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TJ Mahony

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Submitted by Discover Vacation Homes:

Effective immediately, I’m pleased to share with you that the voice for our professionally managed vacation rental industry, the Vacation Rental Managers Association (VRMA), launches a much-anticipated awareness campaign for the traveling public: Discover Vacation Homes.

The only collaborative effort of its kind within the industry, VRMA’s Discover Vacation Homes initiative will work to promote professionally managed vacation rentals as one of North America’s fastest-growing lodging categories through public relations – including earned publicity, social networking and emerging new media strategies.

Why, you ask? Today’s economic conditions and “togethering” travel trends indicate a huge need for value, space and privacy – needs which vacation rentals address better than any other lodging option. In short, there’s never been a better time to share our story than right now.

United toward this momentous goal, the VRMA with its DVH promotions arm will be able to more effectively elevate the perception of the entire category, enlightening those who are currently unaware of what we offer, as well as the many benefits associated with it. What’s more, with the strength of more than 600 members and approximately 150,000 trusted rental homes, condos and villas, the VRMA’s collective voices can be heard with authority – proudly shouted from the rooftops of vacation rentals worldwide!

In support of the new public relations initiative, the VRMA has retained renowned vacation rental industry supporter Rick Fisher as a Chief Strategist, and utilizes the services of top international advertising, marketing research, and public relations firm, Ypartnership, for dedicated representation in 2009 (www.ypartnership.com).

Companies will have the opportunity to learn more about the Discover Vacation Homes program, and meet the team behind the campaign, during VRMA’s three conferences this year (Eastern, Western and National).

For more information about VRMA and its new campaign, including member benefits and answers to frequently asked questions, check out the newly redesigned VRMA website at www.VRMA.com or the evolving www.DiscoverVacationHomes.com.

Guest Author:Michael McFadden do_good

Company: VacationHomesForCharity.org (powered by TheSociety.com)

Title: Co-Founder and CEO

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is VacationHomesForCharity?

 charityVacationHomesForCharity promotes doing “good” with vacation homes.We have streamlined the process of donating time at a vacation home for fund raising events that benefit charities and non-profit organizations.Now charities and non-profits can easily source vacation homes for their live auctions or raffles.Meanwhile, vacation home owners now have a resource that will manage the logistics of their donations.We do all the work and make sure the donated home and managing company are promoted at the event.We also ensure payment for cleaning.It’s very easy to sign up just go to www.VacationHomesForCharity.org/give

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How many rentals have you procured for charity thus far?Money raised?

We have donated 8 homes to date and have over 40 other events firm on our schedule in 2009.We expect to donate 1000 nights in 2009 to charities and non-profits.We have helped raised over $40,000 to date and target a quarter million dollars in donations for 2009.

What types of homes are being offered?Modest cottages or high-end palaces?

We utilize all shapes and sizes.In general the home donations are between $200/night and $20,000/night and we ask for a minimum 4 night donation.We make sure that the charity and the winning bidder knows exactly what they are winning.We generate all the marketing materials for the charity and their invitees. The goal is to make it so easy all vacation home owners will get involved and give a week.

Is it a stretch to say Vacation Rentals can save the world?

No way. Vacation rentals can save the world!Okay, save the world is a bit of a stretch but it’s not a stretch to say they can make a considerable difference.The reality is there are hundreds of thousands of charities and non-profits that need help raising money.What better way to help than donating a week.Not to mention we make sure the home is promoted at the event and on various websites.It’s a win-win-win situation.

Any interesting stories in getting this concept off the ground?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Every day is amazing.Working the people that dedicate their lives to helping others is awesome.Whether they are fighting for kids, animals, education, disease or the arts these people are changing the world.In November I attended the Tony Hawk Foundation event where Tony Hawk, Sean White and other celebrities hosted a fabulous fund raising event and raised money for public skateboard parks in low-income communities.Our donors at Pullen Realty and Chase International donated a 5 night stay at a wonderful estate in Tahoe.It raised $10,000 for the foundation.

