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March was a big month in travel..and can you believe it? We almost missed it! The FlipKey Blog was out of commission for the month due to technical issues — we apologize if this caused any inconveniences and we’re happy to report that we’re ready to start blogging again.

For our first comeback post, we wanted to do a quick recap of all the travel stories we missed in the past four weeks. Hot topics this month included: Spring Break, Easter weekend, and National Passport Day. And, if you were anywhere near snow, rain, or a combination of both (we call it snain), travel plans for many were, unfortunately, delayed. Take a look at our top posts, stories, and photos of the month and let us know if we missed anything. Enjoy!

 

Vacation Rentals of the Month

rentals of the month March

(From top left to bottom right 1. Bourbon Ridge Lodge 2. SandCastle Pointe 3. Hideaways in the Hay 4. Disney Home with Private Pool and Sundeck)

 

Travel Trends

Spring Break Travel Trends: Beaches are No. 1

 

Travel Gadgets

Tote this Gear, and You’ll Be Traveling with Ease

 Best Travel Gear for Business Travelers (PHOTOS)

 

Travel Stories

Golden Age of Air Travel

Rodman: I’m Going on Vacation with Kim in August

National Passport Day is March 9th 

Extreme Weather Photos of the Week

 

Travel Destinations

20 China Travel Tips

Arctic Man: Travel Channel Sets Sights on Wild, Wacky Snowmachine Race

The 2013 Travel Awards (Outside Magazine)

7 Crazy Destinations for Cat Lovers (PHOTOS)

FK Director of International Sales Koryn Okey

Koryn Okey is the Director of International Accounts at FlipKey. Since joining the team in 2008, she has worked with more than 300 international rental managers and agencies and represented over 60,000 properties globally. Koryn focuses solely on European markets and is dedicated to creating long-lasting relationships with her clients and to driving awareness of the holiday rental industry.

Prior to joining FlipKey, Koryn worked in publishing. She holds a B.A. in Communication from the University of Toledo, in Ohio.

We recently asked her a few questions about her background and vision for FlipKey vacation rental managers:

What made you want to work for FlipKey? When I joined FlipKey, it was less than a year old and just breaking into the market, so working here has given me the opportunity to see first-hand how a business can grow to be a major competitor within an industry. Aside from the learning opportunity that a start-up offered, I was really interested in understanding the industry. It’s been exciting to be a part of something great.

Any thoughts on where the vacation rental industry is headed? I think we’ll begin to see standards set that make the rental process easier for travelers to book a rental and to better understand exactly what they’re getting. It won’t be overnight as there are many factors that go into this, but I think we’re definitely moving in that direction.

What do you love most about working in the travel industry? I feel excited to be able to play a (very) small part in helping people create long lasting memories with friends and family!

Where are the best vacation rentals you’ve stayed? I’m a big fan of vacations on the beach so I’m going to say Cabo or Costa Rica – they were different types of trips, but both rank pretty high on my list. The ability to return to a home-cooked meal or sit around the pool with only the people you’re traveling with provides such a sense of privacy and relaxation: it can’t be beat. That said, I’ve rented some great apartments in city centers in Rome and Barcelona, too. The ability to have a home base amid the energy of a city also can’t be beat.

What is the top piece of advice you have for professional managers? When you’ve made the decision to invest in a marketing partner, take the time to understand what it offers and how you can maximize your involvement: it’s about more than just signing the contract and having your listings live. Ask questions, talk to your account manager, understand the features the partner offers and how you can best utilize them. While it will be more work up front, the long term benefits will be worth it!

What FlipKey feature do you think is most under-utilized? Having the ability to incorporate the reviews you’ve collected directly on your own website is invaluable.  Our (free) publishing tools give managers the ability to provide their guests with all the information they could want while making a decision on where to stay — why not provide travelers with everything they’re looking for? Having reviews ensures they don’t need to visit another site to see what people have to say.

Think Koryn can help put your vacation rentals in front of the right travelers? Contact her: koryn@flipkey.com

While we admit your vacation rental will be fine 9 times out of 10, damage is bound to happen at some point. When it comes to your rental, we feel it is better to be safe than sorry. The damage protection insurance will take care of anything from a lamp being knocked over to the $5,000 catastrophe.

You may think security deposits are an effective way to put your mind at ease but you also have to think about keeping your guests happy too. Travelers spend a lot of time and effort in searching for the perfect vacation rental. With the average booking costing $1200, many travelers will shy away from properties with high security deposits. Even though travelers are most likely to have their deposit returned upon checkout, having an additional start up charge of $300-$500 is enough to make potential guests hesitant to book.

Besides losing prospects, security deposits can be a hassle for both you and your guests. Last Memorial Day weekend my friend rented the perfect beach house on the Cape for ten of our friends. We all had a great time but over the weekend one of our clumsier friends dropped a small stack of dishes. We also managed to crack a plastic deck chair that we used for home plate in our Wiffle ball game (which turned out to not be a good idea). At the end of our stay we wrote an apologetic note saying we understand that some money may have to be taken from our deposit.

