How VRBO Owners Become Independent
Today we’re going to look at the success of another to help ourselves become better in our vacation rental businesses. You remember Kendall & Leina, right? They’re independent owners of several properties in the Gatlinburg – Pigeon Forge Tennessee area. Their rental company is called Closer to Heaven Cabins.
Several weeks ago I shared how they were able to drive 300 inquiries directly to their website.
Kendall told me he has competition to the left and right of him and there are vacation rentals everywhere. So how does one overcome the competition in such an extremely competitive market? We showed you what he has built up to make that happen for him in Kendall’s and Leina’s VR business.
One part of being a successful vacation rental entrepreneur is being able to look at those around us who are achieving the results we want and learn from what they’re doing right. I’ve asked Kendall to share with us some of his secrets to success. Here is what he’s shared with us…
I am listing these items as my top topics because I really do feel that following these has made us successful. Guests appreciate us (and we appreciate them as well!) and it shows in our reviews.
-First and most importantly, owners and managers should ALWAYS remember that every inquiry & booking is potentially someone’s vacation.
When you’ve been managing vacation rentals for a long time, it’s easy to get comfortable and lose sight of what you are really doing.
Stay focused and remember that you’re dealing with someone’s vacation. They could’ve spent months or even years saving up for this trip and your job is to ensure that it’s fantastic.
Keeping a focus on this will help ensure your customer service is spot on. Guests love knowing that owners/managers are there for them from the very first inquiry all the way through check-out.
Reach out to them and make it personal! Yes of course you want their business but you should more importantly want to provide a 5 star stay that they tell everyone about and hopefully generate you more bookings.
This is free advertising that you can’t get anywhere else so taking the simple steps toward great customer service will quickly get you on your way to more success.
-Second, and my reason for contacting you (Jay) in the first place is not to rely on VRBO and HomeAway. I know this may be often talked about but I want your readers to hear about it from a fellow owner who’s made the jump.
For the first couple of years we relied solely on our platinum subscription through VRBO which advertises our properties on multiple listing sites.
The Other Side. These sites are great and definitely are the current backbone of our business and, while we still use them, we are shifting our focus to our newly created website to gain bookings from the “other side”.
I’ll elaborate on what I mean when I say the “other side”. We currently own properties in an area where vacation rentals are THE ONLY industry around.
There are tens of thousands of properties for rent and hundreds of huge companies managing these properties.
These companies are the “other side” I speak of and they are raking in bookings at a staggering rate. People who book through these companies have never heard about HomeAway or VRBO.
They simply go to a search engine (Google or Bing) and search for vacation rentals in the area. Pages upon pages of these companies show up, the guest will then call or email said company and book a property.
The purpose of the website is to cater to theses folks looking for a vacation but have never heard of a listing site.
I’m mentioning all of this because there are way too many owners out there who rely on VRBO. We’ve been there.
We have had several bookings through our website and it only gets better from here. It all takes time as you are competing with large companies but Jay and the Villa Marketers team do a great job of utilizing the perfect keywords to ensure your property will show up right along-side these large companies in the search engine results. HomeAway is not looking out for you…you must look out for yourself. The new service fee recently added by HomeAway is terrifying.
This was no surprise after their acquisition by Expedia but it should be a sign of things to come. Help yourself and tap into the “other side” and start getting bookings from those who don’t know about listing sites. There are a lot of them and it could potentially grow because guests who do use VRBO may be trying to avoid a silly service fee!
-Third, be prompt. There is nothing more reassuring than sending an inquiry email (not just in the vacation rental industry but in ANY industry) and receiving a response within minutes.
I’ve lost count of the times that we’ve turned a simple inquiry into a booking because of our prompt response. Guests appreciate it and let’s be honest…as in life, first impressions mean everything.
Your goal should always be to be the first to respond to their inquiry. They’ve probably sent out multiple inquiries throughout the night and most owners/managers unfortunately don’t make it a priority to answer within minutes.
Their faults should be made into your advantage and when a guest sees that you’ve responded within minutes, it sets a standard in their mind that the other “lazy” owners who have yet to respond just can’t meet.
By doing this and combining it with great customer service as mentioned in my first point, you’ve pretty much just guaranteed a booking!
-Fourth, and this may sound crazy, but do the right thing! This probably fits into the customer service section but I wanted to mention it separately.
The goal of every owner should be to offer a perfect vacation to guests who decide to stay in our property. The feeling of perfection is variable, meaning, that my definition of perfection is very different from someone else’s, particularly a guests.
I also want to take the time to say that mistakes happen and things break. The point of saying all of this is because how an owner responds to an unhappy or frustrated guests due to a simple mistake by the cleaners, or an item breaking, or something not being to their standards of “perfect”, can make or break them.
Often times guests aren’t eager to post reviews of great experiences. They do it because we ask them to and sometimes they will do it out of kindness. Let’s do a 180* and imagine an unhappy guest.
They want to vent their frustration and the easiest way to do this is behind a keyboard on the reviews page. This can EASILY be combatted by being a patient and competent owner willing to please even in the most undesirable of circumstances.
Take the time to listen and DO THE RIGHT THING. You need to develop the ability to feel a guest out over the phone (most issues should be addressed by phone and not email or text).
You simply cannot have a standard response to issues and I firmly believe that with varying personalities of different guests, your response should be based on what you read from them while discussing the issue over the phone.
You obviously don’t want to lose money but you want to take the necessary steps to ensure they are happy with the resolution and sometimes and unfortunately, simply fixing the issue for an infuriated guests won’t cut it.
Again, this is to be felt out over the phone and you will know immediately the personality of the guest you are dealing with.
And let’s face it, they have the right to be unhappy because THEY’RE ON VACATION and it’s supposed to be perfect.
If they are calm and understanding, simply fixing the issue in a timely manner will usually be enough (keyword there is TIMELY).
Other times that is not enough and offering some kind of discount on their stay will do wonders in changing that bad review into a great one!
I’m not talking lots of money discounted back to them…simply a small amount to compensate them for their troubles experienced.
Your main goal should still be to resolve the issue in a timely manner. Ultimately it comes down to doing the right thing, and the right thing differs from one guest to another.
Make sure you remember that a great vacation is on the line and when I say you should do the right thing, it should be the right thing for both your business and their vacation!
The key to this industry (in my opinion) besides offering a great property, is offering a great experience and it starts with great customer service.
What do you think? What have you learned?
Please share your comments below.