Tag Archives: Vacation Rentals

Interview: Tom Leddy

Tom

I recently interviewed Tom Leddy, industry guru and one of the founders of First Resort Software about a number of topics and developments in our industry. Tom has some interesting thoughts on listing sites charging guest fees, Expedia, vacation rental technology, and where the industry is likely headed.

Tom, to say that you have been around awhile would be an understatement. You were one of the founders of First Resort and helped run that company for quite a few years. You then lead Instant Software for a while and you’ve worked with many of the other software companies like Escapia and then HomeAway. Now you have your own consulting company that helps vacation rental managers run their businesses more effectively. What do you love about this industry that has made it worth devoting so much of your time and energy to?

In the first place, the vacation rental industry stems from life-style decisions made by smart, interesting people. They love resort areas, which are clearly the nicest geography you can find. From there, they love helping people have great vacations. In the second place, I’ve had the opportunity to help these companies do what they do better. They feel good about that and that makes me feel good too. It’s a clear win-win opportunity.

Of all the things that you have contributed to the industry so far, what are you most proud of?

First Resort Software as a company set the bar pretty high for quality of product, service and relationships with clients and employees. The fact that there are still many rental companies using FRS is a clear indicator of that.

This past fall, Expedia purchased HomeAway. Some were expecting it, others were completely shocked. Were you surprised? What are the positives that you see and what, if anything, concerns you with the acquisition?

I was not shocked. Expedia has struggled with access to the vacation rental business, as have all of the GDS-type operations. There are really two aspects of this acquisition that deserve some attention. The distribution side is pretty obvious, and the acquisition should provide great additional exposure for a significantly larger audience to the opportunity that vacation rentals provide. This should make big strides in making the vacation rental market not a ‘zero sum’ game. This follows the ‘rising tide raises all ships’ premise.

The software side is another story, and I see two potential scenarios:

1. Someone in the upper offices of Expedia really gets the value of access to the ‘last mile’ of the automated calendars and rates that professional managers provide, recognizes the market share that HomeAway currently holds, and decides to invest heavily in magnifying the advantage.

2. No one in the upper offices of Expedia sees the value of the software and either: a. Spins it off to someone else (I don’t see any great buyers at this time) b. Lets it eke out its own business with little or no involvement

Scenario #2 is sad, but not unlikely. Many companies have undermined great opportunities, so this wouldn’t be the first time. Scenario #1 would potentially put all other software competitors in a very difficult position.

Priceline has been talking about vacation rentals for quite a while, Airbnb is becoming a juggernaut to the point that even HomeAway is taking shots at them with their commercials now. How do you see them (Priceline and Airbnb) fitting into this new world of mainstream vacation rentals?

The fact that these companies are entering the market is more indicative of there not being a ‘mainstream’ in the industry. ‘Mainstream’ would imply standards and we don’t have much in the way of standards. Large companies will tend to ‘bully’ their way into a market, and then become sensitive to inventory and customers as necessary to increase or maintain their position. To the extent that customers (including owners who provide the inventory) demand standards, standards may begin to solidify, but they are not likely to be demanding in that way.

Is there anyone else that you think will become a major player in the next several years?

This is a tough one. We didn’t see AirBnB coming, for example. The industry has become more newsworthy in recent years, and that may bring any number of potential players into the mix.

On the technology side, there will be several new start-ups, one of which may have something really exciting. There will also be some consolidation and dropouts. The big unknown is Homeaway’s plans for their technology.

Another hot topic lately has been the listing sites charging guests commissions. Many owners and managers are upset as they see it as double-dipping, and are also worried that the increase will negatively impact their bookings. The listings sites are saying that it helps lower the barrier of entry for managers that can’t afford to pay a high commission (by charging the guest a fee, they can lower the commission that the owner/manager pays). Airbnb and TripAdvisor have been doing this for some time, and now HomeAway is doing it. Are owners and managers right to be concerned, or is this ultimately a win for everyone?

