Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Gatlinburg Meeting for Vacation Rentals By Owners.

Well, we just got back from a great weekend in Gatlinburg TN. We had the opportunity to meet with a great group of owners in Gatlinburg. This group was formed off of the Yahoo board of Gatlinburg owners. They are taking the needed steps to help them selves in the vacation rental industry. Here is a slide show of the day; (If you are having a problem viewing the Slideshow from the feed you can go to www.ivacationonline.com and click the blog link to view this blog entry)

I think their idea of forming the group they have is wonderful. They are pulling the resources and learning to be more successful than the competition.

I also had the chance to meet Christine Karpinsky from Homeaway. It was great to finally meet her face to face. She also does a great job traveling and holding seminars to help owners of vacation rentals run successful businesses. It is very similar to what we offer at Vacation Rentals For Profit.com There was so much information for these owners we hope they all take something home with them that will help improve their rental business.

Here are a few topics we handled that day.

1) Running "Special" ads on Homeaway. We have had great success with this feature on Homeaway. You can run a "Special"ad and draw attention to a particular week or days that you need booked. Once you place the ad, guest will find your ad in prominent positions on the Homeaway network and your chances of getting a booking increase tremendously.

2) Making sure you are advertising enough. Many owners only have 1-3 web portals bringing in prospects. Owners need to set a budget and make sure they are well represented on the sites that do well with the searches in their areas. Being on 4-10 well positions sites is what a successful owner needs to do.

3) Picasa Photo Album. We went over this in detail. This is one of the best ways to close a sale. If you have a photo album of this quality on your listing at http://www.ivacationonline.com/ your conversion ratio will improve. Guest want to see pictures. Give them the latest most user friendly photo album out there.

4) Taking online bookings and credit card processing. In today's "give it to me now" society, having the http://www.ivacationonline.com/ automated online software taking real time online bookings with credit card processing will super charge your business. Guest simply react better to online booking than waiting around for an email that they must print out, sign and then mail back to the owner with a check. The faster you return a phone call, and the faster your booking process is, the better your rental business will be.

I shared a real life story with my own unit. As I drove to Gatlinburg on Friday morning, I received a call from a prospect in Indiana. I had just put back on the market a week that started on Saturday, the next day! He wanted to book with me and he did so online with his credit card. I emailed him back the CONFIRMATION once I arrived at my brothers place in Gatlinburg. He arrived the next day at my place and everyone was happy. There is no way to get that transaction completed without taking online bookings and credit card processing.

We really talked heavily about running your unit like a business. Have a business plan. Have policies in place. Have a well written online contract and check out procedures. Once all of this comes together, the owners that take the time and do the work are the ones getting the rewards.

I think more areas need to act like the Gatlinburg owners. The more we work together as an industry the better we will be perceived. We need to act and look professional. Running your business like a professional is now easy with all the tools available.

I would like to thank the group in Gatlinburg and I would love to come back anytime they will have me. I really enjoy being around like minded folks and I love talking about the vacation rental by owner business.

I wish them all luck and hope to be able to work one on one with any owners we met in Gatlinburg! Just call or email me anytime! I look forward to your continued success.

Vacation Rentals For Profit.com

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Handling the Guest calls and emails for your Vacation Rental

Once you have your advertising in place, you will start to get calls and emails. Now what? You have to be prepared to handle them as fast and as accurate as possible.

The bottom line in the vacation rental by owner business is, the owner who gets back to the guest first, has the best chance to get the booking. The number one complaint from guests of private vacation rentals is the owners do not respond to inquires.

The owners do have a legitimate complaint for the guest too, they do not like being asked questions that are easily found on the web sites they provide. The problem occurs when a prospect looks at so many listings online, after talking to a few disorganized owners, they find out that many calendars are not up to date and many rates are incorrect.

So they end up asking questions to an owner that is accurate, so we suggest you just take that in stride. The better the vacation rental by owner industry becomes organized, the better the guest will know how to engage us.

So back to the guests questions. If you have the phone number of the guest given to you by them in an email, I would call them as soon as possible. This cuts to the chase. Be prepared to let them know which unit they emailed you about as they have more than likely emailed several owners. So that being said, answer their questions, assure them your dates and rates are accurate on your site and ask them if they want to book with you.