Another story related to matching homes to charities is the donation from Lifestyle Villas in Cabo.They donated a stay in the Blue Sea Compound (an amazing beach villa) to help benefit The Ocean Institute.It was a perfect match and raised $11,000 for the charity.

 

Last week, East Bay Express,  a San Francisco based publication, published a story accusing Yelp – a popular local business review site – of altering review content in exchange for monthly advertising fees.   The article included testimonials of local businesses that claimed they were offered a Yelp advertising program to improve their reviews on Yelp for a fee.

I will refrain on commenting on the merits of the accusations, but instead use the topic of the story to highlight the value of trusted review content.

yelp

The Value of a Review is a Function of its Honesty

The internet has enabled the consumer masses to participate in the product and service marketing process.  We consumers are no longer limited to one-way marketing pitches and information to make our decisions.  Company X may claim they sell the best widget on the market, which may be the case, but unless we can see some verified testimonials and reviews from past widget users it’s just a marketing pitch.

The challenge becomes making sure the testimonials and reviews we leverage when making our decision are from real ‘unfiltered’ consumers.    This is why the Yelp article mentioned above received so much attention last week.   Yelp attracts over 20M people per month that rely on the site to find and select the best local restaurants, hair salons, etc..   If consumers began to question the honesty of the reviews they find on Yelp, then the value of the site, service and reviews are diminished.

FlipKey’s Commitment to Honest Vacation Homes Reviews

At FlipKey maintaining the trust, verification and honesty of our reviews is paramount to helping ensure travelers find and book the best vacation rentals that meet their needs.  As such, we take great efforts to ensure our reviews are honest and authentic:

 – FlipKey clients can not pay to move, adjust or prioritize reviews

–  FlipKey only solicits reviews through a closed email invitation process that ensures only confirmed guests are able to leave a review.  FlipKey’s system curbs the instances of competitors leaving false negatives on homes they have never stayed in.

–  The only reviews removed from FlipKey are reviews that violate FlipKey terms of service (e.g. contain profanity, personal attacks, etc.)

–  All FlipKey reviews are applied to FlipKey’s ‘authentication filter’ that identifies false positives (managers reviewing their own homes) and SPAM

–   FlipKey publishes all reviews in chronological order, no matter if the review is a glowing 5-star review or a critical 2-star review.

Therefore, when you see a review is “Verified by FlipKey” trust that the content is honest and complete.

Citing a PhocusWright study, FlipKey highlights over 350K second home owners queued to begin offering their vacation homes to travelers more frequently

January 15th Boston, MA:  With the vacation rental market estimated at $24B, the growing and popular lodging sector motivated PhocusWright – a leading travel research firm – to conduct the industry’s first ever dedicated market study.  Co-sponsored by 14 industry players including FlipKey.com – a leading vacation rental site featuring the industry’s largest collection of verified guest reviews – the study estimates 1.26M second homes are available for rent in the U.S. for families looking for an alternative to hotels and other lodging options.

The study identified that 56% of the vacation rental market is represented by rent-by-owners with the remaining 44% of vacation rental homes managed by professional property managers.  Encouraging for the growth of the industry, the study highlights 50% of rent-by-owners are casual renters, offering their units primarily to friends, family and through word-of-mouth.  As the economy continues to place additional financial burdens on second homes owners, FlipKey expects more of these casual renters to become increasingly active, working independently or through a property manager to offer their home more frequently and to travelers beyond family and friends.

 for_rent “Although there are 1.26M vacation homes that have been rented, it doesn’t mean they were made available to the general traveler,” stated TJ Mahony, CEO of FlipKey.com. “When we pealed back the layers of the study we estimated there are 350K casual renters that don’t necessarily make their home available beyond their immediate friend and family network.  It’s reasonable to assume the current economic environment will help motivate many casual vacation rental owners to become more active.”

FlipKey defined an ‘active’ renter as an owner that markets their home to travelers beyond their family and friends network.  Mahony summarized, “if an owner actively markets their property online and rents their unit to two or more people completely outside their personal network each year we consider them active.”

