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Landing Success: Improving Your Web Marketing

By Ana M. Kinkaid
Published: 07/16/07 Topics: Comments: 0

Many successful owners extend their marketing outreach by writing short internet travel stories about their area. These often include a "hot" link or URL address that takes readers to a "landing" or "jump" page.

What, I can hear you asking, is a landing or jump page? It is simply a brief pre-page that potential guests read and submit data to before entering your main website. And it is important for several reasons:

1. When possible guests are welcomed, rather than just dumped onto a website, they feel acknowledged. This is important because it supports the continuation of communication with you. If that thread is broken, you will loose contact with your potential guest and most certainly the reservation.

2. Using a landing or jump page enables you to capture critical data. If your page asks the guest to provide some basic data, you are gaining valuable sales information both for now AND in the future.

3. Don't, however, ask for too much information - just the right information. Their name, email address and possible travel interest is enough.

4. Because you have asked for information, you owe the visitor an absolute promise of privacy regarding the information supplied. Your IT programmer can write this into your page, but you need to reassure your site visitor that the page is secure and that you do not sell or share any information provided.

5. Keep your copy short. A landing or jump page is only a lead-in. It is not the great American novel about your vacation rental. Website designers call this shorter text a 'teaser'. It should say welcome and move the validated site visitor onto the main site.

6. Consider linking different landing or jump pages to different interest stories. If your program includes a counter, you can easily see which text and approach draws the most guests to your site. That kind of insight is extremely valuable in focusing your marketing efforts.

7. Develop a follow-up program. Properly designed, your landing or jump page will provide you with valuable information that can lead to increased reservations, but ONLY if you follow through with a consistent telemarketing plan. When do you let possible guests know about early booking discounts for the winter holidays? In June or December 1st? It will make a difference.

More information about designing a landing or jump page is available on the internet, that wonderful source of information for the busy business person. Do a search and give the idea some thought.

I promise that the more you consider having a landing or jump page, the more you will see the value of the marketing material it will capture. So take a jump, consider something new and, I bet, you'll land more reservations and increase your revenue. And that will make it all worthwhile!


Do YOU have a great internet idea? We all know something that will help another owner. Let us know. We'll spread the word.

I look forward to your calls and emails. You can reach me at 206-343-7777, ext. 920 or Ana @vroa.orgAna


TOP PROPERTY: Echo Lake Lodge & Cottages - Fayette, Maine

Sometimes there is a rental so perfect that guests return again and again, because, well, it just feels like home. One such property is the Echo Lake Lodge and Cottages in beautiful Fayette, Maine. Situated only 15 miles from the state capital, it is surrounded by peaceful pines on a quiet country road.

This vacation rental draws its guest back each year by practicing a successful marketing program that makes sure guests know that wonderful kayaking, fishing, swimming and canoeing are all available. Built in 1936 by the water's edge, this owner can well be proud of both the lodging and the memories shared with guests.

Well done Echo Lake Lodge and Cottages!


Published weekly for all Members
Copyright - Vacation Rental Owners Association
Read this and all prior newsletters at (

Director & Editor - Ana Kinkaid,
Publisher - William May,
P.O. Box 21305
Seattle, WA 98111-3305
Voice: 206-343-7777, ext. 920
Fax: 206-628-0839
WEB: (

Read more

Author: Ana M. Kinkaid, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0076 – 07/16/07

Changing NIMBY to "Welcome Aboard"

By Ana M. Kinkaid
Published: 07/12/07 Topics: Comments: 0

Sooner or later every vacation rental owners encounters NIMBYism (or Not in My Back Yard syndrome). It might be voiced by a county commission or by a local neighbor. But no matter its source, you must address the issue - in advance if possible.

Here are some of the things you can do to silence that single critic before he or she becomes a chorus that can disturb and even possibly cause your business to close:

If you do not have a license you are operating illegal. Without a business license you are not a valid member of your local business community.

Pay all the taxes related to operate your vacation rental - that includes both property and sales taxes. All valid members of the hospitality industry pay their taxes. Avoiding your taxes will result in other members of the hospitality industry questioning your place in their industry.

That may include your state lodging association, local and regional tourist associations and professional trade organizations. Not only can these organizations provide you with a world of useful information, but they can be supportive during difficult times.

Purchasing locally lets everyone know you are contributing to your community. You are helping the local economy, not hurting it.

Whenever possible, hire from the local area. Being able to demonstrate that the dollars you bring into the community are spent locally only strengthens your position as a positive member of the community.

Join local activities and let people get to know you and your business before there are any problems. When people know you, they are much more likely to speak to you first if there is a problem. Make yourself available. Consider sponsoring a little league team or volunteering for an annual event. It is time well spent.

Take some times and find out who are the power players in your area. It might be your neighbor or your local representative to the state senate. Find out who can help you and make an effort to get to know them or their aide. Be sure that this person knows your name and that you are a business person who benefits the community they serve.

Contact the other owners of vacation rentals in your area and form a regional support association. VROA can help you do that. Working together you can speak with a more powerful voice than if you speak as a single isolated person. You can also purchase in bulk more easily and so reduce your costs. Never forget there is a great power in numbers.

These are just some of the ways that you can defeat NIMBYism in advance. Let us know at VROA how you have addressed the issue and we'll share your success with our other members. If we all work together our exciting segment of the industry will continue to grow and develop!


Send in your tips and ideas, concerns and compliments. We are each others' best source for how to success. I enjoy your calls and emails. You can reach me at 206-343-7777, ext. 920 or Ana


TOP PROPERTY: Harbor Hill Inn & Cottages, Saranac Lake, NY

This week's top property is the beautiful Harbor Inn & Cottages. Located in a wooded lakeside setting, this property is perfect for both summer fun and winter delights. From fishing to skiing, this owner's web site presents a clear picture to viewers of just how much they will enjoy this property.

A variety of lodging formats are available for guests from cozy cottages to an entire lodge for larger groups. Reservations can be for a weekend or a week - a choice guests often enjoy. With a wide range of amenities such as hot tubs, paddle boats, BBQ grills and fully equipped kitchens in every unit, guests can easily visualize the great time they will have here.

Congratulations to Harbor Hill Inn & Cottages for creating a great web site and an outstanding property!


Published weekly for all Members
Copyright - Vacation Rental Owners Association
Read this and all prior newsletters at

Director & Editor - Ana Kinkaid,
Publisher - William May,
P.O. Box 21305
Seattle, WA 98111-3305
Voice: 206-343-7777, ext. 920
Fax: 206-628-0839
WEB: (

Read more

Author: Ana M. Kinkaid, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0075 – 07/12/07

Fighting NIMBYism or the "Not in My Backyard" Syndrome

By Ana M. Kinkaid
Published: 06/28/07 Topics: Comments: 0

Vacation rental owners sometimes encounter attempts to ban or limit rentals in their area. Various so called 'reasons' are often presented to local officials to justify limiting rentals.

Let's look at some of the most common complaints and see if they are actually based in reality.

Statement: Vacation rentals will drive up real estate prices so high that the current residents can't to live there.
FACT: Local ordinances can be written to 'grandfather' in lower tax rates for full time local residences. Members of the hospitality industry have traditionally been taxed in a different category from local home owners. All these matters can be easily addressed with calm planning.

Statement: The 'wrong' kind of people will come to the community.
FACT: Vacation rental guests are some of the most carefully screened guests in the hospitality industry.
Rarely are they the 'wrong' kind of guest. Rather, they are the 'right' kind of guest who are looking forward to enjoying the best a community has to offer-its sports, culture, history. And they will spend money to support those local activities. And that's good for everyone.

Statement: Vacation rental owners are trying to make money while not really operating a real business.
FACT: Owning and running a vacation rental is a business. Owners must have a business license, pay federal, state and local taxes including sales taxes, contract support services within the community, maintain financial records, have insurance, book reservations and pay bills. That sounds like a business to me.

Statement: The owners of vacation rentals will pay too much for services like cleaning and maintenance. That will result in an increase in the cost of services for local residents.
FACT: Vacation rentals that are professional operated use professional services or contracted staff. They are not interested in taking away your residential housekeeper who cleans every other week.

Statement: We like things the way they are.
FACT: A community that doesn't grow and develop will find the future difficult. Please note that VROA chose the words "grow and develop". Change just for the sake of change is dangerous because there is no plan, no positive goals. All communities should be interested in area growth and development BUT with a purpose. Vacation rentals are one of the few segments of the hospitality industry that support growth and development without requiring the neighborhood to host a major construction site.

These are some of the concerns we hear about at VROA, but we want to know how YOU have encountered NIMBYism and how you've addressed it. Call or email us and let us know so we can share with others.

Next week we’ll cover some of the activities you can plan in advance to change “not in my backyard” to “Welcome Aboard”. Be sure to join us then.

Every vacation rental is special. Yet we all share common experiences and the mutual professional goal of being successful. Sharing with each other is one of the easiest ways to reach those goals. Send in your tips and ideas, concerns and compliments. We all part of the same expanding industry. I look forward to your calls and emails. You can reach me at 206-343-7777, ext. 920 or Ana @vroa.orgAna


TOP PROPERTY: Triangle River Vacation Rental, 15 minutes from fun at Vail CO

Keith Wegen doesn't limit himself to sharing with his guests how ideal his vacation rental is for winter fun. His gallery of pictures offers guests a chance to visualize their vacation during every season at his lovely property.

Besides ski information, he provides information about nearby golf courses and the year round activities that make Vail a popular destination to travelers from around the world. And just to make sure that guests are looking forward to enjoying his 5,700 square foot house with its majestic views, he even provides a detailed floor plan! Now that's a thoughtful owner.

Well done Keith! And congratulations for being selected a TOP Property by the VROA staff.


Published weekly for all Members
Copyright - Vacation Rental Owners Association
Read this and all prior newsletters at (

Director & Editor - Ana Kinkaid,
Publisher - William May,
P.O. Box 21305
Seattle, WA 98111-3305
Voice: 206-343-7777, ext. 920
Fax: 206-628-0839
WEB: (

Read more

Author: Ana M. Kinkaid, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0074 – 06/28/07

Why Higher Gas Prices Can Actually be GOOD for Your Vacation Rental

By Ana M. Kinkaid
Published: 06/22/07 Topics: Comments: 0

The rising sticker shock for gas is causing many Americans to alter how they spend their vacation dollars. And those changing vacation decisions can benefit your vacation rental. Let me explain how.

Once 83% of we got in the family car and drove an average of 300 plus miles to see relatives and enjoy seemingly endless summer days together. We stayed in various motels and hotels as we drove from one vacation spot to the next. Ah, gas was so cheap then.

Well, to quote the song, “…the times they are a-changing.” Today only 16% of Americans still take the traditional two week vacation that was the norm in the 1950s. Work schedules are hard to match up in a two-career household and the price of gas just keeps going to go up and up.

Far more common today are four day holidays that are centered around a single destination or activity such as a theme park, favorite beach or mountain hiking area. Instead of driving/driving and paying/paying, savvy travelers today wants to get where they’re going, settles in, relaxed and still have enough money left for holiday family fun.

But does that peaceful description sound like the traditional roadside motel to you? Not to me it doesn't - too much noise, too many cars coming and going. And what about saving dollars in that expensive grand downtown hotel? Well, that’s going to be hard with the children there. Think about those pay-for-view movies, room service, gift shop snacks and restaurant meals. Ouch!

No, settling in, relaxing, enjoying lots of room, setting one’s own schedule and still saving money – now that sounds like a vacation rental to me. And lots of Americans (and visiting Europeans) agree. And to prove it, just consider the fact that vacation rentals are the fastest growing segment of the hospitality industry.

Even the major hotel systems are beginning to build upscale vacation rentals for their former hotel-only guests as these travelers eagerly request this new lodging component. America is a land of travelers. We have always been on the move. And lodging industry has always responded to America’s need for new forms of accommodation.

In the early days, our founding fathers met in taverns and stayed in inns. As America grew, grand hotels, called the “people’s palaces”, developed. When the automobile changed our American lifestyle forever, motels appeared to welcome travelers, right next to the gas station.

Today as we seek to protect the environment, enjoy expanded community and focus our researches more wisely, vacation rentals are a near perfect answer for the needs of the modern traveler. With lots of affordable space, families can relax together in a home-setting and truly get to know not only an area, but each other better, all by moving just a little slower.

Please let us know about your vacation rental and what makes it special. Sharing our successes with each other is one of the ways we can all grow professionally. Send in your tips and ideas, concerns and compliments. We all part of the same expanding industry. I look forward to your calls and emails. You can reach me at 206-343-7777, ext. 920 or Ana


TOP PROPERTY: Black’s Cliff Resort, Minocqua, Wisconsin

This outstanding all season resort is an example of a great vacation rental designed for family holidays. Located on the lower shores of Kaubashine Lake, this lovely property stretches for nearly a mile among whispering pines and sparkling waters.

Eleven cabins and two 4-bedroom vacation homes offer guests a wide variety of accommodations – some units even have beds that swing. What fun! Check out their website and congratulations to Black’s Cliff Resort for a job well done!


Published weekly for all Members
Copyright - Vacation Rental Owners Association
Read this and all prior newsletters at (

Director & Editor - Ana Kinkaid
Publisher - William May
P.O. Box 21305
Seattle, WA 98111-3305
Voice: 206-343-7777, ext. 920
Fax: 206-628-0839
WEB: (

Read more

Author: Ana M. Kinkaid, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0073 – 06/22/07

What Makes Vacation Rentals Unique

By Ana M. Kinkaid
Published: 06/11/07 Topics: Comments: 0

Vacation Rentals are the newest member of the hospitality industry. Here are some of the ways that vacation rentals offer an attractive alternative to traditional lodging.

LOTS OF ROOM - One of the biggest differences between a vacation rental and almost all other forms of lodging is the space available to your guests. Hotels offer a room. Vacation rentals offer a complete living space. Instead of renting a mere room and bath, you get a much larger area which often includes a kitchen, a backyard, a living room and a dining room. What a difference!

MORE PRIVATE SPACE - Vacation rentals also offer total privacy. In a hotel you can’t walk across the lobby in your pajamas. At a B&B you can’t have breakfast by yourself. In a vacation rental you can.

REDUCED FOOD COSTS - Hotels offer food through their restaurants. The cost of hotel meals includes insurance, labor, décor, replacement and profit. If your guest is cooking their own meals in their vacation rental, they are saving a lot of money as these costs aren't’t included in what they spend. In a vacation rental the guest can eat what they want, not just what is on the menu.

