Home Latest Post

Marketing vacation rental properties is more complicated than listing a property on a listing service and waiting for inquiries to come in. In many areas, property managers are competing against hundreds, if not thousands, of properties – not to mention hotels and B&Bs.

Compete released an interesting research report (see below) highlighting a $10 flight promotion by Skybus. Although Airbus has limited reach, you can’t beat a $10 flight. FlipKey sees an opportunity for property managers to reach out to past clients when promotions like this are released. There are several inexpensive email marketing services (ConstantContact, VerticalResponse, etc.) that can help you organize past guests by area of residence. When you see an Airbus deal to your area, email your past guests, let them know of the promotion, point them to an available unit, and watch the bookings come in.

Content about Skybus below is courtesy of Compete


Skybus Airlines, a new low-cost-carrier in the US market, began flying on May 22nd. As part of their business model, Skybus has committed to having at least ten $10 seats available on each of its flights. The airline is launching with routes from its home of Columbus, Ohio to Los Angeles, Ft. Lauderdale, Seattle and others. To keep down costs, add-ons such as checking baggage, priority boarding, and food/beverages are subject to additional fees. Skybus attracted over 800,000 U.S. unique visitors in May 2007, a 120% increase from April. Awareness of Skybus has flourished in the markets the carrier serves. A Skybus.com visitor cross-section by state indicates activity in locations where Skybus flies: Ohio accounts for nearly 40% of skybus.com’s traffic, followed by California (9%), Virginia (5%) and Florida (5%). The distribution shows an effective initial marketing push by the carrier.

Skybus’ $10 fares have succeeded in attracting budget travel seekers. Over a quarter of visitors to the site are clicking to learn about $10 fares and other promotions. In addition to promotional activity, engagement into the site’s booking funnel is strong, with 64% of visitors performing a search and 24% actually selecting a flight from the results. These figures rival many established airline websites.
Breaking into the U.S. airline industry is no small feat, and Skybus has demonstrated a strong first few steps, helped by the interest surrounding its $10 ticket offer. Ohio residents in particular are flocking to the Skybus website in the hopes of finding one of the cheap fares. While the routes serviced by Skybus remain limited, and only a few seats are available at the highly discounted rates, other carriers will need to pay close attention to how consumers respond to this new entrant.

One of our goals at FlipKey is to grow the industry through insight and community. Over the last two months, you’ve seen our insightful contributions channeled via the FlipKey Blog. Now, as our blog traffic continues to grow, we feel it is time to start getting the community more involved.

We want to see more property managers, property owners, renters, travelers, and travel services sharing their thoughts. Whether you are an experienced blogger or you have never written a blog post in your life, we’re interested in you.

We are Looking for the Best Travel Blogs on the Internet

Have a favorite blog that you read daily? Tell us about it and help support them.

Run your own amateur blog as a side hobby? Here’s your chance to get it on the map.

Thinking of starting up your own blog? It’s easy, it’s fun, and we’re going to help a couple of you get going with some instant traffic.

Current Blogs on the FlipKey Blogroll

FlipKey has already included a handful of blogs on its blogroll. These are blogs we have come across over the last year and found useful. Some of the blogs include:

Trent Blizzard’s: Weekly industry research highlighting new marketing tactics and trends throughout the travel industry.

Mashable: Daily articles on new mash-ups – bundling open applications (e.g. Google Maps) into useful tools for consumers. We feel mash ups have a lot of potential in the travel space.

Search Engine Watch: Daily news on the evolution of Search and how to apply new strategies to improve your performance.

Slow Travel: A list of traveler blogs from around the world.

Criteria to be included as a FlipKey Preferred Blog

Our only requirements are that you fall under the “travel” umbrella, and that you post original content (i.e. no habitual blogspam). We are more concerned about the quality of the content and not how pretty it is.

How to Enter

Simple – e-mail blogcontest@flipkey.com and send us the blog link. Optionally feel free to include the blog name, the editor/owner name, the e-mail address they can be contacted at, and a short description of what you like about the blog.

What do the winners get?

  1. A spot on our Blogroll
  2. A post reviewing the challenge winners in which we explain why you were chosen
  3. Our loyal readership

And as an added bonus – just for submitting an entry, all travel related blogs will receive a permanent link on our Travel Blog Index Page (as long as your blog stays active and relevant).

How to Startup Your Own Blog

If you’ve always thought about starting up your own blog in the travel space, here is your chance. We love fresh and new viewpoints, and thus we want to help you succeed. As mentioned earlier, we’re going to reserve a couple of blogroll spots for those of you just starting out. If you’re on the fence, rest assured that starting up a blog is easy – I would recommend heading over to blogger.com or wordpress.com. Either site is a popular and simple way to create your own blog in minutes. Let them do all the heavy Web site lifting while you focus on putting up great content!