Chances are, it’s just an add to the cost and won’t probably reduce the managers’ commissions. It’s not really much different from managers charging fees as well as rent. In some respects, managers should be happy about it, as it makes the distribution partner bookings cost the guest more than the direct booking (that should help with follow-on repeat guest programs). In general, commerce will expand profit generating avenues until it finds resistance. We’ll see if there is any resistance.

Is there an area or practice that you consistently see managers missing or ignoring that would help them drive more direct bookings?

I would like to see all managers paying more attention to their accounting and general business health. I see some pretty bad balance sheets that prevent businesses from taking steps to really improve their businesses.

I think ‘revenue management’ is a big deal. I am intending to do a session at VRMA on the myths surrounding it. Companies either do nothing or take steps without clear direction. I believe a consistent, local-based analysis, combined with a couple of specific actions could significantly increase both bookings and revenue from those bookings.

I also believe that there is an acceptance of technology without financial analysis that is costing managers lots of money that they are not receiving appropriate benefits for. Managers tend to begin by resisting new technology, but then accept pieces of it based on promises or other beliefs. Once they accept it, they rarely focus on maximizing the benefits or defining the ROI of the investment.

Where do you see the industry in the next 5-10 years? What is just now on the horizon that will likely be mainstream in that time?

There is no question that the main theme is growth. What form it will take is not clear. I would guess that there will be a segment at the upper end of professionalism (not the upper end of price necessarily) that will involve continued consolidation, acquisitions, technology and centralized processes that will improve the general guests’ experience. The center of the market, the small to mid-sized management companies that are not very aggressive, will struggle. The least professional portion of the market, the rent-by-owner segment, will get some benefit from technology provided by Homeaway and others, but continue to weaken the general guests’ experience and expectations. While the VRMA and increased national exposure to vacation rentals will encourage and improve the notion of standards and best practices, the industry as a whole will continue to be very scattered and disorganized.

Any parting words of wisdom or anything that you want to share with people about yourself or your company?

Mostly, I find that everywhere I look in the industry there are problems that arise that no one else seems to address effectively. So, there continues to be work. I guess that the combination of skills that I bring to the table continue to be fairly unique.

Thanks Tom!

Interview with RentalPreneurs on Yield Management & Dynamic Pricing

www.rentalpreneurs.com
www.rentalpreneurs.com

Here is a recent interview that I did with RentalPreneurs about Yield Management & Dynamic Pricing. Give it a read and let me know what you think.

While you are there, check out the library of knowledge and resources that RentalPreneurs has put together. There is tons of great stuff on this site!

Smarter Marketing to Past Guests

Welcome back!
Photo Credit: Sarah Joy

One of the mistakes that I have seen many vacation rental companies make is assuming that anyone who has stayed with them before will stay with them again. Instead of regular communication to stay top of mind, they take a passive “If they had a good time they’ll come back” approach. The thing is, this doesn’t work. Not for the majority anyway. Maybe before online bookings and OTAs changed the game, but not now.

It’s just like dating. If you want to see them again you have to pursue the relationship. You can’t assume that because they had a good time the relationship is now defined. Customers are playing the field these days more than ever.

Not only are we constantly bombarded by tons of messages vying for our attention and dollars, OTA’s and listing sites spend millions of dollars a month to get those same guests to book through them. And they’re doing a really good job at it.

The good news is, you can take some of that ground back. While there are no hard and fast rules that ensure success, here are some guidelines on developing a successful strategy to bring your guests back to you.

1. Determine who your customer is. This may sound too obvious but it’s more nuanced than it appears. There is a particular demographic that tends to frequent vacation rentals in your area. Find out who they are and market to them.
Most reservations systems capture some kind of guest information that you can use to build out your customer profile. Is it mainly families? Outdoorsy types? Twenty-somethings? People with pets? Likely it’s a combination of several attributes.

You can cast a wider net but spend the majority of your efforts on your key demographic.

2. Target your offerings. With maybe the exception of holidays like Valentine’s Day and Christmas, a one size fits all approach doesn’t work all that well. Instead, cater offerings to different segments of your customer base. You can promote a relaxing or romantic “Weekend Getaway” for couples. A “Family Fun Week” for guests that have kids, or an “Adventure Weekend” for people without kids that includes kayaking, jet skiing, or rock climbing. 