Besides being expensive, hotel food is often high in calories. Vacation rentals enable the guest to continue enjoying their regular food habits and save vacation dollars. Does it get any better than that?

OPEN SCHEDULE - Hotels are historically based on the model of a great estate house, not a relaxed home. B&Bs are based on the model of an urban boarding house. Both of these formats operate on a schedule because staffing has a timetable of what must get done when. Breakfast is served from X to Y in a hotel because there has to be time for the staff to rewash the dishes and prep for lunch. Vacation rentals don't force their guests into such a fixed schedule.

The same is true of housekeeping. Housekeeping needs to be able to enter the room during a certain time period in order to "turn the room“. In a vacation rental the guest can sleep as long as they want to because they are the ones who are going to fluff the comforter (or not).

NO ADDITIONAL ENTERTAINMENT COSTS - I will never forget the bill I got once when my then young daughter flipped from one pay for view movie to another in a hotel as if she was at home watching TV! At a vacation rental that problem doesn’t occur.

Guests can bring their own movies or rent them at a local outlet. Speaking of small children, the guest does not have to deal with the hotel porn channel at a vacation rental. Also the hot tub is free and uncrowded!

INCREASED SAFETY - Hotels have large distant parking lots. At a vacation rental you are in a neighborhood setting which is probably patrolled regularly by the police. You are also the only person who has the punch code or entrance card for the residence. It would startle you if you knew just how many people have the code/card to your standard hotel room.

AUTHENTIC COMMUNITY EXPERIENCE - Hotels seldom represent the everyday life of a neighborhood. Staying in a hotel in Houston, for example, is not the same as strolling through a small Houston neighborhood, shopping in its local stores or making purchases at the nearby farmers’ market.

The hottest trend in the hospitality industry right now is authentic regional experiences. No sector of the market provides that as well as vacation rentals.

MORE REALISTIC LIFE PATTERN - We all have our way of doing things. Vacation rentals enable guests to have the greatest chance of transferring their established lifestyle patterns over to their holiday. If a guest loves a warm brandy at 11PM in their bathrobe, then they can have it.

In a hotel, room service may be closed and the bar requires getting dressed. B&Bs rarely have a liquor license.

LONG TERM PLANNING - Hotels are extremely rate-conscious as operating costs can vary greatly season to season. As a result, hotels are often hesitant to quote rates a year in advance.

If a guest is planning a vacation long in advance, this can be difficult. Vacation rentals usually have no difficult booking that far out.

FINANCIAL SAVINGS - Foot per square foot, vacation rentals are offer one of the best values to vacationers. There is no fee for using the hot tub or viewing DVDs. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are when you want them and each meal can be your favorite food.

Be sure to tell your guests how special vacation rentals are AND why they are different than any other form of lodging. Once your guests understand what a vacation rental is really all about, they will return to enjoy them again and again. And they will tell their friends!

Please let us know your thoughts about what makes your vacation rental one of the best choices for modern travelers. I'd love to hear about what makes your property special. Send in your tips and techniques, concerns and compliments. We all have so much to share with each other. I look forward to your calls and emails. You can reach me at 206-343-7777, ext 920 or Ana

THIS WEEK'S TOP PROPERTY: Vista Grande Ranch, Washington State

Located in north central Washington in the beautiful Methow Valley, the Vista Grande Ranch certainly earns its name. This 650 acre ranches invites guests to enjoy over 4,300 square feet of relaxing inside space as well as 1,800 square feet of wrap-around cedar decking outside. And the views are fantastic! We just had to select this outstanding property as the VROA Top Property of the week.

Visit their web site ( and you'll see a property that would delight any guest.

Published weekly for all Members
Copyright - Vacation Rental Owners Association
Read this and all prior newsletters at (

Director & Editor - Ana Kinkaid
P.O. Box 21305
Seattle, WA 98111-3305
Voice: 206-343-7777, ext 920
Fax: 206-628-0839
WEB: (

Read more

Author: Ana M. Kinkaid, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0072 – 06/11/07

Vacation Rentals: Something Knew

By Ana M. Kinkaid
Published: 05/07/07 Topics: Comments: 0

Vacation Rentals are the newest member of the hospitality industry and it's important for guests to know what makes vacation rentals so unique. Unless we articulate clearly what makes a vacation rental (or VR) so special, we will be confused with other lodging formats in the industry. Here are some of the ways that vacation rentals offer an attractive alternative to traditional lodging.

Lots of Space – One of the biggest differences between a VR and almost all other forms of lodging is the space available to guests. Hotels offer a room. VRs offer a complete living space. Instead of a room with a bed, TV, dresser and attached bath, you get a full living area. That means a kitchen, garden, living room, dining room as well as a bedroom(s) and bath are available for your use.

More Private Space – VRs also offer total privacy. In hotel you can’t walk across the lobby in your pajamas. At a B&B you can’t have breakfast by yourself, enjoying a peaceful morning moment.

Reduced Food Cost – Hotels offer food through their restaurants. The cost of hotel meals includes insurance, labor, décore, replacement and profit. If your guest is cooking their own meals in their VR, they are saving a lot of money as these costs aren’t included in what they spend.

They have only the cost of ingredients to cover. Also in a VR, the guest can eat what they want, not just what is on the menu. Besides being expensive, hotel food is often high in calories. (Think back on how often people gain weight on vacation. Reason: rich hotel food). RVs enable the guest to continue enjoying their regular food habits and save vacation dollars. Does it get any better than that?

Open Schedule – Hotels are historically based on the model of great estate houses, not a relaxed home. B&Bs are based on the model of an urban boarding house. Both of these formats worked on a schedule because staffing was involved. Breakfast is served from X to Y because there has to be time for the staff to rewash the dishes and prep for lunch. RVs force their guests into no such regiment.

The same is true of housekeeping. Housekeeping needs to be able to enter the room during a certain time period in order to “turn the room.” In a VR the guest can sleep as long as they want to because they are the ones who are going to fluff the comforter or not.

No Additional Entertainment Costs – I will never forget the bill I got once when my then young daughter flipped from one pay for view movie to another as if she was at home watching TV! At a VR that problem doesn’t occur. The guest can bring their own movies or rent them at a local outlet.

Speaking of small children, the guest does not have to deal with the porn channel at a VR. Also the hot tub is free and uncrowded!

Increased Safety – Hotels have large parking lots. At a VR you are in a neighborhood setting which is probably patrolled regularly by the police. Also you are the only person who has the punch code or entrance card for the residence. It would share you if you knew just how many people have the code/card to your standard hotel room.

Authentic Community Experience – Hotels do not represent what a community really is. Staying in a hotel in Houston, for example, is not the same as strolling in a neighborhood, shopping in local stores or making purchases at the farmers’ market. The hottest trend in the hospitality industry right now is authentic regional experiences.

No sector of the market provides that better for the guest than VRs. More Realistic Life Pattern – We all have our way of doing things. VRs enable guests to have the greatest chance of transferring their established patterns over to their vacation. If a guest loves a warm brandy at 11PM in their bathrobe, then they can have it. In a hotel, room service may be closed and the bar requires getting dressed. B&Bs rarely have a liquor license.

Long Term Planning – Hotels are extremely rate conscience as costs (labor, insurance, etc) can vary greatly. As a result, hotels are often hesitant to quote rates out a year. If a guest is planning a vacation a year out, this can be difficult. VRs have no difficult booking that far out.

Financial Savings – Foot per square foot, VRs are offer one of the best values to vacationers. There is no fee for using the hot tub or viewing DVDs. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are when you want them and each meal can be your favorite food.

Be sure to tell your guests how special vacation rentals are AND why they are different than any other form of lodging. Once your guests understand what a vacation rental is really all about, they will return to enjoy them again and again. And they will tell their friends!

POINT OF ORDER (Project Management)

Feel Like you have too much to do? You aren't alone. That concern is one we hear from owners many times a week. One answer we suggest is that they consider using "Project Management" to organize the tasks in front of them. Project Management is an established technique used by businesses to complete a project in a creative and organized manner.

One excellent text on the subject is Rich Mintzer's THE EVERYTHING PROJECT MANAGEMENT BOOK. Check it out and make your day a lot easier.

ON BOARD: Picture Perfect
(VROA answers members’ questions….)

Question: “How do I take the best picture for my web site?

Answer: Just as important as the words you use on your web site, are the pictures you display. Here are ten pointers professional photographers say are vital to remember when taking images for the Internet.

1. Adjust your personal ‘focus’ as to why you are taking pictures. There is a vast difference between a snapshot and capturing an effective image that results in an increase in reservations. Ask yourself EXACTLY what is the selling feature of the room you are photographing. Don’t do the obvious. All bedrooms have beds. Ask yourself, “What is special about this room?” Photograph that!

2. After you have ‘focused’ on the selected selling point of the room, use a wide angle lens to show as much of the rest of the room as you can. This puts your feature element in context. Be careful not to over extend the wide angle or the stove will appear huge and flowers very distant.

3. Start by making sure that the area to be photographed is immaculate, not just clean. Photos can be merciless – they show everything. Many vacation rental owners start their photo shoots off right by having their unit professionally cleaned from top to bottom. In the long run it’s worth the money.

4. Next ‘stage’ your vacation rental for pictures. ‘Staging’ is a term used by real estate agents to describe placing props or small items around a house to give potential buyers the ‘feel’ of the home. The result is an increased bonding to the property. Small accents often make a difference such as candles, magazines, flowers, a table set for dinner. A great book on how to it is Barb Schwartz’s Home Staging. Wiley, 2006.

5. Owners often forget that the camera must have light to show detail and make the room appear inviting. Pull the curtains back and let the light in. You are not selling a vintage storeroom or a darkened cave. Open and welcoming are the feelings you want to prompt.

6. If you have few skills with a camera, strongly consider hiring a professional who is skilled in architectural photography. Marketing is strongly linked to sales. If you are ill at ease with a camera, your web site is not the arena to practice in. Pictures are very often the first impression an individual has of your property. A photo that doesn’t ‘sell’ your property stops the whole chain reaction that leads to revenue before it has ever started.

7. We live in a digital age. And there’s a reason why – digital cameras are great. Today they are reasonably priced and easy to use, so try one out if you don’t have one already. Shoot at 300dpi (dots per inch) for print material and 72dpi for the web.

8. Shoot at the highest resolution possible and largest format. You will be thankful later.

9. Use a tripod. Tripods make three things easy. One, they steady your picture. Two, they allow you time to evaluate what you are seeing through the view finder without the worry of trying to hold the camera steady. Three, if you see something in the view finder that you want to remove or change in the room, the tripod ‘holds’ your framed picture right where it is while you go adjust it.

10. Be sure to ‘bracket’ or make multiple exposures of each room. Save your working photos in tiff format and your final photos in jpeg. If you need to rework a photo, always select from the tiff file as the quality will be highest. Jpeg files tend to decline in quality the more your manipulate them.

Be sure to send us your questions and VROA will answer them.

TOP PROPERTY: Vista Grande Ranch, Washington State

Located in North Central Washington in the beautiful Methow Valley, the Vista Grange Ranch certainly earns its name. This 650 acre ranches invites guests to enjoy over 4,300 square feet of relaxing inside space and 1,800 square feet of wrap around cedar outside deck. And the views are fantastic! We just had to select this outstanding property as the VROA Top Property of the week.

Visit their web site ( to see a property that would delight any guest - and a website designed to highlight the vacation rental as well.

Read more

Author: Ana M. Kinkaid, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0071 – 05/07/07

Does Your Property Have IT?

By Ana M. Kinkaid
Published: 04/16/07 Topics: Comments: 0

In the 1920's when someone asked if an individual had "IT", they were using the code that Hollywood invented to describe sex appeal. Today, IT refers not to a lovely lady, but to the most wonderful invention of our time - Information Technology.

Go down any street in even a small town and you will see MP3 players, iPods and, of course, cell phones. Cable television has become the norm for enjoying television with hundreds and hundreds channels available. And then there is the internet, that astounding technology that lets us retrieve information in seconds. It is the internet that most often lets guests from around the world find and make a reservation at your property. Once there, it connects them to family and friends as well as business colleagues faster than a phone. These are truly amazing times we live in.

Also amazing is the growth rate of vacation rentals as a segment of the hospitality industry - an astounding 15% annual. As a result, hotels are losing business to the roomier, more family-oriented and often less expensive vacation rentals or VRs. One way hotels are attempting to reclaim their sliding position in the industry is to offer extensive IT services to the traveler. Currently the hotel industry plans to spend $5.5 billion (yes, that's billion) dollars on capital improvement in 2007-2008. And most of those improvements are technology-based.

Fortunately, you don't have to spend billions. That's one of the advantages of being smaller than a 1,000 room hotel. (Image what their housekeeping bill must be!) But it is important in this day and age (it is the 21st century, after all) to review your property and ask if you would have more bookings if you often IT services to your guests. These might include:

IPOD DOCKING STATIONS - Used to play music recorded on the IPod out loud.

FLAT SCREEN/HDTV TELEVISIONS - Most of the new DVDs are recorded for display on a flat screen/HDTV format. Also you don't need to have a bulky storage cabinet for this newer style TV.

HIGH-SPEED WIRELESS INTERNET - Guests are now bringing their laptop computers with them and they want to stay connected.

CABLE TELEVISION - With cable, you can limit the need for a DVD player and DVD movies.

DVD PLAYER - If you can't get cable in your area, be sure to consider a DVD player. Video players are not considered cutting edge and more and most newer movies are being released in DVD format.

If you decide to add IT to your property, be sure to adjust the amount of your deposit. Also consider additional insurance to cover damage or theft. And be sure (this very important) to update your marketing material to tell everyone viewing your web site that you offer these very modern amenities. That way you will be 'wired' into increased profits and truly become a 'hot' vacation rental.

THE NAME OF THE GAME: Keywords on Your Web Site

Your website will only be effective IF people can find it on the Internet. One way to insure that potential guests locate your web site is to be aware of "search engine optimization". What, I can hear you saying, is "search engine optimization"?

Now, I didn't understand what that term meant either when I first heard it. So over a cup of coffee I asked a good friend, who designs web sites, explained it all to me.

"Search Engine Optimization" he told me was all about "keywords."

"OK"; I said, "what are keywords "Keywords he explained are the words that we enter in the search field when we are looking up some topic on the Internet.

