The main focus of the Forums this year was to identify some of the ways in which the vacation rental industry has changed, what homeowners need to do to adapt and remain competitive, and what WeNeedaVacation.com is doing to assist our homeowners to be as successful as possible.
Co-owner, Jeff Talmadge, kicked off the presentation with an overview of the 2014 Cape and Islands rental season. Referencing our 2014 Pricing Report, he explained that the booking season opened with homeowners raising their weekly prices with the greatest increase in the company’s 16-year history. Furthermore, he said, this homeowner confidence was not misplaced given that booking numbers held steady, if not strong, despite the higher pricing. And, whereas most seasons see some late price-softening to fill last-minute vacancies, this year weekly rates slipped less than usual.
Next, Co-owner, Joan Talmadge, provided valuable insights about the current vacation rental market, including how:
- The inventory of rental homes has increased
- Vacationers are more experienced and savvy (they’ve traveled & rented many homes)
- The expectations of vacationers have risen considerably and now require:
- Responsible & responsive homeowners
- Top-level cleanliness and maintenance
- Basic amenities and supplies
- Thorough and accurate listings
- Guest reviews have empowered the vacationer
Following Joan’s insights about the expectations of vacationers, Elizabeth Weedon outlined the practical managing and marketing steps that homeowners need to take as a result. She urged homeowners to be more flexible, accommodating, and customer service-oriented than ever, to pro-actively keep all lines of communication open with their tenants, to make personal and emotional connections with them, to make them feel comfortable, welcome and special – in essence providing a top-level hotel experience in their rental home. She referred them to our Homeowner Blog posts offering checklists for managing strategies and marketing tips, and to our Ideal Listing eBook.
Staff photographer and homeowner consultant, Becky Fischer, spoke briefly about an important ingredient of the marketing effort, social media: why it’s become so effective and how best to take advantage of it. Having photographed over 350 homes on our site, she also discussed the critical importance of good quality pictures when listing a home. In response to vacationer demand for thorough and accurate listings, she recommended providing as many pictures as possible, preferably including every room in the house (and bathrooms), porch/deck/patios, any views from the home, and certainly the closest beach.
Joan then briefly pointed out some of the many resources we provide to our homeowners for advice about managing and marketing their homes. In addition to the Homeowner Blog, our monthly newsletters, tutorial videos and “Help” pages – all accessible on our site, our staff is available by phone and email seven days a week.
Our longtime homeowner support specialist, Lauren Binder, also provided valuable advice and responded to numerous management- and marketing-related questions.
Nearing the end of the formal presentation, Chief Technology guy, Jim Reese, pointed out a couple of new features that have been added to our site, including the ability for vacationers to now have their search results plotted on a map indicating the location of rental homes and their proximity to beaches, for example.
Jim concluded the presentation with what we call a “sneak peek” at some upcoming enhancements to our site. Displaying our new logo, he briefly outlined our exciting new branding message, which will better capture the unique essence of what the Cape and Islands offer, including such emotional pulls as traditions, family, relaxation, and natural beauty – overall, a sense of returning to a well-known and well-loved special place. To better promote this exciting, new branding message, homeowners were introduced to our newest team member, marketing specialist Tyler Pyburn. Jim also described how our company is adapting to new vacation rental demands by converting our site to “responsive design,” allowing users to view and interact with our site with mobile devices.
As always, some of the most thought-provoking issues of the Forums were raised during the 45 minute Q&A time reserved for fellow homeowners to share their questions, concerns, and strategies.
Homeowners were greeted by Taryn Quigley from our Brewster office, who handed attendees a printed copy of the PowerPoint Presentation to follow along with, as well as a folder of helpful print-outs such as homeowner checklists, our 2014 Season Statistics, examples of our marketing efforts and press coverage, and a list of fellow attendees.