Vacation Rental & Travel News & Trends – May 15th 2015

Travel & Tech News
Travel & Tech News

Amazon is getting into the travel business. Right now it’s limited to the same type of offerings that Groupon and Living Social offer, but could a day be coming where you can book flights, lodging, activities, and rent a car all on Amazon? You can get everything else there, why not a vacation package?

One of the ways you can help your guests have a great vacation, and also stay top of mind with them, is to send them tips like these prior to their stay, and in your monthly/quarterly newsletter to them. Part of your brand should be that you’re looking out for your guests to ensure that they have a fantastic stay. (If you are not currently marketing to your past guests, contact me via the Contact tab and I can help you put a plan in place.)

Concierge via txt messaging is already here. This is something that I think will be commonplace in the next 5 years or so. The cool thing about this app is that it starts the guest experience 72 hours before they arrive. If they need fresh towels, they can just touch the “Towels” button and it will send a txt to the housekeeping staff to replace towels for their room.

You can already start doing this for your guests, and you don’t need a fancy app to do it. Buy a smartphone that guests can text day or night if they have a request or issue, and pass it around to different staff members each week to be the one “on call”. Give them $50 for each week they are on call as an added incentive. Your guests will love you for it.

Here’s an interesting article from Tripping.com about the amenities in your homes that add the most value. These are the amenities that should be front and center in your unit descriptions, pictures, and marketing material.

Until next week…

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How to Install New Vacation Rental Software in 30 Days

Changing Priorities
Changing Priorities

Alight, you have chosen your new software package, your staff is on board, and you are ready to go. So let’s talk about priorities.

The number one thing that will drag out a software installation, is not making it the top priority for your company. (Read that again.)

I have seen this happen time and time again. What should be a 30 day project (or less) is stretched out to 3-4 months or more because the vacation rental company treats their software installation like a “if we have the time” kind of project. And they usually don’t have the time. (The longest installation that I was involved with took nearly 2 years because the company put it at the bottom of their list of things to do.)

I get it, you have a business to run. Guests to call back, staff to help, issues to deal with, owners to keep happy, e-mail to respond to, lunch to eat (if you’re lucky). Not to mention a new software system to learn, a website to design, data to enter, choices to make, and a never ending project list. There aren’t enough hours in the day. Maybe if you had a larger staff you could make it a priority, but being a small company it just isn’t possible, right? Or is it?

I’ve seen small (3 person) vacation rental companies get completely up and running, staff trained, new website designed and launched, and all data entered into cloud based vacation rental software in under 30 days. They did it because they made it their #1 priority. Everything else came second.

They didn’t ignore the rest of their business. They just made sure that they got done whatever it was they needed to on their installation that day first, before they tackled anything else. They also put in a few extra hours here and there if it called for it. And they were happy they did it because it was all behind them before they knew it.

There’s an old saying that goes “What’s urgent isn’t always important, and what’s important isn’t always urgent.” Use this as a guide when approaching your software installation. There are a ton of things competing for your attention every day, but they aren’t all important, and they aren’t all urgent. Some of them, in fact most of them, can wait. At least for a few hours. What is important are the things that are going to help you reach your goals.

I recommend to clients that they make their software installation the focus of the first couple hours of their day. Come in, get your coffee, and get to work on the installation. Come in a little early if you need to. Don’t listen to voicemail, don’t check e-mail, or Facebook, or read the paper, or talk around the water cooler. That can all come later. Focus on your installation.

Watch videos, enter data, and follow up with your vendor, whatever needs to be done that day. (A good software vendor will provide you with at least a loose outline of steps that you need to take to complete the installation. If they don’t, or you need help in this area, contact me via the Contact tab and I can help you.)

Once you’ve completed your installation tasks for the day, then move on to e-mail, phone calls, voicemail, staff meetings, etc.

Now, there are some things like reservation inquiries and angry owners that can’t always be put off. But you can develop a plan to deal with these if/when they pop up.

  • Designate one member of your staff to follow up with inquiries while the rest of you focus on the installation. You made need to rotate who this person is on a daily/weekly basis.
  • If you get an e-mail or a call from an angry guest or owner and it just can’t wait, step away and deal with it and then come back to the installation. If it can wait, tell them that you need a bit of time to look into what is going on and that you will get back to them by the end of the day. Then get back to your installation tasks.

The truth is, we accomplish what we prioritize. So make sure that you are prioritizing the right things and your installation will run a lot more smoothly and be completed in a much shorter timeframe.

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Travel & Tech News You Can’t Miss – May 8th 2015

Travel & Tech News
Travel & Tech News

Disappointing news this week about vacation rentals’ performance on Expedia. Here’s the kicker to the whole story, “I think vacation rentals are an important market,” Expedia Inc. CEO Dara Khosrowshahi told financial analysts during the company’s first quarter of 2015 earnings call last week. “It’s an important product in many, many markets. As to whether it’s important for Expedia to be in, that remains to be determined.

Some of this is just growing pains for our industry, and some of this is failure to find that middle ground that will allow the square peg to fit into the round hole. Expedia wants quite a bit of control over the inventory, pricing and payments for vacation rentals (like they have with hotels) and many vacation rental companies can’t give up that much control. Particularly with a 15%-20% commission attached.

Everyone involved has their work cut out for them. Ultimately it has to be easy for the guests to book, lucrative enough for Expedia to make the right investment, and allow the vacation rentals companies (or owners) to continue to provide the personal touch that makes vacation rentals unique.