The challenge will run until the end of August. After the challenge is over we will post a follow-up with all of the inductees!

A few weeks ago TripAdvisor launched a new social networking application – the TripAdvisor Travel Map. The Travel Map is basically a Google Map that allows you to place pins at locations you have visited. You then compare your map to your friends’ maps, and bragging rights ensue. It’s a simple, but robust concept ripe with potential.

It quickly caught my eye for a few reasons. First and foremost, I’m a proponent of expanding the online travel world through social tools. The best trips I have taken have been through the itineraries recommended to me by friends and family. Second, I like Google Maps applications – a lot. Third, I’ve thought about doing something exactly like this, so I was eager to see how a solid company like TripAdvisor would approach the idea.

The TripAdvisor.com Travel Map Review

The main interface is clean and simple. I’m offered a map of the world, a column of popular destinations, and a text box to add in new locations. Upon your first visit, a simple overlay tells you how to use the map.
Tripadvisor Travel Map Main Page

I played around with various controls, adding a bunch of pins to the east coast (I own I-95!) and Europe. It was all easy enough, and there were definitely a few “wow – cool!” moments. My favorite feature is the “smart bubble” that pops up after clicking an area of the map. It picks the most likely destination areas surrounding the location you clicked on the map, and allows you to quickly pin it:

Tripadvisor Travel Map Bubble

After 15 minutes or so of adding locations, I decided to stop and see what else I could do. I clicked “save and continue”. Besides an offer to invite more friends, there weren’t any other options. Bummer.

TJ was already in my network, so I went to go check out his map. Viewing another person’s map was very similar to viewing my own map, except I could not add pins to my friend’s map. One major shortcoming that immediately struck me was the inability to overlay his map on top of my own. I consider this an essential viral feature and assume TripAdvisor will soon build a useful ‘compare our maps’ tool.

What’s missing?

While the map was a solid first attempt, there are a few crucial pieces missing. My top three suggestions:

  1. Better comparison with friends’ maps. As mentioned earlier, I need to see my map overlaid with my friend’s map. Assign a different color pin for each user on a map, and let me see it all at once. Theoretically, if I had 20 friends in my network and wanted to know who had been to Switzerland, the best way to do that would be to look at one map for everybody, not comb through 20 individual maps.
  2. Encourage users to share the map url, and offer an embedded version (widget) that users can stick on their web sites. It is not immediately clear that I can send my map url directly to others. The url that does work is not very user friendly:
    (Click here for full Link) http://www.tripadvisor.com/MemberProfile? uid=A16F630174E76997A3695112E3883723&c=pt A non tech savvy user would never guess that goes directly to their map.
  3. Give me more to do. Link directly into reviews from the map, allow me to rate the locations, show me who else has been to locations like me, etc, etc. I can think of 1001 cool things to do with these maps.

Social Travel Off to a Slow Start

Despite numerous attempts, nobody has really been able to crack the social travel network nut:

tripup.com vs imin.com vs mytravelnetwork.com

The lack of strong competition combined with TripAdvisor’s large user base could help enable them to grow into the premier social travel network on the Web. With a strong business based on reviews and lead generation, TripAdvisor can expand its share of travel mindshare by helping consumers make more personal connections through the service. TripAdvisor’s Travel Map is a simple step, but it’s a step in the right direction.

I have been a vacation rental manager for the last six months in hopes of renting my condo during the tourist heavy summer in Boston.

I would estimate 80% of the inquiries I receive via the listing service I use are legitimate guests looking for accommodations. I find many are a bit ‘cheap’, aggressively trying to reduce my (very reasonable) rates, but they are good people for the most part.

The remaining 20% I would characterize as ‘Un-Spam’ – meaning, people that don’t realize they are sending me unreasonable requests.

  • A man from Idaho asked me if he could rent my two bedroom condo for one night for himself and 20 of his closest friends. (That was not a typo – 20 friends)
  • At least 2 people each week ask to rent my unit on a week that is already clearly booked on my calendar
  • A woman from Texas offered $50/night for three nights in exchange to keep it ‘clean’
  • A lot of house swap offers

My place is booked for the rest of the year and to cut down on the Un-Spam I have blocked off my calendar, but I continue to get about 3-4 inquiries a week. I don’t see this as a bad thing and more of an illustration of how demand for vacation rentals exceeds supply.

I believe there are some simple solutions to cut down on Un-Spam and I will explore potential solutions in future posts.

A few weeks ago, I posed a few quick questions to a group of friends.The responses were telling (feel free to play along at home):

Q: Where do you go when you want to book a flight?
A: Responses were plentiful and immediate – travelocity.com, kayak.com, orbitz.com, etc.

