletter goes out to all their former guests, neighbors, and potential/future guests once a month. And since GVR owns and controls the list 100% there are no limits to the trust they can build, the vacations they can impact, and the repeat/referral bookings they can close. The office dog Horton even makes regular appearances!
One big part of 'owning the racecourse' is having access to your guest's details, specifically email addresses, so that you can follow-up post-departure, stay in touch via newsletters like GVR (above), and ultimately be front-of-mind for the precious repeat or referral booking. But this can be tricky because many OTAs withhold or mask that address.
Hosts in 2019 will take the lead from vacation rental innovators like Richard Craft of Crafty's Beach Retreat in Port Aransas, who uses tactics like "Text to Join," a feature of many email marketing platforms. By asking guests in his vacation rental groups to SMS text "CRAFTYS" to a certain phone number, they opt-in to his email list for updates, promotions, and special gifts.
Similarly, services like Vacation Attendant by Silicon Travel, (aka. Wifi for Property Managers) are also carving the way towards the Own the Racecourse journey. This company places a special router in your vacation rental prompting a Sign-in Screen where each guest has to agree to the terms of service using their email address as signature to get access to the Internet (like in a hotel). Check out the example below:
The service can do a whole lot more -- like tell you the amount of devices in the home, adhere to GDPR guidelines, and remove legal obligation in the case guests are using the internet inappropriately. But the core remains true: owners and managers finding creative ways to bring OTA traveler email addresses "onto their own court" will be a big trend in 2019.
Unlike the myriad of negative developments for Facebook in 2018, Facebook Groups may be one of the best things going in 2019. From a connectivity perspective, Facebook Groups helps vacation rental professionals unite together to fight for fair regulation, developer better business practices, and even source local services.
But Facebook Groups are starting to present impediments to control for group owners. Changing algorithms to the feeds without warning, inserting unwanted advertisements, lack of ownership of content...etc. In 2019, the trend will see online communities who have been using Facebook Groups switch to open-source community or forum software such as Xenforo (Note: this is what VRMB uses for the Inner Circle) where the groups administrators/owners can control 100% of the activity and decisions. This transition or migration is not easy and it will likely discourage some members. But if the creation of a virtual group is the first step to a more sustainable and united vacation rental future, transferring that group onto an independently owned and controlled platform is a close second.
A custom website used to be something only advanced vacation rental professionals would invest in. But in 2019, it's officially standard (the new business card) for all "own the racecourse" believers: big or small, luxury or rustic, city or beach, new or seasoned vet. A custom website is simply the online real estate a modern-day-hospitality business needs to be respected, trusted, and discoverable online. It is the place a guest (who Googles the name of your vacation rental after seeing you on a listing site) goes to learn more and book direct. It is an investment in the asset that is your vacation rental business as a whole.
Carter Smith of The Gills Group knew he needed a website, but wasn't willing to put up something that didn't reflect the style of his vacation rental fleet; The Cottages in Bailey Island, Maine. What he launched in 2018 is likely to become a standard for all growing vacation rental businesses in 2019: a piece of online real estate (however simple or elaborate you choose) that reflects the magic of your home(s).
For those daunted by the idea of creating their own website, fear not: open-source platforms like WordPress are easy to get up and running and turn-key platforms like MyVR and Lodgify and OneRooftop -- while not 100% own the racecourse compliant (seeing as though a third party still controls the terms) -- are magic for any host who needs the nudge. For those concerned they don't have enough information to fill up a robust website, no problem: a simple 4-page website (home, property(s), contact, and info) will do for starters.
Carter Smith gets bonus points for having a blog on the site, titled 101Lobsters: My love letter to all things Maine. In addition to being informative, the blog is a brilliant window into the personality of the host. It gets you extremely excited about your visit to Maine. And it also explains how to make Carter's famous lobster Bloody Mary. 'Nuff said.
The crux of "owning the racecourse" lies in building on solid ground. This means finding the right platform or technology that you can control 100% and leave (or switch in/out) with minimal impact. Look beyond ease of use and popularity in favor of open source options where you have full control for the long term.