Your reservation system likely won’t capture all of the data that you need, but you can make some educated guesses based on other demographics. For example, a younger (late 20s-early 30s) person that has never brought kids with them, and only stayed in a 1 bedroom condo/home is probably going to be more interested in an Adventure Weekend than say, the mid-40s couple that brought their kids and stayed in the 3 bedroom home with the pool last summer.

3. Cultivate a relationship with your customers throughout the year. Don’t just blast them with a generic “We’re still here!” message a couple times a year. Instead, focus on things like:

  • What information can you share about your area to get them thinking about the upcoming travel season?
  • What do they need to know in order to plan their stay and make the most of it?
  • Are there new attractions or events that would interest them? A restaurant that’s been getting national attention?
  • Are there things that they need to take into consideration when they travel? (Construction at the airport? Road work? An event that’s drawing tons of people? A new resort that’s causing congestion?) 

Become the expert on your area and share the important stuff with them.

Why would they be better off coming to your area and staying with you? Help them connect the dots. Blogs and social media can be great for this as well.

4. Play your booking curve. You’ll want to send out your ideas and offerings right before and right after the peak of your booking curve. The peak is that period of time that the highest percentage of bookings are made.

Let’s say for instance that July is your busiest time of year, and that the majority of those bookings are made 30-60 days out, in April and May. You’ll want to send your communication pieces in March, June, and August. This will spike interest during those slower times when you are less likely to get passive bookings (passive booking = when the guest takes the initiative) and can net you some additional dollars.

5. Have a compelling offer and call to action. Reminding guests that you exist isn’t enough. You need to prompt them to take action. Usually that means dangling some kind carrot in front of their nose. Maybe that’s a discounted rate. Perhaps it’s reducing the minimum night stay. Or a free night. Or two tickets to a local event. Maybe one free canoe rental. Or a round of golf. Whatever it is, make sure that it’s enticing to the audience it’s aimed at, and put a deadline on it. “Book by 6/20/15” or even “Hurry, space is limited and going fast!”

I realize that “discount” is a dirty word to many rental companies. Like it or not, the internet has taught us all to expect discounts. That’s just the way the game is played now. If you don’t have a compelling offer then chances are they’re going to take their business down the street. Whatever it ends by being, figure out what compels guests to book, and then offer that.

The other thing to consider is that, while you may end up discounting a bit to get the booking, you aren’t paying that % to an OTA or website that is going to do their best to make sure the guest comes back to them instead of you. Look at it as an investment in the relationship with the guest instead of a fee to the OTA. Plus you don’t end up eating the commission, you’ll split the rent with the owner.

One final thought regarding unit descriptions. Make sure that you write your descriptions to your target audience. Or at least the audience best suited for that unit. If it’s a house that’s outside the city, but guests like to go into the city for the day, then highlight the fact that it’s close to public transit and is only a 20 minute bus ride to downtown. If your guests rent cars make sure to call out that the unit has a garage, or that there is plenty of street parking. Highlight that it’s in walking distance to a grocery store, restaurants, or entertainment. Provide reasons to stay before they think of reasons not to.

All of these things take a little extra time and energy but they pay off down the road in a stronger relationship with your guests because you’re getting the right message to the right audience at the right time.

What are other ways that you have found build strong relationships with your guests? Put your thoughts in the Comments section. I would love to hear from you.

3 Powerful Ways Vacation Rental Companies Can Adapt to Changes in the Marketplace

Be prepared for change.
Be prepared for change.

If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.” – Gen. Eric Shinseki

There is massive change underway concerning how vacation rentals are marketed, booked, and paid for online. We’re just in the beginning stages, but make no mistake, the industry is going through a massive shift again.

The fact is, like it or not, the genie isn’t going back into the bottle. Gone are the days when guests shopped out of a catalogue or brochure and booked their vacations several months, if not a year, in advance, and never tried to haggle over price.

