Home Archives 2008 March

Monthly Archives: March 2008

You know that list you keep of countries and travel destinations that you’d like to visit. Probably tucked away in your mind and pops up when you’re finally taking time to plan your vacation or someone has just returned from theirs and is telling you about their “trophy trip.” Instead of missing the next must-do destination and reading about it later in the NYTimes travel section, take a moment to check out a new travel service Global Basecamps (GBC).

global basecamps

I met with one of the founders a few months ago, and these guys are passionate about unique travel, having worked in high-end travel consulting for years. With Global Basecamps they have taken their accumulated knowledge and first-hand world travel experience and created an online service for discovering and booking unique accommodations. These are accommodations that have been hand-picked and verified by GBC.

Searching for a Remarkable Trip
This summer I am planning a vacation and looking to blend a little adventure with some high-quality getaway time. I know I’d like to be on the coast, so I begin by searching through the Coastal Basecamps on GBC. Quickly, it’s apparent that GBC has done their homework and ensured that the quality of the lodging options is top shelf. In fact, even though several features on the site are under development, it’s difficult not to linger on the site and enjoy discovering new destinations and adding to my list of pending vacation spots. Eventually, I settle on Little Palm Island, a private island reachable only by boat or seaplane.

global basecamps
Through GBC I get a nice editorial on the location and am able to check availability without having to leave the site. I also have the option of calling directly and working a GBC “travel specialist” to complete my trip.

Niche Marketing Opportunities
Travel is a massive and dynamic segment of the internet and niche services such as Global Basecamps offer niche marketing opportunities. Vacation homes are unique and often located in destinations where hotels are not an option. You probably don’t consider your properties as “basecamps” but think about your inventory and whether certain stand-out properties fit the Global Basecamp model. This could be an excellent marketing channel for you to reach new consumers in the wheelhouse of your target audience: travelers searching for unique lodging options.

As of today, FlipKey has opened its doors. Please visit our new homepage at www.flipkey.com and explore how FlipKey can help you collect verified reviews and manage your internet-based Reputation.

Why was FlipKey created?
After managing our own vacation rentals we discovered a lack of trust and consumer awareness among prospective guests searching for vacation rentals. Guests needed assurances that our vacation homes were as advertised and that we, as managers/owners, were legitimate business operators.

Recently Reviewed PropertiesFact is, the majority of vacationers LOVE vacation rentals. The experience is more personal, often more economical and affords a unique travel experience. The majority of our guests had a great time and would send us emails saying as much.

The Problem:
Despite evidence of the wonderful experiences of our past guests, browsing consumers were skeptical. Prospective guests assumed our testimonials were written by us and not actual guests.

In addition, guests were often confused about how we would resolve potential problems like lost keys or an unexpected maintenance problem. Were we onsite or did we live 200 miles away? Did we have experience renting our homes before?

To effectively attract, book and yield a top nightly rate we needed “verified” reviews of each home and a way for guests to understand the difference between a professionally managed property and a unit managed directly by the owner.

FlipKey WidgetThe Solution:
FlipKey was created to help managers of all sizes collect verified guest reviews to establish a trusted internet-based reputation. The FlipKey Reputation Manager allows managers to easily invite past guests to share their vacation rental experience. Guest reviews are collected by FlipKey, verified for authenticity and then published on your website, FlipKey.com and any other marketing channels you may leverage.

FlipKey allows managers to publicly respond to reviews to thank guests for their positive experience or to address improvements. All replies are posted to the original reviews, so you can effectively manage your reputation and communicate the full value of your service.

[Click Here To See an Example]

On FlipKey.com, we reinforce consumer trust by informing users whether properties are “professionally managed.” By helping educate vacationers on the security and predictability afforded by professionally managed homes, we help consumers evaluate the relative benefits of renting from a property manager versus directly through an owner.

Who is using FlipKey?

“FlipKey is the first Reputation Solution designed for vacation rentals. As a webmaster I love that FlipKey offers free tools to port verified reviews and reputation to my clients’ sites.” – Trent Blizzard, CEO of Blizzard Marketing

Companies collecting verified guest reviews through FlipKey include:

All-Star Vacation Homes (Kissimmee, FL)
Franconia Notch Vacations (Franconia, NH)
Escape 2 Florida Homes (Clermont, FL)
Surfside Realty
(Myrtle Beach, SC)
Imagine Vacation Homes (Orlando, FL)
And more…

*Click company name to view their FlipKey Front Deskâ„¢

What’s Next for FlipKey?

  • FlipKey will soon enhance its service and features by offering integration with property management software services. This will make it even easier to collect this invaluable marketing asset.
  • We will continually improve and expand FlipKey’s suite of Reputation Tools helping you go beyond guest reviews to improve/increase your reputation.
  • Provide managers that have established a strong reputation through FlipKey guest reviews the opportunity to be featured on large affiliated travel sites.