Building your racecourse takes time, but don't get frustrated. Every phase of progress when you 'own the racecourse' is worth a multiple of the same unit of progress made on a third party platform. Patience is a virtue in constructing your racecourse. Confidence in the big picture is key.
Once you begin to pick up steam with your 'racecourse' the opportunities become plentiful. Unhindered by third party rules, regulations, and adjustments, you can begin to make bigger bets and investments that trace directly back to your bottom line.
The vacation rental niche is hard, but not impossible >>
As streams converge into rivers, there can be turbulence. Not everything is smooth sailing. Observing the growth of vacation rental streams, the last few years have seen a massive influx of money and attention towards the space as a whole, but this is not to say that all of the beneficiaries have succeeded.
In fact, there have been a plethora of examples in which big players did not succeed at all like expected. With the vacation rental industry still in its infancy stages, 2019 will see this trend continue — with many speculators still stumped, with venture capital and large corporations still frustrated that the niche is too hard to grip. Too difficult to conquer.
This inconquerability should validate the jobs of the independent owners and managers: reminding them that while the industry is indeed growing up, their place in it is indeed something special. After all, these stakeholders control the inventory -- the properties, the final product. For many of these people, 2019 will be the encouragement they need to double-down on the intricate solutions that they have perfected.
And for other people, realizing that vacation rentals are too hard to operate (or at least way harder than it used to be) will mean bowing out of the industry or pivoting to a new business model. Look for fuel so you don't burn out.
When any new industry is evolving there are growing pains: awkward, uncomfortable, oftentimes ugly lessons that can be avoided (or in most cases mitigated) by industry associations that aim to unite and represent true stakeholders. 2018 showed great leaps in leadership from location-based associations like Northwest Vacation Rental Professionals (NWVRP), Alojamento Local em Portugal (ALEP), and Host2Host in Oregon, "by hosts, for hosts," which will celebrate its first birthday in 2019: a small sign of what's to come.
Another great example is the Vacation Rental Managers Association (VRMA) which is poised to have its most successful and impactful year in 2019, uniting the independent manager voices into something cohesive that everyone can be proud of.
Lastly, VRMA's support of fearless industry leader Amy Hinote and her inaugural Vacation Rental Women's Summit shows that it also knows how to lead from behind. As a result such building momentum, 2019 will see more emboldened vacation rental professionals interpreting hospitality with their own personal twists and continuing to develop new solutions to difficult problems -- never before addressed at scale.
Expect to see these associations forge new bridges that allow members to maintain integrity in the professional service they offer and to maintain their general independence, free from control of third parties.
One of the biggest threats to our "small" industry is bigger powers attempting to subdue it. And fair regulation is one of those topics that has challenged many vacation rental communities around the world. And unfortunately, no one individual can fight for fair regulation alone. Thanks to several landmark victories in the vacation rental public policy debate in 2018, momentum to replicate these trends is sure to pick up speed in 2019:
This signature petition to overturn San Diego's ban on traditional vacation rentals obtained DOUBLE the amount of signatures needed. The local alliance of vacation rental managers, Share San Diego, deserves the credit for leading the effort. And specifically, Jonah Mechanic from Seabreeze Vacation Rentals who led the alliance. According to observers, the San Diego hosts never backed down; never lost enthusiasm; never stopped engaging with council and the community.
Seattle, which suffers from housing issues, worked for several years to finalize fair and effective policies that legalize traditional vacation rentals. This was a big win in an arena that the vacation rental industry faces serious headwinds, and that is urban markets. The Seattle Short Term Rental Alliance, led by Michelle Aquavella, shepherded the Coalition. 2018 fostered rational and effective policies for the industry as a whole, paving the way for more big cities in 2019.
San Antonio had a very strong vacation rental law passed recently, which can serve as a model for medium sized cities around the US and abroad. Local property managers who came out in droves are pioneers in their own right.
Palm Springs saw a landmark win with 70% of local citizens voting to protect vacation rentals in August 2018. We Love Palm Springs and the team at Acme Vacation Rentals were instrumental in this historic vote.
Sometimes there are people behind the scenes making this industry tick who deserve some special recognition. And one of those people smack dab in the center of the "This is Hard" segment is Phil Minardi, the Head of Public Affairs at Expedia Group.