For example, if I wanted to rent your home for the fourth of July, but didn't know the term "vacation rental";, I might enter rent home for summer holiday in the search field. Once I hit the search button, the search engines of the Internet begin looking through millions of site for those words. If you included them somewhere in your text, the Internet will bring your vacation rental site up. If they are not there, the search engines will fly past your site and look elsewhere. And someone else gets the reservation!

I suddenly understood that keywords were really, really important if a web site was to be successful.

How do you find your "keywords"? It is a two-step process.

First, look at the leading vacation rental sites with properties similar to yours. Print off copies of their text. After you have ten or so copies, sit down and read through them. Pay attention to which words seem to reappear time after time in all of the descriptive text. Now go back and mark the words most frequently used. One word that will reappear again and again is, of course "vacation rental". Other words might be "alternative"; "roomy" "kitchen", "hot tub". Make a list of these words. Make a second list of the words that you feel describe your rental property that don't appear on the sites you've reviewed.

Second, go back to the Internet and enter "free keyword search." (There are programs that charge money to conduct a search, but you can use them later, if you like). One free site is: This is a very simple site, but it will give you a feeling for how this works. If, for example you enter the word "travel"; and then the word "vacation rental";, you will see that the word "travel"; on the sites Overture monitored was hit 1,355,679 times while the word "vacation rental"; was hit only 83,341 times. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see how important it is to include the word "travel"; in the material you are writing for your vacation rental web site.

It can be fun and surprising to look the words up. Often there is a word or phrase listed that you might not have thought of. The goal, of course, is to form a list of words that you will include in your written descriptions that will result in drawing the greatest number of visitors to your site. The more visitors to your site, the more booking you will have. And that IS the name of the game, isn't it?

BOOK MARK: Designing People

Designing Web Sites That Sell by Shayne Bowman and Chris Willis. Peachpit Press, 2002.

This useful book is a rare example of a practical text written by two designers who understand the marketing components of e-commerce. Step by step Bowman and Willis show you how to establish a visual style that fits your property. Their exercises will help you think like the guests visiting your site.

They will creatively walk you through the five principles of good commerce design: brand identity, personalization, speed, usability, and consistency. The result is a web site that produces the results you want: more reservations.

Before you spend your time and money to build a web site, read this book. An effective web site needs to be more than merely attractive. It needs to change site visitors into paying guests. It needs to be designed to sell people on your property.

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Author: Ana M. Kinkaid, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0070 – 04/16/07

Terms of Engagement

By Ana M. Kinkaid
Published: 04/11/07 Topics: Comments: 0

One question we are often asked is: 'Do I need to use a rental contract when I have guests' And the answers is: YES! YES!! YES!!! You MUST have a signed contract ; for your protection and the guests.

Let me explain why. First, having a vacation rental business is just that - a business. You are not loaning your home to a close family member or long time friend. You might do 'business' with your brother or friend with a nod and a handshake. But I bet you would never do business with anyone else that way. And the simple fact is you do not know the people coming to enjoy your property. They might seem nice on the phone, but that is no guarantee that damage can't occur, accidentally or otherwise.

And there is a second good reason to have a signed contract: A contract clearly states the differences between a vacation rental and any other member of the hospitality industry, such as hotel or bed and breakfast. It states upfront what is expected from the vacation rental guest and what is not acceptable.

Here are some of the major areas to consider including in your very important contract:

HOW PAYMENT IS TO BE MADE ; In Full? In Advance? Partial?

FORM OF PAYMENT ; Check, Credit Cards?

TIMELINE FOR PAYMENT ; At the time of Booking, Scheduled?

TAXES TO BE APPLIED TO BOOKING ; Sales? Lodging? Others?


CANCELLATION POLICY ; Timeline, Fees? Penalties?

TERMINATION ; When and Why a guest can be asked to leave?

PETS- Allowed? Not Allowed? Fees? Deposits? Penalties?

UNIT OCCUPANCY ; Families Only? Guest Limit? Fees? Penalties?

CHECKIN/CHECKOUT ; Timeline/Special Requests?

FURNISHINGS PROVIDED ; Description of items in unit?

CARE OF PROPERTY ; Statement of guest responsibility? Hot Tub Use? Pool Use? Grill?

USE OF PROPERTY ; Locked Areas? Cleaning? Housekeeping Services? Fees?

EMERGENCY ; Contact Information?

TELEPHONE ; Use, Fees?

PARKING ; Availability? Where? Fees?

TENANT LIABILITY ; Areas, Fees, Legal Responsibility?

INDEMNITY ; Owners' Limited Responsibility?


Be sure to have your written contract legally reviewed. It will be money well spent and many headaches pretended. But whatever you do, have a written signed contract. No real business operates without written documents, especially when money and services are involved. And as the owner of a vacation rental, you are involved in both areas. If you have any doubt about how very important it is to have a written contract with each and every guest, just remember this classic saying from the world of litigation: 'A verbal contract is worth the paper it is written on'.

Your signed contact will enable your guest to experience your property in a positive manner. They will know clearly what is expected and so will you. Use a signed contact and everybody will know the terms of engagement! It's one way to help your guests fall in love with your professional run vocational rental.

PET PROJECTS: Man's Best Friend on Your Property

You have a lovely vacation rental. You have spent a lot of time and money to get it ready for guests. And then you are asked that dreaded question by a guest: 'Can I bring my dog'

What are you suppose to say? I mean, you like pets as much as the next normal person and have a kind heart. Yet there is a tightening feeling in your stomach that this just won't work You're thinking about explaining that a dog might spoil your beautiful carpets, but you can already hear the guest saying that their dog is a 'good dog'. Any objection that you might voice will be countered with a 'but my dog wouldn't…' What's an owner to do?

Well, consider a technique of dealing with guests often used by European vacation rental owners: the 'we're only thinking of you' conversational strategy. It goes something like this ; start by saying you would love to host their charming dog BUT unfortunately you won't be able to provide what their beloved pet needs. Explain that hospitality standards for proper dog care involve insuring that Fido is (1) protected from overheating, (2) has a large open running area, (3) has appropriate elimination and feeding areas, (4) a supportive and available environment for socializing with both humans and other dogs and (5) an appropriate area for vocalizing - barking. Then state that as your facility cannot offer these required care considerations, you are not able to have pets on property for their own good. Finish by sharing with the guest that you, like the owner, want only the best environment for their pet. And your vacation rental, sadly, is not that environment.

The guest who truly cares about their dog will see your point. They may ask if you know of any other rentals that do take dogs. Try to have a referral ready. The guest who tries to wave aside your concern for their pet is probably not the guest you want. Most often they will care for your vacation rental as carelessly as they are caring for their dog(s).

Finally, consider supporting your local humane society through the possible donation of a room night to their annual auction. It always helps to tell the guest who won't take no for an answer that you support the local humane society and their standards of good pet care.

Stand firm because you are really advocating for the quality of care each and every dog deserves. Pets are not toys to be carried around in the back seat of a car. Travel and new environments can be very hard and disorientating to them. After all, we all want what is best for the pet. If at some point you do decide to take dogs, require at least a $100 deposit to cover possible pet damage. And be sure to include a clear statement about guest responsibility in your reservation contract for any and all damages caused by an unhappy pet.

Make proper pet care your pet project. Fido will say a big, 'Thank you-Woof, Woof!'

TOP PROPERTY: Timber Wolf Cabin, Pigeon Forge TN

Sometimes you encounter a vacation rental that does 'experience vacation marketing' just right. The Timber Wolf Cabin property in Pigeon Forge Tennessee is one such property. Nestled in the foothills of the Great Smokey Mountains, this cabin offers more than just magnificent scenery to visitors.

It is also in Sevier County, home to Dolly Parton's Dollywood and encircled by communities where tourism is a valued regional industry. An annual calendar of monthly events include Wilderness Wildlife Week (January), Smoky Mountain Storytelling Festival (February), Cowboy's Saddle Up Celebration (February), Mountain Quiltfest (March), String Time in the Smokies (March), Dolly Parade (April), Rhythm in the Hills (May) Patriot's Festival (July), Celebrate Freedom (August), Smoky Mountains Harvest Festival (September and October) and Winterfest (November and December).

As a result, over 10 million visitors come to this area each year AND it is the second most popular destination wedding sight in the country after Las Vegas. Now that's a location that any guest (and rental owner) would howl with delight about.

But wisely, the owner of Timber Wolf Cabin is perceptive that after so many activities, visiting guests will need a peaceful center to retire to. And Timber Wolf Cabin provides that. Natural wood tones make this home seem right at home among the green trees that surround it. This beautiful lodging offers accommodations for up to nine guests in a comfortable two story, three bedroom layout.

In addition there are multiple TVs, three VCRs, two DVD players and a special large screen home theater system. If a television program or movie doesn't relax the guest, they can try relaxing by the gas fireplace, in the master Jacuzzi or outdoor hot tub, sunbath on one of three outside decks or slowly barbecue streaks on the charcoal grill. And all this is located in a peaceful gated community.

From local fun to peaceful evenings, The Timber Wolf Cabin is truly a top property with an understanding of how to help guests experience the vacation of a lifetime-year after year!


ON BOARD: Got Branding? Fullers' Private Labeled Soaps

You never know where the open road will lead you. And nothing could be more true then that for David and Linda Jones, owners of the Fuller's Soaps Company. In 1988 Linda was saddened by the loss of her job at a different firm. David, like a thoughtful spouse, suggested they take a drive to shake the blues away. Enjoying each other's company, they drove along until without much thought, they found themselves in Nevada City, California.

The one local hotel was completely booked and they were miles from home. The front desk clerk kindly referred them to a newly open bed and breakfast, The Parsonage. David and Linda had never stayed in a B&B before, but they decided to make it a weekend for trying something new. What they found was a delightful lodging experience. After a restful night's sleep, they joined the other guests at the breakfast table. Deborah Dane, the owner and innkeeper at the Parsonage, was pouring coffee. Guests began to talk about what their various occupations were. And that is when David and Linda's life changed forever.

When it was David's turn, he said that he manufactured soap. Deborah quickly explained to him that find the right kind of soap for her guests were a constant problem. Every guest had to have a fresh new bar for sanitary reasons. But the regular sized commercial hand soap was too big and too expensive. Purchasing from a wholesaler didn't work because of the large minimum orders required and the difficulty in storing so much soap. Finally, most hotel mini soap bars were too small and of unbelievably poor quality. In short, Deborah wanted to know if David could help.

Back home, David decided to create a small bar that was both rich and that could last for four long showers ; no small feat. When Deborah got her glycerin soap samples a few weeks later, she was delighted. The soap was everything she had hoped for. At the suggestion of another innkeeper, David decided to offer private labeling for his new soap. For a small setup fee, a vacation rental can now have its own labeled soap and be part of one of the leading new trends in hospitality marketing ; branding amenities.

Today this family owned firm continues to offer outstanding service and soap products specifically to small properties. Jan Brand (talk about brand-ing your property) invites VROA members to call her directly for samples at 415-883-8883. We urge you to contact them ( You will not be disappointed. At Fullers' you will discover a 'brand' new way to prompt your property.

MEET THE PRESS: All the Write Words

Today lodging is about more than a mere bed, bath and a TV set. Modern travelers want a 'vacation experience.' Joseph Pine's and James Gilmore's book, The Experience Economy, documents this major new marketing trend. Whether it is for a weekend or longer, guests are looking for the destination that offers an escape to the unique. And no one is better suited to offer the 'holiday experience' than vacation rentals.

Your vacation rental can be that special location where 'magic'' happens for guests, BUT only if you can clearly state it. This marketing concept was completely understood by Walt Disney. He did not sell admission to a theme park. Instead, he sold admission to the Disney experience and price was not the issue. The quality of the experience was.

You can create that feeling of experience around your rental as well and you don't have to have a large mouse to achieve it. It is just a matter of choosing the right focus and correlative marketing words. Begin by selecting the experience marketing niche that fits your property, your interests and your regional attractions. Check out some of these major experience marketing trends that are currently influencing the hospitality industry:

Eco-tourism: If you live in an area that is known for its natural beauty or unique wildlife, this market segment might be used to highlight your rental. Locations near such attractions as the Grand Canyon, the Everglades, the Northwest Rainforests, the Pacific Ocean or the Mississippi Delta all offer guests a chance to see and appreciate the ecology of our remarkable planet. Working with ecology focused organizations is an excellent way to let potential guests know you are a destination that puts them in direct contact with the precious wonders of nature.

Green Tourism: No, no this isn't about guests from the Emerald Isle. Rather, it is a growing market segment that actively promotes on site eco-friendly practices. Using compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs), all cotton sheets and paper instead of plastic bags, will not only attract the insightful guest, it will also save you money. Such practices also let you stand out as a positive community member who supports the best possible environment for everyone.

Cultural Tourism: Baby boomers are the largest group of individuals currently booking vacation rentals. 'Boomers' are generally over 50 years of age with an annual income of $75,000 plus. They are well traveled and have seen and done a lot. As a result, they often enjoy the arts, whether it is pictorial or performance orientated. If you live near a major museum, music center or arts festival, you have a natural marketing draw for guests interested in culture. Consider calling a booking agency and seeing if you can arrange a discount on tickets for your incoming guests. The arts association will be delighted ; you just made their job of filling seats easier.

Great Outdoor Tourism: Can you sign up for river rafting in your area? Is heli-skiing available? What about mountain climbing or bungee-jumping? Then you are ideally positioned to offer your guests a chance to enjoy great outdoor tourism. You don't have to lead these trips yourself. In fact, it would be wise if you don't. Instead, form strong working relationships with the professional guides and tour groups in your area that are (1) experienced, (2) bonded and (3) professionally recommended. Your job starts when guests return at the end of the day and tell you what a great time they've had. Hot chocolate/iced tea anyone?

Culinary Tourism: Is your region famous for food or wine? Is there a hallmark ethnic flair to your local cuisine? Do you enjoy cooking and dining? If so, consider highlighting these elements in your written guest materials. Check out local cooking schools, farmers markets, vineyards. Almost everyone loves to either cook or eat. Compile a list of local restaurants that use regional ingredients and are willing to work with guests interested in matters culinary. Place regional food and wine magazines in your rental, as well as cook books by local authors. They make great reading and clearly present your marketing focus to guests.

Urban Tourism: Some cities are an experience in and of themselves. New York, Paris, London, San Francisco ; their very names conjure up images of great museums, grand avenues, unforgettable restaurants and a lifestyle that defines the cosmopolitan. If your rental is in such a city, you can create a clear market niche for yourself by helping your guests enjoy your special town. Have maps ready and know what events are currently available for guests to enjoy. Also be sure to give your guests guidelines about safety in the big city. Plan to be their center of information when they arrive and I can guarantee they will recommend you to all their friends!

