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.

 Abode Pr Thought Leader Heather Bayer

What businesses, organisations, and enterprises are you currently involved in within the industry?

I’m the CEO of CottageLINK Rental Management – an Ontario based rental agency.  That’s what I’d call the ‘day job’ as it’s the one that creates the bulk of my income.  On evenings, weekends and in all my other free time, I put on the other hat – that of vacation rental consultant, blogger, podcaster, speaker and all-round vacation rental geek!  Since 2007 I’ve been blogging at Cottage Blogger, and added the Vacation Rental Success Podcast to the mix in 2013.  I then teamed up with my son Mike Bayer to create the Vacation Rental Formula, which is a membership site for those owners and managers who want specific learning on a range of topics from creating a successful Twitter account to developing an emergency plan for a VR business.  Our latest project has been the Vacation Rental Success Summit – the first conference for independent owners and managers that is not driven by OTAs and sponsors. After 2 very successful years in Toronto, VRSS will head to San Antonio, Texas, for its US debut in May 2018.

What do you consider to be/have been the key (s) to your success?

Passion, pure and simple.  I have a passion for this industry that overrides most other interests, and find myself immersed in every aspect of it, in most of my waking hours….and often in the sleeping ones too.  As well as that, I’ve been personally involved in building a property management company to a portfolio of 180 properties, and managed six of my own Ontario cottages.  There’s not much I haven’t experienced in that time both as an independent owner and as a rental manager.  Having hands-on experience of everything from changeover, cleaning and maintenance to guest and owner relations to researching multiple tech options and creating strategic management plans has given me a breadth of knowledge in the industry that I love to share.

In your view, what are the biggest challenges / threats to the vacation industry and what counter measures would you suggest to minimise these risks?

This really depends on your position in the industry.  An independent owner who started renting out in the early days of VRBO might say that the OTAs are the biggest threat as they muscle in on the owner/guest relationship and reduce the nature of properties to commodities.

To a degree this impacts property managers as well as they fight to maintain brands they have built up over a long period of time, and see these eroded by the very entities that grew from their hard work.

A panel entitled “Is there a Future for Property Managers’ at the 2017 National VRMA Conference addressed these challenges, and after a lively discussion, concluded that yes, there is a future for PMs but they will need to adapt to survive.  Adapting means embracing new technologies, becoming creative in marketing, and driving remarketing strategies to bring back direct bookings.

The regulatory aspect of the industry remains the major challenge and impacts owners and managers in every part of the world where vacation rentals are a popular form of accommodation.  Collaborating with others to create a common voice; Joining local advocacy groups;, campaigning for fair regulations and getting involved in lobbying local government are just some ways of reducing the risk of unfair legislation being introduced.

What do you view as the greatest opportunities for both individual businesses, and the industry as a whole, both now and in the short to medium term future?

This is an exciting time in the industry as technological advances create so many opportunities to those who are willing to embrace them.  While I’m in the early learning stages, I’m intrigued with the concept of blockchain technology that is touted as being the next disruptor to the travel industry.  That aside, there are so many smaller tech advancements to make our business more efficient, streamlined and safer.  From digital welcome books to apps that maximise the efficiency of cleaning teams, to marketing automations, we’ve seen tremendous innovations in the past few years and these will increase in sophistication as time goes on.  Continuous learning and early adoption will give forward thinking businesses a critical advantage in this competitive environment.

Content marketing, while it may seem an overused concept, remains a great opportunity for vacation rental businesses to do something the OTAs don’t have the capacity (or appetite) for. Capturing long-tailed keyword phrases with information to answer guest questions can be the key to SEO advantage and owners and managers who take the lead on this and build solid content will reap the benefits.

We’re also seeing so much more collaboration as the growth in social media brings people together to grow their businesses collectively.  This drive to network and share information is such a positive force in the industry – just look at the increase in live events in the past few years.  Whereas industry events were once just run by the OTAs, some of the larger PMS companies, and VRMA, we are now seeing a move towards industry independence with events such as the Vacation Rental Success Summit and VRM Intel Live leading the way.

If you were to start over again in the vacation rental industry, what would you do differently?

Since I started in the industry before Home Away and Airbnb and long before the tech advantages we have today, there’s a lot I’d do differently.

From a property manager perspective, I’d have spent more time on setting goals for up to 10 years.  I knew we wanted to grow and become one of the leading rental agencies in Ontario, but we didn’t break that down into actionable goals.  Therefore, we had challenges in scaling the business when it really began to take off.  Starting again, we’d take a long time looking at the way we wanted to grow strategically and how we’d manage that growth operationally.

When we started there was only a few reservation systems available and what there was lacked the sophistication we have today.  A few showed promise but they were much more expensive than the basic platform we felt we needed.  By the time we found that what we had chosen was not scalable, it was a hard slog to make a change to a new system once we had over 100 properties on board.

With so many options available now, it’s a bit of a minefield, since choosing one that doesn’t fit business needs could have major consequences down the road.  Of course, having the benefits of hindsight means we know what we need, whereas starting out for the first time there’s so many moving parts, it’s easy to miss out on a feature that’s really necessary in favour of one that seems a little brighter and shinier….but maybe less functional.

And…I’d also network more.  Sharing knowledge and information with peers and even competitors is a valuable use of time.

Thank you Heather!

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