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Tuesday, December 10th, 2013The Top 10 Most Unique Vacation Rentals from Around the... »
Looking to break out of the (literal) box that is your run...
Tuesday, December 3rd, 2013Top 10 Factory Tours For Travelers Who Explore from the... »
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Wednesday, November 27th, 2013[Gallery] If Each Hunger Games District Had Its Own... »
The second installment of The Hunger Games franchise...
Friday, November 22nd, 2013Location Spotlight: Puget Sound AVA »
When we think of wine, often times we imagine exotic,...
Thursday, November 21st, 2013The 11 Chocolatiers Worth Traveling For »
By Clotilde Dusoulier During the holidays, an estimated...
Thursday, November 21st, 2013Join us at the VRMA European Seminar next month! »
The FlipKey team is excited to be attending the 2nd...
Tuesday, November 19th, 2013FlipKey Gives Back in the Month of November »
On November 14th, thirteen FlipKey members strapped on...
Friday, November 8th, 2013Instagramming and Emailing Abroad: Tips, Tricks, and... »
by: Kelly O'Reilly These days, it’s safe to say that a...
Monday, November 4th, 20137 Unique Ways to Experience Local Cuisine »
by Megan Eileen McDonough Travel goes way beyond the...
Wednesday, October 30th, 2013Vacation Rentals: A Booming Industry »
In a recent interview with USA TODAY, renowned travel...
Wednesday, April 2nd, 2008Blizzard Internet Marketing Interviews FlipKey’s TJ Mahony »
Over the last few months, the FlipKey Blog has brought you...
Friday, May 18th, 2012Seven Reasons to Keep the Waitakere Ranges a Secret »
Today we are featuring Michelle Teillon, an avid traveler...
Monday, May 12th, 2008Vacation Rental Guest Reviews - FlipKey Negative Review... »
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Wednesday, July 20th, 2011Nice and Pissaladière »
The first time I went to Nice, it was barely a stop on a...
Friday, January 18th, 2008Vacation Rentals — Gotta Love ‘em! »
As a new developer at FlipKey and a new member to this...
Tuesday, February 9th, 2010Pack Your Bags: Olympic Essentials »
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Sometimes the inconvenience of transportation to and...
Tuesday, October 20th, 2009Top 10 Fall FlipKey Vacation Destinations »
With winter knocking on our doors travelers are starting to...
Wednesday, April 27th, 2011The Cape in a Clamshell - Wellfleet Oysters »
Renowned for its quaint New England seaside charm, the icy...
Tuesday, April 12th, 2011A Parisian Bakery Cheat Sheet »
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When FlipKey employees aren’t hard at work you never know what part of the world you might find them in. From Tuscany to Aruba we are a company that loves to travel…and what better way to experience the world than via Vacation Rentals?! Here are some of our most recent adventures:Name: TJ Properties: The Golf Pad & Yepton Estate Cottage Location: St. Andrews & Antigua Price: $808/night & $245/night
St. Andrews- What was the best golfing you did during your vacation?
Carnoustie was a crowd favorite. Carnoustie was absolutely the hardest golf course I have ever played, but it was a fun hard. I highly suggest guests of the course (i) get a caddy and (ii) bring a lot of balls.
St. Andrews- Did you find it enjoyable to stay in a larger rental with a group?
We had a group of 8 guys, which the home accommodated perfectly. The Golf Pad had everything we needed to have a fun time – a huge deck overlooking the River Tay, a pool table and even a massage chair! This house was built for two foursomes and they got everything right.
Antigua- What was the best natural attraction on the Island?
The beaches in Antigua are world class, but I think we enjoyed the beach bars the most. Our favorite beach bar was OJs Bar and Restaurant, but we also enjoyed Sheer Rocks which boosted the most amazing views – truly a must visit. Tell the Chef “Alex” I sent you!
Antigua- Did you take advantage of the beautiful kitchen in this rental or find favorite restaurants that you enjoyed?
We cooked in every morning and two dinners. The kitchen was a big plus and lounging in the mornings while drinking coffee and making breakfast sandwiches might have been a top 5 highlight of the trip. Yepton boasts five cottages, but I felt we had the best one.
Name: Eric Location: Eagle Beach, Aruba Property: Superior Condo Price: $270-$520/night
What types of activities did you do in the local area around the condo?
We spent a lot of time on the beach, rented some bikes to cruise around the island, and hit the local restaurants at night. Our favorite day was spent on a snorkeling tour off the coast of Aruba. We had a few cocktails (okay, maybe more than a few), did some snorkeling, sailed around the island, and just had an absolute blast.
How was the process of dealing with the homeowner?
We rented this condo from a local property manager and he was terrific. The booking process was a piece of cake, and he came over after we arrived to make sure everything was all set and offered some recommendations on restaurants, things to do, grocery stores, etc. Like everyone on the island, he was really laid back. We had some leftover beer in the fridge that we left for the next guest and he assured us that him & his buddies would make sure it wouldn’t go to waste.
What was the coolest part of your specific home you stayed at?
There were two balconies, one off the master bedroom and one off the living room, which both overlooked the large pool and had a view of the ocean. Great spot for us to hang out.Name: Jeremy Location: Kaui, HI Property: Hale Makai Price: $650/night
What is your favorite part of staying in a vacation rental?
As an industry, people focus on the price, space and privacy benefits of vacation rentals versus hotels. Those are all great benefits, but one that’s often overlooked is location. Hale Makai is on the oceanside of Lawai Road in Kaui — close enough to watch sea turtles playing in the surf break through the sliding glass doors in the living room.
What is the biggest difference from being in a hotel?
If you stay in an incredible vacation rental, there is really is no comparison to a hotel. When we arrived at the house, staff from the rental manager, the Parrish Collection, had already been at the house to let in a chef and welcome us with island drinks. Anna and I sat down on the deck to what felt like a ten-course meal and watched the sunset, feeling really fortunate to be there. We enjoyed this rental even more than the Four Season in Maui, which is one of the best in the world. For the two of us, it was just really relaxing and felt like home to pull into the driveway after exploring the island.
