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Monthly Archives: May 2013

Following up on our top summer beer festivals list last week, blogger Drew Hendricks felt that the West Coast was underrepresented. Drew is a beer enthusiast, tech, social media, and environmental addict. He’s written for publications such as Huffington Post, National Geographic, and Technorati.

by Drew Hendricks

From the beaches and deserts of Southern California, to the bars and clubs of Portland, to the offices and corporate headquarters in Seattle, the West Coast offers travelers and visitors something new and different at every stop. It also offers some of the best beers you can find west of Boston. Here’s a look at the top seven breweries on the West Coast.

1. Stone Brewing Company, Escondido, California

Found in Escondido, California, the Stone Brewing Company is confident enough of its status as one of the best brewery on the West Coast that it’s flagship brew is named Arrogant Bastard Ale. The brewery produced almost 150,000 barrels of beer in 2012, and they offer free tours, tastings, and a bistro.

2. Deschutes Brewery, Bend, Oregon

Bend, Oregon offers a reward for those willing to brave its mountains and cloud cover. The tiny mountain town is the home of Deschutes Brewery, which offers guests a beautiful tasting room, the experimental The Abyss, and the brewery standard Black Butte Porter. There are always eight beers on tap, and the friendly and knowledgeable staff will make this a wonderful stop on your West Coast brewery tour.

3. Rogue Ales Brewery, Newport, Oregon

If Seattle has the coffee, then Oregon brings the beer. The Rogue Ales Brewery in Newport, Oregon provides visitors with their choice of a pint from 40 taps while they wait for their tour to start. Atypical appetizers and one of the biggest draft selections in the area add up to a must-see brewery when you’re in the Pacific Northwest.

4. Fremont Brewing, Seattle, Washington

Seattle has over 150 breweries within its relatively small borders, but only Fremont Brewing has the trifecta of delicious beers, a pub that allows kids and dogs to hang out (but not drink), and an outdoor patio. The brewpub doesn’t serve food, but they allow you to bring your own or order from nearby eateries. Inexpensive beers and taster sizes make Fremont Brewing one of the most popular stops for beer lovers in Seattle.

5. Russian River, Santa Rosa, California

Back south in California, we find the Russian River Brewing Company in Santa Rosa. Their Blind Pig brew is renowned for its hoppiness, but there are a number of others on offer that bring customers back time and again, including the Pliny the Elder and Pliny the Younger sequence of double and triple IPAs. The food combinations put together by Russian River rank Santa Rosa among the top choices for brews and eats on the West Coast.

6. Mother Earth Brewing Company, Vista, California

With a name like “Mother Earth,” you just know the Vista, California-based brewery is going to be good for you. The brewing team focuses on creating a down-to-earth vibe and tasty beers brewed with local ingredients. The tasting room has given birth to more than 30 beers since it was established in 2008. If you’re looking for a spot that’s a little less rooted in antiquity, and a little more part of the 21st century, then the Mother Earth Brewing Company is the place for you.

7. Beachwood Brewing, Long Beach, California

Another new entry into the West Coast brewery scene, Beachwood Brewing in Long Beach, California offers guests a classy brewing experience. The modern brewery boasts a state-of-the-art system to maintain a perfect balance of carbon dioxide and temperatures, producing some of the most top quality house beers of any brewpub on the West Coast. They also serve up tasty BBQ in Long Beach and Seal Beach.

One of the trickier parts in converting a property into a vacation rental is striking the right balance between ensuring a comfortable stay for guests and having the home still convenient for your own occasional visits. It’s important to avoid making guests feel as though they are invading your personal space, but you also don’t want to give them the generic feeling of staying in a hotel. In order to find the right balance that works for you, we’ve provided some tips to help steer you in the right direction.

Things to Avoid

  • Anything that, for you, is irreplaceable. You may want to think twice about decorating your vacation home with family heirlooms, or anything of sentimental value for that matter. We’re not saying that every guest will cause damage to your home, but once these items are broken, more often than not, they are lost forever. So, it’s better to err on the side of caution with this one.
  • Computer and paper files should be kept in a secure place away from guests. Some visitors may let their curiosity get the better of them and decide to go poking around the rental just to see what each drawer and cabinet holds, so it would be wise to keep anything with sensitive information on it off of the property. If you offer a computer as a featured amenity of your vacation home, you should take the precaution of wiping your personal files and passwords from the hard drive. This can be done through software that you can find for free on the Internet, or, if you prefer, you can always hire a professional to erase any sensitive information from your computer.
  • Framed family photos should not cover the walls of your rental. While it’s nice to leave out one or two family pictures, you don’t want to create a shrine of all your fondest memories. Leaving a photo in your vacation home is a great way to connect to your renters and make them feel like they aren’t renting from some anonymous entity, but leave it at just that one. Any more than that, and it could cause your renters to feel as though they are intruding on your home.
  • Putting up signs to designate “Only for Owner’s Use” or taping off areas is something that you should also try to avoid. This could be off-putting to your potential guests and can be perceived negatively. Your goal as a vacation rental owner should be to create an inviting space for those who stay, and not to give them the impression that they aren’t trusted.