Gaming Tourism: The casinos of Las Vegas and Atlantic City, to name just a few, are amazing destinations that attract millions of guests every year. If your marketing supports the casino theme, you will likely smile all the way to the bank. Find a good booking agent who can assist your guests in obtaining tickets to the elaborate casino floorshows. Be sure to join your regional tourist association and actively support their efforts. Be aware of the casino regulations and share them with your guests. Have a written set of firm boundaries that protects both your property and your guests.

Spa Tourism: Ah, a relaxing backrub and a soak in a tub of warm and scented water. If that doesn't make for a happy guest, what will? If you are located near a spa center, don't miss the opportunity to link their services to your property. Stress is a major problem in today's world and guests are willing to pay top dollar for a chance to relax. Be sure to have spa style amenities in your rooms. Guests will take them home to remember their experience and that is just what you want. You might even consider selling your amenities on your web site so guests can share them with their friends. Just be sure your name is on every product via a private label.

Family Tourism: Many vacations are about family time together. Destinations such as Disney World or Williamsburg were designed for family fun. If you are near such a destination, think about making your rental family friendly. Do you have child focused videos available in your unit? Are your grounds and garden safe for small children? Do you know the name and have driving directions to the nearest 24 hour grocery store that sells milk? The nearest drug store? Your thoughtful preplanning will say loud and clear that families are welcome here!

So take a moment and decide which marketing niche best fits your vacation rental. Then start a list of words that will preset that experience in your guest's mind. Use these words on your website and in your brochures. Wrap your theme around the readers. Use your writing to make them want to experience for themselves what you are describing. It is as simple as that. Define the experience and you will always find all the write words! And the right guests!

BOOK MARK: Working Knowledge

Raza, Ivo. Heads in Beds-Hospitality and Tourism Marketing. Prentice Hall, 2004.

If you want to success in the business world of lodging, you have to have a working knowledge of how sales and marketing function in the industry. Heads in Beds is an excellent resource, full of creative ideas and marketing insights that clearly tells you what it's all about. Ivo Raza starts by explaining how professionals define their marketing focus. He next presents what branding, advertising, promotions and public relations are all about and how work they together to increase your profits. He then shows how you can create better brochures as well as work with travel agents and industry wholesalers. He even covers internet marketing. This book has gotten rave reviews within the industry. It is a strong and very useful addition to your profession book shelf. It is worth every penny of the price. Treat yourself to success ; get this book today.

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Author: Ana M. Kinkaid, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0069 – 04/11/07

The Graceful Art of Dealing with Difficult Guests

By Ana M. Kinkaid
Published: 04/02/07 Topics: Comments: 0

In this imperfect world there is no way to satisfy each and every guest. Try as hard as you might to be the perfect host, the nature of life is such that given the moods of guests, their own unique backgrounds and the way things work (or don't), you cannot avoid having to deal with the unhappy guest from time to time.

As a result, knowing how to work positively with the upset guest is a vital business skill. After all, no one wants to have an unpleasant day ' not the guest, and certainly, not you.

Begin conflict resolution by understanding that in the lodging industry there are three guest profiles that often seem to be susceptible to stress and conflict:

The Distracted Guest ' this guest often brings their problem(s) with them. They frequently tell you their concern/difficulty to you as they book their reservation. Reasons for their holiday can include too much stress, a need to get away, a major life change such as a divorce, etc.

In general they are often off balance and hope a change of pace and location will help them refocus. Most often this type of guest wants personalized attention such as verbal directions, a personal welcoming note prior to arrival or a calendar of local events.

Your individualized attention enables them to find a sense of 'self' again and will generally move the client towards a more positive attitude.

The Disappointed Guest ' this guest arrives with their own set of unrealistic expectations. There is even a term for this in psychology, known as the 'Paris Syndrome'. Many people traveling to Paris for the first time fantasize it to be the perfect city of their dreams ' a city filled only with high fashion, great artists and endless gourmet meals.

They are often shocked when they arrive and find that although Paris has all of these wonderful elements, it also has smog, traffic jams, fast food outlets and average everyday people walking the streets. As a result, the traveler experiencing the Paris Syndrome (and it can happen anywhere), often feels let down and sometimes betrayed.

The syndrome then expresses itself as either anger or depression. You can eliminate much of this guest's discomfort before their arrival by being practical and down to earth as you describe your rental. Once there, provide accurate information about what the guest can enjoy your area. As they relax (and adjust their expectations), their mood generally improves and they have a good time.

The Disruptive Guest ' this guest requires immediate action. Because they feel ignored, insulted or in some way mistreated, waiting to address their concerns will generally only make matters worse.

Listed below are some of the best ways to deal quickly with this kind of unhappy guest, using the 'SOARING' Interaction Method:

Summarize the complaint conversation if it has become too lengthy. Once the problem has been understood, move on to the solution. Observe the guest's body language or vocabulary choice and check to see if it matches the meaning of the words spoken.

Most often the verbal and body languages need

to be correlated or conflict resolution isn't possible.

Actively listen to what is said by making gentle eye contact. Avoid, however, too intense a focus as this can be interpreted as hostile. Reflect on what you thought you heard. Ask questions to be sure that you truly understand the guest's concern or difficulty.

Indicate that you truly care about the guest and that their concern will be address.

Name the problem so that you can both focus on that, rather then become involved in an exchange of personalized anger or blame.

Go beyond the emotions expressed to get to the facts. Remember you cannot 'fix'

emotions. Continue the conversation at another time if the guest becomes insulting or verbal abusive. Emotional control is the guest's responsibility. Addressing the facts is yours.

Yet, when all is said and done, please be aware that some guests will ask for more than is fair or even legal. It is very important for each property owner to know the specific laws and traditional guidelines within the hospitality industry.

For an excellent text on the subject, please read the review of Stephen Barth and David Hayes' book, Hospitality Law: Managing Legal Issues in the Hospitality Industry that follows in BOOK MARK in this newsletter. Knowing both your rights and how to defuse a guest's anger are important components in changing hard times into positive days of profit.

SUDS AND SENSIBILITY ' Saving Money with Great Linen at VROA

There is an old saying in France that cheap is always expensive. And nowhere is that more true then when buying tablecloths and napkins for your rental. Inexpensive linen is available everywhere whether you are searching out large discount stores or volume dealers on the internet.

But you will get exactly what you pay for: something cheap that won't hold up at the first washing or two. But if you want to buy something that will last for a year, indeed, something that will last for a lifetime (no, I'm not kidding), let me introduce you to Jay and Kathryn Severance who own and operate Gallic Traditions. Their amazing online shop offers some of the world's best (and most durable) table linens.

During the 1990's Jay and Kathryn lived, worked and traveled through France. Often as they drove through France's wine districts, they noticed the beautiful linen that covered cafe and restaurant tables. When they asked young couples where this beautiful linen came from, the reply was often 'My grandmother gave it to me. It was her's when she was young.'

Now that's great linen!

Well, if a good wine is worth tracking down, Jay and Kathryn thought so was great table linen. And that was the start of Gallic Traditions, which proudly offers linen by Garnier Thiebaut, Beauville and Valdrome-all classic fabrics. The legendary Garnier Thiebaut firm has been producing premiere table linen exclusively for the world's leading restaurants since 1830. Today, they are available for individual purchase through selected dealers such as Gallic Traditions.

Famed for their skilled jacquard weaving method that makes the tablecloths reversible, the fabric is firm yet drapes beautiful. Beauville and Valdrome both produce silk screened tablecloths treasured for the bright clear colors that do not fade after years of washing.

And best of all, VROA members can now purchase these life-time linens at a 10% discount! Please contact me at and I'll be glad to introduce you to this remarkable couple who enjoy all things French.

So if you'd like to shop less and enjoy life more, consider these amazing linens for your property. If you wash them as suggested below, they will last a life time. And you will be in great company ' many of the world's most beautiful hotels and exclusive rental properties swear by both their beauty and their durability.

Contact: (


Wash on gentle cycle in your washer using a gentle soap such as Ivory Snow, Woolite or Orvus Quilt Soap (available at quilting as well as many saddle or tack shops).

Wash in cold or clear water, never hot.

Use only oxygen bleaches (hydrogen peroxide) for white linen. Never use chlorine bleach as it causes yellowing. Brown spots indicate soap is still present.

Add a couple of tablespoons of hair cream rinse to the final wash. Trust us, it will make your linen feel softer and more luxurious.

Give it a try ' after all, vacation rentals have been French tradition for over fifty years!

TOP PROPERTY ' Sweet Dreams & Great Fun: The Nautical Inn of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin

A vacation rental property that understands its guests' needs, has taken a huge step towards success. And the Nautical Inn of Lake Geneva in Wisconsin has certainly done that. By integrating theme and location, they have created a holiday destination that lets a guest feel at home while still part of the larger community.

Located on the deepest and longest lake in southern Wisconsin, this stunning body of water was once the private reserve of the wealth. From lakeside mansions, tired Victorians came here to enjoy both summer waters and winter ice activities. Today that tradition continues, but the lake is now enjoyed by everyone.

The Nautical Inn serves as an anchor between those two great traditions, linking a gracious past with an exciting future.

Debi and Richard Nelson have lovingly restored the Inn to its former glory, but added all modern touches that make life easy for the modern traveler. To highlight the area's rich nautical tradition, they chose a décor that accents lighthouses, sailboats and all things from the water, but with a restrained hand.

These innkeepers have done a lovely job of sharing the past with their guests without make their home feel like a dated museum. Whether a guest sleeps in the Captain's Room or First Mate's Room, each visitor feels the flavor of the place both past and present.

The Nelsons understand that to feel comfortable, the

guest needs to feel a balancing of themes. Sadly, some properties go too far in one direction or another, leaving the guest to feel 'marooned' in too strong a style statement.

It is equally important that the guest feel free to 'sail' out and enjoy the activities beyond the lodging. Again, Debi and Richard achieve this in spades with the many clear (and working) links to year round activities at the lake. In addition to exact driving direction, these insightful innkeepers provide descriptive paragraphs that invite you to envision a memorable family holiday at the lake.

The text skillfully presets an experience that can only be described as positive. The end result is that between the respect for the past and promise of enjoyment today, who wouldn't want to stay here? Does it get any better than this?

Hats off to an outstanding marketing job by the Nautical Inn of Lake Geneva in beautiful Wisconsin!



ON BOARD ' Ten Major Mistakes Vacation Rental Owners Make

We are often asked by owners how they can make their rentals more successful. Success is often achieved by avoiding mistakes. Listed below are the ten most common mistakes vacation rental owners make:

1. BEING TOO EMOTIONALLY CONNECTED TO YOUR RENTAL. When you decide to make your vacation home available as a vacation rental, it is very important to shift your concept of the property from a treasured family retreat to one of a professional business rental property.

Start by removing any family heirlooms or other items that prompt you to be attached to it as a personal residence. Not only will this help you adjust your image of the property, but it will also move them to your private home which is where such items now belong.

2. LACKING SUFFICIENT STARTUP FUNDS. There is a significant difference between a comfy down-at-the-heels-but-we-love-it property and the quality of a professional vacation rental. A table that's rocked since grandmother's day may be charming to you, but not to your guest trying to use his/her laptop.

Be prepared to spend the money to bridge the distance between grandmother's unsteady jam table and the contemporary standards of quality accommodations in the hospitality industry today.


Many first-time vacation rental owners are highly concerned about theft. And that is understandable, but in reality it is very seldom a problem. Very, very rarely is anything taken.

And if you have (1) removed items of personal value, (2) followed the house staging guideline that 'less is better' and (3) have the correct kind of rental insurance, you can relax on this issue.

4. IGNORING THE INTERNET. This is the 21st century and that means the Internet is here to stay. This marvelous invention allows you to reach millions in moments. You can NOT ignore a marketing/sales tool of that strength. Study the internet. Learn how it can support your rental.

It is your friend and a major business tool today. In short, to be successful today, you've got to be 'connected'!

5. HIRING THE WRONG PEOPLE. Use only professional independent contractors that have been recommended to you by other local business people. General newspaper ads and Craig's List postings don't do the job.

Instead of taking risks, you will save money and avoid headaches if you only hire the people with a proven (and bonded) business record.

6. UNDERESTIMATING OPERATIONAL COSTS. Once your vacation home has become a vacation rental, do not expect that your property maintenance costs will remain the same. Why? Well, to make money you want reservations, lots of them. That means more people will be coming to your property then before and that means more upkeep costs. As a personal retreat, you shoveled snow only when you enjoyed a holiday.

If your property is booked weekly, that means the snow removal issue has to be addressed much more frequently. The same is true of summer maintenance needs such as air conditioning, lawn gardening sewer and yard irrigation. Your rental property will make money, but be prepared to spend some money to do so. Such is the nature of the business.

7. FAILING TO KEEP RECORDS. Keep timely records every day. Record all your expenditures as well as income. If you don't write it down, you will never know if you are truly making money. And you will not be able to go back and recreate the accounts accurately from memory.

Use a notebook or, better yet, purchase any of the excellent accounting software programs now available for small business. If you rent your property for money, you are in business. Keeping accurate and timely records shows you know that. And your tax person will be grateful.

8. SETTING THE WRONG RENTAL PRICE. Research other rentals in your area. Rate them as to similarities and differences when compared to your rental. Match their rental rates. If you are going to charge more, be able to clearly say why: a larger pool, an enclosed porch with sweetheart swings, a location nearer the best beach.

Guests generally don't mind paying more if they can clearly understand that they are getting more. Also be aware of how rates can be affected by different seasons and regional events. Shift your rates accordingly throughout the year. Guests making early reservations should pay full price as they have the greatest number of lodging choices available. Offer discounts only to last minute guests who are filling spaces that might otherwise go empty.

Two thirds of your normal rate that late in the game is better than nothing. But do not discount your rate until close to the closing calendar date. Hold firm on unnecessary discounts and you will make more revenue.

9. BEING UNSURE OF BOUNDARIES. Any business person who interacts with people needs both a degree of patience and determination. You want to be understanding of that guest who just had a bird fly through an opened window. On the other hand, you must be firm with the guest who has too many guests with too many cars invading the property.

One guest can be supported with the advice that if they relax the bird will probably just fly out again. The second guest needs to be told very directly that unless the numerous visitors and cars leave, they will be leaving, maybe faster than the bird.