The House itself:
This house is unusual because it’s smaller than the average vacation rental, but that’s why we chose this house. Simple but special – with a mix of Asian and modern detail and a great location. We didn’t miss a sunrise or sunset the entire time we were there. The bank of sliding glass doors that face the ocean and span the kitchen, living room and bedroom were awesome. This is one of the nicest spots in Kaui, directly between Popui Beach and Sprouting Horn beach, which you can watch from the backyard as waves break and the rock formation shoots water into the air like a geyser. The Parrish Collection did a great job and I can’t recommend them enough. The staff was at the house for our arrival, coordinated the private chef and other concierge services. Our flights were delayed and rerouted, but there was no need to worry about the house because they were in contact with us and coordinated.Name: Kelly Location: Florence, Italy Property: Albatros Price: $143/night
Did you think this was a good location in Florence?
The location was amazing!! We were steps away from the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore – Duomo and many lively squares. I remember passing the cathedral on our taxi ride to the apartment and saying; that’s on our list of things to see! Basically as soon as I said that, the driver pulled over and I thought she had misunderstood. When I said oh no, not now, just at some point, she laughed and responded, I understand, but you are here! It was awesome! The Ponte Vecchio and Uffizi Gallery are also a stroll away and there was certainly no shortage of outstanding cappuccino, food, and wine nearby, but that’s just Italy for you.
The highlight of our trip by far was our full day bike tour through the Chianti wine region provided by http://tuscany-biketours.com/. We walked to their office, just 2 blocks from the apartment, hopped in a van at 10am and headed to our home base – a medieval castle that now produces some of the best olive oil in Italy. We toured their wine cellar and then were treated to an oil and wine tasting. After one too many samples, we got fitted for our bikes and headed for the hills! The scenery was breathtaking and the May weather could not have been more perfect. We stopped half way through for a family style lunch and consumed more wine, pasta, and gelato than is probably recommended before jumping on anything with 2 wheels, but it was SO worth it! The tour guides were hysterically funny and made this day one that I will truly never forget.Name: Carl Location: London, England Property: Long Acre Price: $1,697-$2,344/week
What was your favorite part about staying in the West End?
The central location. London is an enormous city, with attractions spread out everywhere. It was great to be able to walk right out of my flat near Covent Garden and easily get to wherever I wanted to go, be it by foot or by Tube.
What was the coolest part of your specific home you stayed at?
The nice little secluded open air patio out back. I was staying in one of the world’s busiest cities yet I had my own private little outdoors respite when I wanted it.
What was the highlight of your trip to this destination?
I’m a beer geek, and London has a fantastic history of brewing. Thus I was able to follow a couple of wonderful CAMRA pub trails to simultaneously embrace the city’s culture and enjoy a few pints of Real Ale.Name: Koryn Location: Cabo San Lucas Property: Villa Grande Price: $1,480-$2,563/night
What is the biggest difference from being in a hotel?
Hands down the fact that you have privacy and are surrounded by only the people in your party. But it didn’t hurt that we could grab a soda from the fridge without paying $4. As I said before, the house gave everyone space to do their own thing – sit on a balcony and read or watch a movie, take a nap, lay by the pool, make lunch, exercise on the treadmill – but kept everyone connected.
What was the highlight of your trip to this destination?
You know on shows you see a bunch of girls go running into a place, squealing in delight? We did that! The pictures don’t do this place justice and everyone was dumbfounded by how amazingly gorgeous the house was and that it was all ours for the stay. Other than that, the fact that we could sit around the pool all day long, surrounded only by our friends, was a huge bonus. I will definitely go back to Cabo, and book through this rental manager again, maybe even at the same place! –I honestly can’t pick just one part of this rental. If I could go back tomorrow, I would! The balcony off the master bedroom was pretty great and had amazing sunrise views. The pool/hot tub area was also pretty phenomenal. A lot of the girls have husbands/kids and the house offered free VOIP so they could call home to the US for free – that was a big hit.Name: Kurt Location: Moretown, VT Property: Vermont Guest Cottage Price: $125/night
What outdoors activities did you do while you were there?
We were there in early November and did a lot of hiking and walking around downtown Montpelier. Our rental was in the perfect location for this, and there were even a lot of great places to explore on the property. There was a river next to the rental that ran along the road, which created the need for the several covered bridges that led to the rental.
What was the coolest part of your specific home you stayed at?
It’s difficult to decide between the loft, the enormous yard going up a mountain, and the hot tub. If I had to pick one it would be the hot tub, its very secluded and you can hear the river from it, and look up at a completely clear sky. The most enjoyable part was the time spent in Montpelier. There were a lot of unique things to do there, and everything was very scenic.
Did you choose to stay in this rental because of its history as a schoolhouse?
We did not originally choose to stay at this rental because it was previously a schoolhouse but that aspect did turn out being very cool. The owner had lots of old history books and pictures and the schoolhouse theme was present throughout. We chose the rental because of it’s location near town and the vineyards and also the chef-quality kitchen! We love to hang out and cook together and a staying in a Vacation Rental is perfect for this.
Did you try any of the roadside stands or ice cream shops that the homeowner suggested? If not, what was your favorite part about the area you stayed in?
The owner left us information on the local restaurants and shops and we did walk down to the stores in Four Corners one morning. We bought some gourmet cheeses and snacks to enjoy at the house. We also explored the farm next door to the rental for a bit (until we were chased by chickens!) Our favorite part was the vineyard (Sakonnet vineyard). We went on the winery tour and then we also did a tasting. We bought some of the Sakonnet wine and enjoyed it with the cheese we bought in town earlier that day.
Having a kitchen to cook healthy meals for my family. Having extra room and space to relax after the kids go to bed. It was a nice mix of being out in nature and still having most of the comforts at home that make managing small children easier.
What was the highlight of your trip to this destination?
The second night we were there it was raining so we took our kids next door to the other cabin on the property where two families with small children were staying. The kids played and the adults all talked and hung out. Turned out that we all had similar interests. We ended up having dinner together combining what food we all had into a strange but nice meal. The owner of the property stopped by and a few of the guys (including the owner of the property) played songs for the kids. We turned a rainy day that was going to sort of be a wash into a great day and night.Name: Meg Location: Madrid Property: Madrid Central Design Price: $202-$218/night
What was your favorite part about staying in a Vacation Rental?
My favorite part of staying in a vacation rental was probably having a room all to myself. I was in Madrid visiting my brother who was studying abroad there at the time so I’m sure that I would’ve had to share a room with my brother if we had stayed in a hotel. Also, my brother actually had caught a virus traveling in Morocco the weekend before we arrived and was pretty sick while we were there, though, so it was convenient having the option to come back to a full apartment for him to nap/recover when needed.
