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In a recent article on Blizzard Internet, Carrie Hill proposes an interesting question: Do you have a Reputation Management Plan?

Carrie’s article highlights the value in having a proactive internal system to react to negative press when it manifests itself through various Internet properties. Services such as TripAdvisor and Yelp have begun allowing business owners to respond to negative comments. However, these services tend to cater to traditional lodging, activity, and restaurant categories. Are you asked to leave a review on your vacation home stay

The vacation rental industry is faced with a much different challenge – establishing reputation. The fragmented nature of our industry has discouraged larger community and travel services from providing a useful platform to cultivate and manage reputation.

As a result, there are few property management companies and/or independent vacation rental operators that have been able to create a public reputation that encourages a visitor’s conversion from “looking” to “booking”. In fact, a recent FlipKey study of 300 vacationers who stayed at a vacation rental found that only 16% of guests are even asked to share their experience publicly.

As an industry we are constantly challenged by consumer confidence in our product. Is the property as advertised? Does the home exist? What happens if something goes wrong with the house? How do I get the keys? What if I lose the keys? If there was ever a travel category that needed a robust reputation solution, it is the vacation rental industry.

For those that joined us at the VRMA event in New Orleans, you were able to see the reputation service that FlipKey is soon launching that singularly focuses on this key issue. Carrie Hill is right, you are well served to actively manage your reputation. FlipKey will soon provide you with a mechanism to do that.

If you are managing rental properties click here to sign up for our beta service. It is completely free.

Boston Web Inno Logo

FlipKey has been selected as a “main dish” presenter at the next meeting of Dave Beisel‘s overwhelmingly popular Boston Web Innovators Group. “WebInno” has quickly become the place to see and be seen in the Boston area Web Industry. We are big fans of the bi-monthly event and we thank Dave for selecting us amongst the many qualified candidates.

For anyone in the region, we welcome you to come on down and listen to TJ’s presentation or swing by the FlipKey booth and talk to us. We’ll be showcasing our soon to be released vacation rental reputation service. Event information and registration can be found here (It’s Free!):
http://webinno15.eventbrite.com/

About Rick Fisher:
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 simple…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 Sox… 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 … “There’s always next year”.

Earlier this week FlipKey attended the annual Vacation Rental Managers Association (VRMA) Conference and Showcase in New Orleans. It was a wonderful event, and we would like to thank the organizers, the attendees, and the suppliers for making FlipKey feel like a welcome addition to VRMA. We would also like to thank the Rental Managers who took the time to learn about FlipKey – we look forward to working with all of you.

For those that could not make it, you missed a great time. The main conference events took place at the Sheraton New Orleans – a spacious and elegant hotel located just around the corner from the French Quarter. The unofficial events took place on Bourbon St until the wee hours of the morning. Throughout the four days there were a bevy of activities to choose from – seminars, vendor showcases, meals, parties, and more.

The only unfortunate part of the entire conference was enduring the Red Sox losses. But even that was tempered by being able to drown our sorrows with new found friends from Red Sox Nation.

Below are a handful of our favorite photos from the event – all courtesy of Jeremy’s iPhone.

The Show

TJ and Cort from Franconia Res

Cort from Franconia Notch stops by to chat with TJ as he works the showcase floor.
Carl and Jack

Carl discusses the virtues of FlipKey with an intently focused Jack Cox.

Dave and Tracy

Dave and Tracy from LiveRez – the happiest guys at the conference.

James

James from Lake Ozark Vacations – enjoying the conference and waiting for the Red Sox game to start.

William from Sunspots as he teaches the FlipKey team about literature and the lost art of letter writing in the modern age. (William is also a writer.)
TJ and Curt

TJ chatting with Curt from Skaneateles Suites as Carl checks out the seminar schedule in the background during a rare 5 minutes of downtime.

The After Party

Partying at VRMA

Rumored to be the oldest and youngest members at the VRMA Annual Meeting

George

George Volsky from Instant Software stops time on the dance floor.

Jeremy and Sara sing Sweet Caroline

Sara from All Star Vacation Homes owned the karaoke stage as she belted out ‘Pour Me’. Here she realizes the mistake she made by getting Jeremy up on stage for ‘Sweet Caroline’.

Red Sox Nation Travels 1500 Miles

Red Sox Nation thanks Beerfest on Bourbon St. for keeping us happy in this photo taken immediately following the Game 4 loss.

Franconia Notch Vacations Logo

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 agree… we are all “fire-fighters” on some level if we are doing our jobs to the highest degree.

See you in the Mountains!

Many of our readers have contacted us asking, “so what is FlipKey and when will your service be available?”

We’re happy to announce that we are getting close. In fact, we’re so close that we will be presenting at the VRMA Showcase in New Orleans next week. Please stop by our booth and we’ll be happy to demo the FlipKey service and explain how you can join our trusted network of vacation rental homes.

To help you find us, here is a photo of the team on top of the Green Monster in Fenway Park – home of the soon to be World Champion Red Sox!

Carl, Jeremy, and TJ on the Monster

Carl, Jeremy, and TJ

The FlipKey Blog’s tagline is, “Expanding the vacation rental market through insight and community.” We have received a lot of great support and compliments for the Blog; however, our efforts are out-shined by Rick Fisher’s new venture. We’re happy to announce that Rick is expanding the vacation rental market through direct consumer marketing with the launch of the Vacation Home Expo.