When renting a vacation home its imperative vacationers feel comfortable and confident in the home and manager/owner of the property.  Vacation homes overseen by property managers and active owners often provide strong customer support, clear check-in / check-out processes and other support services consumers value.   Mahony concluded, “Given the economy and growing support and marketing services available, there is a clear opportunity for more of these casual participants to become more active, renting their homes more often, yielding increased rental income.”

About FlipKey

FlipKey is a leading vacation rental service featuring the world’s largest collection of verified vacation rental guest reviews. FlipKey believes reputation, trust and feedback from past guests are the best resources to ensure consumers find the ideal vacation home. FlipKey currently features more than 60,000 vacation homes offering vacationers the unique advantages of more personal space, superior amenities and ideal locations throughout the United States, the Caribbean, Canada and Mexico. FlipKey is majority owned by TripAdvisor, LLC, and is a member of the TripAdvisor Media Network, attracting more than 32 million unique monthly visitors* across 12 popular travel brands. FlipKey is available at http://www.flipkey.com

*Source: comScore Media Metrix, May 2008

© 2008 TripAdvisor LLC. All rights reserved.

Press Release

Struggling Economy Driving Consumers to Alter Ski trips, But not Cancel Them

Boston, MA, January 6, 2009– Travel industry reports forecast a dark winter for the travel industry, but FlipKey.com, a leading vacation rental website, indicates this doesn’t necessarily spell a down season for the whole ski industry. FlipKey – www.flipkey.comconsumer_interest.png which markets over 60,000 vacation rentals throughout the United States, has found that consumer interest in many ski areas remains strong and has actually increased from 2008.  In fact, an informal survey of vacation rental managers in areas that draw from a more local traveling population reports year-over-year increases. Vacation rental managers are also seeing an increased interest in vacation rental properties rather than other lodging options.

According to Jeremy Gall, Chief Operating Officer of FlipKey, “Destination ski areas, such as Aspen, CO, that require consumers to travel long distances will struggle this season; however, we are seeing a boost in interest to more local ski resorts. For instance, Loon Mountain, a local draw within the New England market cited 9% year-over-year increase in pre season ticket sales.”

Similarly, Cort Roussel of Franconia Notch Vacations, servicing the White Mountain region of NH, added, “Cannon Mountain has seen a 40% increase in the volume of season’s passes sold over last year.”

Those benefiting from current traveler trends tend to be located in areas that cater to local interest and/or offer alternative lodging accommodations. Specifically, consumer interest in vacation home rentals has been bolstered by the current economy, as more people seek more affordable vacation options that do not require excessive travel.

“We are seeing increased interest in our larger vacation homes as families are traveling in groups, taking advantage of the shared weekly rent and comfortable space afforded by our vacation homes,” said Joanne of New England Vacation Rentals.

Nick Lanza of Big Bear Vacations (Big Bear Lake, CA) cites, “Out-of-state skiers are relatively absent this year, but we are seeing a surge in interest from southern California.”

The decrease in destination ski travel is mostly a function of the economic downturn, but can also be placed on new airline policies. The introduction of baggage fees across the airline industry places further burdens on the long distance ski traveler. A family of four flying from the east Coast to the Rockies can incur more than $300 in additional fees for simply checking in their skis and boots.

The emerging formula for this years ski family is to stay local, drive a few hours and book a vacation home rental that affords the family extra space to discuss how bad the economy is.

FlipKey is a leading vacation rental service featuring the world’s largest collection of verified vacation rental guest reviews. FlipKey believes reputation, trust and feedback from past guests are the best resources to ensure consumers find the ideal vacation home. FlipKey currently features more than 60,000 vacation homes offering vacationers the unique advantages of more personal space, superior amenities and ideal locations throughout the United States, the Caribbean, Canada and Mexico. FlipKey is majority owned by TripAdvisor, LLC, and is a member of the TripAdvisor Media Network, attracting more than 32 million unique monthly visitors* across 12 popular travel brands. FlipKey is available at http://www.flipkey.com

About FlipKey

*Source: comScore Media Metrix, May 2008

© 2008 TripAdvisor LLC. All rights reserved

What a year… Obama for president, the collapse of the financial industry and an unknown future for U.S. automakers.  2008 was chalk full of headlines with the vacation rental industry carving out its own “major news.”    Based on an extremely unscientific poll, FlipKey has amassed the Top 10 Vacation Rental Highlights of 2008.