How was dealing with the homeowner?
The homeowner was great! He met us in the neighborhood at the crack of dawn when we arrived to give us the keys and show us around. He’d also provided tips and suggestions of things to do/places to see in the area via email before we arrived. My family and I actually missed our flight back to the US and had to wait til the next day to come home and had to go by way of NYC then drive a rental car back to Logan Airport. We had been in touch with the vacation rental homeowner regarding key drop and closing up the apartment that day and when he heard of the situation, he offered to let us stay an extra night free of charge. He was very helpful and we appreciated the offer but ended up sleeping in the airport McDonald’s to make absolute sure that we didn’t miss our flight the next morning.
The apartment itself:
The apartment that we stayed at was in a great location in the center of the city surrounded by fun things to do and the metro was easily accessible. That being said, it was very quiet and easy to sleep at night – most of the apartment faced into a little courtyard surrounded by the other buildings on the back side of the building so there wasn’t much noise.
Owner: Joseph Scavona
Location: Myrtle Beach, SC
How did you get into the vacation rental business?
In March 2006, my wife and I got together with two other families and purchased a couple of condos at the Caravelle Resort in Myrtle Beach. The condos were originally intended to be for personal use and as a real estate investment – but we decided to share it with other guests while it wasn’t in use. At first, we used a property management company to rent the condos out – but decided to begin renting the units out on our own to provide more personalized customer service to our guests.
What makes Myrtle Beach a great destination to visit? Why did you decide to buy in Myrtle Beach?
There were a number of reasons why we decided to buy in Myrtle Beach. It’s a very family oriented beach location that’s very fairly priced and affordable for families. This was a big selling point for us. The beaches are huge and are not as crowded as other beach areas on the East Coast and there are lots of activities that appeal to a wide variety of interests – fishing excursions, bike riding, great restaurants, etc. It’s a great place to get away and just relax in a very laid back atmosphere. It’s also accessible from lots of areas as you can fly directly into Myrtle Beach.
What would be your advice to vacation homeowners considering renting out their home?
My first piece of advice would be not to underestimate the time involved to do it right – as guest interactions, rental contacts, advertising, and pricing your property takes extra time & patience to get it right.
Beyond that, I would say it’s absolutely critical to really know your place and the area as you’ll get lots of questions, some of which you won’t necessarily expect. It’s also really important to be honest and set proper expectations – this has really helped me drive repeat visitors and referrals. For instance, my property is more low-key and secluded than other locations in Myrtle Beach so I want to make sure my guests know that going in so there are no surprises.
For out of town renters like myself, I can’t stress how important finding a housekeeper and maintenance person you can trust. They are your eyes and ears on the ground. I use Spic-N-Span Cleaning & Linen Rental and they have been lifesavers for me.
What’s the most rewarding aspect of being a vacation rental owner?
The follow-up emails I’ve received from guests after their vacation have been a tremendous source of pride for me. I don’t like our units to go unused and it’s great to be able to provide a great vacation for people coming to Myrtle Beach, sometimes for the first time.
What are the most common mistakes that vacation rental owners make?
My advice would be to price your property fairly and avoid “going for the big fish” by overpricing your property, which some owners can be guilty of. It’s counterproductive as you end up failing to meet expectations and create a lot of unnecessary ill will between you and the guest.
What is the biggest challenge to marketing a vacation rental property online?
The main challenges for me are differentiating my property since many listing sites have become very saturated and getting people to trust me, particularly when I had no history.
How did you learn about FlipKey? What attracted you to the ‘Verified Owner’ program?
I originally learned about FlipKey on TripAdvisor. I was on TripAdvisor looking at hotels – saw vacation rentals – and ended up learning about FlipKey’s program for owners like myself. I liked the fact that it was $1.99 per month to start, tied to a well-known brand, and the verification program. Most importantly, I liked the guest reviews and the fact that the reviews are real (meaning that as an owner, I can’t simply delete negative reviews), which creates a level playing field and allows consumers to trust them. Having the ability to share reviews from guests online, which I was already collecting prior to FlipKey via my follow-up emails, with other prospective guests is helping me generate bookings.
What results have you seen from the program to-date?
It’s only been a couple of weeks – but the results have been great so far. I’ve received 75 inquiries plus 10 to 12 calls – and already 6 bookings, with one taking two weeks. I’ve also been pointing prospective guests that come in from other channels to my FlipKey page so they can see reviews from past guests. So, not only am I getting results from people viewing my listing on FlipKey & TripAdvisor – but I’m also able to help convert other people as well with the reviews.
What have you found are the secrets/best practices to success on FlipKey?
The most important thing to do is collect reviews. I’ve been really proactive with my guests asking them to leave reviews and then thanking them if they are able to do so. It’s a time investment – but well worth it.
What new features/improvements would like to see FlipKey make going forward?
While the program has been great for me so far, there’s a number of improvements that can be made that will make it even better. The system needs to handle overlapping rates better and it would be great if there was an area to explain what the rate actually includes. This is really important so that people can compare properties on an apples-to-apples basis since rates from other owners may not include other fees & taxes. I’d also like longer character limits, particularly for the property title, and want it to be more obvious to people to send an email inquiry when they are looking at my property. Finally, it would be great if the system emailed me when a new review was left so I can comment on the review or thank the guest for leaving a review.
Guest Authors: Alfred and Emily Glossbrenner
How does FullyBookedRentals help independent property owners?
Our goal is to give owners the information, advice, and informed commentary they need to advertise, market, and manage their properties as profitable vacation rentals. And the word independent really is at the heart of what we do. We do not accept advertising, commissions, or referral fees, or do anything else that might be seen as influencing our recommendations.
In fact, as one FullyBookedRentals member recently suggested, we strive to be “the Consumer Reports® of the vacation-rental industry.” That covers a lot of territory: furnishings and amenities, where to list your property online, how to create your own Web site, booking and management software, credit card companies, and much more.
How is your content different from other online resources available to vacation rental owners?
First, the vast majority of what owners will find at FullyBookedRentals is fresh, Glossbrenner-written material derived from our own experience and expertise as vacation-rental owners and authors who have been following the industry for nearly a decade. We not only know what owners need, we anticipate it, and we create expert, unbiased content accordingly.