If you manage vacation rentals and would like to join FlipKey, click here to learn more and apply.

It’s not everyday that I’m genuinely excited about a new travel service, but Clear (www.flyclear.com) is an exception.

Clear I first discovered Clear on a recent trip. I noticed a wide open security line at the airport featuring a blue Clear cube at the entrance Travelers were walking down the designated line, surpassing me in the standard security line, flashing a small card and then being escorted directly to the x-ray scan. For a brief moment I assumed these travelers to be foreign diplomats, Superbowl MVPs or some other form of social privilege. But NO, they were simply members of Clear.

About clear
Clear® is the fast pass for airport security. Clear members are pre-screened and provided with a high-tech card which allows them to access designated airport security fast lanes nationwide.

Clear’s first year price is $100 plus the TSA vetting fee of $28 for a total charge of $128.

How it Works

1) Find the Clear cube
When you arrive at the airport, look for the blue Clear cube that designates the Clear express lane at the airport security.

2) Very your iris or fingerprint
The Clear kiosk will verify your identity using your Clear Card and your biometric data.

3) Go directly to security
Once you are verified, you go directly to security. The Clear concierge will assist you in streamlining this process. Avoid the wait in the long security lines. The Clear sales rep I spoke with guaranteed a maximum wait of 4 minutes between entering the line and clearing security

I love this service. For a small premium, it helps frequent travelers significantly reduce the stress and wait times at the airport. The only negatives to the service are (1) a limited amount of participating airports and (2) a likely subscription bump in coming years.

FlyClear Map

Currently there are only 17 airports participating in the program, but Clear reps indicated that many more are coming online in the next year. In terms of the very reasonable annual subscription of $128, Clear has made it clear (pardon the pun) that the $128 rate is only applicable for the first year. It is unclear (ha, another pun) what their long-term pricing will look like.

We are excited to announce that FlipKey will be a featured speaker at this year’s Florida Vacation Rental Managers Association (FVRMA) Annual Conference & Tradeshow.

:: Session Title and Summary

Social Media & Internet Based Reputation – Changing the Face of Vacation Rental Marketing

Reputation is the opinion and public perception of an individual, a group or an organization. In the vacation rental market reputation is created by the opinion of prior guests’ experiences with your rental properties and underlying hospitality services. Great reputation yields highly qualified guests through recommendations from family and friends. Poor reputation or, more appropriately, a lack of reputation forces the industry to re-market itself with every new guest. Your reputation and the word-of-mouth buzz it generates is your most powerful marketing asset.

At the FVRMA conference, TJ Mahony, CEO of FlipKey.com, will review the impact of social travel sites and will highlight new services and strategies that are available to vacation rental managers to help attract more guests and command higher nightly rates.

FVRMA convention and tradeshow

Please Join Us:

If you haven’t registered it’s not too late.

Click here to visit FVRMA’s online registration!

There are a number of interesting speakers and events at this year’s event. We hope to see you there.

2008 Highlighted Speakers / Sessions:

Trent Blizzard, Founder/CEO, Blizzard Internet Marketing
“Internet Marketing Training”

Dale Brill, Director, Office of Tourism, State of Florida
“State of the State address”

Regina Ebert, Ascent Processing

“Credit Card Pitfalls”

Lee Hughes, CSA Travel Protection, and Barbara Worzella, AIG
“Travel Protection for All”

Rita Craig, The Craig Group

“Solutions to Ensure Future Success”

TJ Mahoney, FlipKey
“Social Media and Internet-Based Reputation”

Nancy Friedman, Telephone Doctor

“How to Be an Island of Excellence in an Ocean of Mediocrity”

Lisa Hogan, Resort Rating Specialists
“The Bar Has Been Raised: Tips on Evaluating Vacation Rentals”

Round Table Sessions:

“ROI/Increase Income; Internet Marketing; Housekeeping/Laundry Services/Maintenance – Focus on Efficiency & Quality; Guest Services/Niche Marketing – Increase Your Repeat & Referral Business”

AND MORE!

There was an interesting article in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal written by Shelly Banjo which discussed the power of blogs for small businesses without large marketing budgets.

Excerpt from WSJ Article
:

“Businesses of all types and sizes are focusing on the power of bloggers as opinion shapers. But harnessing that power is particularly important for small-business owners who don’t have the money to create name recognition with big marketing campaigns. By connecting with the right blogs, small businesses can generate buzz around their products and services and increase sales dramatically.”

Leveraging Existing Blogs

The article notes that creating your own blog isn’t the only way to leverage the blogosphere. The WSJ article suggests rather than trying to create an established blog with dedicated readership, you take your product to a reputable blog and have them write about it, putting you directly in front of their readers.