Common Solutions

  • Utilizing an extra linen closet in your vacation home as an “owner’s closet” is a simple solution for storing any of your personal effects. Avoid designating a bedroom closet to store these items so that it can still be available to your guests for use, and be sure to switch out the doorknob for one that locks. Making a couple of copies of your owner’s closet key will also help to save you any headaches in the future.
  • If you don’t have the option of turning a linen closet into a space for your personal items, consider purchasing a storage closet or cabinets for your garage. Be sure that these storage units also have locking mechanisms for your own peace of mind.
  • An outdoor shed is another option for stowing personal belongings out of sight of guests. This opens up the possibility of storing larger items, like lawnmowers, instead of just smaller items, like cleaning supplies and toiletries, which a closet would be limited to.
  • Or, if these solutions are unappealing, you can always try relying on the honor system. This would require you to notify guests during the booking process (that means before they arrive at your home!) what items are okay for them to use and which ones you’d prefer them not to use. In your rental agreement contract you could include a section that states “I provide ‘x’ in the spice cabinet that guests are welcome to use for cooking through the duration of their stay..,” so that you clearly outline, in writing, what items you supply for your guests. This will, hopefully, avoid any confusion, and it may be worthwhile to gently remind guests again on your policy of what items you provide once the booking is complete. However, this method does come with its risks as you will be leaving items unguarded for those potentially nosey travelers.

By employing any of these simple solutions it will help to limit the amount of suitcases you have to lug each time you decide to stay in your vacation home, as well as restocking trips to the grocery store. And, while being convenient for your own use, it simultaneously enables your vacation home to become a welcoming environment for all who stay.

Happy bookings!

One surefire way of measuring success as a vacation rental owner is through the amount of guests that return for another stay at your little slice of paradise. Repeat renters provide an easy way to boost bookings and offer a financial opportunity that cannot be overlooked. As long as you do your part in delivering a pleasant experience for all guests, it should require minimal effort to obtain another reservation if they were to visit the area again. Previous guests already know what to expect, but for someone who is completely unfamiliar with the property it will take a bit more encouragement to convince them to book. So seize the opportunity and push yourself into providing an exceptional experience for every visitor, impressing them initially will give you a greater chance of booking them again and spreading positive word of mouth. Here are a few simple tips that will help guide you in the right direction:

Take a critical eye to your current listing. First and foremost, make sure that absolutely everything is up to date. Have you refurnished your home or added any new amenities over the year? Maybe your phone number has changed? Give yourself every advantage possible by keeping your listing current and making it easy for interested travelers to contact you.

While giving your listing the once over, try revamping your photo gallery by adding new images of your rental. The changing of seasons provides the perfect occasion for updating your profile. Especially if your home is located in an area that typically attracts travelers during the winter or summer months, featuring your home’s exterior in all its glory during a specific season will certainly increase your listing’s curb appeal. Not only does it tell potential guests that you are tending to your profile on a regular basis, but it also allows them to immediately start imagining themselves vacationing in your home. Also, the more pictures you provide, the greater your chances are of attracting travelers. Having a sizable collection of photos that showcase your home provides potential guests with a thorough preview of your relaxing rental, making them more comfortable with committing to a reservation.

Along with featuring your home through photos, be sure to highlight every amenity in your written description no matter how trivial it may seem. If you don’t include even the most minor of appliances people may assume that you just don’t own it. They could then mistakenly use it as a greater reflection on what the rest of your home offers, so don’t sell yourself short! Details play an important role in your listing’s description, so instead of saying “fully equipped kitchen” make a list of the appliances and cookware you offer. Being able to make home-cooked meals is one of the many benefits in renting a vacation home over a hotel room, and having a state of the art kitchen provides you with a competitive edge over other rentals so be sure to highlight every amenity it has to offer. Providing details over just saying “fully equipped kitchen” will allow your written description to come to life for the reader.