Two weeks later my friend, who put the deposit down, called me saying that the owner charged us the whole $250 deposit for our damages. She argued that the dishes and plastic chair couldn’t possibly come to $250 but the owner wouldn’t budge. We swallowed our pride and just decided to accept the deposit loss. Even though the house was an ideal fit for us, we are booking a different vacation rental for next year’s Memorial Day weekend. We’re making our trip into an annual getaway and this particular owner lost out on us as returning guests for years to come.

Had we had the option during booking to elect for insurance, we wouldn’t have thought twice about it. Obviously it is easier to say we’d take the insurance after our deposit dispute, but when you break down the numbers it makes sense. If the $35 insurance plan was added to our booking total, it only would have been an additional $3.50 per person (instead of the $25 we each paid) for up to $1,000 in damages. I think we would all agree that paying a collective $35 is worth the possibility of losing $250.

More importantly the insurance plan will keep YOU happy! The arguments of damage cost with guests are completely avoided as the insurance will take care of it. Above all, the insurance financially protects you much more than a security deposit. With the guests paying less up front and you getting more coverage, the insurance is a must!

Insurance Plan Options

$1,000 in coverage at a cost of $34.99

$3,000 in coverage at a cost of $39.99

$5,000 in coverage at a cost of $49.99

 

BryanGoodwin2999v3Bryan Goodwin oversees FlipKey.com operations  in North America. He has helped over 2,000 rental managers leverage the guest review and advertising services provided by FlipKey.com and TripAdvisor.com since he joined FlipKey in 2007 — as its first employee.

Bryan directly manages over 400 accounts throughout the Atlantic Seaboard that represent more than 40,000 units and 250,000 reviews.  He holds a B.A. in Finance and an MBA from Bentley University in Waltham, MA and is an avid vacation home renter and aspiring vacation home owner. We recently asked him a few questions about his background and vision for FlipKey vacation rental managers:

Why did you leave the world of finance to work for FlipKey? I wanted to work for FlipKey because I believed in the management team, am interested in travel and specifically vacation rentals, and I was confident the concept of reviews in vacation rentals was smart and would work.

What is the top piece of advice you have for a property manager? Don’t let the highs get too high or the lows get too low.  Property managers are in the insanely challenging position of pleasing both their home owners and their guests.  Undoubtedly — given human nature and people diverse personalities — someone is going to be over-the-top happy, over-the-top mad or somewhere in between.  When it comes to dealing with reviews and home owners’ reaction to those reviews, my advice is as much as possible to take a neutral stance and not let the highs get too high or the lows get too low.

What FlipKey feature do you think is the most under-utilized? Traveler photos and specials.  Specials help attract eyes to your ads.  The special doesn’t need to be 20% off —  it can be a bottle of wine with any 3 night stay —  just something to separate and differentiate your listings.  Once you have your guests, retaining them is key. If you know you’re providing them with an awesome experience, make sure you encourage them to share it with you by leaving photos of their stay with their review.  This kind of personalized content from your guests can be invaluable in attracting future guests or convincing someone who is new to VR that your home will be the right accommodation for them.

Any thoughts on where the vacation rental industry is headed? As someone who rents vacation rentals, I would like to see the industry move towards more seamless online booking so that as a renter I can make my purchase directly online after my research is complete.  I think we’re heading that way although there are technical challenges that need to be met prior to getting there.

What do you love most about working in the travel industry? Traveling!

Where are the best vacation rentals you’ve stayed? The beauty of vacation rentals is that they are all great in their own unique, different ways.  A mountain-side vacation rental in Breckenridge can be equally as great as a beachfront home on Pawley’s Island or a lakeside summer house in NH… I would have a hard time choosing only one home of the many great homes I have experienced!

What’s your favorite sports team? Boston Bruins and New England Patriots…

Think Bryan can help put your vacation rentals in front of the right travelers? Contact him: bgoodwin@flipkey.com

Renting out a second home can be likened to running a business, so it’s not a bad idea to treat it as such. One important aspect to renting out your vacation home is how well you describe it on your FlipKey property profile. FlipKey listings provide space for a headline, amenities, and an unlimited amount of photos, so you will have a number of chances to describe your home in a way that makes it inviting to guests.

Writing Headlines That Get Noticed

Assuming you have a great photo for your property thumbnail, the next most important feature is your headline. You have 50 characters to summarize why your property will make the perfect vacation home, so be sure to make every character count! Using words that get people excited about staying at your home will make your rental more attractive to prospective guests.

The chart below shows a comparison of two different headlines for the same property. While the headlines on the left are shorter and less descriptive, the ones on the right are more detailed and emphasize the experience you want to provide your guests.