Now guests compare prices, book at the last minute, and think they deserve a discount simply for shopping online. To complicate things even further, companies spend millions of dollars a month to convince guests to book their vacations through them, instead of picking up the phone and calling you. What’s more, the move is being made to allow guests to book your units without having to send an inquiry first.

The good news is, all is not lost. But it’s going to take some adaptation and that word no one likes, “change”.

Here are some things that you can do today to help ensure that your vacation rental business will be around for years to come.

Market to your past guests – I can’t encourage this enough. You are sitting on a goldmine in the form of your past guests and yet most vacation rental companies do not actively market to their past guests. This is the most important thing you can do that will offset people going to an OTA or listing site in order to book their next stay with you.

Contact them regularly (bi-monthly is fine) with compelling calls to action and offers. Just getting in front of them isn’t enough. Tell them why they should stay with you again instead of going somewhere else.

Target communications to specific segments of your customer base. Do you have homes that are perfect for families? Send an e-mail highlighting those units to past guests with kids and talk about all of the family friendly things that your area offers.

Have units that don’t seem to rent as well as the rest? Put together a “bargain” offering. Lower the minimum night stay for those units. Offer up to two tickets for a local event or show if they book one of the units by a certain date. There is a ton that you can do to keep your company top of mind with your past guests. Be creative and leverage your uniqueness.

Yield Management – If you don’t know what this is, you need to. In a nutshell, Yield Management is taking advantage of supply and demand. You can raise or lower your rates and minimum night stay in order to capture more revenue. More revenue = longevity and greater freedom.

Here’s one example of how you can leverage this. The majority of guests book holiday vacations (Christmas, New Year’s Eve, etc.) several months or more in advance. Determine how far in advance you get the majority of those bookings and charge a premium for booking during that period. Say you get the majority of your holiday bookings 8 months prior to arrival. Increase your rates 10%-15% for bookings that are made 8 months or more in advance.

On the flipside, determine the time period in which you get virtually no bookings for the holidays (usually a week or two before the date) and offer a reduced rate and/or reduced min night stay to capture additional revenue. The goal is to leave as little money on the table as possible.

Distribution – This has become the “necessary evil” for many vacation rental companies. Distribution channels like HomeAway, Airbnb, and TripAdvisor are here to stay. Like it or not, most travelers are going to start at these websites to book their next vacation. So having your units on these sites gets them in front of eyeballs that otherwise wouldn’t see them. The thing is, you don’t have to love this fact in order to benefit from it. Get the guest through distribution, and keep them coming back through direct marketing.

Here are a couple of guidelines for distribution:

  • Use what works. You don’t have to be on every site out there. Focus your inventory on the sites that drive the most bookings and ignore the rest. Even if what works is a little more expensive than what you’d prefer.
  • Make sure your units stand out. Take the time to get great photos. Write descriptions that help the guests see themselves in the unit and enjoying all that the location has to offer. Don’t assume that guests are going to connect the dots on why they should stay with you. Write photo captions. Highlight positive guest reviews and respond to negative ones. Don’t try to hide the fact that you got less than a 5 star review. The negative reviews give legitimacy to the positive.
  • Split the marketing costs with your owners. More and more sites are moving towards a commission based pricing structure and many vacation rental companies can’t afford to swallow the entire commission. It’s worth suggesting to your owners that in order to continue to participate on a particular website (which delivers $X a year for them) you can’t continue to eat the entire commission. All of the companies that I know that have done this haven’t regretted it. Some of their owners said “no”, but they’ve been surprised at the number that have said “yes”. Most people tend to be pretty reasonable and fair if you frame your request in a thoughtful, “win-win” sort of way.

Putting it all Together

Each one of these things is good to do but the key is to combine all of them into a cohesive strategy. What works best for you will depend on your location, type of guests, booking trends, and individual economics. It takes a little bit of time to find what works for you, but it is absolutely worth it in the long run.

If you need help getting started or aren’t sure how to figure out what will work best, I can help. Contact me and we’ll get started.

