By Matt Landau
In my years of vacation rental research, I've settled on two facts: first, most vacation rental homes are really nice. They're nice because owners live in them part-time (or once lived in them full-time) and thus they have all the amenities and standards anyone might need to feel "at home."
Second, and perhaps more importantly, most owners operate their rental like a hobby. This is because most owners have full-time jobs and lack the time, energy and/or know-how to run their rental like a business. Sure, they may have an Excel document with expenses, or in some cases, automatic reminders set up to pay the electricity bill. But rarely is a formal business mentality adopted. This second fact is far more startling than the first, considering the economic impact that vacation rentals are making on local economies and personal investment returns.
To truly run a rental like a business, owners need to understand what their customers really want. Here's a quick rundown:
1. A Professional Brand Online: It's 2013, and if your business doesn't have it's own attractive website, no one is going to take you seriously. Most vacation rental owners rely solely on listing sites for marketing, ignoring the fact that most travelers will Google (probably unsuccessfully) the name of the rental and the name of the owner before forking over cash.
A strong and democratically endorsed online reputation is obligatory in today's business environment, replete with multiple channels, surround-sound words of praise and basic search engine optimization. If a guest can't find you (or your rental) anywhere online outside of your listing page, you've failed them. Miserably.
2. A Reliable Way to Pay: Vacation rentals are so new to hospitality that most owners and managers use archaic DIY remedies to accept payments. Printing out and faxing back rental contracts, requiring old-fashioned bank deposits -- these are logistics of the 1970s. But considering that most of today's owners grew up in that era, it's no wonder that their preferences are so outdated. Owners must get up-to-date using online booking software, accepting credit cards and more broadly embracing technology. If they don't, their rental will be forever stuck in the past.
3. A True Authentic Experience: Today, luxury travel is characterized not by the thread-count of the linens or the length of your stretch limo. Instead, modern-day luxury travel means being connected with the right people to gain access to the best experiences in an abbreviated vacation period. No matter the price-point, if a traveler can feel temporarily and authentically immersed in a foreign place, the satisfaction impact is overwhelming. Vacation rental owners with great insider knowledge about the area and superb neighborhood contacts are, perhaps unknowingly, already in a perfect position to supply this frill. They just need to learn how to embrace it: how to share their one-of-a-kind vacation life with guests who are willing to pay top dollar.
4. Genuine Hospitality: Vacation rentals are stealing more and more hotel market share for one big reason: They're more economical (though also in many cases more practical). So once rental owners grasp the true meaning of hospitality -- once owners embrace the hotel-style principles of receiving strangers and taking great care of them for a few days -- the game might change for good. True hospitality is one thing that some owners seem to understand (perhaps instinctively) already, but it must materialize across the board before rentals can emerge.
5. Consistency: Consistency is a big hurdle in the vacation rental industry: consistency of rental standards across state borders, consistency of payment processes across country lines, consistency for a single owner's rental offering over time. It's no secret that consumers choose products because they know what to expect. It's the main reason why chain hotels have dominated the hospitality landscape for decades, and it's the most gaping crack that vacation rental owners need to fill in order to fully earn traveler trust.
This article was originally published on BiggerPockets.com.
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