Second, at FullyBookedRentals we also “filter the fire hose.” There is indeed a great deal of breaking news and information for owners of vacation rentals on the Web. But it is widely diffused, not necessarily accurate or reliable, and certainly not unbiased. We constantly monitor the field and let our members know when some significant development—like vacation-rental bans—comes into view.
Third, we are not only experienced vacation-rental owners, we are writers who have made a living as professional communicators, with a particular focus on the Internet, for nearly 30 years. As a result, our content is better organized and better written than anything else one might find on the Web.
Our bottom line at FullyBookedRentals is this: If you are truly serious about turning your second home or investment property into a profitable vacation rental, and you want the best, most up-to-date information on how to go about it, check FullyBookedRentals. We do the research so you don’t have to.
What would be your advice to vacation homeowners considering renting out their home?
The first thing a would-be vacation-rental owner must confront is what we call “the Goldilocks Syndrome,” as in “who’s been sleeping in my bed?” This doesn’t apply to owners who have bought properties as investments and have always intended to rent them out. But it surely applies to those who own a second home and are considering the rental option.
We tend to take a “tough love” approach: Remember this is your second home, not your main nest. If you have certain things that are irreplaceable or precious to you, lock them up in the “owner’s closet” when renters are using your property.
Your next decision is whether to pay a property manager or handle everything yourself. In the recent past, you had very little choice: You pretty much had to use a property manager and pay fees ranging from 15% to 50% of your rental income.
The advent of vacation-rental advertising sites and management tools for individual VR owners has changed everything. Today, you really can advertise, market, and manage your vacation rental on your own. Or you can do some things yourself and purchase others—like cleaning services and checking guests in and out—from a property manager.
FullyBookedRentals is very much about helping vacation-rental owners take advantage of the full range of possibilities now open to them.
What are the most common mistakes that vacation rental owners make?
The biggest mistake most new vacation-rental owners make, in our experience, is not realizing that they are in the hospitality business. They get caught up in the notion that they are entering into a landlord/tenant relationship, when in fact, the role they will be playing is much more akin to being the host at a small inn or bed-and-breakfast.
The best attitude to adopt if you want to be a successful vacation-rental owner is this: “You’re a host, not a landlord. And the people who rent your property are your guests, not your tenants.”
A host doesn’t ask guests to sign a multi-page rental agreement with overly complex legal jargon of the sort normally found in long-term lease agreements. A host is accommodating, so if a guest asks to check in two hours earlier than the set time, and there is no conflict with the cleaners’ schedule, the host says, “Well, of course…”
The neat thing is that when you adopt the mindset that you’re a host and convey that to your renters, by the time they check in, they’ll view themselves as guests in your wonderful vacation home. And they will treat the place accordingly. So it’s a win-win situation.
Another very common mistake is being penny-wise and pound-foolish when it comes to accepting credit cards. Many new VR owners don’t want to pay the 2% to 3% that credit card companies charge. So they insist that their guests pay by check. That’s one of the best ways we know to put a property at a competitive disadvantage, particularly when it is so easy these days for an owner to be granted “merchant status.” Credit card fees are simply a cost of doing business.
What is the biggest challenge to marketing a vacation rental property online?
A great question with a deceptively simple answer: The biggest challenge to marketing a VR online is standing out from the competition.
To do that, you might assume that you’ll need to create your own Web site and then master SEO (Search Engine Optimization) in hopes of getting it onto the first page of Google. But that’s not what we would recommend.
What you should do instead is go to the sites where your competition is advertising and study the listings for properties most similar to yours. Then put your time and effort into creating a listing for your property with superb photos, a thorough and honest description, and possibly even a floor plan.
Be sure to include information about your rates, cancellation and refund policies, and whether you allow smoking and pets. And keep in mind that your goal is to convey to prospective guests what’s special about your place. The vacation-rental business is not about selling identical hotel rooms or condo units. It’s about persuading someone to choose your property over all the others they may be considering.
You must be absolutely certain that your online advertising copy makes your “unique selling proposition” crystal clear. Do not be shy. Put it right out there in the first sentence or two of your property description.
And remember: Standing out from your competition is an art, not a science. Every location is different. In our opinion, the key thing is to resolve to take the time and effort and energy to make your property stand out from the competition. Do not just put up an online listing and hope for the best. Be proactive!
What do you think about FlipKey expanding its services to independent vacation rental owners?
We think it’s great! And that is not just a courteous, polite response. At FullyBookedRentals, we do not believe that having a single venture-capital-fueled company roll up the entire online vacation-rental advertising industry is a good thing.
We have interacted with many of the folks at this company over the past few years. They are smart people. And they are doing a lot to raise awareness of the vacation-rental option. But a monopoly—which would seem to be what they are reaching for—is never good for free markets, particularly emerging markets like the vacation-rental industry.
So we’re happy to see FlipKey and its parent company, TripAdvisor, enter the field. After all, competition is at the base of our free-market system.
FullyBookedRentals offers a wealth of top-quality free and member-exclusive content, including sample rental agreements, forms, and checklists, and an annotated, unbiased guide to the best vacation-rental resources. Annual membership is $49.95, but we’ve arranged for our FlipKey owner community to try FullyBookedRentals FREE for 90 days. To take advantage of this special offer, enter the promotion code FLIP3 during the sign-up process (no credit card required).
Over the last few months, the FlipKey Blog has brought you a number of great interviews from vacation rental industry insiders. Blizzard Internet Marketing’s Carrie Hill recently decided it was time to turn the tables on us and conducted her own interview of TJ Mahony. In the interview TJ discusses topics such as our recent launch, how FlipKey is making a difference in the industry, and where he’s thinking about going for his next vacation.
CH: How is the order of listing determined? I see you can sort by price, name and bedrooms – any chance of sorting by best reviews?
Order is determined by a ‘Reputation Score’. The Reputation Score is a combination of several factors, but the number of reviews associated with a property is the largest contributor.
For instance, we will rank a property with 5 reviews with an average score of 4 stars ahead of a property with only 2 reviews and an average score of 5 stars.
There are many factors involved in ‘Reputation’ and we have worked hard to develop a system that helps consumers find trusted vacation homes with reliable services. We’ll keep the full recipe to ourselves, but generally the Reputation Score reflects guests’ reviews of the home, a manager’s experience and the reliability of their services.