Another way to set you apart from the competition is by offering guests the opportunity to upgrade their experience. An easy way to do this is through providing them with a list of luxury services from trusted local businesses. This can range from a housekeeper or personal chef to a tour guide or nanny that will help facilitate a truly stress-free vacation. This also provides a great opportunity to build relationships with these local organizations that can then lead to discounts and promotional offers that can be passed along to your guests. Reaching out to local eateries is a great place to start. With restaurants eternally competing with one another, guaranteeing them customers in exchange for a special discount that you can treat your guests to is a win-win for everyone.

Be a customer service extraordinaire! Being a responsive property owner indicates to your guests that they are a priority and will allow them to feel more comfortable with placing their full confidence into you and your rental. A quick and easy way to accomplish this is just by being prompt when responding to travelers’ emails and phone calls. Taking even as much as a day to reply could result in a lost booking as your rental is most likely not the only one they will be contacting, so it’s important to respond to all inquiries within a few hours.

Once a reservation is booked, if you want to really be seen as exceptional try to anticipate the potential concerns of your guests. For instance, when you send the contract that will finalize each traveler’s booking include a list of items that they may want to bring. This will help to minimize any confusion on what is to be expected when staying at your home.

Another way you can stay ahead of the curve is by calling your guests a couple of days into their vacation. This will give you the opportunity to address any immediate issues they may have, and by doing this you’ll be making it clear that you are the type of owner who truly cares about every detail of your guests’ experience. If a visitor were to run into an issue, you need to decide ahead of time whether you will be Mr. Fix It or if hiring someone will be a better option. Keep in mind that taking on the responsibility of maintenance man is a 24/7 job, so why not leave it to the professionals? This resource will make it easier to address concerns immediately since the role of a rental owner already requires you to wear many other hats.

Following up with guests after they leave your home gives you another opportunity to impress them with your customer service expertise. A simple way you can do this is by sending them a thank-you note expressing your gratitude. This will help strengthen the relationship that you’ve put the effort in to create as it allows you to keep in contact with past visitors. Another way to keep in correspondence, depending on the extent of your record keeping, is through offering them special discounts during times of the year that hold significance for them like a birthday or anniversary. Offering a free night’s stay if they book your home for a three day visit during that particular period gives them a sense of being catered to, and who doesn’t enjoy feeling like they’re being given individualized attention? Reaching out to guests during dates important to them will make you stand out as a vacation rental owner.

The rental experience begins with the booking. Securing a reservation is just the first part of the rental process, so if you want to reach superstar status as an owner providing personal touches becomes critical to your role. Assembling a package of local treats and items that showcase your destination’s unique character will immediately welcome your guests and provide them with a snapshot of your region’s culture. Along with the local goodies enclose a guide for enjoying the area’s nightlife.  Include a list of restaurants, comedy clubs, and any events that may be happening during their stay like festivals and fairs.

Go a step further and include in your welcome package themed itineraries that will help to guide them through the area’s attractions. Design one for families looking for a little fun and adventure and include a list of nearby amusement and waterparks, zoos and aquariums, or maps of local hiking trails. You can also take the stress off of your visitors by stocking the kitchen ahead of time with a few essentials that will allow them to delay their trip to the grocery store. Guests traveling long distances will certainly appreciate this gesture, and it will allow them to kick their vacation into high gear the moment they step through the front door.

If your home is in a vacation destination that typically attracts families, especially ones with small children, providing baby and toddler paraphernalia will not only convey your knowledge of the area’s tourism but will be greatly appreciated by parents. Items like high chairs, cribs, and strollers can be a real hassle when traveling, so take some of the stress off of the parents by providing them with the bigger, bulkier items. Small investments like this will make a world of difference for your guests, and will provide a smoother travel experience for them since they’ll already be trying to keep track of their mountain of luggage, high-energy kids, and the entire toy collection essential for keeping the little ones entertained.

So raise the bar for yourself as an owner, and take a stab at a few of these tips. Little touches like those listed are what set you apart from other rentals. But don’t let yourself get too overwhelmed with trying to execute these ideas all at once, rather ease them into future transactions and watch as the positive feedback from guests starts to roll in.

With the rise in popularity of vacation rentals, a more watchful eye has been placed on short-term rentals and their impact on the local community. New York City in particular has been a focus of news sources for the city’s regulations governing this type of property. However, regulation issues are prevalent throughout the rental industry. Increased attention coupled with a general lack of knowledge regarding these regulations has prompted the formation of the Short Term Rental Advocacy Center, or STRAC. This group was created by FlipKey & TripAdvisor, HomeAway, and Airbnb to help empower and engage the short-term rental community in its crusade with policymakers for smarter regulations.