Having the ivacationonline.com patent pending online reservation system at your finger tips can help seals the deal. The faster you can get a "warm" prospect to book with you the better. Now it is up to them. Once on your ivacationonline.com listing, they are able to book it or not. They make that decision. They are not waiting for you. If you had to go back and format a Word document and email that to them, they may have found another unit while you are doing that. As we have found with all the owners on our site, the ability to book online instantly is increasing the closing ratios of the owners and increasing their gross rents.

I know most owners are very busy. Before you go calling every person that emails you, qualify the lead. I only take Sat to Sat bookings on my Destin listings. So if I get a request for a 2 day stay for next year on the Fourth of July, I may only email this person back and not call them. As I know I will get a weekly booking for that week, no problem. On the other hand, if I have an opening in the next few weeks, and I get an email asking questions about it, I am on the phone as fast as possible.

The best way to get qualified leads is to have the most updated, informative listings as possible. The better your listing is, the better the lead. Disclose your age restrictions if you have one. There is no more aggravating thing than to have thousands of college student's wanting to book your home for Spring Break. Let them know up front so they do not waste your time.

Pictures and the slide shows we use, help seal the deal too. The better the unit is represented online with pictures, the better the lead. They see it all! Then when they ask an intelligent question, you can tell they have really studied your unit and are a great prospect.

On your emails, I try to answer the questions they ask, as direct as I can and then I always make sure they have the links to my sites so they can go right back to my listing. It is a great idea to have a "signature" set up for your email. Then once you answer the question, you can just use your signature and this will help you save time.

The bottom line is call and email the guest as fast as possible and give them access to the online booking listing on ivacationonline.com. This combination will help you stay fully booked!

Good luck with your rentals!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Fine tune your advertising online for your Vacation Rental By Owner

Putting a few listings out on the Internet is one thing and then placing ads that bring in the business is another. We will go into a few strategies that have proven to be very effective for private owners of Vacation Rentals by Owner.

In the last ivacationonline.com blog, we talked about getting out on the Internet and making sure you are advertising on the right portals. Now once you have created your "Marketing Umbrella" you need to make sure those ads are written correctly and use some of the "tricks of the trade" to attract business your way.

Leaving up the same adds all year is not the best way to attract guests. That is what most owners do. So break away from the crowd and try a few of these concepts.

HIGHLIGHT A WEEK. Let's say you have one week open in June that has not booked. You are in April and want to try to book that one week that is left. What we have found to be very effective is to "feature" that week in your advertising. Go to each portal that you advertise on and change your title or description to reflect that week. Maybe something like this:

"JUNE 7-14 is now open! Save $150. Call today!"

What this does, is brings attention to your listing and qualifies the guest. Your listing are being seen by many prospects. You need something that stands out. So when your prospect that needs that week sees your listing, I assure you they will click on your unit. Now there may be hundreds or thousands of other listings that are available for them to book. But they clicked on yours because you "talked" to them through your description. You qualified them with this ad.

Now they are on your listing. I always let them know I have a photo album with many more pictures as that is the number one thing a guest wants to see. So they call or email me and I get them to my ivacationonline.com listing as fast as possible.

So now I have a guest that needs that week and now I have them on my online booking software listing. This is the best position to be in. I do use coupons and some discounts to make it attractive for the guest. I may offer anywhere from $100 to $250 off in the summer months on my higher bookings. It all depends on how hard I think that week will be to book and how close I am to the booking. Many prospects just like the idea of getting a discount, so I use that "hook" to bring them in. I do not discount every week. Just the ones I am promoting.

Now this will also bring in other business. Your ad will get noticed and you may get people asking if you will discount the week they want later in the year. You can do that if you want. The idea is you are getting the clicks. People are looking at your listing. And with the online booking you are giving them the path of least resistance. Meaning, you are making it EASY to book with you and EASY is good online. If you put them through emailing word documents back and forth, you will lose some of those people.

Now that you have booked that week you are promoting, just move on to the next week that needs help. Change the ads the next week. If you do this all year long, the majority of your time will be booked normally and at full rates, using this technique will fill in the weeks that need the extra attention and you can move towards being 100% booked all year.

Just remember, if you have great photos and a photo album, a clean unit and you are advertising correctly, offering a small discount and placing a "SALE" ad out there may be the only little help you need to bring in MORE business.

Try it. I can not tell you how satisfying it is to place an ad and in a few days have that week booked.