You can read the full interview at:
About Maureen Regan:
Maureen Regan is the President of Seaside Vacation Rentals located on the beautiful southern Maine coast. The company, founded in 1983, now handles several hundred properties and recently added a dedicated realty arm to its offering (“Regan Real Estate”). Maureen is currently serving her second term on the VRMA Board of Directors. She is past Chairman of the Greater York Region Chamber of Commerce, has served on boards for York County Community College, Southern Maine Tourism Association, and the Maine Tourism Commission. She and her family are recipients of the 2003 Maine Tourism Award, the 2005 Business Advocate award, the 2008 Maine Governor’s Conference Award for her contribution to tourism growth in the state and numerous other awards.
Q: Maureen, I have been to the Maine coast and it’s one of the most beautiful and un-commercialized areas I have ever visited. However, due to the long winters/cold springs it also has one of the shortest high seasons. How do you economically manage the short high season? Any interesting promotions to attract guests during shoulder season?
A: You’re right! The winters are long and our high season is extremely short. As you know, we are primarily known as a family oriented vacation area. We have had some success in promoting September to mid October and late spring by linking to local festivals and trying to reach more of the “young professional” audience. We also offer numerous packages to attract them, such as having your own chef come to the house and cook a real New England dinner for you. Another includes hiring a Maine Guide to take you on a private kayak adventure to view islands, estuaries, rugged coastline and our (unique to southern Maine) long sandy beaches.
This year we are sponsoring the Seaside Arts Program which will promote cushion season weeks by working with a famous local author who will give workshops in screenwriting and playwriting. Also, we will offer, with the York Art Association, free special gallery viewings to Seaside guests only.
Many of our properties convert to what we call “Winter Rentals” in the off season. This is a school year long rental and is popular with people moving up to the area to buy or build.
Q: You are serving your second term on the VRMA Board of Directors. What are the main issues you have addressed in your tenure and how would you like to see the association grow?
A: VRMA members are a group that is very diverse in size, geography, years in business. However, the synergy, and excitement of everyone together at the last Conference (record setting attendance for the second year in a row) is contagious and shows that while diverse, the group melds into “the best of the vacation rental industry” and they learn, network and relate as an industry. The educational opportunities VRMA offers at conferences and seminars are unmatched and extremely important to our membership.
The VRMA Board as a group has addressed many issues affecting the Vacation Rental Industry and we will continue to provide our Members with an association that represents our Members best interests in education, marketing and all the other areas Members look to for industry leadership.
Nothing would please the VRMA Board more than a growing membership of professional vacation rental managers working in an industry that truly is recognized by the public as the best lodging option.
Q: One of the challenges of property management is encouraging owners to keep their units up-to-date (wi-fi, HDTV, new furniture, etc). What techniques have you found are effective in motivating owners to invest in their homes to make them more ‘rentable’?
A: I truly wish I had the answer to this, but it is an ongoing struggle. The best motivator we have found so far is to show an owner that they will be able to make more money by attracting new guests and keeping more return guests if they continue to upgrade. We break it down into categories for owners: free (cleaning), low cost (painting, landscaping, and minor upgrades) and higher end choices (adding a bath, new kitchen) they can make and basically keeping our owners informed as to what guests are requesting. We also remind owners that guests have a greater respect for a well maintained and appointed house.
Q: You recently added a realty arm to your business (“Regan Real Estate”). Can you describe the strategic fit you see with Regan Real Estate and Seaside Rentals?
A: Thanks to a workshop I attended at VRMA given by Stewart Couch of Hatteras Realty and Richard Hess from Sun Realty, I realized our company was leaving a lot of money on the table by not offering our own real estate option. Also, we were not really taking care of our guests and homeowners who needed this service.
We were increasingly frustrated when new homeowners came to us from other realtors who didn’t know the rental market and had told these unfortunate buyers that they could get unrealistic prices for their homes and then we had to break the unhappy news to them.
Now we are able to offer a full service operation and when we sell a property that is a rental, we know that the rental information is accurate; the returning rental guests will be taken care of, and we’ve increased our bottom line. We make everyone happy (or at least we try)!
Q: During your downtime you have cited painting as one of your hobbies. What are your favorite subjects (e.g. Maine coast line, light houses, ?) and have you ever sold a piece? FlipKey is moving into new offices and we are in the market for some new art workïŠ
A: It’s impossible to live in this beautiful area and not paint the coastline and lighthouses! I love doing landscapes and bits of architectural interest like an interesting old door or piece of a building. One of my real joys is teaching my two grandchildren 6 and 8 years old to paint. That is so much fun! So if I don’t have the right landscape to sell you, maybe one of them will!
About Ross Twiddy:
Twiddy & Co. is a family owned property management company representing over 770 properties in the Outer Banks region of North Carolina. Twiddy has been in operation since 1978 and has grown into one of the most reputable and popular management companies in the highly competitive Outer Banks market. Twiddy operates a sophisticated web site at www.twiddy.com and is recognized as an early adopter of the power of Search marketing in the vacation rental industry. In fact, Twiddy is cited by Google as a case study in the effectiveness of Adwords.
Q: Ross, you represent homes in the highly competitive Outer Banks market. What challenges do you face that are unique to the Outer Banks market compared to the industry at-large?
A: Cleaning over 4,200 bathrooms between check in and check out, every summer weekend. Because of the Outer Banks’ isolation, the cleaning force drives from over 3 hours, one way. The individuals who clean, support, or facilitate this weekly feat are amazing. To get up at 4am and then clean a 12 bedroom, $19,000/wk house where the guests’ expectations are inline with the price is Herculean. I’m sure the entire industry has this, but cleaning homes is the hardest and most rewarding thing we do. As the guests’ expectations continue to increase with the size, sophistication, and price of the homes the cleaning standards continue to rise as well.
Q: You are recognized as a pioneer in Search marketing in the vacation rental industry. How have you stayed on top of the ever changing Search landscape?
A: Lewis and Clark were pioneers, I just have big ears, eyes, and I’m slow. Last time I thought I was on top, I was the last one at the poker table with no money left. I stumble a lot, I have some scars, but more importantly I surround myself with folks much smarter than I. Then I try to hard to hang on and make sure they’re happy and they enjoy the partnership.
Q: Beyond Search, are you investing in additional online channels to drive awareness of Twiddy’s services and properties?
