How to Increase Vacation Rental Bookings: Following Questions with Questions

This is the first part of a three part series focusing on strategies and tactics that can help vacation rental managers and hosts increase their conversion rate among guests who are non-committal, comparing properties or “just browsing”. Each part of the series will introduce a new strategy or tactic and show you how it could play out for a vacation rental property manager in a simplified scenario.

 

IN THEORY

Whether a potential guest reaches out via email, website message or phone call it’s extremely important that the reservationist is fully prepared to quickly answer their questions about the vacation rental property. Every hour an inquiry goes unanswered the chances the guest will book the property decrease! Because of this property managers should monitor their messages, know potential questions guests might ask, and save responses in a FAQ document to improve future response times.

In addition, while answering the guest’s questions it’s important that the reservationist follows up with their own open-ended questions to determine if the guest is really worth their time. Potential guests are qualified when they have the right budget in mind, are truly interested in the vacation rental or area, and are in need of an accommodation similar to what is offered. Additionally it’s good to ask a few questions about the potential guest and their upcoming trip as a way to build rapport.

If the potential guest is truly on the fence there will be a point where they stop responding to emails or they say something on the phone that indicates they are not ready to commit. At this conjuncture it’s the company’s job to listen to their concern or objection, clarify their point to ensure understanding, empathize with their concern, give a genuine response and then ask if the response was appropriate.

 

IN PRACTICE

Guest: “Hello, I had a chance to check out your property online and would like to determine if I could rent out just a portion of the space for a three-day weekend?”

Manager: “Hello Guest, thanks for reaching out! Right now we only allow guests to rent out the whole property as the room units are all connected to the main living space. Is there a reason that you might only need a portion of the space for your trip?”

Guest: “I’m traveling to the area for work with another colleague, so we only really need two rooms.”

Manager: “I see the dates you’re traveling. Do you plan to attend the local film association conference in just a few weeks? My partner and I love to watch independent films and thought of attending ourselves!”

Guest: “Yes it is! Glad to hear that you’re also interested in independent films. I’ll be releasing my first feature film at the festival. Unfortunately I think I’ll keep looking for another place in the area given your accommodation just seems too big for us.”

Manager: “So you’re saying your primary concerns are the size and comparative cost of the accommodation?”

Guest: “Yes.”

Manager: “I understand that because we can host larger groups the cost of our property seems a bit more than other smaller accommodations, however because of our location right across from the festival you’ll save money on transportation and we can lower the cleaning fee if you will only be staying in two of the three private rooms. Does that sound fair?”

Be sure to check out part two and three of this series to determine potential strategies and tactics that can help you close a sale similar to the one above and book more guests.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dylan DeClerck is the VP of sales and marketing at Pablow, a travel insurance technology provider and broker that works with vacation rental property managers to offer vacation rental travel insurance to their guests hassle-free and in a matter of minutes. The company is based in Iowa and provides travel insurance to more than 25,000 vacation rental properties in the United States. Dylan is also the executive director of a non-profit that teaches athletics to at-risk youth.

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The Biggest Battle Facing the Vacation Rental Industry Today

INTRODUCTION

There are thousands of battles occurring in counties all across the United States between those in favor and those opposed to short-term vacation rentals.  At the center of the intense debate between both sides are short-term vacation rental regulations and enforcement of those regulations.

Those who support the vacation rental industry and advocate for fewer regulations and enforcement mechanisms primarily consist of vacation rental guests, property management, and rental companies.  On the opposite side of the argument are those who are opposing the vacation rental industry and are advocating for stronger regulations and enforcement mechanisms.  Those opposing the vacation rental industry typically include the hotel industry, vacation rental neighbors, and local government officials.

 

THOSE SUPPORTING THE VACATION RENTAL INDUSTRY

Ironically the vacation rental industry depends on guests for revenue, but they are the least passionate about the ongoing battle surrounding the vacation rental industry.  Realistically it’s because guests have the least to lose in the situation.  If vacation rentals are outlawed across the country then the guests that used to use short term vacation rentals for their travel accommodations will simply find another place to stay, which most likely means a hotel.