One last thing to try is many sites are offering a "Specials" or "Featured" section. Homeaway is doing this. It is money well spent to go in and create a 2 week special to try to get a few bookings that are lingering. Use the discounts. That is what they are designed for. You will get results.

Good luck and we hope these advertising techniques for your vacation rental by owner help you stay booked!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

How to advertise on the Internet for your Vacation Rental By Owner.

This is one of the most important things to do PROPERLY to be successful in the vacation rental by owner market.

There are endless sites to choose from. There are more FREE sites than you can list on in a life time. So what do you do?

First of all you have to understand you MUST advertise on many different sites to get the results you want.

I have talked to many different owners over the years and they tell me that they advertise on VRBO and we are not getting the bookings? Well, years ago, one site did do it for most owners. Now that everyone has bought a vacation rental and they want to have it booked solid, competition has increased. With increased competition, you must improve or step aside. We hope you improve and we are here to help!

You need to set up your Umbrella of marketing. As the picture shows above, you need quality sites driving traffic to your online vacation rental booking listing on ivacationonline.com.

So no matter where they come from, just bring them to your listing on ivacationonline.com to book them.

Start with searches of terms that a guest may use to find you. If you have a condo in Daytona Beach Florida, go to Google and search, "Daytona Beach Condo for rent" and track the results. You may have to weed out the management companies and other private websites and look for the advertising portals. Now write 4-5 of the top sites down. Now do another search, like "Daytona Beach vacation rental condo", and do the same thing. Look for the portals. Try this on Google, Yahoo and MSN searches.

Now compare your notes. Find at least 4-8 sites that come up in those searches and list with them. They are producing for your area. This is now creating your vacation rental by owner marketing umbrella.

FREE SITES. They are free for a reason. There is no problem listing with them, but do not think that being on 10 free sites is any substitute for one good quality paid site that you found in a real life search.

This is usually a work in progress. You need to have a budget and make sure you advertise enough. 3 of the most deadly sins in the vacation rental by owner market that I see are:

1) Not enough advertising on Quality sites.
2) Not enough quality pictures online for the guest to see.
3) Pricing of the unit and the booking process are too difficult.

You can work on the advertising each week. Make sure you are keeping accurate pictures and pricing on your paid portals. Guest want current information. That brings you more qualified leads and the close on the sale is easier if you do not have to explain, that those are our "old"rates and you have not changed them this year. Keep them up to date.

We will get into some fine tuning of advertising in the next blog here at ivacationonline.com
We want you to succeed. Just make sure you are advertising on the right sites and you are advertising enough. You can tell if you are booked. If you want more bookings, consider advertising more, lowering your prices and putting up more and better pictures, it all goes hand in had to get the booking!

Good luck with your advertising of your vacation rental by owner. Keep up the good work.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Travel Insurance for Vacation Rentals by Owner

I received an email from Don, the owner of units 497 and 517 about his experience with the travel insurance option we provide for private owners of vacation rentals.

Many owners are going to a NO REFUND policy and using the travel insurance that is available on ivacationonline.com as a back up. Here is the concept. An owner can not predict the future. Weather, tropical storms, hurricanes, health related problems are all out of the control of any owner.
Many management companies and travel agencies are using travel insurance to solve these issues. The private owner can disclose the NO REFUND policy. This is done in the terms and conditions section on your ivacationonline.com listing. So when the guests reads and agrees to these terms they have the OPTION to buy the travel insurance for their protection. It is now up to the guest to protect them selves.

This makes it totally fair to all parties. The owners fully disclose the NO REFUND policy, they now know they have cash flow to pay the bills and the guest can buy travel insurance, if they want the protection. There are many policies quoted and they are very reasonable. It usually runs about 6% of the cost of the trip.
Here is a REAL LIFE example of how this helped one of the owners on ivacationonline.com and the guest:
Hey Joe,
Needed to let you know how well the IVOL system is working for Gail and I. More specifically the travel insurance. Here's what happened! I recently received a call from a renter that needed to cancel due to a medical situation! I thought to myself, here we go she is going to ask for a refund and the rental is this week! Well travel insurance to the rescue! My renter says " Can you send me a email accepting my cancellation"? I purchased travel insurance!
Whew! Dodged that bullet! I have a no refund policy! Well it gets better I got to keep the rent and I threw an ad on my advertising sites and I booked the property on Friday night and made double rent! I got to tell you! I love travel insurance! Thanks and keep up the great work!