Vacation Home Expo Logo

The Vacation Home Expo is a dedicated consumer show focused on educating consumers on the benefits and availability of vacation home rentals. The first of its kind Expo will be held in Atlanta, GA April 11th-13th. For more information visit the Expo’s home page (click here).

To help bring some additional insight into how to effectively market vacation home rentals as a mainstream lodging option, FlipKey conducted a recent study of over 100 consumers who considered renting a vacation home, but choose to stay at more traditional lodging accommodations (e.g. hotels/B&B).
What makes you choose a vacation rental over a hotel

We are finding that the industry would be well served in emphasizing its commitment to ‘eventless’ lodging experiences. “On-the-fence” vacationers are most likely to convert to vacation rentals if they are confident someone will assist them in the event something goes wrong with the house. In fact, this level of security rated significantly more important compared to price.

Side note: We continue to contend that these types of qualitative guarantees and services are more valuable to the industry than refund guarantees offered by a handful of listing services.

We will dive deep into our survey results in our next Vacation Rental Research Report – due for release in November.

In the interim, Rick Fisher has agreed to a guest interview to explain more about the motives and goals of the Vacation Home Expo. Rick’s interview will be published next week on the FlipKey Blog.

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 of Allstarvacationhomes.comSteve 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. ☺”

A few weeks ago, we created the FlipKey Travel Blog Challenge as a step towards opening up the travel blogosphere to the FlipKey community.

For a quick recap of the contest: we asked our readers to reach out to us with their favorite blogs of the travel industry. The winners would be highlighted in a future post (today!).

I’m happy to report that we received numerous superb entries into the contest. Thank you to everybody who took the time to write about your favorites!

Choosing the winners was difficult, but we have come up with four distinct blogs that did a great job of capturing their respective angles via frequent posts, eloquent writings, and great insights.

Consumer Advocacy

Elliott.org Logo

Elliott.org – Elliott.org is the blog of Christopher Elliott, a renowned travel writer and consumer enthusiast. Christopher has been published in just about every major media outlet that you can think of.

Why we love Elliott.org? His consumer advocacy beliefs fall in line with FlipKey, and he holds a clear understanding of the Internet. His frequent postings on hot button topics affecting consumers leads to interesting commentary – both from himself and his insightful users.

Creativity

Nerd's Eye View Logo

nerdseyeview.com/blog – Pam runs nerdseyeview.com, authors travel writings, and blogs for the BlogHer network.

Why we love the Nerd’s Eye View blog? Pam’s blog captured our interest due to its more artful take on the travel industry. It’s easy to get absorbed in the inner workings of the market, but sometimes it is worth the time to read enjoyable stories about the places people go and the things they do while traveling. Pam gets bonus points for “Fish Wednesday”, her weekly post dedicated to the fine art of cooking and eating fish.

Wealth of Information

Travel Babel Blog Logo

travel-babel.blogspot.com – travel-babel is the personal blog of Claire Walter. Claire is an author, writer, and general travel industry advocate.

Why we love travel-babel? The blog is a great assortment of travel-industry related topics. Beyond just interesting tidbits about travel, a read through Claire’s blog is a rich learning experience, covering everything from the recent change in many country names to the “seven wonders of Colorado”. Read her blog and I guarantee you will walk away with a new piece of knowledge.

Vacation Home Purchase Market

2ndhome.net blog logo

2ndhomeblog.net – This blog is run by Ellen, Tim, and Florence – a trio of long-time second home owners who are happy to share their vast knowledge of the industry on their blog. The blog is actually a sub-service of 2ndhome.net (a service promoting 2nd home purchases, listings, and realtors).

Why we love 2ndhomeblog? Their writings are about as good of an “insider” view of the 2nd home sales market as you are going to find online. They talk about hot locations and what you can get in varying areas for your money. Use them as a resource for purchasing your second home – then use FlipKey as a resource for renting it.

We welcome all four of our winners into our blogroll in the right-hand column.

Honorable Mentions

We received a number of other great blogs – many of which we will continue to read on a daily basis. Here is the list of honorable mentions – these are the blogs that met our guidelines of being travel-related, frequently updated, and full of original content:

I am sure there are many more of you out there – if you know of any good travel-related blogs that didn’t make the list, please continue to submit them to blogcontest@flipkey.com.

Last week I wrote about the value of keyless entry systems. The analysis highlighted the pros and cons of enabling owners to go keyless. The main con cited by industry sources tends to center on the disintermediation of property managers as the point of key exchange. The basic conclusion is, “keyless entry is one more reason to incentivize owners to migrate to independent management”.

Although this is a respectable concern, we wanted to highlight data points that suggest keyless entry will not motivate rent-by-owner migration.

In a recent FlipKey study, we surveyed 22 owners who currently use property managers. The sample size is limiting, but provides some solid directional findings in their motivations to use a property manager.

Key findings:

  • The primary value owners see in property management is convenience. Property management allows the owner to effortlessly collect additional income, without having to worry about marketing, maintenance or cleaning logistics.
  • Key exchange is a secondary motivation.
  • Focusing your service messaging on convenience is the most effective message. If enabling your owners to become ‘keyless’ supports that message, you can position it as an added benefit.