Comprising vacation rental property management are property managers and property owners.  Property management is in favor of fewer regulations and enforcement mechanisms because every change to their process and additional staff person required to ensure compliance with regulations costs the company money.  Lifestyle Properties’ general manager Katy Armes in Newberg, OR explains “There’s not enough beds in the county to accommodate the tourism influx. Short of new hotel construction, [increasing local accommodations] will likely come about through more residences being converted to vacation rentals.”¹  Similarly in Sonoma, CA vacation rentals make up about one fourth of all travel accommodations.²  Other reasons property management state in favor of vacation rentals include that the industry brings additional guests to the area, it creates additional revenue for residents, and it provides competition in a non-competitive industry.

The strongest advocates for short term vacation rentals and companies providing the strongest opposition to new regulations are the vacation rental companies, whose largest players include Airbnb, VRBO, HomeAway, and Booking.com.  These companies profit mightily from short term vacation rentals, which provides quite the motivation to make it as easy and profitable as possible for homeowners to become vacation rental hosts.  Airbnb, the most well-known company in the industry, in the face of heavy regulations in Miami says that it wants to work with the city to develop “clear, fair rules.”³  In general the largest companies are fighting heavier regulations to ensure survival of the industry and sharing economy they depend on.

 

THOSE OPPOSING THE VACATION RENTAL INDUSTRY

The hotel industry serves as the biggest barrier to the continued success of the vacation rental industry.  As the vacation rental industry has grown, hotels have seen their competitors increase and occupancy rates decrease, though the growth in the vacation rental market is not proportional to the small decrease in hotel demand.³  Given the decrease in demand for hotel accommodations, hotels have to reduce their rates to ensure occupancy, which reduces their profitability.

Some neighbors of vacation rental homes are understandably upset with vacation rentals because of their experiences.  Henan Cardeno, a passionate opponent of vacation rental homes contends that short term vacation rentals are “changing the character and the nature of our neighborhoods.”³  Alicia Wuscher, a Palm Island resident, says the short term rental next to her home is notorious for throwing parties that shake her home.4  Susan Strong told the Desert Sun that she had to endure five years of loud music, yelling, and laughing because of a short term vacation next door that was not judicious in who could rent it out.4  While it appears as though some neighbors have a negative view of vacation rentals, according to a 2017 David Binder Research poll of 500 Miami residents, more than half said they had a favorable opinion of Airbnb and just 1 in 10 respondents said they had an unfavorable opinion.³  So up to this point reactions are still mixed among the general public.

Local government officials are usually opposed to vacation rentals, which make their job of regulation more difficult than ever before.  As a result of their frustration, those in favor of the vacation rental industry would contend they have received heavy regulations and ridiculous fines.

 

REGULATIONS AND ENFORCEMENT

Since the regulations are largely passed and enforced on the local level, there is a great variety in what the regulations look like.  In San Francisco, the city where Airbnb was founded, short-term vacation rental owners are limited to renting in certain areas and must register their homes for $50.³  In Palm Springs the local government is proposing a limit on the number of times a home can be rented each year, which discourages short-term weekend rentals.  Palm Springs officials also are considering raising permit fees to $900 per year and limiting vacation rental owners to just a single vacation rental.4  On the corporate side of the industry, Airbnb recently agreed for the first time to enforce legal limits on the number of nights a vacation rental can be rented each year in London and Amsterdam.5  This compromise with regulators could be a foreshadowing of what is yet to come in the United States.

To ensure that regulations are followed, Miami penalizes illegal vacation rentals by charging both the owner and the rental company $20,000.  These fines are much higher than most other counties across the United States, but Miami regulators suggest that they could even raise the fines further.  To this point they’ve already passed out $4 million in fines.³  In Palm Springs, with the new proposal in place operating a home without a permit and failing to report the rental agreement could result in a $7,500 fine and homeowners would be limited to one vacation rental.4  Other enforcement mechanisms besides fines are still being explored, as fines do not appear to be effectively deterring many vacation rental owners from operating outside of the law.