Don and Gail, property 517 and 497

So this is a real life example of how this works for everyone! I personally have dealt with hurricanes and giving back massive refunds. I will no longer be in that position with this system in place.

Think about the NO REFUND policy for your vacation rental by owner. You may not know how happy you are until you have a situation like the above booking.
It just goes to show you that is does pay to do things by the book and run a good business.
We hope you have success in the future with some of these strategies in the vacation rental by owner market.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Picasa Photo Albums for Vacation Rentals by Owner.

We have another GREAT tool we want to let owners know about. If you own a vacation rental and you are running it "By Owner" you need every advantage possible to find and keep you guest.

I can not stress the importance of QUALITY photos of your vacation rental. These need to be updated as you make changes to your unit over time.

In the past, an owner could list 3-4 photos of their unit online and get plenty of business. Now with more competition you need to improve.

We love the new PICASA photo album service from Google. See my unit live online UNIT 122.

Notice the slide show plays automatically in the DESCRIPTION. Anytime you can eliminate clicks for a guest the better off you will be.

I start with the unit, outside moving in. Then go to every room in the house, showing beds and baths, laundry, EVERYTHING! Then I move back out side showing patios, street, beach, pool and then I move into area attractions. I try to paint a VACATION experience.

Many guest may have never been to your area. We as owners take all this for granted. Show off not only your unit but your area. The more quality photos you have the more time a guest will spend on your listing and the more likely they will book with you.

I use the slide show as my "bait". I have a guest on the phone and I ask them if they want to see 100 photos of the unit, they say "SURE", well go to ivacationonline.com unit 122 and look there. They go there. Once there, they love the photos and I tell them, "By the way, just click on the green week to begin the booking process." It is a very good closing tool.

We can integrate a PICASA slide show for you too. You need to join PICASA (it it FREE!) and create a WEB ALBUM. You can update this at any time. Once you create the WEB ALBUM, the system will give your EMBEDDED CODE that we will be able to put in your description so you too can have a slide show play automatically on your listing. ( Just email us the code) This is state of the art.

Think about what this will do for your business. I know I have better pictures than almost everyone, other owners and management companies. Notice I said PICTURES and not UNIT. My units are in good shape but to be honest, there are just nice, average units for the area. There are better and there are worse. What I do have is GREAT Photos. People love that! The pictures will sell it for you. No questions! Sign up today and start your own slide show. Your bookings will be better because of it.

Take advantage of the tools that are out there for you! Here is an example of one of my slide shows:

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Why take credit cards for Vacation Rentals by Owner.

This is a subject I feel passionate about. We work with owners everyday. Most owners have not run a business before, so opening a merchant account is something new and can be intimidating.

Most if not all businesses in general see the benefit in taking credit cards. It is what the market demands. Imagine going to a department store to buy some clothes to find out at the check out counter, they do not take any credit cards. What would you do? Would you still buy there? Would you ever shop there again? Think about it.

The majority of the people in the world today do a very high percentage of business, especially online with credit cards. They are fast, easy and provide a level of security for both the buyer and seller.

So why has the Vacation Rental By Owner market struggled so long to take credit cards? My answer is just a lack of knowledge on how they work, what the benefits are and what the REAL cost are.

If you want to compete online and maximize your vacation rental business, start taking credit cards. Why not? The cost has drastically come down. Everyone has one or two or more! We have negotiated one of the lowest cost out there with Securepay.com. Now having a full blown merchant service is VERY reasonable. Here is the rate structure we have negotiated for ivacationonline.com owners:

You can apply online here: ONLINE APPLICATION

Here are some more thoughts. Let's say you rent by the week. So you have a product to sell. It happens to be 52 items (your weeks). So you have limited inventory. One week may run $995, for example. If you are not 100% booked, could you improve your bookings with taking credit cards? My answer is YES! I have done just that. One more booking a year will more than pay for your $13 a month fee. If you have more than one unit, it is a no brainer. What if you get 3 more booking a year, the math will start to add up in your favor quickly!

Guests may not tell you that they didn't book with you because you do not take credit cards, but I have guest every year tell me they did book with me because I do take them. This is one of the ways I can out book my competition.

Now for the real life stuff. The merchant service with Securepay lets me take online bookings thru our online vacation rental software at ivacationonline.com.