Here is a quick example of how a property management company could creatively leverage existing travel blogs to increase exposure of their product:

  1. XYZ Property Management in the greater Boston area reads Arthur Frommer’s online blog today and notices his mention of spending a summer vacation at Harvard – a four week summer school for all ages.
  2. XYZ Property Management contacts Frommer’s blog to inform them of a “Harvard Summer School Special” – offering select vacation homes close to Harvard at a discount for attendees of the four week program.
  3. Frommer’s finds this supplementary story interesting and relevant and writes a brief post about XYZ Property Management and their unique “Harvard Summer School Special” offer.

Presto – your company is mentioned on a site that attracted over 600,000 unique visitors last month according to compete.com.

Starting your own blog is also an excellent option and can be free and easy on websites such as wordpress.com and blogger.com. However, to make your blog relevant and useful to readers, you will have to be dedicated to writing consistent and relevant articles. In the meantime, consider how to use existing blogosphere resources to market yourself and your services to a wider audience.

Whether managing one, ten, hundreds or thousands of units, all managers invest in laundry. Over time the energy and water used in the processes adds up in cost and environmental output, which begs the question – how green is your laundry?

I received an email the other day from the Sierra Club (an environmental group) asking this various question and I was intrigued. The survey focuses on individual laundry habits; however, it highlighted the use of Energy Star qualified washers, which we felt was applicable to the vacation rental industry.

Cited from the Sierra Club
Energy Star qualified washers use at least 40 percent less energy than standard washers and roughly half the water (www.energystar.gov). If you’re in the market for a new washer, look for an Energy Star qualified model with the highest possible MEF, or Modified Energy Factor. The upfront expense may be greater, but more efficient machines mean lower operating costs. Dryers, by the way, are not Energy Star rated because there’s so little variation in energy use among the models.

If your machine hails from the avocado/harvest gold era, obviously, it’s time to find a replacement. In general, newer washers are more efficient than ancient ones. Age alone, however, is not a good gauge of your washer’s efficiency. That’s because the Energy Star program highlights appliances more efficient than the average of current models, so there are plenty of washers that fall short of the standard. Remember, too, that Energy Star washers range in capacity from 1.6 to 3.8 cubic feet, so tailor your purchase to your household’s size.

If you’re using a laundromat, don’t beat up on yourself. Many laundromats already use energy-efficient washers since the water-heating bills for all those machines do add up. In general, the side-loading models commonly found in commercial laundries are more efficient than top loaders.

Food for thought if you’re in the process of replacing your current washers. If you are interesting in taking the free quiz to see how green your personal laundry habits are, click here.

In October we wrote of new guarantees being offered in the vacation rental market. Ultimately we found these guarantees to be reactive and counter productive in driving consumer confidence. Reimbursement of a night’s stay and assistance in finding alternative accommodations – after realizing the home you booked does not exist – is hardly compensation for a disrupted and potentially ruined vacation.

Resort Quest Snow Guarantee

Say hello to what we consider a more appealing guarantee. The Exclusive ResortQuest Snow Guarantee® is a proactive guarantee that gives guests the ability to relocate their reservation to another ResortQuest ski destination if snow conditions do not meet their expectations, without forfeiting any deposits.

Ski destinations offered by ResortQuest include:

  • Colorado: Aspen, Breckenridge, Keystone, Snowmass, Steamboat, and Telluride
  • Idaho: Sun Valley
  • Utah: Park City
  • B.C. Canada: Whistler

How It Works:

I discover my scheduled destination has poor snow conditions; I call ResortQuest (at least 7 days prior to arrival) and request to be relocated to a ‘like accommodation’ at another destination, with better conditions. ResortQuest changes my reservation and I’m all set to hit the slopes.

Pros of the ResortQuest Guarantee:

  • I can book confidentially, knowing that if Mother Nature is not working with me I can select a more desirable location prior to my actual departure
  • It’s free – no change fee

Cons of the ResortQuest Guarantee:

  • Snow conditions tend to be fairly similar in common geographies. As a result, changing my destination to better conditions will likely require changing my flight. Unfortunately the airlines will likely not be as accommodating as ResortQuest
  • The guarantee is contingent on ‘available’ units at a similar or lower nightly rate. (Correction: if an upgrade is required, the guest is not responsible to pay the upgrade fee.) During high seasons, it will be difficult for ResortQuest to change a reservation.

As the saying (kind of) goes, “nothing is guaranteed except death and taxes”. We like the ResortQuest Snow Guarantee and think it’s a brilliant marketing campaign, but in the end only a handful of people will be in a situation that is able to take advantage of the offer. Regardless, this is a creative and productive approach for encouraging vacationers to select a vacation rental.

About Maureen Regan:
Maureen Regan is the President of Seaside Vacation Rentals located on the beautiful southern Maine coast. The company, founded Maureen Regan 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 work

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!