 

RESOLUTION

Instead of proposing a resolution in this battle, given that each county and city are imposing their own regulations, it’s probably better to consider a couple of questions moving forward.

Are short term vacation rentals on their way out?  Are all vacation rentals doomed to fail?  If the vacation rental business continues to grow, will our hotel industry collapse?  What will the future of tourism and travel accommodations look like?  Is there a way the industry and its opponents can come to a compromise?  Can the vacation rental and hotel industries coexist in the sharing economy?

What are your thoughts on this very contentious issue?  We’d love to hear them and have a discussion!

 

SOURCES

¹ http://pamplinmedia.com/nbg/142-news/334281-214131-vacation-rental-industry-experiences-modest-growth

² http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/6343358-181/sharp-rise-in-sonoma-county?artslide=0

³ http://www.miamiherald.com/news/business/biz-monday/article117332773.html – Miami stuff

http://www.desertsun.com/story/money/business/tourism/2016/11/30/palm-springs-set-tighten-vacation-rental-rules-prompts-industry-pushback/94628142/

 http://www.wsj.com/articles/airbnb-agrees-to-enforce-amsterdam-limit-on-rentals-1480580233

 

What a Week at VRMA!

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This time last week we were a bunch of excited conference rookies ready to debut our innovative new products to the vacation rental industry at the VRMA National Conference in Phoenix, AZ.  One week later we still feel excited, but this time because of a great experience at VRMA 2016 and lots of business success.

Our booth, featuring a putting green and game that we called “Putting with Pablow”, perfectly reflected our company personality.  It was exciting, fun, a little different than most other booths, competitive and led to easy conversations.  Looking back on the environment we were able to create with a simple golf game, both Steve and Dylan concluded that it was a huge success and something worth repeating at future conferences.

Outside of meeting with people at our exhibition booth, Dylan’s favorite part was networking with VRMA members including those who managed properties and those who were vendors.  Specifically he enjoyed talking and dancing with people on the dance floor during Saturday evening’s event.  Steve also enjoyed networking, but the biggest benefit of the conference in his perspective was being able to talk with system providers in the vacation rental industry to determine how we might solve important insurance challenges.

Looking back at some of our funniest moments.  Dylan was mistaken for a 16 year old.  Dylan put a video on Facebook Live during the exhibition times and talked with the same person later that evening for 15 minutes before realizing it was the same person.  Steve’s accent was mistaken for everything but Australian, even by other Australians.  I’m sure there are many more good stories given how many times we laughed, but these are the ones that stuck.  I’m sure we will have plenty of more stories from future VRMA conferences, as we are extremely excited to be going back!

Interested in learning more about Pablow?  Reach out to Dylan DeClerck at dylan@pablow.com!

Live VRMA Blog: October 18th

Today was the final day of VRMA’s 2016 National Conference in Phoenix, Arizona.  We recap our experience and talk about what’s next for the company.

MORNING KEYNOTE

Similar to yesterday morning, all of the attendees started this morning in the main ballroom listening to the keynote speaker.  While yesterday’s keynote was brought in from outside the industry, this morning’s keynote was delivered by industry veteran Mary Lynn Clark from Wyndham Vacation Rentals.  Mary Lynn shared the following key messages with the audience:

  1. Customers want unique experiences (not just products), on-demand service that is fast and easy, to be heard, and have companies react to them
  2. All service companies need to put the customer first by delivering exceptional customer experiences, using technology to enhance the experience, and managing their experience
  3. Personal service is about making the customer feel like they’re doing business with a human, not a company

Despite the fact that these lessons were intended for an audience of vacation rental managers, I feel as though they apply to a majority of service-based companies.

 

BREAKOUT SESSIONS

In keeping with the theme established early in the morning with our keynote, our team had the chance to attend multiple sessions covering technology’s role in the vacation rental industry and how to use technology to maintain a personal touch with customers.  These sessions allowed Pablow to better understand the industry and how we can better serve our customers in a technology-based business model.  The most important insight that we walked away with is that vacation rental managers are looking for technology solutions that have great functionality, efficiently solve their problems, and doesn’t change their current business processes.