10. AVOIDING COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT. Last but not least, remember that vacation rentals are a new experience in many areas. And quite often what is new or different can frighten people. Be involved in your local community. Be sure to join your Local Chamber of Commerce and supportive tourist marketing associations.

Let everyone know that your guests are delightful people who not only pay in advance for their reservations, but spend additional money throughout the community. Support local sport teams and cultural events. Knowledge is the best way to dissolve bias.

MEET THE PRESS ' Your Secret Partner: Free Trade Journals

Information is one of your best business tools. And one of the best kept secret in the hospitality industry are the wonderful trade journals that are free to individuals working in the lodging field. Take a moment, go on the internet and sign up for them.

If you are wondering about marketing to professional event planners, the hottest new food trends, the best phone system in the industry or a great source for beautiful sinks, here is how you can find out for free.

Source: (

Magazines (Many, many more are listed at their web site)

Meetings West

Meetings South

Meeting East

Meetings MidAmerica

Corporate Meetings & Incentives

Hospitality Construction Magazine

Target Marketing

Food Arts

BOOK MARK ' Legal Eagle 101

Barth, Stephen and David K. Hayes. Hospitality Law: Managing Legal Issues in the

Hospitality Industry. Indianapolis: Wiley, 2005.

Are you required to replace money a guest says is missing? When is a guest legally entitled to a refund? What is your liability if your refrigerator doesn't cool correctly?

If you would like the answers to these and many more everyday questions that can occur, this is a must-have book for your professional library. Disputes with guests and staff are discussed as well as preventive management and effective legal decision making.

Considered a standard in the industry, this easy-to-read book overviews all the major areas of operation and offers web exercises as well as additional Internet resources. If you are looking for answers, this can be your first source.

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Author: Ana M. Kinkaid, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0068 – 04/02/07

Going My Way

By Ana M. Kinkaid
Published: 03/08/07 Topics: Comments: 0

Writing accurate directions to your property is a vital first step to insuring successful guest stays. This seems basic, but sadly, it is often overlooked by the busy vacation home owner.

First impressions, as the old saying goes, do matter. And you want that initial experience to be a positive one that sets the best tone for the rest of your guest's stay. Experienced vacation rental owners will all tell that you if a guest arrives tired and angry from hours of searching for their rental, chances are they will transfer that initial dissatisfaction over to other parts of their vacation at your property.

This can result in guests not rebooking with you and more often, a request for a refund and as well as negative comments posted on internet travel review sites. So as you can see, accurate directions ARE important.

That said, the next question is how to write an AD (which is what professional cartographers call 'Accurate Directions' as opposed to inaccurate lets-all-get-lost-in-the woods directions or IADs). It is best to remember that your guest is probably not anywhere as familiar with your area as you are.

What can seem simple and direct to you, can be confusing and disorient to your guest. Don't assume that the directions you would give a local resident will work for your incoming rental guest.

A great place to start (and please, note we said 'start'), are the commercial direction sites on the internet such as Google Map (, MapQuest (, MapBlast ( and Rand McNally Maps ( to name just a few.

Enter the name of the largest metropolitan center near your rental as the departure point and your property address as the arrival point. Print out the directions and call a good friend who is willing to take a drive with you. That friend is going to be very important to the success of your directions. Why? Because nothing in this world is perfect and that includes directional information on the internet. As your friend drives, your job will be to write down all the landmarks that are omitted as well as expand the directions to include point-to-point driving mileage, complete street names and exit numbers.

Be sure to add compass directions to your right-left turn information. Schedule your 'verification' drive at the same time of day and season that your guests generally arrive for check-in. A guest arriving on a dark winter evening needs a different set of directions from the guest who is arriving in the brighter summer season. A recommendation that guests bring a flashlight has made many street signs easier for guests to read on darkened winter days.

After you have updated your internet printout via a road trip, write out your new set of AD directions for your rental property. Ask two different friends to 'play' guest and re-drive your expanded directions. Review their input and include their additions, if you feel it will aid the guest in finding your rental.

Keep an ongoing eye open for construction and detours that can effect and possibly alter your directions. Enter your information into your computer, and relax, because now you can rest assured your guest will arrive smiling and on time, ready to enjoy your lovely property right from the start.


Your vacation rental is an investment. And like every investment, it should be protected. But many vacation rental home owners are unaware that the standard 'Property and Liability' insurance that protects their own home residence very often does NOT extend to a second vacation home if it used as a holiday rental property.

Indeed, often filing a damage claim on a vacation rental under standard property and liability insurance can result in decline of benefits AND a cancellation of your policy! Ouch!

VROA, however, has an answer for you. Indeed, we have THE answer: the only insurance policy designed specifically for vacation rental properties. Working with Cascade Risk Placement Inc., one of the most experienced (and fast growing) brokers and providers of risk management services in the insurance industry, VROA is proud to offer this unique opportunity exclusively to our VROA members.

For more information, logon to the ( website and review the property insurance section. Or contact Ana Dean-Feder directly at Cascade Risk Placement Inc. at 425-452-1115, ext. 12 for a direct quote within 24 hours as well as personalized professional service.

This single phone call will result in guaranteeing that your property is protected from the many mishaps that can sometimes happen. Your guests deserve peace of mind, and so do you. VROA is proud to help you sleep better tonight, knowing that your success is truly insured.

TOP PROPERTY: Charles Eglinton's Disney World Wonder!

It's always a joy to share great news with others. And VROA is delighted to highlight as often as possible members' properties that are outstanding as well as accent some of the reasons for their success. One such property is Charles Eglington's remarkable vacation home near Disney World in Florida .

This luxury rental property offers guests over 2,400 square feet of space - over 30% larger than many other area rentals. And that is one of its secrets – this owner understands that no one (well, hardly anyone) goes to Disney World alone. Disney World was designed for family fun. And families need space.

Knowing the needs of visitors to your area is a critical component to your marketing success.

The four guest bedrooms as well as the 24 foot ceilings all create a welcoming sense of open and relaxed space. Parents and children can view Disney videos after a day at the Epcot Center on a 50' big-screen television.

Relaxation inside as well as enjoying the unique outside private pool (shallow enough to be safe for children but deep enough for adult laps) all highlight another reason this property is success: Guests can enjoy their time at this lovely home as well as their time at the famed theme park.

Knowing that everyone needs a relaxing and attractive rest area after a busy day is another vital insight that insures each renter's enjoyment.

And last, not at all least, there are many amenities and services located right near by. Universal Orlando, Seaworld, tennis courts, golf, dinner theater, beautiful beaches are close at hand as well as 24 hour food markets.

This owner has thought even about traffic patterns and long lines when he offers to share his 'special directions' that enables guests to enter the theme parks 'the back way' and avoid the nightmare of waiting in long lines at the main gates. What more could a guest ask for! Knowing (and helping) visitors avoid holiday difficulties that might occur is one sure way to make each renter say, 'Let's come here again!'

View this Top Property at: (

ON BOARD: VROA Members' Questions and Answers

Question: How do I maintain positive relations with my non-renting neighbors?

Director's Answer: The best way to maintain positive relations is to start off positively. Meet with your neighbors individually and tell them you will (1) be renting your lovely vacation home to some wonderful guests and (2) it is going to be well managed, either by you or by a professional service. Do your research prior to the conversation so you can answer their questions and concerns. Bring paper and pen and write down any questions you don't know the answer to. Be sure to get back to your neighbors as quickly as possible with the answers. Be positive, even if the first reaction is negative. Focus the conversation on the facts, not the fears.

Be an involved community member as well, attending board and council meetings if possible. If you are a long distance home owner consider have an official representative there in your place, such as a local business partner or professional property management service. Consider donating room nights in your off season to local charity auctions. Local winners who enjoy their stay with you will become some of your best vocal supporters. Volunteer to write a small column on tourism for your local paper.

In short, be involved, be positive and have fun. The mood will be catching!

MEET THE PRESS: Industry Survey Shows that Vacation Rentals Support Local Community

One of the negative comments often heard is that vacation rentals in some way hurt the local economy. But the actual situation, as demonstrated by a California Travel Industry Association survey, published in Yacht Vacations and Charters Magazine tells a very different story.

Vacation rental guests do more than merely rent accommodations. They also enjoy the full amenities of the region's lifestyle from vineyards to cuisine, from crafts to concerts. The end result is an increase of revue that benefits everyone. Quality, well-managed vacation rentals ARE a positive motivator of quality community development and an exciting new segment of the hospitality industry.

BOOK MARK: Building Your Professional Library

VROA often receives requests from members looking for books and other material about the lodging industry. Many owners are amazed to learn the vacation rentals are one of the fastest growing segments of the hospitality industry. With that in mind, it is important for rental owners to develop a working knowledge of the growth industry they are now a part of.

One of the best books to add to your shelf of professional books is S. Medlik's Dictionary of Travel, Tourism and Hospitality, published by Butterworth-Heinemann in 2003. This classic of the industry contains just about every word you will ever encounter in the world of lodging. The over 2,500 terms clearly explain, among other things, how the industry legally defines an 'Act of God', an 'AH Booking', 'Rack Rates' and what the term 'Transient' really means.

In addition this very useful reference book also lists over 300 professional organizations and 1,200 industry acronyms and abbreviations. If you want to know that you know, this book is for you.

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Author: Ana M. Kinkaid, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0067 – 03/08/07

A Long Hard Winter

By William May
Published: 05/06/06 Topics: Comments: 0

Even if you don't operate in a ski resort area, it has been a long winter. VROA continues to handle inquiries and assistance for rental owners all over the US and even some other countries. Before we gloat over progress its time to wail over other matters.

Some of you have noticed the newsletters have gone off line for some time. We do apologize for that but the growth of the group has been pretty heady for a small band of volunteers. Sometime had to give and getting out a tips oriented newsletter was one of them. I'd cry Uncle right about now except for the opportunity that lays before all of us for industry growth and profit.

Whats more - we have decided to recruit a full time Executive Director for the group to take over the newsletter, inspection program and our other numerous activities.

We'll be re-starting up the home of the week award too but most important is that we have request out now for completing of the ( consumer site. Actually it has always been an important goals but also one that secondary to the goal of serving members. Yes, everyone wants more sales leads and maybe the .com site will do that especially for owners who complete the inspection program. And the ( site will be revised as well.

For the Director job, we have actually done some interviewing already and will take time to find just the right person. They have to be talented of course but also ambidextrous because they'll wear a lot of hats. We'd have the job filled by now but we're so busy doing the job we don't have time to hire our replacements. That is a classic example of the vicious circle.

In the meantime, thanks for supporting the association. We'll have more to give soon. By working together we all get further ahead.

A few news snippets for you of course:

The City of Sedona Arizona has recently decided to start enforcing an old code on the books that limits rentals to no shorter than 30 days in tenure. This, of course, pretty much puts a death knell over the vacation rental industry there.

Long time readers will not be surprised by such an action from most any jurisdiction. If there has been an overriding theme to the VROA newsletters it has been to alert owners and managers to the threat that regulations or prohibitions mean to the industry.

A warning to the wise - if you haven't organized your local or state group to work together - to fight governmental intrusions and other important matters - you need to start today. The folks in Sedona and elsewhere are now behind the eight ball because the enemy has been working diligently while they slept. I hope they can overcome this heavy handed land grab but it will now be more difficult than if they had organized long ago.

Our list of Vacation Rental websites now numbers well over 400 and figuring out which ones are productive continues to be difficult. I almost wish someone out there would put a prohibition on new sites. A word to the new comers and those who will start up soon - enough already.

All your sites do is further dilute the marketplace making it even more difficult for guests to find quality rentals. And most of the new sites don't seem to attract a lot of listings unless they give them away. Even then their count is far lower than must be worth the effort.

Time has now passed on the acquisition by the World Vacation Rentals Group ( of a number of leading rental websites such as (, ( ( My first reaction is that some of the sites are looking better than they used to. But we're also hearing the kind of complaints common to merged or acquired businesses and that is the lack of feedback and follow through. Have they simply bitten off more than they can chew anytime soon?

The company purportedly raised a good deal of cash to make the acquisitions. But was it all spent on buying food and not on digesting the meal? Plus it looks like they are dead set on raising listing prices a dangerous ploy.

Disclosure - - For those of you unfamiliar with my checkered background, at one time I was a business broker, also referred to by the hoety totety as a Private market Merger and Acquisition person. I could go on forever about that strange occupation but I learned a lot about deal making. Perhaps the biggest observation is that not all good conglomeration ideas prove to be valid business concepts.

There are really only two ways to convince customers (Owners and Managers) that an acquisition make sense. Because it produces better products or because it provides them cheaper. WVR seems to be trying at both but I also know money managers require quick results and raising rates is a give away that the buyers may sacrifice long term customer benefits by thumping customers with added costs.

In fact, over the years a review of American business in particular shows that companies merge and then they divest and then they try another conglomeration. WVR's idea of combining all those good listings into one business probably sounded like they could just add all the listings together for a much bigger sum total. Unfortunately the only reason most owners or managers use multiple sites fades away when a single operator is supposed to find more revenue for us.

The search engines such as Yahoo continue to innovate. Boy that's a great sounding word but sometimes its is necessary ask if the changes are really of any benefit. At a recent conference the Yahoo travel group made a presentation about several new products. The first is the ability of users to group the searches they have found into sub-groups that appear prominently on their web pages. All that sounded very good but then Yahoo built in the ability for these users to make their comments public and more problematic, to feature those perhaps more prominently on search results than the paid advertisers listings.

Sure there will be a lot of complimentary postings. But anyone who deals with consumers knows there are some crooks, crazies and freaks out there who will post any kind of selfish thing they can to coerce advertisers into getting what they want. And even that wouldn't bee to bad if yahoo would take responsibility for reviewing and adjudicating disputes that may come up with postings.

Of course one of the things that ,makes websites money is the ability to create content without the kind of personal labor that other kinds of businesses are saddled with. For example, you phone company makes far more money when you use the service and don't have to call customer support. The minute you call and take time from a busy technique the measly $25 or so per month you're paying for service becomes not profitable for them.

Websites, on the other hand, are usually impossible to get on the phone and are experts at email with big delays and little follow up. That means if you have a problem with a slanderous posting it'll be a cold day in purgatory before it gets attention, if it ever does.

I think Yahoo is way off base here. When asked tough questions at the conference they had virtually no answers. Looks like they're creating a product to benefit consumers at the expense of advertisers.