Q: Where do you go when you want to rent a car?
A: Responses were plentiful and immediate – budget.com, avis.com, travelocity.com, etc.

Q: Where do you go when you want to rent a vacation home?
A: A few seconds of silence. “Can you do that on expedia?”, “umm, craigslist I guess?”, “google?”

A Tale of Two Studies

Case Study #1: Finding a Flight

I need to go from Bostonto DC for a business trip on Wednesday July 18th. I want to fly out the evening of the 17th, and return first thing in the morning on the 19th.

I search on Orbitz and find this perfect flight:

Example Flight on Orbitz.com

I then search on Travelocity and find the exact same flight (for a $1 difference in price):

Example Flight on Travelocity.com

I could show you all the other travel sites, but I think you get the point. I’m going to find the same thing everywhere, so there isn’t much value in hopping around from site to site. Once I’ve picked my flight, I just click a few buttons, enter a bit of info, and my flight is confirmed. That was easy.

Travel sites aren’t fighting over inventory.They are fighting over features and usability.When that happens, the consumer wins.

Case Study #2: Finding a Vacation Home

Last year I set about to book a lakeside vacation home in Maine for a week in August.

I started at Google with a search for “Maine vacation home”, yielding results that were all over the place.

Now, I’m a picky shopper – I like to see and compare my options, read reviews on the product I’m about to purchase (rent), and generally feel like I got a good deal on something.

Take 1

I finally picked the “perfect” house and e-mailed the owner. The owner responded a few hours later saying “I’m sorry we are booked for that week. “Booked?” But the calendar showed the property as open, both before I sent the e-mail and after I received the owner’s response.

Take 2

I found another nice property, and sent my second inquiry. Two days go by and no response. Who knows if my inquiry even made it to the recipient via the form I filled out. I resubmitted. Still nothing. I guess that’s a no.

Take 3

I find a third place that I didn’t like nearly as much as the first two, but I was tiring of the process. It’s available, the owner responds, great. I fill out the agreement and send them a check. Fast forward to my stay there – I’ll share the details another time, but suffice to say, I would not stay there again.

To recap, all I wanted to do was book a vacation home for some much needed R&R.Instead, I spent the better part of a week dealing with three different people amidst calendar and responsiveness issues, only to end up at a falsely advertised property.

Vacation Homes Need a GDS

Compare the two experiences. The airline industry is a well-oiled machine. The vacation home industry isn’t.

Most sectors of the travel booking industry have been commoditized. The reason for this is the airline industry, as well as most of the travel industry, is all interwoven via Global Distribution Systems (GDS). GDS’s (such as Sabre, Amadeus, et al) maintain large data stores of information about airline flight information, schedules, prices, reservations, etc. So when you search for a flight on Orbitz or Travelocity, what is happening is the site is tapping into one of the Big GDS systems, and you basically end up with the same search results at every site. I know in real-time what my best options are, how much they will cost, and whether the option is truly available or not.

The existing GDS system will not work for vacation homes due to the fragmentation of the marketplace, but the industry needs to begin pursuing a workable global integration system/solution. Currently, listing sites and industry software solutions all work in a bubble creating firewalls of inefficiency. The internet has liberated several verticals from self imposed growth limitation and it’s time we begin discussing the next generation of the vacation rental experience.

We have said this before and we will keep saying it “the vacation market is not a zero sum game”. There are tremendous opportunities for growth but we need to begin opening up solutions and working together to realize the marketplace’s potential.

 

We started FlipKey to help expand the vacation rental market by providing a platform to highlight professional reputation and trust. There are 6.5 million vacation homes in the U.S. and less than 10% are rented to travelers looking for a great place to stay. This means over 5 million secondary home-owners are foregoing the economic benefits of renting their homes when they are not occupying them. We are convinced there are simple solutions to help bridge this gap.

The FlipKey Blog is our first contribution to the rental community. The founders of FlipKey are passionate about the internet and how it can improve the home rental marketplace. We have industry-leading research, insightful observations and opinions we want to share.

The humble goals of the FlipKey Blog:

  • Encourage more owners to rent their homes and more guests to rent vacation homes.
  • Provide free access to premium research that has never been available to the vacation rental industry.
  • Cultivate a sense of community and thought leadership among property managers, listing services and owners to expand the vacation rental marketplace.

FlipKey’s core service is still in development and will be launching this Fall. If you are a property manager, homeowner or are involved with the vacation rental industry and would like to be included in our service launch, please contact us at chartermember@flipkey.com.

Enjoy the Blog and we look forward to your thoughts and comments.