EXHIBITION

We spent most of today on the exhibition floor making as many possible connections with vacation rental professionals.  The best part of the exhibition process was meeting with people who had genuine problems that they needed solved and figuring out the best possible solution.  It helped us realize that we are not in the business of insurance or technology, when it comes down to it, we are in the business of solving problems.

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The Pablow, Inc. booth was consistently filled throughout the day, making this picture a rare moment when it was not filled with people.

Our team worked incredibly well all conference with Dylan doing an excellent job drawing attendees into the booth to play golf and look at the travel insurance websites we could deliver.  Steve did a superior job connecting with the people on a personal level and answering a lot of the technology questions for property managers.  Our insurance experts, Wendy and Amanda, did a great job of networking with potential business partners and going through the policy details with interested property managers.

The individual strengths of the team allowed us to reach our objectives for the conference of obtaining numerous new business partners and taking the next step toward WORLD-WIDE INSURANCE DOMINATION!!!  Although there’s still plenty of work to do on the second objective.

That’s all from Arizona!  See you next year VRMA!

Live VRMA Blog: October 17th

It’s the second day of VRMA’s 2016 national conference in Phoenix, AZ and the Pablow team continues to enjoy themselves and find success.

MORNING KEYNOTE

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Keynote speaker, Dr. Jonathan Fader, provides a Pele quote to introduce VRMA members to the premise of what it means to be an athlete

The morning keynote was delivered by Dr. Jonathan Fader, sports psychologist for the New York Mets and author of the book Life as Sport.  Among the key messages Dr. Fader encouraged the audience to embrace during his speech were:

  1. When we experience stress we can approach it with a growth mindset and see it as a challenge or with a fixed mindset and see it as a threat, which is incredibly negative for our mental performance.
  2. You can only control so much.  Many things will be out of your control, so you must simply do your best and not worry about the rest.
  3. Find what intrinsically motivates you and continue to use those motivating factors to ensure you are always focused and in the best possible mindset for the moment.  Dr. Fader urged us to choose among the following 16 factors to determine what most motivated us.

BREAKOUT SESSIONS

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The breakout sessions were all well attended and provided vacation rental managers and vendors with valuable industry insights and tools

In addition to the keynote speakers all attendees and exhibitors had the chance to attend four valuable educational seminars and sessions covering a variety of topics affecting the vacation rental industry and vacation rental managers.  Some of the breakout sessions that Pablow employees attended helped them better understand how to better leverage social media, the features of travel insurance, vacation rental trends, and the current state of the vacation rental industry.  These sessions provided a lot of statistics that will help Pablow continue to refine our go to market strategy and ideal insurance customer.

EXHIBITING

Similar to the session last night, “Putting with Pablow” was a huge success again on the second day of the conference, tempting both golfers and non-golfers alike to test their skills and have some fun at the same time.  In total, more than 30 people earned entry into the drawing for the $150 Amazon gift card, and Pablow had the chance to talk with many of these industry professionals to determine if our technology and insurance solutions would work well for their companies.

One particularly exciting story comes from a man from the Northeast United States with strict rental conditions who does not want to risk having customers cancel and losing out on valuable revenue.  When we explained exactly how Pablow is offering technology to the industry he exclaimed, “This is exactly what we need!” to his nearby wife.  It’s these kind of relationships and exclamations that brought Pablow to VRMA in the first place and exhilarate our team!

ENDING THOUGHT

There were multiple times today when I was unsure if talking to someone would be beneficial for our company or worth my time, but more often than not building relationships with these people turned out to be the most valuable.  The lesson I’ve learned is not to underestimate a person’s abilities and build as many valuable relationships as possible, because you never know what they can do for you.

SIDE NOTE

Dylan’s age has come into question multiple times this conference, with one woman guessing that he’s only 16 years old.  Does anyone have a birth certificate for this kid?