A: We’ve tried a number of different channels but have really scaled back compared to two years ago. It seems that the internet has calmed down a bit and streamlined based on what is working now. We’ll always be looking for the next or new avenue, but I think Staples’ website is the only one with the “easy button.” There are some folks out there now approaching websites with the guest in mind, and I think they’re getting closer to scratching to discover something shiny. So as usual we’ll keep stumbling around hoping to pick up some jewels. However don’t forget the basics. Search and data is an addiction and fortunately, we get to play in it every day.
Q: Twiddy tends to represent top quality homes – do you ever turn away clients if their properties do not meet a certain standard? If yes, how do you justify turning away business and do you refer them to a different company?
A: We’re in a very fortunate position because a great numbers of folks have been working extremely hard at Twiddy for a long time to get things right. Last year we turned down about 30 homes because the partnership wasn’t a good fit for either of us. You can’t be all things to all people, so focus on what you know and work hard towards it. If Twiddy doubled in size and the folks at the front counter aren’t smiling, the folks on the phone aren’t friendly, and the houses aren’t clean then we just lost. If we don’t think we’re the right fit, we point them in the direction of the folks who we think can help them the most. Fortunately, there are a great number of solid companies on the Outer Banks and there is enough room for all of us.
Q: Twiddy has been a family business since 1978, so it runs in your blood. If you weren’t in the vacation rental industry what profession would you have chosen?
A: In the sense that your blood holds the genes of your parents, I’ll totally agree. Anything I have or will do is a credit to their intelligence, patience, generosity, and vision. But there’s a powerful stereotype to the boss’ son for a reason. Blood doesn’t entitle. Pride in the family business should propel and the continuation in the family business is a function of performance. They put me in the right direction so in regards to the drinking well of another business, I just don’t think I’d have any thirst.
Prior to last week’s VRMA show, we interviewed Steve Trover. Steve has been astute to realize that rather than having his primary concern be fighting over the 4-5% of the lodging market that goes to professional vacation rental managers or the 1-2% of the lodging market that goes to the rent by owner market, he is concerned with the 94% of the lodging market that isn’t going to vacation rentals at all. Imagine if vacation rentals share of the lodging market grew to just 10-12% of the lodging market – wouldn’t we all be better off?
Trent Blizzard’s presentation on smart Internet marketing repeatedly highlighted Trover’s All Star Vacations when he was giving examples of effective rental marketing. It’s been our observation that many of the presentations, such as Trent’s, focused on what is referred to in marketing parlance as top-of-the-funnel (click here for a visual & illustration of the “funnel”). While the top-of-the-funnel (i.e., early in the buying process) is important, a manager’s ability to maximize the look-to-book ratio is paramount. A higher look-to-book ratio enables your business to spend more to be in top spots on Google, for example. If you convert lookers to bookers more effectively, you can spend more than your competition.
We met another member of “Red Sox Nation” during VRMA that happens to help deliver the “secret ingredient” for All Star – Tracy Lotz.. This is the first time Tracy has publicly shared what he’s been up to with his company LiveRez.
Q: So how did you end up in the vacation rental arena, Tracy?
Tracy Lotz: The short version of the story is I concluded that a vacation rental web directory would be a meaningful business, but not so big that Bill Gates (my hero) would one day come in and squash me. I also wanted a business I could do from anywhere and I ended up moving it to Sun Valley, Idaho from Los Angeles. I launched 1st Choice Vacation Rentals (www.choice1.com) that went on to win several awards such as Forbes Best of the Web.
Q: Fast forward to today. How did you go from doing just a web directory to launching LiveRez and powering All Star Vacation Homes management systems and booking engine?
Tracy Lotz: All Star had been a web directory customer of ours. They grew with us when we got into the web development business. We’d been doing their website for several years when Steve reached an inflection point in his business.
Steve Trover: It was a few years ago when I realized that I wanted to build more than another lifestyle business. We felt that fighting over the 5% of the market that vacation rental managers get from the vacation lodging market wasn’t nearly as compelling as trying to get some of the nearly 95% of the market that still uses hotels for their vacation lodging. Whether the business is railroads or online auctions, I’ve seen other companies too narrowly define the market they are in and they give up the larger opportunity. I’m determined not to let that happen. Thus, I realized we were actually in the “hospitality industry”, not just the “vacation rental industry”.
Q: What did you see as the key differences between the “vacation rental” and “hospitality” businesses?
Steve Trover: In addition to the things we all know are advantages of vacation rentals such as more room to relax and have fun, the biggest difference is how hard we make it to book our properties. When we compared the process to book a hotel room versus one of our properties, we had to admit that we were far more difficult to book than our hotel competitors. Expedia, Travelocity et al have trained our guests that the booking process should be easily done and we realized the process of property research, email inquiries going back and forth and so on was so painful that many would abandon part way through and we’d lose them. Undoubtedly, this meant we were losing lots of business to them even though we had a superior offering. Duplicating what the hotel industry is doing right was not enough. We needed better content to make clear what our offering was along with a clean, user friendly booking engine.
Q: What did you do with that epiphany?
Steve Trover: We set guiding principles of what we needed to deliver to our guests both offline and online. I figured we could just buy our online solution off-the-shelf. With all due respect to the software vendors in our business, I didn’t find their packages met the guiding principles we wanted to achieve. To fill the gaps, we would have had to do a lot of custom development and dealt with a lot of complexity not to mention a lot of expense. Not being in the software business, I decided to give Tracy a call and see what they could do.
Tracy Lotz: Steve’s timing was fortuitous. Just as we’d realized we needed to get into the web development business to meet our customers’ needs, we were evaluating what was next. Around this time, we were also getting calls about buying the 1st Choice Vacation Rentals business. While those overtures were attractive, I had a gut instinct that there was more to this business and that we could add some unique value and that we were in it for the long haul and not just out to cash out and check out.
Q: We often hear from vacation rental managers “we have to talk to travelers before we’ll let them book our properties” as they often have unique properties and/or they say consumers want to talk with someone before they book a property. It sounds like you have a different view.
Steve Trover: To the concern about travelers wanting to talk with a human before booking, we are always available to them via phone and will continue to monitor and improve our service there, however travelers have proven more ready than we expected. From day one when we enabled direct online bookings, we received over 30% of our business through direct online bookings and that percentage steadily continues to increase. In other words, we’ve found travelers are far more ready to book travel this way when we provided them with easy online tools and an easily navigable website.
Q: Tell me more about the guiding principles you mentioned. What were you looking for that you didn’t find?