More than just doing great work and actively supporting all of the efforts above, Phil is a catalyzing professional who attends conferences, sits down to listen to people, and uses his influence for good. When I asked Phil what was the big lesson to remember going into 2019 with regards to fair regulation, he told me this:
"The biggest lesson for us all is that no victory — or loss — is forever. A good law today may change to a ban tomorrow; and a ban today can be overturned and become a model. The key — the lesson for us all — is that it matters that every local manager steps up to engage, share their story, reach out to their elected officials."
"No victory — or loss — is forever. A good law today may change to a ban tomorrow; and a ban today can be overturned and become a model."
Vacation rentals can forge the river in 2019 by stepping up and playing vital roles when their local communities need it most.
September, 2018 was the month of Hurricane Irma: a category 5 storm with wind gusts several hundred miles per hour that totaled everything the eye could see on St. John in the USVI. Irma’s winds blew off roofs and burned down forests. As if Irma wasn’t audacious enough, she was followed two weeks later by a second hurricane: hurricane Maria: another category 5. These two storms tried to destroy the island of St. John. And while it was seriously down, it was not out.
Karla Gustafson of Tropical Blessings, who was fortunate to have minor damage during the hurricanes, offered up her vacation rental to people the National Park Service for recovery work.
Karla along with her fellow vacation rental professionals and local community leaders eventually transitioned back into the tourism game supplying the St. John lodging and accommodations market with the only available inventory on the island: a pathway to a vital stream of income needed to recover. This was really hard, but vacation rentals figured it out.
One important part of thriving in a difficult environment is identifying the difficult stuff you do really well (or well enough!) So sit down and conclude what are the tiny, intricate, weird, or granular challenges that you have solved in your own unique way.
Be very cautious of bigger forces who tells you there is a better way to do "it." This is not to dissuade you from trying new solutions (in fact, learning from others in your position is hugely valuable). But do find a confidence that your route is not broken -- so you may not need to fix it.
Niches don't thrive without proactive stakeholders. So seek out chances to work with your community members: attend industry events: support good causes: and step up in times of need. Archiving or documenting your work can also be of great value so that others can replicate.
Since 2019 will be a most influential year for vacation rentals, it's important to keep your heads down and continue our great work. Don't get distracted, don't let hype or drama take you off your game. You've gotten this far -- there's little stopping you now.
Marketing vacations with a purpose to evokes aspiration >>
The broader travel world these days is abuzz with experiences — the intangible and immersive catchall for all sorts of new travel memories. Travelers want experiences, we are told. Travelers are ready to pay for experiences! And in 2019 vacation rentals are poised to be the perfect conduit for all of that.
But in 2019 vacation rental professionals will get more specific with their experience marketing: more detailed with their descriptions: more immersive with their visuals. And one of the easiest ways to do this is packaging trips with purpose: a thing to do, a skill to learn, a challenge to meet, a sight to behold, a reason for it all.
Pinpointing that purpose in a destination and communicating it in text, photos, and video is key to helping travelers envision themselves more clearly: trips with a purpose marketing also adds value and prestige to a nightly stay. Layer trips with a purpose on top of "a place to stay," and you begin to curate the kind of "experience" that travelers are seeking. Take advantage of the flexibility and agility of your small business (compared to the larger, more corporate infrastructure of the world's greatest boutique hotels) and implement this quickly for maximum effect.
Airbnb's marketing people are pioneers in the field of aspirational travel with a purpose. According to The Telegraph, they recently promoted the chance for four people to move to a small Italian village for a three-month Italian Sabbatical.
"They will be expected to become part of the fabric of the community and to help revive the village’s ailing fortunes. Like many places in Italy, particularly in the south, Grottole suffers from chronic depopulation. So many locals have left that the population is now down to 300 and there are around 600 empty homes in the town."
"The chosen candidates would enjoy an all-expenses-paid stay in the village, where they will be responsible for helping a local NGO, Wonder Grottole, revitalize the community. The successful applicants would be responsible for renovating buildings, maintaining the village’s vegetable garden and hosting Airbnb Experiences, which go beyond the usual bed and breakfast concept by incorporating tours and classes for visitors."