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

The Most Important Component in Vacation Rental Software Installation: Your Staff

Teamwork
Teamwork

The most important component that will determine the success or failure of a new software installation is getting your staff on board with the project. This is so critical to success that I felt it deserved its own post. I have seen software installations literally come apart at the seams because the staff refused to going along with it. Unfortunately it forced the business owners to throw in the towel and they often didn’t recoup all of their investment. The good news is that this can be avoided with a little bit of planning and communication beforehand.

Heads Up

First, let your staff know that you are thinking about switching to new software as soon as you have made the decision to start looking. If nothing else, it gives them time to get used to the idea. Explain to them why you believe it is the right move for your company (be specific) and invite their feedback, questions, and concerns. If you wait to tell them until you have already chosen new software, you may have missed blind spots that they could have helped you see that would have changed your mind.

Heads Together

Second, invite them into the process of evaluating how new software can help you reach your business goals. They are the experts at their job and can help you create your list of “must haves”. This also gives them some ownership in the process, which makes them more invested in its success.

The instances where I’ve seen software installations come completely unraveled are where the staff resented the fact that they were not consulted about the change in the first place. So they complained about every little thing and made mountains out of mole hills until the owners threw up their hands in defeat. This could have been avoided by inviting them into the process from the beginning.

It’s A Team Effort

Third, as you look at the various options that are out there, have your staff (ideally your department heads/team leads) evaluate the software with you. But do your salesperson a favor and designate a single point of contact that compiles everyone’s questions/concerns and sends it to them once or twice a week.

Don’t overwhelm them by having everyone in the company bombard them with questions and comments.

Once you have decided on a particular software package, explain to your staff why you chose that particular option and help them see how their feedback made it happen.

Dealing with Stragglers

Even after all of the above you may still have an employee or two that refuses to get on board. Maybe you went with a different option than what they wanted, maybe they’re afraid for their job, or are just resistant to change in general. Whatever the reason, try and understand specifically what they are concerned about. Then, ask for their help in making this a success. Software installation is a huge project and everyone involved is critical to its success.

If that doesn’t work, you may have to put your foot down and explain that while you understand and appreciate their concerns, you believe this is the best move for the business. At the end of the day a company is not a democracy. You’re the boss and you have to decide what’s best for the business. People are counting on you to lead them.

This person may no longer be in the right role, or a good fit for your company. They might be better suited for a different team or it may be time to part ways. Whatever the case, you may have to make some hard decisions. It’s an unfortunate part of leadership that never becomes easy.

The good news is that by involving your staff and communicating regularly, it will greatly reduce the chances of these kinds of situations considerably.

Next – How to Find the Right Software

Travel & Tech News – Social Media, Mobile, and More

Travel & Tech News
Travel & Tech News

Do you use social media to market your rentals and interact with prospects and guests? Here is a great article on how to make Twitter work for you.  “65% of leisure travelers start researching online before they’ve decided where or how to travel.” This is a huge opportunity for engagement.

Ever wonder if your audience is seeing the tweets, posts, and articles that you put out through your socials media accounts? This article tells you the best times to post to social media.

While aimed at hotels, this article provides a great lesson in online engagement that can be applied to vacation rentals. “Hotels that responded to more than 50% of social reviews grew occupancy rates by 6.4%, more than twice the rate of properties that largely ignored social media reviews.” The same goes for your Guest Reviews. A company that responds to its customers (whether it be a complaint or praise) communicates that it’s paying attention and that it cares.

Are you ready for the “mobile mind shift“? Mobile commerce is forecasted to hit $75 billion by 2018. Here’s the kicker, “… no matter where they are or what device they are using, they expect a personalized, fast, rich and no-hassle online experience.”

Do you need a mobile app to stay competitive in this new mobile-centric world? Research from Phocuswright suggests that you don’t. Airline apps are by far the most widely used at 42%, follow by OTAs at 13%, a pretty steep drop off. The research finds that mobile friendly websites are where most travelers to look for places to stay and things to do, however.

And finally, just for the fun of it, if you are ever in Rome you can go to Roman Gladiator school, for about $140. I’m totally doing this if I ever get to Rome.

Until next week!