Did you survive “Mobilegeddon“? If your website isn’t mobile friendly, then you likely suffered in your Google search rankings as of April 21st.

Even if you still get the majority of your bookings over the phone or e-mail, 20% of searches are done on a mobile device, and it was recently reported that 25% of all digital transactions in the US were generated from a mobile device.

Speaking of mobile transactions, I have often said that virtual wallets and online currency are going to become the norm in the not too distant future. So it was interesting to read that Google Wallet funds are now FDIC insured.

There is still a ways to go before this becomes mainstream, but the writing is on the wall. Here’s something to think about; will your business be ready when this becomes the preferred method of payment?

The airlines are trying to be the first to integrate mobile payments into their guest experience. Here’s an article on how a few of them are making this happen. JetBlue will let you make in-flight purchases through their app on your iOS device ,and KLM is experimenting with booking flights on Facebook and Twitter.

Lots of change coming. Are you ready for it?

Until next week…

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3 Factors in Choosing the Right Vacation Rental Software

Searching for Software
Searching for Software

You have written out your business goals, created your feature set list of “must haves-like to haves-nice to haves”, done your research on trends and technology, and talked with your staff about their needs. Now you are finally ready to start shopping around. (Earlier posts in this series cover developing business goals and feature lists, click here to read them.)

#1 Awareness

Before you reach out to any software companies, look online and ask around to find out the various offerings and reputations of each one. Many of the software companies post detailed information about their feature sets, along with demo videos, and testimonials on their websites and social media pages.

It also helps to talk with their current customers and hear what their experience has been. But, make sure to consider the source when you are getting feedback. If someone is adamant about how great or awful a particular vendor is, are they also someone who always grumbles or offers praise regardless of the situation? Or do they tend to offer fair and balanced assessments. Don’t ignore their input, just be sure to put it in context.

Once you feel like you have a good lay of the land, reach out to those companies that you think are going to be the best fit for you. At this point, don’t worry about pricing.

#2 Be Realistic

Keeping in mind that no software is going to do everything that you could possibly want right out of the box, measure the offerings against your goals and feature list. If a software package will give you the tools to achieve all or most of your goals, has all of your “must haves”, a few of your “like to haves”, and has a great reputation for customer service, then they’ll be a good fit for you.

On the flipside you don’t want to purchase software that only has a few of your “must haves”, lots of “nice to haves”, and doesn’t really help you achieve your goals, but it’s well within your budget.

#3 Nuts and Bolts

Once you have your short list of software vendors, you can then shorten the list even further by considering things like pricing, timeframe, data import tools, training resources, and cancellation/refund policy.

Let’s look at each of these briefly;

Pricing – This should not be your sole deciding factor. That said, you don’t want to choose something that you have to go into debt to purchase.

One thing to keep in mind is that purchasing software around the end of the Quarter or year (end of March, end of June, end of September, and end of Dec) can sometimes net you a significant discount. Many sales people are trying to make their quarterly/annual goals and may be willing to give you a price break in order to get your business. Or instead of lowering the price they may be willing to throw in additional services at no cost.

But be careful, this can backfire on you. If your salesperson is having a great quarter or year and doesn’t need your business to make their sales goals, not only will you not receive the discount that you’re hoping for but you could lose your window of opportunity for a timely installation. Tread very carefully with this one.

Timeframe – How quickly can they start working with you? Are they backlogged for two months or can they get started with you right away? What is the average amount of time that a company of your size takes to get installed?

Keep in mind that a backlog is not necessarily a bad thing. It can indicate that quite a few companies see the software as the best option to have. Where it can prove difficult is when their time frame doesn’t align with your timeframe.

Understand too, that how quickly or not an installation takes is largely dependent on you. Getting a feel for timeframe from the software vendor can help serve as a guide for budgeting your time and give you a realistic expectation.

Data Import – Can they do it? What can they import? Does it cost extra or come as part of the package? How much will you manually have to enter on your own? The answers to these questions will impact your installation timeline.

Training Resources – Do they offer videos? Live classes? On-site training? Are they extra or do they come standard? Do they break out training in smaller chunks to get you running or do they throw too much at you all at once?

One of the nice things I have found about video training is that you can refer back to it as often as you need to. You can pause, rewind, fast forward, etc. to suit your learning style. Video training is not the be-all-end-all, but it is a very valuable tool.

The way that I recommend to approach training is to focus on getting started, rather than learning everything there is to know. Learn what you need to in order to get up and running. Then go back and become an expert.

Cancellation & Refund – No one likes to get here but it inevitably happens once in a while. Different companies offer different things, so you’ll need to ask about this specifically.

One thing to keep in mind is that software companies incur costs and expend resources in helping you get installed. Like any good business they need to make sure that they cover their costs or they won’t be in business long. So just because a company doesn’t offer you a full refund, doesn’t mean they just want your money. They need to stay in business too so they can continue to support their customers.

Making a Decision

Now you can make the best choice for your business based on all of the variables. And most importantly, don’t ignore your gut. If it’s telling you to go with ABC Company even though on paper they may not be the best fit, don’t ignore that. Likewise, if your gut is telling you that something is wrong with XYZ Company even though they have everything you could possibly want, then it’s probably too good to be true. You may need to take more time, do more research, or talk to more people that use the product. That’s ok. Better to make a wise decision, even if it takes a little longer, than an impulsive one.

If you would like help in choosing new software, navigating a software installation, or getting back on track with an existing one, contact me through Contact tab on this website. I have managed and assisted with dozens of software installations and can help you make yours successful.

Next – Priorities