Looking for inspiration? Browse through Airbnb Experiences, where trips with a purpose are pretty much on tap.
Founded in 1979, Marathon Tours & Travel was the first innovator of travel services for runners. In partnership with hand-selected airlines, hotels and travel wholesalers, MTT crafts each trip around a marathon -- the anchor or "excuse" for exploring new cultures, spending time with family, and pushing one's self beyond the comfort zone.
In addition to a myriad of purposeful race trips, MTT proudly provides leadership to numerous philanthropic efforts (another powerful kind of purpose) that use running and travel to benefit those who need support as well.
One example is the Maasai Marathon in Kenya, which raises funds to pay high school tuition for Maasai women to further their education beyond the age of 13. Or the Antarctica Marathon, which raises funds for Oceanites (a non-profit scientific organization that monitors the effects of climate change and the impact of tourism on Antarctica and the planet as a whole). Or the Madagascar Marathon, which provides equipment for a local health clinic in a remote area in the south central highlands.
We filmed an upcoming episode of A Sense of Place with Virag Vantora of Katona Apartments in Budapest, Hungary. When Virag heard about my dates for visiting, she mentioned there was a marathon (and a half-marathon) taking place. This was not something she was necessarily promoting (nor something I had planned to attempt). But I signed up, and upon meeting the race coordinator I learned that marathon tourism and general running tourism is "a thing." But if your town doesn't have a marathon, just find some other race or sporting competition and promote that. It made for a most memorable experience.
Sensing some friction with US-Mexico relations, airline AeroMexico (the country's national carrier) unveiled a program called "DNA Discounts," which offers discounts on flights to Americans who can show by taking a test that they have Mexican DNA. The amount of the discount depends on the percentage of Mexican ancestry. For example, a person who has 15% Mexican heritage qualifies for 15% off. While the idea of exploring one's own cultural heritage may be more promotional here than a serious proposition, the trend itself is emerging...
In their own 2019 Trends piece, Lonely Planet argues that living in the information age, never have we had so many resources to explore our geneology. "Ancestry exploration has been given a new lease of life with the dawn of do-it-yourself DNA kits. You might be born and bred in your home nation, but your DNA may well reveal where you really come from. Naturally, curious travelers are using unexpected results as an excuse to book a trip."
According to Kristen Sarah, a blogger and YouTuber who was featured in that piece, "Right after finding out my DNA results and discovering I have Portuguese blood in me, I booked a ticket to Portugal to explore this beautiful land my ancestors once walked. When you discover that a part of you is found in a place you have never been to, you automatically feel a pull to it. It's like going on the ultimate global treasure hunt of self discovery."
When you hear environmental or eco-tourism, most people think rainforest trekking in Costa Rica or gorilla guides in Rwanda. But in a place like Yellowstone National Park, it's the reintroduction of wolves (and the fanatical fans that want a look) that is acting as the driver of ecological resurgence and winter tourism dollars. "Wolf Tourism," now adds $35 million a year into the local economy: a reminder that with the right context, any ecological virtue can be turned into a trip with a purpose.
In this wonderful piece on CBS News, "Yellowstone was the world's first national park, founded in 1872. And it remains one of the most visited; millions of people come here every summer, but they used to pretty much leave it to the wildlife in the winter, until the wolves came back. Now, reports of a wolf-sighting can produce a traffic jam along the one 50 mile stretch of road the park service keeps open in the winter. Visitors with spotting scopes gather in absolutely frigid weather for a momentary, long-distance view.
"Wolves are back in Yellowstone, for good," according to the piece. "People love this. You know, we live in an artificial world. It's stores, and cars, and roads, and buildings. Wolves are real. And people crave it. They love it. We almost have this thirst for something real now."
Jens Bachem of Caragh Lake House in Ireland is quite the innovation example of "trips with a purpose" with his Artist in Residence program. Once a year, Jens hosts arists in his low season (for free) who are encouraged to create and interact with the local community.