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Author: William May – Volunteer, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0066 – 05/06/06

Guests Go Godzilla When Owners Cancel Bookings

By William May
Published: 03/11/06 Topics: Comments: 0

Guest Go Godzilla When Owners Cancel Bookings

Owners who choose to cancel Guest Bookings do so at their own peril.

Going on vacation is a big treat for most travelers and especially true for vacation rental homes, resorts and specialty lodging. Guests plan ahead, organize family and friends, often pool their money and splurge on a big adventure.

Is it any wonder, they are very unhappy when an owner or manager calls to say that their booking has been cancelled?

Their anger and disappointment is not ameliorated by the reason for the cancellation.


In one destination, forest fires flared up unexpectedly causing dozens of reservations to be cancelled. It may have been explained calmly but basically managers were telling guests "Don't come here or you could die."

None the less guests screamed, yelled and called the managers thieves, liars, and worse.

Some went online to vent always mentioning the cancellation but failing to mention the reason.

It was not the property owners fault, it was not the managers fault. And it certainly wasn't the fault of the forest fire crews working in terribly dangerous conditions.


An owner in Hawaii planned an eight week renovation of his luxury condo, but the wise manager took the rental off the market for twelve weeks. Close to the re-opening date the contractor admitted he could not finish even by the twelve week mark.

The gracious owner offered to refund the guests money in full and to upgrade them to an ocean side luxury villa complete with private pool. The rent was triple what the guest had paid. And the owner picked up the entire tab.

These guests also reacted by screaming and yelling, calling the manager thieves, liars, and worse.

They took the upgrade of course, but called every day to complain that it have five bedrooms and they only wanted four. Just walking past that empty bedroom reminded them they had been ripped off and 'screwed with.'


In today's age of online anonymous slander and liable, it seems humans have been imbued with an inalienable right to bitch and moan repeatedly publishing their venom to millions of people.

There are many occasions when venting helps other consumers avoid a similar fate. But not all problems are avoidable. No one knows when forest fires will break out. Planning a model far in advance does not insure that materials the contractor ordered will arrive on time.

Sometimes road crews stall traffic to your vacation getaway. Sometimes it rains cats and dogs when you arrive. Sometimes the neighbors are a bit too loud. Sometimes grocery stores run out of food due to the onslaught of tourists.


Mental health counselors refer to the phenomenon of blaming others for our problems, or for unavoidable problems as "Transference."

If someone is pounding a hammer in their workshop and a friend arrives distracting them sufficiently to hit their thumb with a hammer, it is immature transference to blame the friend. And yet many of us do just that.

Although it is human nature to blame others, it is mature to acknowledge that problems arise and to take them in stride. If it's raining on vacation, playing board games really is a worthwhile substitute. If a forest fire cancels your vacation, pick a new destination to try. It might be even better.

And for owners there is another lesson here. Never ever cancel a booking for slight reasons. Trying everything possible to avoid cancellations. Do not subject your manager to the screaming, yelling and venom many consumers will direct at them.

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Author: William May – Volunteer, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0505 – 03/11/06

Is it Too Late to Invest in a Vacation Rental?

By William May
Published: 08/10/05 Topics: Comments: 0

Are vacation rentals the espresso stands of the future?

Over thirty years ago a couple of Seattle entrepreneurs started a little shop in Washington State to make and sell the kind of rich and potent coffee - common in Europe - that they couldn't find in their home town. More than a decade later, another young entrepreneur leveraged himself into buying the - by that time - small group of coffee stores thinking he could spread the company into a large and profitable retail chain. The rest is history. Starbucks now has over 6,000 stores worldwide, wholesale packaged goods and other operations including their own music label. (!)

While Starbucks blossomed, thousands of other entrepreneurs leaped into the coffee fray. They saw the success of Starbucks as a quick opportunity to get rich. Said an early participant, "How tough could it be? Get a little stand, buy some beans, figure everything out on my own and rake in the money."

But like most things in life, the reality of owning any business, even a small espresso stand, is not as easy as it appears. Check any business opportunity newspaper classified section today and you'll find a long list of espresso stands for sale. There are exceptions, of course, but most coffee stand operators work long hours for less pay than what they'd make working for a grocery store.


Vacation rentals have been a viable lodging alternative for a great many decades having their roots in "Holiday Lets" and similar rental arrangements in Europe and elsewhere across the globe. While individually managed homes have always been available in established resort areas, the majority of homes and condos have been handled by management firms.

But in recent years the dream of capital gains and even cash-on-cash profits have become a big attraction for individuals who would like to see owning a vacation home as a true investment. It seems that almost everyone would love to have a vacation home. And what better way to do it than to get guests to pay all the costs. Just throw up a simple website, buy a few ads on those sure-thing listing sites, answer a couple of phone calls and watch the money roll in. If the place doesn't produce a nice, early cash flow then the owner can get all their loses back plus a big profit when they eventually sell the home at a big price, right? Well, not necessarily.

Some owners find that operating a vacation rental is just as much work as owning a coffee stand, but they can lose more money and don't even get free java.


At VROA we hear from vacation rental owners all over the US, Canada and many foreign countries, and increasingly the comments are from newer owners who feel like they've been sold a bill of goods about how easy it is to buy, operate and profit from vacation home ownership. That is unfortunate. We are all for vacation rental ownership as a wonderful way of paying some of the bills. And there is nothing wrong with hoping to pay ALL the bills, but what was a possibility for owners as recently as just a few years ago is becoming increasingly less probable for several reasons.

First, the cost of buying second homes has been escalating faster than that of primary homes, which themselves have been growing at a schooner's clip. In some areas, certain resort homes have risen 200 to 300 percent in price in just three years. Prices that were once a bargain are now so high they saddle buyers with much higher mortgage costs.

Second, while rental rates grow they have been restrained because, as more owners rush their holiday homes into rentals, the inventory of available homes in many areas is growing faster than demand. Saturate the market, watch the prices go down. It's my hope that this trend will reverse as the industry continues to pull guests away from hotels/motels and into our rentals.

Third, owners are also being targeted by governments for increased lodging and property taxes. As the industry becomes more visible, politicians love to reach into landlord pockets by further increasing costs with regulations and licensing.

Last, but not least, other operating costs are also growing and often faster than rentals rates. Supplies, electricity and other utilities will do nothing but go ever upward and, yes, faster than rental rates and income.


Throughout history, real estate has pretty much always been a safe long-term investment. It's said that 80% of the wealth in the US was gained through real property. Primary homes have been a good source of security for owners with prices rising steadily, if only moderately for a great many years, with only periodic downturns and corrections. On occasion owners have had to sell personal residences at a loss but, in general, home owners could expect to recover and even profit from their homes if they just wait long enough.

Commercial real estate has been a long-term investment winner but the larger the property, the more expertise the owner or managers needs to exhibit.

Real estate prices have grown rapidly in recent years and will continue to do so, and the most savvy of investors will buy wisely, operate tightly and sell when the time is right. But not everyone can do so. The chance of easy money in vacation rental homes has gone away. Just as the chance of building an espresso stand into a huge corporate automaton are long past.


Does all of this sound like too much "The sky is falling?" Sadly, no.

There is really only one proven reason (and there has always only been one) for buying a vacation rental: to offset the costs of a property that is truly a second home. This was the goal for vacation home ownership for decades, and is still a worthy one.

If you select a home you love, in an area you want to spend time in for many years, if you invest considerable time, know how to operate a business, can afford to allow time to build up your vacation rental business and have reasonable expectations of offsetting your costs then second home ownership is a wonderful undertaking.

If you think you can beat the system by buying cheap, remodeling smartly, marketing intensely then lucking out - you may, in fact, succeed. But you may also be setting yourself up for failure. The extraordinary gains of the last few years are unlikely to continue.

Please don't fall for those folks who would sell you a seminar, book, website or other services that primarily promotes the simplicity of making money. I appreciate their enthusiasm but only ask that prospective owners take those messages with a grain of salt. I hope the new owners now rushing into the industry will use the kind of caution all those espresso stand buyers now wish they had exercised.

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Author: William May – Volunteer, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0065 – 08/10/05

Why and How to use Contracts

By William May
Published: 07/15/05 Topics: Comments: 0

Some days I sound like a broken record. To question after question from well-meaning members I answer simply by starting another question: "What does your contract say?"

I am still amazed at how many owners and managers will allow a complete stranger - someone they've never known - to occupy their very expensive second homes that are often hundreds or thousands of miles from their primary residence without requiring that person to sign a comprehensive and enforceable contract.

Sure, some folks send out a piece of paper as a confirmation. Smarter owners send out a piece of paper and ask the guest to sign it. Unfortunately, pieces of paper are not necessarily contracts. Unless you are a lawyer or a professional manager you may not be aware of the pitfalls that incomplete, inaccurate or illegal contracts can cause you.

I don't know which amazes me more, owners who don't use a contract or those who use a short, incomplete document. Both carry significant risks.


Did you know that should the foundation of a dispute come down to a paragraph, sentence or clause that is "ambiguous," the court will rule against the person who wrote the contract? How could they do otherwise? The person who wrote the contract had the chance to do it correctly, but if they failed to be clear and the court must reach some kind of conclusion then they need a basis on which to conclude an undecidable manner. Their decision? Judges will rule against the person who wrote the document. There is really no other way to reach a conclusion and, when you think about it, there is really no other way to complete the matter other than to use a rule most owners have never heard about.

Here is another tiny detail that could easily sink your ship. What is the difference between the legal term CANCEL and TERMINATE? Like most laymen, I used to think those were pretty much the same thing. Alas, they are not. Terminating an agreement stops the agreement at some juncture during the relationship. For example, if a guest was to stay a week and asked to leave after the fourth day (due to a family emergency, say) the guest would still be obligated to pay for the first four days - if you allowed a termination.

Cancellation, on the other hand, means to wipe-out the agreement, putting each party back to where they started before the agreement. If that same guest asked to "Cancel" the agreement after four days he is really asking to leave and get ALL his money back. You could argue the impossibility of refunding four day's worth of rent which might convince a judge. Then again, if it's not present in the contract, it might not.

Ultimately, the best route is to understand and use terminology correctly; don't agree to a cancellation if you really intended to allow a termination.


Q: A guest stayed in my house and broke a window. Can I charge them for it?

A: It depends on what your contract says. If you have a well written damage clause you can probably withhold it from the damage deposit.

Q: My last guest called frantically to apologize. (Never a good sign) They told me they backed into the garage door, denting it so severely it won't open. Is it fair to charge them?

A: It depends on what your contract says. Your paperwork should make it clear the guest is responsible for any and all damage and it must say it is your right to determine the damage and costs of repair.

Q: The guest wants me to get three bids for denting the garage door. But I need to get it fixed before the next guest. Can I do that?

A: It depends on what your contract says. The guest should have no right to dictate your behavior when it's his actions that caused the problem.

Q: A guest booked last minute and after they left, their check bounced. What should I do?

A: It depends on what your contract says. Is there a provision that allows you to charge fees for NSF checks and to collect in court if necessary or to turn the matter over to a collection agency? Does you agreement allow you to check their credit?

Q: The guest was supposed to do the dishes and laundry. I know these are small things but can I charge them for extra cleaning?

A: It depends on what your contract says. Does the guest pay a set cleaning fee or a "normal and usual" fee with extra charges for not following requirements?

Q: The neighbors say my guests are too loud and have sued me for the last group. Can I recover my legal fees from the guest?

A: It depends on what your contract says. Is the Guest liable for costs they cause you to incur? They should be. You simply must require guests to be liable for costs they cause you to incur. What if those legal fees run into the thousands of dollars? What if you have to defend against a city or county citation? The person who causes the problem must pay the damages. You'll be able to shift that burden to the guest if it's in your agreement.

Q: My current guest said it was just husband, wife and two children. Now I find out they have two other couples and six more children in the house. What can I do?

A: It depends on what your contract says. Does it specify exactly how many adults and how many children?

Q: One guest had a party at my house but said they were only there for a few hours. Because they didn't spend the night he says they are not technically guests and he shouldn't have to pay extra. Is that right?

A: It depends on what your contract says. How does it define a guest? Does it say anyone who comes to the house at any time, for any length of time is an occupant? Does it say that only registered guests are allowed on the property? If you are clear, the guest is obligated to pay for extra occupants.

Q: The guests showed up two hours early just as my housekeepers were finishing. How do I stop them from doing that?

A: It depends on what your contract says. Your guests will argue the house was ready, so they should be able to move in. You shouldn't need to argue. If your contract spells out fees for early check-in or late checkout you can deduct them from the guest's deposit. It won't stop the next guest from trying the same trick, but at least you'll be compensated for the inconvenience.

Q: Recent guests left SEVEN cans of garbage behind. Can I charge them for hauling and dumping the excess?

A: It depends on what your contract says. If you defined how much garbage they can have or if you have a nice sign on the wall in the garage instructing them how to and quantity to dump and if your contract requires them to follow posted rules then you'd have every right to charge them.

Q: My rental is full of white, French provincial furniture so I worry about allowing dirty children in the home. Can I require guests be over a certain age?

A: It depends on what your contract says - at least to some extent. Most contracts require the responsible party to be a certain age. In many jurisdictions nightly rentals are specifically exempt from landlord/tenant law as that might prohibit restrictions on age. Even the appearance of a no-children clause might subject you to claims of discrimination. Ask a local attorney and then form your contract to their instructions.

Q: Hurricane Dennis is bearing down on us and a dozen guests have called to cancel. Do I have to allow that? Even those that are months in the future?

A: It depends on what your contract says. Is it cancelable - especially for natural disasters? How far in advance can they cancel? A long-term landlord wouldn't let tenants out of a lease, so why should you? You'll still have to pay the mortgage won't you?

Q: Charging guests cancellation fees sounds so scrooge-like. Can I just charge them a cancellation fee rather than the entire amount?

A: It depends on what your contract says. Do you have a cancellation policy in your paperwork? Is it clear on dates and fees? If so you'll be on firm footing.

Q: I'm selling my home and the buyer doesn't want to rent it out. I hate to inconvenience the guest but I stand to make a lot of money on the sale. Can I cancel the guest?

A: It depends on what your contract says. Without clarity the Guest could require you pay damages for his inconvenience. No owner can plan their life far into the future. But if the agreement allows you to cancel (even if the guest can not cancel) then you should have the right to cancel the agreement without penalty.

Q: The guest has been rude but didn't really do anything wrong. How can I stop that?

A: On this one, it doesn't matter what your contract says. There's really no way to charge people for being difficult. But I hope you submit their names to the VROA "Unwelcome Guest List."