#10:  FlipKey launches the industry’s first independent guest review serviceamassing the industry’s largest collection of verified vacation home rental guest reviews to promote the advantages of the vacation rental experience.

top_ten_2008.png

#9:  VRMA overhauls board of directors, including the introduction of the industry’s first supplier representation (Kyle Buehner, Navis Technologies) in an effort to improve the market awareness, impact and membership growth.

#8: PhocusWright conducts the first formal, independent, industry study on the $24B vacation rental market highlighting that vacation rentals are emerging as a mainstream lodging category

#7:  Orbitz begins promoting vacation rentalson Orbitz.com and Away.com through partnerships with Zonder and Vast, respectively.

#6: Discover Vacation Homes is launched,introducing the first dedicated public relations effort to promote the advantages of vacation rentals and professional managers.

#5:  Industry addresses consumer confidence in vacation rentals with several companies introducing new vacation rental insurance products, the introduction of manager only search portals (e.g. ClearStay.com and VacationRoost) and additional PR efforts to educate consumers on the safety and advantages of vacation rentals.

#4:  Instant Software announces over $1B in online reservations were executed through its ISILink global distribution system (GDS), highlighting the migration of vacation rental reservations from call centers to the desktop.

#3:  Large RBO website raises $400M, underscoring the growing popularity and growth potential of the vacation rental industry.

#2: Vacation rentals hit mainstream press with the WSJ, New York Times, USAToday and several other national publications featuring articles on the vacation home rental industry.

#1:  TripAdvisor takes a majority stake in FlipKey and announces it will begin promoting vacation rentals to TripAdvisor Media Group’s 24M monthly visitors in 2009.

We were excited to see a new client testimonial posted about the FlipKey service in a recent Instant Software industry newsletter by Lahaina Island Accommodations.

Who is Lahaina?

Lahaina Island Accommodations is located in Fort Myers Beach, FL and offers more than 165 privately owned vacation rental homes lahina_island and condos just north of Lover’s Key and Bonita Beach, Florida. Lahaina began using FlipKey in September and has collected over 150 guest reviews through FlipKey’s guest review service.

What did Lahaina have to say about FlipKey?

*As featured in the Instant Software Newsletter*

“I believe that guest testimonials on my website are far more convincing than anything that I could say about my own company or properties in the same space. Working with Bryan at FlipKey is such a pleasure! He convinced me to send FlipKey requests to our previous year’s guests. We were nervous! But I followed his advice and it was a great success! Thanks, Bryan!” Barb further stated “We receive inquiry requests daily through FlipKey. Some people who inquire are so sure that they will enjoy their stay based on reading past testimonials that securing the booking is almost easy!”

Click here to read the entire article…

From apartments to mortgages, credit scores are already heavily utilized in real estate. Since owners/property managers are always trying to mitigate their risk against bad guests, perhaps it is time we leverage them in the vacation rental market as well.

Credit-Karma2While credit scores are a great indicator of financial risk, the truth is that credit has predictive power across many industries. For example, according to Insurance Information Institute, people with higher credit scores are much less likely to file an auto insurance claim and their claims and are lower when they do.

As demonstrated by their financial patterns and insurance data, people with good credit scores are generally considered more responsible suggesting they will be more responsible guests as well.

But how do you target or verify guests with good credit scores?

Target Advertising on Sites That Attract Consumers With Higher Credit Scores:

According to Credit Karma MSN and Google attract visitors with higher average credit scores compared to sites like AOL.