Steve Trover: The biggest thing that we found is that the vendors’ interests and ours were not necessarily aligned. Not only did we want a modern system, we wanted a system that would allow us to provide what our customers were looking for. We live in an age when companies like Salesforce.com and Google dominate as they are more tightly aligned with their customers than the legacy companies they compete with. I believe we should apply what’s worked for their customers in our industry.
Q: We’ve talked a lot about building travelers’ confidence in vacation rentals. Does a reservation and property management system have a role to play in that?
Steve Trover: Absolutely. If you look at our website, you can see what we’ve done to help that. Detailed descriptions, lots of pictures, side by side comparison features and more. Providing the customer with all of the information they desire in an easy to get to manner shows that you are professional and are looking to meet their needs. We also have some exciting things in the works to help raise the awareness of the vacation rental accommodation through the newly launched Discover Vacation Homes public relations group. Increasing market share for the industry is our sole focus. We are hoping FlipKey and LiveRez can help us on that front. Stay tuned.
Q: Any parting thoughts?
Tracy Lotz: We’re out of stealth mode and would love to chat with anyone looking to have the kind of success All Star has had in producing revenue online. We view our relationship with vacation rental managers as a partnership and hope to work with more organizations of the caliber of All Star Vacation Homes. As word has spread that one can get access to what All Star has been using to gain competitive advantage, we’ve been forging many similar arrangements to what we have with Steve’s organization. You can email me at tlotz -atâ€”liverez [dot] – com.
Steve Trover: “Go Sox!”
About Rick Fisher:
Rick Fisher is the President of Vacation Home Expo – the travel industry’s first and only consumer travel show solely focused on the condominium, villa, and vacation home rental segments. Prior to co- founding Vacation Home Expos, Rick was a Vice President for Expedia’s Specialty Lodging division which included vacation rentals and bed and breakfast. He has been a visible spokesperson and strong advocate for the vacation rental category for the last twenty years.
Q: The industry is excited to see the launch of the Vacation Home Expo. How did you go from working at Expedia to launching the Vacation Home Expo?
Although I came from the leading online provider for vacation rentals in Expedia I have always felt that the opportunity to create more awareness of the growth and popularity of vacation rentals with consumers and the media was via offline exposure. It’s very simpleâ€¦we believe that approximately 85% of North Americans have never stayed in vacation rental type accommodations and have only experienced a traditional hotel stay .Most of the focus in our industry has been on pushing out product to the market place via the internet. Along the way there’s been very little commitment from our sector to do more in creating more offline awareness with consumers, the media, and travel trade about the benefits of the “vacation rental experience”. Vacation Home Expo represents the ideal venue to help contribute to that needed effort. The fact that the Expo in Atlanta is being endorsed and presented by the Atlanta Journal Constitution also lends a tremendous amount of credibility to our category.
Q: The first Expo is in Atlanta this coming April. Is this an annual event or can we expect to see additional showcases in other major cities in 2008?
Our intent is to make the Atlanta show an annual event and we are already exploring dates for 2009 and beyond. Our plans are also to expand the Vacation Home Expo to other key cities and markets around the country. We have just formed an industry Advisory Council comprised of seasoned executives representing a broad cross section of the vacation rental space. One of the assigned tasks of the council will be to provide us with critical feedback regarding future potential venues as well as other ideas and recommendations that will position the Expo for continued growth and success.
Q: How will you measure the success of the Vacation Home Expo?
That’s a great question and for me it won’t be based simply on numbers that can be easily quantified like the total of consumer attendees to the show and the final tally of exhibitors. Instead, I envision the Vacation Home Expo as a step by step process that will be instrumental in introducing more consumers to this phenomenal accommodation lifestyle. Anyone will tell you that, like cruising, vacation rentals reflect a high level of consumer satisfaction and the propensity for strong repeat and referral business. The challenge has always been and still exists today to attract new customers who will experience this lodging option for the first time. As I’ve always said once you taken them to “the promised land” you will most likely have a believer and convert for life. Our hope is to have the Vacation Home Expo act as a key catalyst to rally an already diverse and fragmented industry around this common cause and purpose. In addition to servicing the needs and interests of existing vacation home renters true success will come with our ability to touch that tremendous untapped pool of new customers and further grow the category.
Q: Between the various VRMA events, RezFest and other industry association events, it seems like there is an opportunity to migrate supplier focused conferences into hybrid events that focus on property management and industry awareness. For instance, in New Orleans there could have been a day dedicated to exhibiting property managers and vacation travel services to consumers. Are there discussions with VRMA or other associations to create this type of partnership?
At Vacation Home Expo we believe that we need to remain inclusive which translates into getting more of our industry association partners and representatives from the supply community to join us in getting our messaging out to the market place. Too often we meet and exchange ideas amongst ourselves while consumers, the media, and travel trade are left on the outside looking in. We have already considered the concept of potentially co-locating future shows around association conferences or vise versa. This would result in not only creating more industry awareness but also maximize participation by consumers and suppliers alike.
Q: You live in Connecticut, a state notoriously split between the Yankees and Red Sox. FlipKey is not shy about its love of the Red Soxâ€¦ Who’s your team?
Although I’m from Michigan I grew up with Mantle, Maris, Ford, and have always been a hard core New York Yankees fan and supporter. At the time of this interview there’s not too much to celebrate but as they always say â€¦ “There’s always next year”.
About Cort Roussel:
Cort Roussel is the Owner Broker for Franconia Notch Vacations, located in Franconia New Hampshire, surrounded by the White Mountain National Forest. Graduating from the University of New Hampshire’s Whittemore School of Business & Economics with a BS in Hospitality Management Cort joined the vacation rental industry in 2000 after a decade of experience in the resort, hotel & restaurant industry. In December of 2005 He purchased Franconia Notch Vacations and is now the principal owner. He has served on the VRMA Board of Directors for two years and has moderated and presented at many educational events. Roussel is also active in his local community serving as a Member of the Board for the Franconia Notch Chamber of Commerce and as a volunteer firefighter for the town of Easton, NH.
Q: Cort, you are well known for your love of the New Hampshire’s White Mountains. New Hampshire is unique given the sharp contrast in seasonal attractions. What marketing strategies do you employ to manage occupancy rates across the various, and sometimes harsh, seasons?