This provides me a way to be on the phone with a guest, walk them through my listing and have them book it online, while I am talking to them and the transaction is complete. PERIOD. No pending weeks, no waiting on WORD documents and emails. The deal is done. To me that has great value. And the guest love it. They want less work, not more. If they can do it online and pay with a credit card quickly, they will. That is why I can beat some of my competition. Speed an ease. I make it easy, other owners make it hard. I win!

As time goes on, more and more owners are moving to online booking and taking credit cards. Why not get with the trend instead of behind it. Try taking credit cards and online booking. If you don't like it or it is not profitable, go back to emailing WORD documents back and forth.

You are running a business. There is always a cost to doing business, advertising, taxes, cleaning fees and your merchant service, are just a few. Don't try to skimp when you are trying to compete. It is time you have all the business tools you need to be successful! Good luck and let us know how you are doing!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Vacation Rental Success Story

Once in a while you just need to let people know about a great story. Here is one!

I was contacted by Don Wilkymacky this year about buying his first vacation rental. He is a professional in the medical sales industry and is very busy. He made it clear that he wanted a turn key operation and needed to rent the unit. No problem.

We talked about a great tax incentive in Gulf Shores Alabama called the GO ZONE. He liked that idea and I was able to view some units for him in February when I was in Gulf Shores. He purchased a unit, sight unseen and started on the financing process.

Long story short, Don closed on the unit, followed our system to the T, read our book, Vacation Rentals For Profit (several times he tells me) and joined ivacationonline.com to manage his property with the online booking system. I am writing this as of Sept 12, 2007 and Don has not had a vacancy yet since he closed (End of May)! He is trying for 100% occupancy in 2007 and he may get there! We hope he does. He is very happy.

Here are some of the reasons Don has been so successful.

1. He listened. We talked many times on the phone about ideas and business strategy. He had some great ideas and he also did exactly what we suggested and used proven business techniques.

2. He priced his unit right. Since he was coming on the market right at the beginning of the summer rush, we had concern he would miss the high season. We suggested aggressive pricing as time was of the essence. He priced his unit, just below what we figured the market should be. The market responded.

3. He set up his unit, number 497 on ivacationonline.com and completed everything he needed. He put the time into making his unit a pleasure to book online. He put up his PHOTO ALBUM, that was a huge help.

4. Don takes credit cards online with online booking. He did not have time to waste. Emailing WORD documents back and forth to the guest was not an option for Don. He was too busy for that. Taking online bookings with credit cards got him the bookings NOW. The money was in the bank and the guests where on their way. This streamlined Don's business and let him run it online from any location he may have been in. Since Don travels for his job, this was a very important part of the business plan.

5. Don advertised correctly. We searched GULF SHORES vacation rentals, and many other terms and found the sites we know would produce for Don, then he put the time into creating some great ads on the needed portals.

6. Don serviced his clients. Don's wife helped with the day to day calls and emails and got back to the guest quickly! That was a huge help.

7. Weekly Bookings. I love Saturday to Saturday bookings. Don had some questions about this. Many people in Gulf Shores advised him to take daily rentals. I told him to do Sat to Sat only. He stuck with that and has never looked back.
An owner must learn to do what is good for the OWNER not the Guest. Sometimes the word NO has to be said!
These are just some of the more important things Don did to make his first year a success. He was very motivated to make this work and he put the time in to make it a success.

He was so happy and successful he has recently purchased the unit next to his and is on his way to making this unit, 517, a great success too. Two units in one year! Way to go Don.

Congratulations on a great success story Don! We wish you more success in the future.

If you are not 100% booked like Don is, you may want to consider some of his techniques!
Good luck with the rentals!

Listen to DON!

Vacation Rental Business

We have started a BLOG! We feel this will be the best way to communicate with other vacation rental owners.

We deal with many owners everyday all over the world. We see so many different ways to run this business. That is the reason for this blog. We want to help owners run a successful business.

If we can help "standardize" this business, it may help each owner become more successful. Most owners may not have any business background or have anyone to help them set up a vacation rental business. And that's what it is A BUSINESS!

So we will go into different topics everyday. We will share stories from other owners so you can see what is working and what is not. Real everyday business applications.

You may be missing out on something that can help you and your business. Please feel free to contribute your stories and experience. We would love to hear from vacation rental owners no matter where you are located!

Have a great day!