Our Thought Leader Spotlight series is a monthly profile of interesting and notable ‘game changers’ in the international vacation rental industry.
We ask these industry experts, all with different backgrounds in the industry, questions that aim to get to the core of what they view as both the challenges and opportunities facing the vacation rental industry. We also delve into how our Thought Leaders personally relate to the industry, and what they, and their businesses, bring to the collective table.
What businesses, organisations and enterprises are you currently involved with, in the industry?
Touch Stay, founded in 2014, is a digital guest welcome book that provides guests information about the accommodation and area directly on their phone, without needing to download an app. It’s optimized for all devices, including the ability to save as a PDF and print. And we just completed a redesign!
Guest Hook, founded in 2015, started as a copywriting service but has since expanded in the last year to offer branding and marketing services. In an industry where there is so much “noise” it’s never been more important to have a clear brand. But more on that later.
What do you consider to be the key to your success?
Well I’d argue that none of us can claim success in such a fast-paced industry. That implies the game is finished and we can retire! Quite the opposite, the next couple of years will see a huge shift in this industry on so many levels. My measure of success will be where we’re positioned in 2020.
That said, I’ve always believed in having a service-driven approach whereby we ensure that our product (Touch Stay) and service (Guest Hook) is not only valuable to our customers (via “what” we do), but that it’s professionally delivered, with a high service level (via “how” we do it). We want to be known as an excellent and personal service, and I think most people see us that way. This should naturally lead to healthy, long-term relationships which benefit both us and our customers.
I’d also cite pure hard work and never giving up. It sounds cliché but it’s at the heart of virtually every business out there. Name me a business that has cruised to success in this industry? And by “cruising to success” I mean finding a simple path to being quickly cash positive. The reality is that most businesses grind, have set backs, struggle daily with “what’s the right decision?”. It’s about grit and determination. No cliché in reality!
In your view, what are the biggest challenges and or threats to the vacation rental industry?
Tough question! Regulation is up there. Making the right tech choices is another.
These aside, in my humble opinion, I think the biggest challenge (which represents an opportunity) is for properties to resist being commodities. As I wrote for Amy’s VRMIntel recently I’ve heard some corners of this industry describe vacation rentals as “just places to sleep”. That’s a huge generalization and fails to recognize why a guest really chooses a vacation rental over a hotel. And certainly why a guest will choose one in the future.
Look at the successful boutique hotels. They trade on personality, on stories, on emotions. In short, they’ve nailed their brand by clearly defining what they stand for and then brilliantly executing that with words, design, service, culture, and consistent guest experience. It’s not a place to sleep, it’s a place to be. Matt Landau’s Sense of Place and his Theory of Limited Edition both champion this perspective.
This “place to be” isn’t solely the domain of a treehouse in Sweden, or a castle in Scotland. It can also be a 1-bedroom condo in a popular resort town. It’s not about size or unique location. It’s about conveying clearly and quickly what sets you apart from the “unit” next door. And we all have something original to offer. Tour the websites of some excellent boutique hotels out there and take inspiration. Try these, recommended to me by Alanna Schroeder:
What counter measures would you suggest to minimise these risks?
Whoops! See above J
In your opinion what are the greatest opportunities for both individual property management businesses, and the industry as a whole, both now and in the short to medium term future?
Ha, I looked at the above challenge as an opportunity. So, let me look at another facet of brand, and that’s how you personalise your guest interactions. This blog post from Gather Content (whose excellent product we use to manage client work at Guest Hook) is right on the money:
I quote: “By putting in that effort to stop and scratch your head you will hopefully understand what someone needs and then you can do something to meet that need.”
This is the opportunity. Working to better understand what makes your guests tick. Thoughtful time spent on developing something repeatable is way better ROI than aimlessly stabbing at ideas.
Take Dana’s example of the Oxford University welcome video. I’m not saying PMs should necessarily spend months planning how to deliver personal welcome videos to guests. There isn’t the same amplification opportunity as reaching thousands of new students during their first week at college. But even a PM with 20 properties has hundreds of guests a year. That’s worth creating a repeatable personalization process for.
If you were to start over again in the vacation rental industry, what would you do differently?
Great question, and one which Matt Landau asked me in a different way recently. But honestly? Nothing. The problem is, by answering that question with today’s perspective, it’s like Back to the Future. You influence behaviour with knowledge from a different time-zone.
Ok, ok, I’ll answer the question…
I’d certainly not have given up on a listing site I started in 2008 called Getaway Earth. The whole premise of that business was to find unique and personal places to stay. We even had an algorithm that ranked listings by their “quality score”, using quality of photos, text, reviews, social activity, etc. We wanted overnight success and called it a day too early. We should have focused on the longer term. But, hey, I wouldn’t be here with Touch Stay and Guest Hook if that was the case. Hence I’d change nothing!
And finally….. what and where would your dream vacation rental be, and who would you invite to share it with you?
I’ve been fortunate to have grown up in Africa and travelled the world, staying in everything from run down motels to treehouses on safari. For me, a dream vacation rental is less about location or home, but the paring of location and home. I’m struggling to think of a better paring than an old romantic Key West house, wooden architecture, with a large deck and secluded pool, casual, flip-flop friendly (but excellent) places to eat around the corner, and lots of activities for the kids. (But at the opposite end of the island to the top of drunken Duval St!)