By hosting artist, educator, and "wild swimmer" Vivienne Rickman-Poole, Jens channeled the aspirational nature of art and creativity in future guests. His program even asks the artist to give a talk in town to anyone who'd like to attend.
"I’d been following Vivienne’s work for the past years now and have been enthralled by her images of the llyns, lakes and rivers of Snowdonia as well as her stunning ice-swimming photos from her time Mustarinda in Finland. Her photographic exploration of the more than 400 permanent bodies of water in Snowdonia has been listed by The Guardian as one of the “10 most inspiring adventures of 2016“; she was featured in the 2017 Portrait of Britain – the nation’s biggest photography exhibition showcasing the many faces of modern Britain."
Sit down and identify purposeful experiences that a) you as a vacation rental professional are passionate about or b) that your area is known for. Be as specific and granular as possible: Instead of learning to cook, identify the specific dish they will master. Instead of watching nature, identify the specific animal or phenomenon they'll see.
. Trips with a purpose are the tip of the experience sword. Look to various media (photos, videos, graphic designs) to help travelers envision what they will get. If you don't own these visuals, consider going out and creating them or hiring someone to create it for you. As with any new or aspirational ideas, visuals are keys to communication.
Gathering the right soundbytes from those who have already experienced your trips with a purpose helps fully connect the dots for future guests. With such a unique offering, diverse phrasing and descriptions "in someone else's words" -- in combination with the right visuals -- come in hugely valuable.
With such purposeful experiences, those who are interested will be hyper-interested. You are standing out in a crowd! Consider a mega blog post (like this one), groups online with niche interests, or pitching to journalists who cover similar topics. When packaged properly a "trip with a purpose" shines bright like the north star.
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Fusing technology with human touches >>
Digitization and automation is making vacation rental management easier and more efficient than ever before. 2019 will see best-in-class products and services give owners and managers the ability to focus on more meaningful tasks, operate more precisely, or just take more well-deserved load-off. And pretty much all vacation rental professionals are playing the long game here: assuming that all technology will get better with time.
But in addition to a movement towards certain technological tasks will be an equal yet opposite reaction towards doing other things manually. In years passed, some feared that technology might replace managers’ roles with technology, but the more immediate threat in 2019 is us behaving like technology. In a way, 2017 and 2018 replaced certain property management tasks with software because they were inefficient. But in 2019, the software is inefficient so managers will replace it with humans. And it will work!
As a response to feeling trapped behind screens, vacation rental professionals will begin to take more advantage of their small size, and double-down on the one-on-one interactions that technology tempts a larger lodging company to skip. Previously deemed inefficiencies like an in-person check-ins, hand-written notes, follow-up postcards, and hand-made anything are starting to be viewed as luxuries again.
In 2019, automation will continue to free hosts from the mundane and enable them to focus on more meaningful jobs (however they define that). In 2019, owners and managers will not reject technology, but embrace the innovations and mutate into a blend of something new.
When we look at skills that make vacation rental professionals successful, creativity -- previously considered a “soft skill,” requiring nothing more than a few brainstorms here and there -- has become one of the great traits differentiate us from larger, more conventional lodging.
The biggest minds in travel and business like to obsess over data and algorithms. But in doing so they learn that algorithm cannot replicate human creativity -- this creativity is very much the fuel that drives emerging industry. In 2019, it is the vacation rental owners and managers who possess the natural creativity to solve problems that machines and algorithms have not solved before...this is the big trend worth betting on.
One great example of this creativity at work is the team at Bluebird Day Vacation Rentals in Bend, Oregon. To make exploring the area fun, they challenge guests with the following instructions:
The map includes all kinds of discounts, freebies, and bonus deals at the local shops in town.
David Parker of Coral Penthouse in Rio de Janeiro aims to meet all of his guests in-person briefly upon arrival. He finds himself answering questions that were pending, making local introductions, and even forming friendships with travelers who go on to become repeat guests and friends.
One way to interpret counter-automation is "activities that go the opposite way of automation," but perhaps a more literal interpretation is simply being more human or present in our businesses the same way we are encouraged to be in our personal lives.