By now you've probably very tired of hearing that so many problems are governed by your contract, but in this litigation-centric society, it is required. The idea of using a well-crafted guest contract is a fantastic and time, money and hassle-saving idea. In fact, it's really a requirement for any well run rental and knowledgeable owner.

But don't despair if you haven't been careful with paperwork, there are a few other routes that can offer some protection. For example, most jurisdictions have laws spelling out the rules for lodging operators and guests alike. Unlike landlord/tenant laws, a lodging law provides good support for the operators of lodging facilities. This is because an operator has obligations to parties other than himself and guests. Other guests and neighbors, for instance, must be considered when offering lodging.

Under state or local laws, guests who intentionally violate the conditions of the lodging law may be guilty of defrauding an Innkeeper (or similar specific terms depending on the jurisdiction). Guests are not allowed run out with all your towels, or fail to pay the rent or for damage they cause. Their conduct and behavior is usually subject to the standards you set especially if those are in writing and approved by both parties prior to occupancy. Any violation of the standards such as theft, noise, over occupancy etc. may allow you to immediately evict a violator.

You've probably heard the horror stories landlords have when trying to evict long-term tenants. But with short-term rentals the owner's ability to intercede and resolve problems must be swift and clear. If you see activities that are contrary to law (such as under-age drinking, violation of parking or noise rules, etc.) you have the ability to call the police and have them escort the guest off the premises immediately.


To put together a comprehensive guest agreement, you don't have to start from scratch. Members can log on to ( for sample agreements. We recommend using a "Booking Confirmation" and "Terms and Conditions" sheet. It's short and succinct and packed with the rights and privileges of both Owner and Guest alike.

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Author: William May – Volunteer, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0064 – 07/15/05

Search Engines Hijacked by Rental Directories

By William May
Published: 06/03/05 Topics: Comments: 0

Long time vacation rental managers and owners have watched the Internet ebb and flow.

What began as a strong new tool has recently lost its way in the ever changing commercialization of the web. What started out as a wonderful and effective service has fallen victim to the large companies who have insights and tools that allow them to hijack the search engines causing them to loose effectiveness due to the ever changing nature of the beast.

At first the web was a wonderful new tool that allowed guests, for the first time, to search out wonderfully unique lodging. Why rent a basic, bland hotel room when it was possible to inspect, price and reserve that perfect vacation spot?

Along the way, the use of handy digital cameras, 360 virtual tours, long and complete descriptions and on-line references afforded prospective visitors the confidence required to lay down big bucks on a rental hundreds or thousands of miles away.

Quickly, web based directories of homes in locations worldwide served to direct guests to those hard to find locations. Most of these sites were rudimentary in their technology and yet, they were prolific in their spider-like covering of the web.


I can't figure out why the older, less intuitive and (frankly) uglier sites still dominate the Vacation Rental Listing category. The only thing I can think of -harking back to my advertising/marketing school 30 years ago - is the fact that there is no better marketing feature than being first.

Today's business climate is often still dominated by those who came first or were, at least, the first visible.

Even Microsoft is honest enough to never flaunt itself as the best and the brightest. They let a new idea start and then they pounce on it with all their might - sometimes taking over the category entirely.

In recent years there have been failures in some areas, especially in internet searching, but what they have going for themselves - mostly - is that they were the first at being the biggest.

Before Microsoft, brand names have been dominated by those who came first, Xerox and IBM come to mind.


NOTE: My apology to members for missing a number of newsletters. We are currently redeveloping the ( website in order to activate the ( owners directory. We promise to have that done soon and to get the newsletters back on schedule. We are a volunteer organization and always welcome offers to help.


In the vacation rental search engine arena, the early entrants like (, (, ( and ( seem to own the market - not because they are offer a better product, but because they are not innovative. They stick with the tried and true rather than advance the cause of their customers with better products, design and customer service.

I particularly like the work that ( and ( are doing. Pay-Per-Click is a great tool if property owners have the time to constantly manage it.

These services have a better product. Now if the consumers will just agree by flocking to those sites then vacation rental owners, managers and yes guests will all benefit. Let's hope.

By the way if you market leaders are reading, please do your customers a favor and upgrade the look and feel of your sites. Its fine to take our money but we'd like to see continuing improvements along the way. Hey, even Detroit shines up the cars every year. I'd love nothing better than to see the industry stabilize around a few ever growing sites but that's going to require you to become the best - not just the first.


In the past its been my constant mantra to owners that every house should have its own website. Listing your home only on a few of the listing directories is simply not enough.

Should your listing be yanked (yes this happens) or the directory change its prioritization of homes or geographic areas all your nice leads could dry up in an instant. (Yes this happens too).

Plus you gotta remember that sending guests to your page on a web directory as your primary website is helping to promote your competition.

After seeing your property they will undoubtedly find your next-door competitor. You don't see Chevy advertising Ford products do you? If your house is anything less than the nicest home at the cheapest price you are promoting the web directory and your competitors are your loss.

Plus indicating a website for your property such as ( informs guests you may not be technically competent and that might mean you are not competent in other facets of rentals as well. I know that's a stretch but web customers today expect to see good domain names and info.

The only safe way to advertise is to put up your own site with your own domain name. Today, having a custom site isn't that difficult or costly, you can buy a program like FrontPage, or use one of the automated systems (, ( and ( look good) or find a local designer to do it.

Using a designer is your best bet of getting an interesting site and prices are far less than they used to be (mostly because the designers are using programming tools to save time).

By having your own site you can utilize PPC advertising, paid print advertising and still put your information on the Web Vacation Rental Directories. All of those should allow our listing to link to your custom site. If they don't you should scream bloody murder because they are distancing you from your customers and that is never a good idea.


So now on to my biggest complaints of recent months.

First, I support PPC listings managed by (, (, ( all of which post paid listings conspicuously on their thousands of websites. They can be cost effective and, in general, usually disclose themselves as paid advertising.

But you may have noticed that the "Unsponsored" listings recently on (, (, ( and most of the other big portals have LOST their effectiveness for Vacation Rental Owners. Here is the proof:

Try typing in a keyword from your destination or any location you like to visit. In almost all cases the top dozen or more free listings will show URL's that always begin with the URL of a web directory followed by often unclear words, numbers or symbols.

Clicking on those listings will take you to the web directory and not always to a page for your state, town or even the home that was featured in the search engine listing.

This is a tragedy for the guest as well as the owner. It means the value of search to find what you want quickly and accurately has been destroyed.

It is true that some guests are looking for a long list of rentals in a given area. They are shopping for features and price. But perhaps the most physiologically interesting aspect of vacation rentals is that many, maybe most, guests are seeking something unique and unusual.

They love to stumble upon that perfect getaway or hidden home or even funky cabin. What makes a rental valuable to visitors is that it IS NOT a hotel. It is not a cookie cutter.

You may be wondering how the listing directories get such high placement in the search engines. The answer is that they spend full time trying to beat the system. It's an technical know-how game that most owners and management companies don't have the time to invest in. Worst of all, it is common in the free listings.

And while I'm at it, many members are telling me they are getting discontinued on Google, Overture Paid and other PPC sites because their click through rate is not high enough in relationship to the "impressions" (views) their keywords generate. Sometimes this is because the keyword is too generic, such as Hawaii or Florida. But if that's true how come the web directories don't get knocked off the PPC list?

Just as with the free listings, they often don't have even one home in the area for which they purchased the Keyword. That's not just dirty pool its misleading and - again - begins to destroy the value of the search to consumers.


You may have noticed a new feature on Google and a few other search engines that allow you to only search for businesses in a given area. The idea is that if you want to order a delivery pizza you don't want a list of pizza joints three states away. The idea is good but the execution is a mess.

Did you know that Google uses Yellow pages listings - of all crazy things - (and some other techniques) to try to determine what is local? That means if you aren't in the yellow pages (and most owners are not because they live far away) then their home may never show in Google Local. At the same time, Google is more than happy to post non-local Vacation Rental Directory PPC ads prominently on the local pages.

Again, the unique aspect of local merchants and rentals gets usurped by those companies sophisticated enough misuse the system.

The worst part is the fact that it is the guest who loses out on the chance to rent a unique, interesting and far more valuable home. I hope Google and others will get this kink worked out one day, but alas, technology has its limits. The way to find out if something is local is to get in the car and drive by the front door, something computers can't do and search engines can't afford.


In the end, the story of misdirection, inaccurate free and PPC listings and the decline of search engine value to vacation rentals is really a problem of too many middlemen.

If search worked correctly, why should you have to advertise on a web directory in order to be found by a guest looking for a cool cabin, condo or home in your area?

What value does the directory serve when it has to bump local vendors out of the search engines in order to send them through their sites only to find the local guy they bumped. Seems like a catch-22 doesn't it?

And currently its getting worse and not better. Everytime you buy an ad on a directory that usurps your position in the search engines you give them more power to do it.

And what can you do about it? Probably very little. But I encourage you to send letters (not email) to the president of each search engine explaining the problem.

In the end, they are the ones who set the rules that are currently a disservice to their customers. We can't be the only industry losing out due to these new methods. I know those presidents want to make a profit for their business. Our problem may seem small. But the less accurate their service the sooner customers will find new and better ways of ferreting out great vacation rental homes.


Sometimes I am thankful at how lucky the rental business has been to have the internet come along and make business better or even possible. In general the changes to the web, search engines and PCs have been positive for our industry.

But the new trend in inaccurate free and paid listings is costing many owners and rental management companies in lost revenue. If something isn't done to make search engines more accurate they will continue to be less valuable. In the end we'll be out searching for new and better ways to advertise. It will happen.



As always, we seek your input. Please share your tips, techniques, compliments and complaints on this or any other subject by writing us at


These beautiful homes are located on Miami Beach down in Florida. They sure look nice in the pictures. (



You do a terrific job with VORA, so I thought we could really benefit from a membership to your organization. Look forward to seeing you soon.




We're here to help. Always. I hope (and am sure) you will find your membership useful.


Wm. May

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Author: William May – Volunteer, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0063 – 06/03/05

Breathtaking Photographs Are Closer Than You Think

By Jonathan McIntyre
Published: 04/19/05 Topics: Comments: 0

Nothing, and I mean nothing, can help sell your rental more quickly to a perspective tenant than a great photo.

There is little that ameliorates a poor website more than clear, representative and numerous photos highlighting the best your vacation property has to offer.

Does your home have a beautiful hand carved mantle over a fireplace? Photograph it. Can you see the Hanging gardens of Babylon out of the master bath window? Photograph it. Is your home tastefully done with pleasant furniture? Photograph it. The old adage is absolutely correct, a picture is worth a thousand words or even more.

I've had the opportunity here to be intimately involved in the marketing of vacation homes over the internet, and I must say that I have learned much about what makes a great photograph. I've seen great photos, I've seen horrible photos.

I've taken classes and seminars, I've been to a plethora of photography shows, I've done freelance photography work, but honestly, getting a breathtaking shot is not nearly as difficult as it seems (or the photographers would have you believe). All one needs is a digital camera (or even a film camera), a computer, and some time.


First things first: take your time! It's very apparent when someone spent a scant 15 minutes shooting a home. The images looked rushed: dark and crooked, I wouldn't want to stay in a slanted home with no lights. Take your time.

When I shoot a home it ends up taking me at least an hour and a half, more depending on the size. In each room you should take a moment to look around, get a feeling for the space. Try different angles, high, low, behind the bed looking out, through the shower door, on a ladder in the kitchen, it makes your photographs look unique, thereby imbuing a sense of style to your home.

Believe me; interesting photographs do wonders for your property.


Let's take a moment to discuss some of the technical aspects of shooting architecture. While it's nice to have a $2000 camera, it's by no means necessary. I would say a decent digital camera with at least 3 mega pixels should be all one needs to get a great image.

I shoot a Nikon D70 (one of those $2000 beauties) and have been extremely happy with it, but I've also done many homes with a lower-end CoolPix model.

The images are comparable (the D70 is better, but the others take stunning photographs). Most of the modern digital cameras take great images at high resolution. I suggest buying the largest memory card that is within your budget and shooting at the highest resolution your camera can do,

it leaves you with the most options when it comes to the final destination for the photos (web, pamphlets, printouts to make your friends jealous, etc.)

Regardless of your choice of digital camera, I would say the most important feature you can shop for is a wide enough field of view to be able to shoot interiors without cutting off half of the room. Go to you local camera shop (open the Yellow pages, no BestBuys or CompUSAs) and play with a model for a while, you'll be glad you did. Not only will they let you examine the cameras closely, but they will answer any and all questions you may have about them.

Find a camera you like and walk around the store taking photos, see how wide you can get the lens and if you can get most of the room in frame.

Another nice feature to have in a digital camera is what's called in the biz, a "Horseshoe mount". Basically it's a mount at the top of a camera where one can plug in accessories - most notably a flash - and have it draw power and sync with the camera.


This would seem like a no-brainer, but when shooting a room, don't forget to turn the lights on. Turn every light in the room on: the overhead lights, the bedside table lamp, all of them, it will add much needed light to the frame. I'll be frank: a light, airy photograph makes any room seem larger, and more pleasant than it actually is.

I don't care if you're shooting a multi-million dollar mansion or a one bedroom condo, a dark, ugly image will make your room look small and dirty. Turn the lights on and make sure the image is level.

To help the lighting situation, I would recommend purchasing a camera-mountable flash unit that plugs in to the horseshoe I mentioned earlier. A nice flash unit that you can tilt and aim can illuminate those hard to light areas at the edges of the image.

If you plan on shooting many homes you might look into buying a set of interior lights that you can move and set up in each room to provide even more light. A fine set of lights can be had for under $200 and can more than pay for themselves.


Once you have shot your pictures and unloaded them to your computer you have a plethora of options awaiting you. How to resize? How to color correct? Should I crop? Granted, many of these take some practice to do correctly, but there are many things you can do right now to make your photos better.

First, get yourself some decent software. If you've got the budget, the best is Adobe Photoshop CS - the industry standard. It will do everything you need and much, much more, but if $700 is a little bit too much for you, Adobe makes a simpler program called Photoshop Elements that can do a lot of what its bigger brother can do for a fraction of the price.

Also, a company called Jasc Software makes a program called Paint Shop Pro that is similar to Photoshop but again much cheaper.

Once you've got your software, pick out the best photographs taken that day. Look for representatives from each room, pick the one that is clearest, brightest, and generally conveys the best sense of the room and save them to a separate folder.

Once you've skimmed the best off the top you can go about manipulating them. Generally when I go about this, my process becomes fairly regimented.