First, you may be asking yourself, “Well, what exactly qualifies as a ‘short-term rental’?”

This type of property is a residence that is rented out for less than 30 consecutive days.

Now, you’re probably wondering, “Okay, well then what are the issues surrounding this rental market?”

This is a multi-faceted question, but some of the main issues are overly broad regulations, complicated and unclear restrictions, licensing fees regardless of how often a property is rented, and a lack of understanding by policymakers of the benefits these rentals provide to the community. All of these limitations have made it increasingly difficult to successfully operate a short-term rental.

So, what’s the solution?

Well, a good place to start is by visiting STRAC’s website, http://www.stradvocacy.org/. This is a great resource for finding a local chapter of the organization, learning about how these regulations have impacted U.S. cities and short-term rental owners, and providing guidelines on how to approach your local government about these issues in a well-informed manner. It is important that your voice is heard when these regulations are being drafted and enacted. It is your property, your community, and your livelihood. STRAC is here to help, but it is up to short-term rental owners to make themselves heard. Here are some tools to get started!

Currently, there are local chapters in the following cities:

Ashland, ORMarin County, CA
Austin, TXMaui, HI
Coachella Valley, CAMiami, FL
Myrtle Beach, SCSan Francisco, CA
New York City, NYSanta Fe, NM

The STRAC website also provides a synopsis of each city’s current short-term rental regulations and how to contact them directly. Once you register with your local chapter, you can receive email updates on short-term rental regulations and meetings that are happening in your area.  These updates provide opportunities to get involved and share your story with others affected by these regulations.

Visit STRAC today, and get started on making a positive impact on your short-term rental community!

“A one size fits all” sort of attitude does not work when it comes to renting out vacation homes. Travelers are just as varied as the destinations from which they are choosing for their next adventure. In order to achieve the ultimate goal of having a fully booked rental for the entire season, it’s a good idea to take the different types of traveler personalities into consideration when advertising your home. We’ve selected several to focus on, but this collection is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to targeting travelers.

Bargain Hunters

Bargain hunters are travelers who are always on the lookout for deals and discounts. The best time to focus on this type is during your off-season. It’s certainly easier to secure full-priced bookings during peak season when the demand is at its highest, so when inquiries are just trickling in this is your opportunity to appeal to those seeking the best deal your area has to offer. The obvious way to attract this traveler is through discounted nightly rates and a reduction in the minimum amount of nights you require per stay, but you could also offer bargains in other forms. Gift certificates or coupons to local eateries, spa and wellness centers, or fun indoor activities like rock climbing may provide that extra “umpf” to edge out the competition.

Empty Nesters

Couples’ whose children are now adults, who have moved out of their house, have entered the land of “Empty Nesters.” This is another group that you can turn your attention to during the off-season. Not bound by school schedules, these travelers have more freedom when it comes to the time of year they can choose to plan their trip and may prefer to skip the crowds during your area’s busier season. You can appeal to this group by including in your property description the advantages of staying at your home during the non-tourist season. Highlight local attractions that are open in the off-season or you could frame your rental as their ticket to a pampered paradise. By creating a guide to your area’s best relaxation spots (think spa treatments) or ways to feel pampered in your home (personal chef, anyone?) will certainly help to appeal to these travelers.

Semi-Locals

This group of travelers is trading in long vacations in exotic locales for shorter, weekend stays in destinations a little closer to home. Prospective travelers that live within driving distance of your rental are good targets for when the weather starts getting colder and the last of the tourists have petered out. Families looking to escape for the weekend or during their child’s short breaks that are sprinkled throughout the school year fall into the semi-local category and hopefully fall into the blank dates on your rental calendar!

Corporate Retreats

Vacation rentals are ideal for corporate retreats whether a company is looking to improve office morale with a relaxing trip aimed at strengthening the bond between employees, or just looking for a change in scenery to help prevent creativity from becoming stagnant. When appealing to this segment emphasize space and the calm, peaceful nature of your home—perfect for getting a little work done! Also, be sure to highlight that your home is ideal for large groups and is close to activities suitable for team bonding, like cooking lessons at a local restaurant, which will help lure this traveler type.

By taking different traveler personalities into consideration and adjusting your property description, you’ll be able to attract even more guests to stay at your home. Editing your photo gallery so that you showcase some images highlighting features that are likely to persuade any one of these personality types is another easy way to grab their attention. So, take a little time and look over your property listing; tweaking a few things could end up earning you more each rental season.