Live VRMA Blog: October 16th

While many attendees at VRMA’s national conference in Phoenix were excited about the first day, none were ready to have as much fun as Pablow could provide!  The Pablow conference staff featuring Steve and Dylan along with our insurance partners from IMG, Wendy and Amanda, were incredibly excited to launch our product in the vacation rental market.

After the entire team arrived in Phoenix on Sunday the team quickly gathered all of the equipment we still needed to purchase and set the Pablow booth up in no time at all.  At 6:00 p.m. we began our first exhibiting session and met many people who were interested in the product we were launching.  The main attraction in our booth, besides the naturally attractive staff, is called “Putting with Pablow”, a mini-golf game with fun challenges for visitors with varying levels of experience.

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An enthusiastic visitor attempts to shoot his golf ball like a pool ball 

Take a look at our golf experience on Facebook Live (https://www.facebook.com/pablowinc/videos/942918165812074/) or Twitter (https://twitter.com/pablowInc/status/787802085098041344) .

After two successful hours of meeting vacation rental industry professionals including vendors, property owners, property managers, system providers, and retailers Pablow had made enough relationships to call the night a huge success.  The entire team emerged from the conference energized by the responses we received from everyone we met.

If you’re currently at VRMA’s national conference and interested in talking to Pablow or playing our golf game for a chance to win a $150 Amazon gift card, then we look forward to speaking with you soon!

Coming to a VRMA Conference Near You!

In the last quarter of 2016 Pablow, Inc. is looking to come out of stealth mode with our go to market strategy. One of the key elements of this go to market strategy is to build strategic business relationships with the US vacation rental industry, including property owners, managers, retailers, and system providers. The first major step will happen at the national VRMA conference in Phoenix, AZ starting Sunday, October 16th. This blog is for the people and companies we will meet at VRMA and serves as an introduction to our company and our booth next week.

WHO IS PABLOW?

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If you’re wandering around the VRMA conference in Phoenix looking for a guy named Pablow, you’ll surely be disappointed to find out that Pablow is the name of a company rather than a person. Our company is an insurance and technology start-up located in Des Moines, IA, but with employees and executives from across the globe.

Our mission is to rid the world of suffering … in relation to travel insurance. More specifically, our goal is to solve the insurance industry’s problems of extreme lack of personalization and clumsy infrastructure.

Our company’s vision is to make hassle-free and relevant travel insurance offers available to travelers all over the world. We want to move the perception of travel insurance towards an intelligent and highly personalized protection option for travelers on a global basis. To accomplish our vision we strive to be daring, enjoyable, considerate, accountable, reasonable, responsible, and transparent.

WHY IS PABLOW AT VRMA?

Pablow is an insurance company focused on the vacation rental industry. This year at VRMA our goal is to establish strategic business relationships with VRMA members that will allow our company to offer insurance to travelers all across the US. That means that we want to meet you and figure out if our companies could work together!

WHAT TO EXPECT FROM PABLOW?

Last year we had the chance to attend the show in New Orleans and were very impressed with the professionalism of the entire conference. As a first-time exhibitor at the national VRMA conference this year we are excited to share our fun and innovative technology with the travel insurance industry. In fact, we will be launching our automated website builder that will allow vacation rental companies to create a fully customizable insurance website in just minutes.

In addition to the new technology we are launching at VRMA, we want to have some fun as we learn about other companies and share information about Pablow. To do this we will be playing a fun and interactive game at our booth that anyone has the chance to win. If you can successfully complete the challenges at our booth you will be entered into a drawing for the chance to win a $150 Amazon gift card. Visit booth number 308 to find out what game we will be playing and to win yourself a $150 Amazon gift card!

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Find Pablow, Inc. at Booth #308 (circled in the above map)

You will also be able to bid on our company’s donation to the silent auction. Although not a typical item people would see in an auction, we pulled together some resources to support the cause of preventing regulations on vacation properties.

To all those who are joining us at VRMA’s national conference starting this Sunday, we look forward to meeting with you soon.