Basic HeadlineDescriptive Headline
Cabin house on Lake MichiganRustic Wood Cabin, Stunning Lake-side Views
Family Beach HouseWatch the Waves Crash On Beach with Kids
Utah Ski Vacation HomeSki Fresh Powder, Enjoy Outdoor Jacuzzi
Townhouse in TokyoExplore Japanese Culture & Language

Some important things to keep in mind:

  • Paint a picture. Try to visualize the experience you want guests to have, and make it come alive in your description.
  •  Use descriptive adjectives that pinpoint what makes your property unique. Generic adjectives such as “great” or “fun” won’t set you apart from the competition.
  •  Since travelers are already searching for rentals in a specific location, you can leave your property’s location out of your headline and save those characters for other important information that will help increase bookings.
  •  If you need to shorten your headline because of the character limit, you can use “&” instead of “and”, and also avoid including information, such as number of rooms, that can already be found in your description.
  •  Adjust your headline at different times of the year. Seasons change—so why shouldn’t your listing’s title? Take a look at our marketing handbook for more information on adapting headlines for each season.

Don’t Forget those Photo Captions!

With FlipKey, you can post an unlimited number of photos to your profile, so we generally recommend including at least 20. Writing captions for these photos is important to help the reader visualize what staying at your property will be like. If your vacation home has special amenities, you can take pictures of them and write the details in the caption. For example, if you have a collection of crystal wine glasses available for your guests, you could write that in one of the captions of your kitchen photos. Or even better, why not take a photo of the glasses and then write a specific caption for them? It’s a good idea to talk about your amenities in more than one section because prospective guests may not read your entire profile.

Emphasize Your Amenities

Listing your home’s amenities is another important aspect of your profile. Guests want to feel like they will be taken care of and that your property will offer them what they’re looking for in a rental. Try making a list of all the things that set your property apart from the competition. Using brand names and adjectives that “pop” will help showcase your home. For example, instead of saying “television,” you could say “60 inch Sony high definition TV with Comcast On Demand” (if that’s what you really have, of course). Or, instead of saying “Bed sheets provided,” you could say “Get a restful night sleep under our goose down comforters.” The more a guest feels that your home will offer them the memorable vacation they are looking for, the more reservations you will likely receive.

Happy Bookings!

We are excited to be attending the inaugural Holiday Rental Professionals Seminar hosted by the Vacation Rental Managers Association (VRMA) on 4-5 December 2012, in Barcelona, Spain.

The event promises to offer unmatched business and educational tools to help vacation rental managers deliver superior guest and homeowner experiences and features sessions by Javier Delgado Muerza of Google Travel on “Internet & the Digital Era” and by Jordi Schoenenberger of Deloitte on the outlook of the European travel industry. Concurrent session speakers from a half-dozen countries will cover:

  • Additional Revenue Sources
  • Dealing with Complaints in the Age of Internet Reviews
  • Converting Leads to Optimize Your Marketing Dollars
  • International Visitors: Assess, Attract and Serve Them Effectively
  • Online Payments in a Global Holiday Industry
  • Anatomy of an Online Booking
  • Impact of Cloud Computing on Vacation Rentals
  • Vacation Rental Industry: Present & Future
  • How Guest Reviews Can Double Your Business
  • Worldwide Distribution for Vacation Rentals

FlipKey’s own Jeremy Gall, COO and Co-Founder, will present on Converting Leads to Optimize Your Marketing Dollars Tuesday afternoon. Additionally, FlipKey’s Koryn Okey will be presenting on How Guest Reviews Can Double Your Business Wednesday morning. More information on these and all sessions is available here.

Just one tip, one new resource, or a single connection during this event can make or save your company money. For more details click on the links that follow:

Don’t delay! Register NOW for the Holiday Rental Professionals Seminar. Your industry peers will be in Barcelona this December. We encourage you to be there, too!

For more information visit www.vrma.com or contact Jill Curtis, Director of Membership in the U.S. by phone at +1 (317) 454-8315 or email membership@vrma.com.

The Sacramento BeeTripAdvisor Helps Businesses Tap the Power of Traveler Reviews

Daniel Edward Craig on How to Manage TripAdvisor Reviews

TechCrunch.comTripAdvisor Highlights Reviews of Friends of Friends

TechCrunch.comSocial Proof is the New Marketing

NielsenConsumer Trust in Online, Social and Mobile Advertising Grows

And, because it’s Friday: Mars Curiosity Posts First Review on TripAdvisor and Hotel Transylvania

You may have noticed a slightly cleaner look when you log-in to your FlipKey Account. Withing the last two weeks, our engineers have updated a few features in your dashboard:

  • The log-in dashboard displays your reservation requests in one place — you can now manage them directly from within your account. A copy of your response is saved to your email system
  • On the right side of your log-in page is a box showing stats about your listings, include your total page views, collected reviews and inquiry counts
  • On the listings page, you can filter your properties according to their display status
  • When edit a listing, you can click to view what it will look like live on FlipKey and TripAdvisor; you can also analyze the number of times a particular property has been viewed

As always, you’re welcome to contact your Account Manager or Support Manager with any questions!