 

Ask Guests to Take a Screenshot of their Credit Karma Score
credit-score2
Second home owners are always concerned about ‘who’ is staying in their home, so why not deliver some piece of mind.  If you are a detailed oriented owner or represent owners that are keenly interested in ‘who’ is staying in their homes, why not offer guests $10 off if they share a screenshot of their Credit Karma score?

CreditKarma.com is a relatively new service that offers completely free credit scores, no strings attached, in return for displaying targeted ads to its member base. Unlike other “free credit score” sites, CreditKarma is truly free, so as long as your prospective guests have two free minutes and want to save a few dollars, why not give them a small discount to pass on some piece of mind to yourself and/or your owners?

Over the years vacation rental managers have become intimately familiar with the value and importance of their website.  With 80% of consumers using the internet to research and purchase their travel plans, our websites become our most important marketing front.
 firefox

Over the years we have observed vacation rental manager sites becoming more sophisticated, easier to use and overall a more enjoyable experience. Whether managers are making the investments internally or leveraging industry experts, such as Blizzard Marketing or Blue Tent Marketing, the message is clear, “vacation rental websites are REALLY important.”

As such, I wanted to emphasize one basic, but critical recommendation:

 

Your website needs to be browser compatible.

What that means, is that your website must, at a minimum work properly for all supported versions of Internet Explorer and Firefox.

 wikipedia

To the geeks out there, this is a no brainer, but for many of us Firefox is still a fairly new name. Without getting into the details, Firefox is the #2 browser in the market and as of today has officially laid claim to 20% markets share based on a report from Net Applications.

There was a day when only the technophiles used Firefox, but at 20% market share you can safely assume the average consumer is also using Firefox.  So, whether you manage your website internally or use an agency, be sure to require that your site work seamlessly with all supported versions of Firefox and Internet Explorer…. In addition, given Apple’s continued rise in popularity we would suggest adding Safari to that list.

(Browser market share graph taken from Wikipedia).

Vacation rentals have often promoted themselves as a more economical and personal lodging option compared to hotels. Often these claims are backed by hard daily rate data and thus it’s not a stretch to conclude the current economic climate may have less of an impact on the vacation rental market compared to more standard travel and lodging categories. In general I would agree that vacation rentals are more insulated from the economy compared to hotels, but like most things in life “it depends.”

Aspen Feeling the Effects  regional_vacation_rentals

I was able to attend an educational session held by Liza Hogan of Resort Rating Specialists at last week’s Annual VRMA Conference. Liza helps VR managers institute rating programs that help accurately market vacation rental units, but also provide structure and guidance to help owners invest appropriately in upgrading/maintaining their properties. As such, Liza is a recognized expert in the space and has collected data points and case studies across the country. During her presentation Liza mentioned Aspen, CO was preparing for a “down” season and was only at 50% occupancy for the holiday season as of mid-October. Typically, premier ski destinations, such as Aspen, are nearly completely booked for the holiday by the end of October.

With most Colorado ski resorts within a 2 hour drive of Denver, Aspen’s western location (4 hours from Denver) doesn’t play well to the regional market.  Instead Aspen is a magnetic for the out-of-state family…. Thus, tack on a plane ticket, extra baggage charges (over $100 if you bring your gear on most airlines) and a car rental and suddenly you have a pretty expensive trip, vacation rental or no vacation rental.  Destination markets like Aspen are inherently vulnerable during these times.

Regional Markets Seeing an Increase in Bookings

In contrast, I had a separate conversation with a reservation manager in the White Mountain region of New Hampshire who indicated they had seen a year-to-date 9% increase in bookings. Apparently, many of the folks in Boston and New York are still planning on going skiing, they just aren’t going to fly anywhere to do it. As such, ski areas like Loon, with its proximity to several large cities, is yielding an increase in vacation rental demand.

Ultimately, vacation rentals, in general, will fare better than most travel categories in the current economic environment.  However, for every two markets that are benefiting from a change in travel plans/preferences there is likely another market struggling.