In this era of technology personalized gestures like taking the opportunity to get a guest's hometown newspaper, or sliding a hand-written welcome note under their door -- these will be received as a new luxury (something otherwise associated with ultra-luxury hotels). And the most simple, inexpensive and yet iconic of these gestures can be a simple in-person check-in. Exaggerated in value for vacation rental properties in foreign locations but no less appreciated closer to home, the in-person check-in when done right is low-hanging fruit for the experience curators.
Hosts who argue against in-person check-ins typically say one of two things: (1) I cannot afford to do in-person check-ins or (2) some guests don't want in-person check-ins.
The second is more valid, but what guests don't want is actually that long awkward welcome tour -- an in-person hello/goodbye is almost always welcomed.
And for those who argue it's too expensive to get someone over to the property, I suggest a) doing the in-person later or as soon as your schedule permits and b) thinking about how much the in-person check-in can actually be worth. Don't view it as a cost, view it as a tactical investment in repeat bookings. If you believe the trends in this post and that human presence is the new luxury to travelers, paying $30 to have someone from your team stop by can actually be viewed as an excellent investment.
P.S. David also offers private boxing lessons with a local coach Bruno to all his guests. I visited him. And the rest is history.
One of the most luxurious things that accommodations businesses of any size can offer in 2019 is attentive personal attention: bypassing all the technology and automation and computers for an old-fashioned one-on-one human guest experience.
"Want to go whitewater kayaking? [Mark] will connect you with Hendersonville paddling pro Phillip Ellis. Want to stretch your legs? He’ll call up Pete Ripmaster, a champion trail runner who won the 2018 Iditarod in Alaska — on foot — to take you for a jaunt through the woods. Want to see the sun rise over the Blue Ridge Mountains or marvel at some waterfalls? Mark will gladly take you himself."
"Bird-watching, biking, yoga, brewery hopping, art gallery tours: “With our local knowledge and connections, pretty much any experience is possible,” Mark says. “Last year, I even took a group of guests to see the elk in Cataloochee during mating season. It was wild.” But best of all just might be the culinary experience."
Yonder also has a great About Us page. Vacation rental companies without an 'About Us' section on their website with professional profile photos are seriously missing the boat here. Without this page and these photos (include your entire staff, including cleaning and maintenance) you are doing worse than not putting your best professional, personal foot forward. You are in fact hiding your greatest asset.
P.S. I have personally stayed at Yonder and can attest to their one-on-one philosophy 100%. Just take a look at something I caught Mark working on before a guest's check-in...
Watch: A Sense of Place: Kauai
In this episode I travel to Kauai and learn how, with the right one-on-one interactions and curation, any host can leverage 'the new luxury' which is access to local people and experiences.
Going counter to automation and mass production doesn't have to require fancy skills or be boring: in fact, one of the easiest ways to capitalize on this trend is to revert back to something that you know, are good at, or really like: such as mom's cookies. During peak season, Brian Olson of Beachcomber Vacation Homes has quite the memorable brand-building tactic. Brian's mother bakes cookies on a weekly basis and they are available to guests at Beachcomber's front desk. For special occasions they'll deliver them to vacation rental properties themselves.
Starting the Wednesday after Thanksgiving Beachcomber starts "the 12 days of Cookies" and delivers 1.5 dozen every other day to the 4 real estate offices and Chamber of Commerce until they arrive at the 12th different cookie just before Christmas. This last gesture has resulted in 12-15 homes referred to the agency over the last few years.
Sit down and figure out some of the human or manual tasks that are worth investing in (and oppositely, the ones that you'd rather automate if possible). If you had unlimited time or staff, identify some of the "wish list" items or gestures you'd like to one day incorporate.
Because many of these counter-automation activities are likely to appear counter-intuitive, it's important to calculate how much they will cost. Time and money count. Obviously, if something is exceedingly expensive, it may not work. But through the lens of 5-star reviews and repeat bookings, perspectives change.
Not unlike habits you are trying to change, committing to counter-automation activities is the big difference-maker. Add your activities into your standard operating proceedures, make marks on calendars, notify the whole team so that you hold one another accountable.
Making every guest feel special isn't that hard >>
More and more museums, amusement parks, cultural institutions, and other tourism landmarks are developing a relatively new line of products and services offering distinguished visitors a private way to experience the action.