CR: Franconia Notch Vacations employs a “Catch-n-Release” method when enjoying our area’s lakes and streams, however we are all about “Catch-em and Keep-em” when it relates to marketing new guests and owners. We cast as large & varied a marketing net as possible using traditional print, and as much of the emerging Web media as we are able, and we have our not-so-traditional yet productive methods as well. We then follow up with exceptional personal professional grade service that ensures our guests’ return or good words and good will otherwise. With 3 to 4 months of “off-season”, we must be sure to capture as much of the market as possible and then maintain it as this is where the real growth & potential lies.
Q: You made mention of some non-traditional marketing methods. Might you elaborate on this a little?
CR: One example has to do with our Green Franconia Notch Vacations company pen. Having worked for years in and around restaurants I understand they serve us all; guests, residents, second homeowners, contractors etc. I also know that most wait staff are left scrambling for pens. So- every few weeks we make sure to visit our area restaurants, gas stations and other points of popular interest deliver a handful of pens. Now folks see me coming and smile knowing their day will turn out all “write”. We have gained many owner and guest referrals in this fashion.
Q: To the extent you are comfortable sharing, what specific efforts are you pursuing to grow your business?
CR: Quality Care for our owners, their properties and their guests. I have little doubt these will be the corner stones of growth for Franconia Notch Vacations. Most anyone can sell for less, most anyone can invent the next greatest hype; however few can gain a foot hold against top quality care and the services to match. Below my monitor and in front of my key board reads the following: “Be it Owner or Guest, We aim for Vacation Rental Success” and along with that there is favorite Fortune Cookie fortune, “With integrity & consistency your credits are piling up.” Constant reinforcement of the principles – that’s what it takes to us forward day by day.
Q: Franconia Notch is simply beautiful – especially in the Fall Season. To what extent have you gathered positive feedback, pictures and testimonials from past guests to help tell the world about Franconia Notch?
CR: We do indeed dedicate a fair amount of time to capturing what a Franconia Notch Vacations is all about by way of photographing “daily life” in Franconia and by requesting our guests’ comments on the same. The Franconia Notch Vacations comment card has 2 distinct sections. One section is devoted to asking about the Agency & Vacation Experience where the other section is all about the Property. We then use these comments, in conjunction with our psychical attribute requirements when formulating a property’s rating as Grand, Deluxe, Standard or Rustic. We have also designed the comment card so that we may easily separate the guests’ comments about their experience at a property and we forward these to our owners. The agency can and does tell owners what they ought to invest in or upgrade, however it always seems to carry more weight when they read it coming from their guests.
Q: You are a volunteer firefighter – have you ever had to jump into a burning building on the verge of collapse? (I’m sure you have been asked this a million times)
CR: No- however I have responded in uniform to one of my rental properties that experienced a furnace malfunction which left the guests wondering to what length we will go to assure their comfort. I think most professional managers might agreeâ€¦ we are all “fire-fighters” on some level if we are doing our jobs to the highest degree.
See you in the Mountains!
We are introducing a new feature to the FlipKey Blog. We did not want to limit the commentary on the FlipKey Blog to our research findings and internal observations, so we are featuring a guest interview every few weeks. Our hope is that we can share the thoughts and opinions of some of the industry’s most enthusiastic participants.
We are happy to announce Steve Trover, CEO of All Star Vacation Homes as our first guest interview!
About Steve Trover:
Steve Trover is the CEO of All Star Vacation Homes – a well known and reputable property management firm in Orlando, Florida. Steve represents over 150 vacation rental properties and serves as a Board Member of FVRMA, and on the Osceola Resort Area Council (ORAC). Steve is president and one of the founding members of a public relations and marketing association, Discover Vacation Homes. He is also an active member and regular presenter at VRMA conferences.
Q: How did you first become involved with the vacation rental industry?
Steve Trover: “I started three businesses prior to All Star and I was always looking for another opportunity. At the time my mother was in the general real estate market here in Central Florida. She would occasionally sell a vacation home and not have a good management company to refer her clients to. We started discussing the business potential of operating our own and decided to jump in. All Star began as a marketing company first, with a focus on Internet marketing for many management companies around the state of Florida. This allowed us to see how different managers operated and helped form our early business model.”
Q: Steve, you represent homes in the highly competitive Orlando market. What challenges do you face that are unique to the Orlando market compared to the industry at-large?
Steve Trover: “The Orlando market is one of the most competitive vacation rental markets in the world. There are an estimated 700 management companies and thousands of vacation rentals. On top of that, there are over 135,000 hotel rooms and a multitude of other lodging options. Although we have an industry-wide lack of awareness of the vacation rental product, this is even more acute in central Florida as compared to most mountain and beach destinations. I will say that it’s a great place to cut your teeth.”
Q: You are an active member in several industry associations. How would you characterize your charge in the industry? In other words, what are the main topics/challenges you focus on?
Steve Trover: “First and foremost I would say awareness. We are seeing the vacation rental product become more of a consideration in the mind of the consumer but we are just getting started. It is our biggest obstacle and our greatest opportunity.
I would also say standards. It is critical that our industry starts to identify and adopt a group of standards that consumers can expect when they rent a vacation property.
Having our own unique identity is important but we must improve the overall quality of the products and services we provide in order to achieve a higher level of adoption of our product. We need to understand that we are more than managers of property, we are hospitality providers. We are the new hotel.”
Q: What can we, as an industry, do to create more effective PR and service awareness to make vacation rentals an ever greater mainstream consumer lodging option?
Steve Trover: “There are opportunities to work collectively to promote our industry on a national, state and local level through the various associations and emerging alliances. We should be working with our destination marketing organizations to make sure we get equal or greater exposure compared to other lodging options in their marketing efforts. We should be pitching all forms of media, both online and off, about the great story of vacation home rentals.
We, as a company, and through our local and state vacation rental manager associations are participating in the first annual Vacation Home Expo in April 2008. This event, held in Atlanta in conjunction with the general consumer travel show, will focus specifically on our industry and give us the opportunity to speak directly to travelers about the vacation home accommodation. We are very excited about participating in this first of its kind show!”
Q: If you could start a new property management company in any area of the nation – other than Florida – where would it be?
Steve Trover: “We have been asking our guests where they would like to see us go for some time now, and they will have a substantial say in that decision. I will tell you that we will consider locations that have an inherently strong visitation, a longer than average season and a strong ordinance and zoning allowing for vacation rentals.
Outside of that I do have a certificate of ownership for ten acres on the moon and I hear Virgin Airlines is planning flights there by 2050. â˜º”