Like most vacation rental owners, you’re probably looking for new ways to increase your bookings. An easy way to do this is by simply inviting back former guests with which you’ve had a positive experience. In general, keeping an existing customer is much cheaper than trying to find a new one, and there’s the added bonus of not having to explain the logistics to former visitors since they have already stayed in your home. Here are a few ways that you can increase the likelihood of a previous guest returning to your vacation home.

Send a thank you note after your guest’s stay

Let your guests know you value their patronage by sending them a nice email or a hand-written thank you note. Guests will appreciate you taking the time to acknowledge their decision to spend their trip in your home over the others in the surrounding area.

Create a feedback survey

After a booking, invite your guests to answer a few questions to see how you can improve your accommodation. Create a survey that allows visitors to give constructive feedback on what can make your vacation rental a better experience. You can use either a paper or email survey, like SurveyMonkey, and can ask guests a range of questions on topics like cleanliness, amenities, and comfort level. Not only will this feedback help you improve your service, it will also let guests know you care about providing the best possible experience.

Send a holiday card

When December rolls around, wish your guests a happy holiday season with a greeting card. While you can include a picture of your vacation rental, be careful not to make it a sales pitch. A holiday greeting card that’s genuine can make a great impression on former guests.

Offer a special amenity or discount

Offering a special deal or incentive to potential repeat renters is another great way to entice them back to your vacation home. You could knock off 10% of the total cost of the rental or maybe offer a special gift, like a gift certificate to a local spa, for a couple that has previously spent a week in your home. Adding amenities can often work better than discounts, not only because they can be cheaper as they are an investment, but also because they focus on enriching the entire experience of your guests.

So by putting in a little extra effort in maintaining a friendly relationship with your guests and keeping the lines of communication open, you increase your chances of securing their loyalty and quite possibly their future reservations.

Happy Bookings!

 

 

 

by Chris Loud

With the Brewer’s Association reporting that there are over 2,300 craft breweries operating in the United States, there’s no denying that craft beer is gaining popularity right now. When it comes to tasting, commenting, and judging, beer is the new wine, and the best way to get to know some of the amazing beers around the country, and around the world, is to attend a beer festival. Beer, music, a great setting, and good people combine for a recipe for a pint (or two) of bliss, especially on a hot summer day.

To help decide which festivals to attend for a dive into beer culture, we selected the finest events worth taking a trip to experience. We’ve created this list of the country’s best celebrations of suds to satisfy the beer enthusiast planning a summer sipping vacation.

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Here in Boston, Memorial Day is the first weekend to tentatively dip toes in the icy Atlantic and convince ourselves that warm sunny days on Cape Cod will last forever.

Our friends at Uber know what summer in Boston is all about. That’s why the on-demand private ride app is launching their first ever Cape Cod pop up. Memorial Day weekend, Uber will be beachside at the Cape and ready to whisk you away. To celebrate the season, Uber has teamed up with FlipKey and other awesome Boston brands to give away some sweet summer prizes. We’re contributing the grand prize: a free weekend getaway to the Cape this summer.

To enter the sweepstakes, just open the Uber app on your smartphone and enter the promo code, “getmetothecape” – it’s that easy!

The grand prize winner will get a round trip ride to the Cape in a black car and an amazing vacation house for the weekend for up to four guests. If you win, you can choose from a set of dates between June 1 and August 31 for your Cape Cod getaway.

Four second-place winners will get free rides to and from the Cape on Memorial day in a black car filled with tasty treats from our friends around Boston.

For those Bostonians who haven’t used Uber yet, the app is available for free from the Apple App Store for iPhone, or the Google Play Store for Android. Once you’ve installed the app, enter the promo code, “getmetothecape,” and you’ll be entered to win. You can also enter by clicking here to sign up.

Good luck, we’ll see you on the beach!

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by Emily Monaco

Ever since the Michelin brothers introduced their guide to culinary greatness in 1933, food and travel have been inseparable.  The Michelin Guide doesn’t cover food festivals, but if you want to discover the international chefs who are worthy of one or more stars, then traveling to a festival is an unbeatable experience. Get inspired this year by taking your taste buds on a food and wine tour of some of the best gustatory events in the United States. Celebrating everything from seasonal ingredients to creative new presentations, a trip to a food festival is the perfect excuse for a vacation. In time for the next few months of travel planning, we present our top 10 list of travel-worthy food festivals across the country.

During the first week of May, FlipKey Director of North American Sales and Operations Bryan Goodwin presented at the Florida VRMA Annual Convention and Trade Show in Orlando, FL.

A copy of his presentation, Bragging Rights & Traveler Behavior: The Re-Personalization of Travel and how to make it work for your vacation rental is now available for review here.