This is a general travel trend, but it is likely to be hyper-executed in the vacation rental niche, first because vacation rental professionals deal in small volume (conducive to privacy) and second because of intensely diverse passions and networks. Special access can be cultivated from very little with raw materials and some creativity.
Leveraging their local reputations and sheer dynamite resourcefulness, vacation rental professionals will be seen making experiences more personal, memorable, and accessible than ever before. Thus piggybacking on the "experiences" travel movement and filtering travel dollars to local community stakeholders too.
Karen Higgs of Casa Sarandi in the country of Uruguay actually wrote the guidebook on the place (not a joke). Because she lives there and sends so much business their way, Karen prides herself on her local contacts at many local businesses and cultural institutions. One example of how this "special access" manifests itself is Karen's suggested Andes Museum 1972 -- a touching tribute to "one of the greatest human survival stories of the 20th century."
The museum is a private venture by Jörg Thomsen, a Uruguayan businessman. And because he is so passionate about the museum, Jörg meets as many of Karen's guests in person: a special access feeling to the max. Karen has this kind of personal "ambassador" at all of her recommendations, lending an air of exclusivity to pretty much any activity.
Junior Leonce (center below), the lead Concierge at Utopian Luxury Vacation Homes in Park City, Utah understands the value of special access: how just about any local activity can be turbocharged when it's hosted by a local celebrity or merely someone with a remarkable personal story.
Jamie Crane-Mauzy (or as the ski world knows her, Jamie MoCrazy) was the first woman to double flip in the winter X-Games (2013) and the first woman to flip off a rail. She was ranked 2nd overall in the world, 5th for slopestyle and 10th for halfpipe, at the time of her crash: an accident which landed her with brain damage and in a medically-induced coma for 8 days. This, in many ways, became the beginning of Jaime's story, which she shares with aspiring skiers from around the world who visit Park City.
In sending business to a "local celebrity" like Jaime, Junior argues the experience offers more than just ski lessons: it offers the opportunity to be part of a miraculous story: the kind of thing memories on vacation are made of.
Just because it's New Orleans' most popular tourist attraction, doesn't mean the World War II museum can't make us feel like we're total VIPs. This landmark shows us that just about any business, if packaged properly, can sell the sensation of special and VIP.
Just a few blocks from the French Quarter, check out their new Early Access Tour, which lets distinguished guests into the museum pre-opening with an expert guide. This new kind of tour package has proven to offer guests a great jump-start at the Museum — as well as one-on-one insight into how the American experience in the war that changed the world.
2019 will see more and more of these kinds of alliances forged between vacation rental business owners and their fellow business colleagues in the community: with access as the new luxury, this kind of value-add is a win for everyone involved.
Special access is not delivered to your business on a silver platter. The very nature of special access is that you have gone out of your way to curate it. Reach out to local providers who you already send business to and propose some kind of special touch.
It's not enough to just secure the experience: you've got to experience it! This is part of the fun of being a vacation rental professional: take photos, ask interviewy questions: bring some friends along for the ride. If you are going to promote something as special access, ensure it is truly special.
Not unlike "Trips with a Purpose," special access is very much a marketing play and packaging is key. Whether writing a blog post, sharing via email newsletter, or merely revealing in an email correspondence, it's important to exaggerate the privileged for full effect.
This trends piece is always a blast to put together because it involves equal parts looking back, projecting forward, and smiling faces I get the pleasure to showcase as leaders and pioneers. Almost all the vacation rental businesses featured above are members of our ever-growing Inner Circle Community. And I would like to thank everyone who is not featured but constantly creating and pioneering and pushing this stream forward.
When streams become a river, the process rarely reverses itself. 2019 represents a huge opportunity for all vacation rental professionals to capitalize on years of hard work...a building sense of purpose and place in their communities and the world. There will indeed be challenges and adversity, but know that you are on the right track. Know that you have everything within you needed to succeed. Be fearless, be bold, be adventuresome, and be kind.
Lastly, here at VRMB I are always encouraging of new ideas. What have you noticed about the industry as we head into 2020? 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 🙂