Of course each photo is different, but there are generally about four or five steps to each photo I tend to go through. First I correct the brightness. In Photoshop I go to Image " Adjustments " Curves and lighten the dark areas of the photographs, generally shifting the brightness up about 3 fold or more.

Then I adjust the color. Some homes are painted excessively warm colors - browns, tans, reds - and I tend to make them a little "cooler" (shifted more toward the blue hues). This makes the images more as to what the eye actually sees when it looks at a room, as a camera tends to amplify color.

After color adjustments, I (if the image needs it) crop the image to remove excess and refine the focus. For example when I shoot an exterior I usually tend to cut out excess blue sky that lends nothing to the photograph.

When I'm happy with the way the photograph looks I go about resizing the image.

Generally for the web we keep three sizes on hand: large (600 pixels wide), medium (350 pixels wide) and small (100 pixels wide). I would definitely recommend using the three sizes because it gives you versatility later on down the road. Different listing sites require different sizes, which may not be what you use on your own site, etc. I find with the 600, 350 and 100 pixel sizes give us the most options.

There is much to say about resizing and I could go on, but I won't. Just remember to keep the file sizes down (choose medium quality when saving jpeg files), and always sharpen your image after resizing it. (When one shrinks an image it tends to become blurry, by running a sharpening filter after resizing you can combat this and leave yourself with clean, clear images.)


Shooting great images of your vacation home is not difficult. All it takes is a little patience, a decent camera and some practice at manipulation to achieve fantastic photos sure to sell your unit to the next guest. Nothing makes a home seem more livable than pleasing photos.

Just remember to take your time while shooting, (try new angles, shoot lots of photos, picking the best ones later), to turn on the lights (!), to adjust the brightness and color on the computer and then to sharpen your images after resizing them. You don't need tons of text to sell your unit, the old adage is absolutely correct; a great picture is worth more than a thousand words.

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Author: Jonathan McIntyre, MayPartners Advertising
Blog #: 0062 – 04/19/05

Donate a Week

By Christopher S. Cain
Published: 04/12/05 Topics: Comments: 0

If you use or rent your vacation property 100 percent of the time, don't bother to read this article. If, however, you have some vacant weeks that you cannot rent, trade, or barter, here's another option: Give them away.

Donate a week to your favorite charity. Many fund raisers hold events including an auction, or silent auction, with items typically including dinners for two, spa treatments, golf greens fees, and trips. Bidders might get a great deal or the price might end up above market value, but it doesn't matter, as the proceeds all go to the charity.

Tsunami Relief

Perhaps your Chamber of Commerce is holding a silent auction to raise money for the Tsunami relief effort. You could donate a week at your vacation property to help raise money for these victims.

What's your favorite charity? Get involved. The American Cancer Society, YMCA, American Heart Association, Boys and Girls Clubs, Coalition for the Homeless, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the American Diabetes Association, the Salvation Army, the Red Cross, and Habitat for Humanity will all welcome your participation.

At the Florida Association of Realtors (FAR), where I worked as Director of Media Relations, I donated a week at our Kiawah Island, SC, vacation villa to a fund raising auction for the FAR scholarship fund. By donating a vacation, I turned a vacant week into funds to help a student.

Charity Begins At Home

Here's another charity consideration: they say charity begins at home, so don't forget to use your vacation property to provide some fun and excitement to those closest to you. Generosity is a good thing.

If you know that your property is vacant for a certain week, give the week to your brother or sister who needs some time away with their family. Or, block out a week during prime time to give to your sister to celebrate her 20th marriage anniversary.

A week at your vacation property might be the ideal college graduation present for your son or daughter. Or, a great wedding gift.

About the Author -- Chris Cain wrote "Maximize Your Resort Property Investment" (1984), "Road Map to Your Vacation Property Dream" (1998), and dozens of articles on vacation property. He is a nationally-known speaker on the topic and he sells vacation property in Orlando, FL. Chris bases his writings and counseling on his 16 year ownership experience of a seaside villa at Kiawah Island, SC. Contact Chris Cain at

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Author: Christopher S. Cain, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0061 – 04/12/05

Never tell Guests a Lie

By William May
Published: 03/21/05 Topics: Comments: 0

In 1989 Robert Fulghum, wrote a perfectly mundane and strangely earth shaking book. The gigantic best seller was called "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten." I'd like to suggest you read it if you haven't already. And if you have read the book, take a moment to skim it again for those little nuggets of truth Fulghum so simply spells out.

Maybe I found the "Kindergarten" book profound because my son was born just weeks before I picked it up. Over the years I have referred back to it frequently as I've watched my newborn grow into a six feet five inches tall fifteen year old man. As all parents will agree, time has passed far too quickly. I am surprised at how many times over the years Mr. Fulghum's words would pop to mind when dealing with a certain kind of people.

I won't go into all of the twenty or so rules Fulghum describes in his book. But I would like to dwell on a couple of his thoughts and, if he'll forgive me for being so commercial, apply them to our little Vacation Rental Industry.


Certainly every business owner and probably every vacation rental owner has run into customers/guests who tell outright lies. One owner told me recently he was amazed at how often people developed life threatening cancer when, many months after making a reservation, they are reminded there is a cancellation fee. "Please help me," they beg, "I'm so sick I couldn't possibly go on vacation." It is equally miraculous to see how quickly they recover when they decide to take that reservation rather than risk losing money. Maybe the cure for cancer rests in the pocket book.

Allow me to share a little horror story.

We happen to own a number of ski-resort rentals just an hour's drive from downtown Seattle. The proximity makes them a popular destination but also attracts people who want to book them for parties of one sort or another. Without exaggeration, last year we turned away 100 prom-party requests. I really don't fault the 17 year old boys and girls who try to rent a house as long as they are honest about it (We gently turn them down, of course). But I do find some parents reprehensible.

For example - a woman I'll call Collen was very careful to say the June 10th Saturday single night rental was, "Really just for my husband and her kids." We weren't born yesterday and are very careful about the reservations we accept during that time of the year. We require a bigger deposit, and apply group rules and rates. Perhaps most importantly, we arrange for the caretaker to meet every family in person in May and June.

When Collen arrived the caretaker noticed something odd, she showed up on foot. Strange considering this is in a semi-remote area. As the caretaker showed her around the house he noticed several car loads of teenagers down the road a ways. They were milling about as if they waiting for something or someone. So he was careful to let her know, "I'll be working across the street at the other house, if you need anything just waive. We'll be able to see each other."

He watched in amusement as Colleen proceeded to sit in the living room for two hours, using her cell phone to talk animatedly with the kids in the cars, who were becoming increasingly impatient and loud. When it was clear the caretaker wasn't going to leave, Colleen walked back to the cars, got in one and left, never to return.

A month later she requested a chargeback on her credit card claiming the home was actually occupied by someone else. We were perplexed. The credit card honored the credit and debited our account so we filed a small claims action for the $1,000 involved (This is a very big house). Prior to the court date she contacted another tenant who had been staying across the street and asked their assistance. The other guests were from a local charity that we give free use of the residence for the disabled children they support. Their group has a van with their name and phone number on it and Collen had the gall to call them and ask, "Would you be willing to say you were actually staying in Unit #9 rather than in #12 because that's the only way I can win in court."

Thankfully the charity folks immediately sent us a letter explaining the deceit. We mailed Collen a copy and the day before trial she paid in full.

I only tell you this horror story because it was all a chain reaction of lies. First she said the rental was for her family, then she lied to the caretaker and the credit card company. If you have never experienced such a booking I hope you will take measures to protect yourself. Set up firm rules, understand the laws involved and be vigilant because you could be targeted.


It is an easy thing to blame others for being devious. But turning the mirror on ourselves can be illuminating. Recently I've read in a number of posts on owner blogs about how to handle a variety of difficult questions. I've been amazed at how disingenuous and dangerous some of the suggested answers could be.

During one particular conversation an owner asked, "I have only one week-long booking this summer and now I have someone who wants a three month stay, what do I do?" Immediately other owners suggested, "Tell the first booking you're selling the unit and cancel their stay so you can take the longer one." And, "Tell them you accidentally double booked the dates." Or that old stand by, "Tell them you're sick and wouldn't be able to clean the house for them."

You can almost always tell when someone is advising you to lie because it starts with , "tell them ...."

And this kind of owner feedback is not unusual. In another situation an owner asked, "What do I tell a caller if they don't sound old enough?" They were advised to say "Tell them I'm not sure I have the dates available can you tell me who is in your party." Qualifying guests is important but you don't need to conjure a reason for asking questions. It's your business to run as you see fit (within the boundaries of the law of course) so skip the "I'm not sure I have the dates" bit, and be straightforward about it.

The key to finding answers to difficult questions is to speak in the most "general" terms first, expanding on specific details only when necessary.

Let's take a look at the three month booking we mentioned earlier. To save it you could say to the people who booked the conflicting week, " I have a conflict with another request, would you consider coming at another time. It would really help me out." Notice I didn't say reservation because we are dealing with a new request that is not yet a reservation. The devil is in the details. And it's not necessary to explain the three month request or any other details.

Another approach might be, "Something has come up, could I move you to a bigger better unit at my cost?" In most cases, if you can reward the guest for their trouble, like offering a bigger or better unit, you will find them especially flexible. Earning a three month stay is worth giving a little incentive to the person with the one week reservation.

But whatever you do, don't resort to lies, fibs, tall-tales, untruths, falsehoods, misinformation, half-truths, shams, make-believes or deceptions to get your way. First, it simply isn't honest, second, it's hard to feel good about your self if you conscious is nagging at you constantly and third you too could be cited for fraudulent activity.


In my eyes Fulghum's most important rule is his shortest. He says we should have all learned in kindergarten how to "play fair." Universal adherence to those two short eloquent words could just change the world and certainly should control most of the actions in any industry or business. Part of playing fair of course is to "Never tell a lie" because lying is, by itself, an attempt to NOT play fair.

As an owner, you have a right to operate your business as you want and you are entitled to protect that business but you should do so honestly and fairly.

Key to leveling a fair playing field is having a guest agreement that lays out the ground rules and works on your behalf. A guest agreement should include provisions that allow you to cancel a stay for violations of occupancy, noise, smoking, pets and anything else you prohibit.

In most states and many countries, short-terms rentals of less than 30 days are governed under "Lodging Laws" and may be specifically exempt from "Landlord Tenant" laws. This gives the owner sweeping power to protect the sanctity of their Inn (As many statues call them.) And that can include termination of an agreement for violation of any local, state or federal law.

Collen's request for the other guests to lie for her is called, "fraud." A guest who plans a similar deception in order to use your home in an improper manner is likewise committing fraud. That is sufficient reason to cancel their contract and maybe without refund.

What if the guest gives you an easy out like they fail to pay their deposit by the deadline? Haphazardly adjusting your policies to be stricter simply isn't fair if you didn't disclose the changes in advance. If your contract says you can unilaterally cancel a reservation of a guest who fails to pay on time and without a grace period or notice to them, then you have the right to enforce that penalty. Don't be afraid to do so.

Returning to our example, that means if the first group is already behind on their deposit you can take the three month reservation and send the first a letter explaining the cancellation. It may seem harsh, but it 's legal and you didn't even have to tell a lie. The guest has no one to blame but themselves in that scenario.

Playing fair does not mean you have to give guests special rights or privileges, it simply means being upfront about the rules you are playing by.


Oh, by the way some of Robert Fulgham's other rules are things like "Put things back where you found them" and "Clean up your own mess" among others. Boy don't we all wish every guest would read the book and follow those examples. Our jobs and maybe just the world in general would be a lot better off if everyone had been properly trained in Kindergarten.

You can learn more about Robert Fulghan and his books at ( and, of course, you can find new and used copies on many vacation rental websites include (

About the Author -- Along with his wife Penny Taylor, Wm. bought his first rental in 1999 and many more since. His experience as an author, speaker and leader in other industries led him to founding the first trade association for vacation rental - VROA - whose sole purpose is to help owners increase revenue, decrease expenses and have more fun. As well as being VROA's director and one of the newsletter columnists he manages his family businesses which include inns, rentals, commercial real estate, internet businesses and a marketing practice. You can reach him at

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Author: William May – Volunteer, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0060 – 03/21/05

Privately-Owned Vacation Property Offers Outstanding Value to Renters

By Christopher S. Cain
Published: 03/08/05 Topics: Comments: 0

In November, 2004, my wife Terry and I visited Paris for seven days. We stayed in a postage stamp sized hotel room in the Latin Quarter about two blocks from Notre Dame Cathedral. We toured the Eiffel Tower, Notre-Dame Cathedral, Versailles, Sainte-Chappelle, the Arc de Triomphe, the Musee d'Orsay, the Louvre (two days), and went to a show at Lido's. We discovered, or rather stumbled upon another highlight of our trip - an open air market half a block from our hotel. The market operated only three days a week and featured the freshest meats, poultry, seafood, cheeses, breads, and produce from the outlying farms and countryside. There was a black wild boar, or at least the hide, on display in the meat section. Pheasants and other game birds, feathers intact, hung from the rafters of the butcher shop. While we had many great meals including a few gourmets dining experiences in Paris, we missed the opportunity to prepare some of our own dinners. Both Terry and I love to cook and we have never seen such quality, fresh ingredients. But, we had no facilities to cook for ourselves. Nor did we have much space in our hotel room. This is one of those times when you hit yourself on the forehead with the palm of your hand. "Why didn't we rent a fully furnished apartment or condo rather than a hotel room?" This revelation has prompted me to revisit some of my own writings. Here is some of my advice from years past: Your vacation property provides value, fun, and excitement not just for you and your family, but for anyone who might rent your property. Vacationers will find a "home away from home" with all the privacy and convenience they expect. Consider the vacation options: a resort hotel room, a cramped cabin on a cruise, or a privately-owned vacation house or condo at the destination of your choice. Count the following among the many advantages a privately-owned vacation property has over a resort hotel room: 1. Savings on meals - A furnished kitchen allows vacationers to prepare many of their own meals. During a week's vacation, dining in, rather than going to restaurants for every meal translates into several hundred dollars in savings on food alone. 2. More room - A vacation home, condo, or villa usually has more space than a resort hotel room. Often, the condo or villa has a living room, dining room, kitchen, and perhaps a porch, balcony, or deck. When you're on vacation, it's nice to have some space. 3. Beautiful furnishings - Many vacation properties reflect the good taste and pride of the owners with fine furnishings and decorator touches. 4. More privacy - Often the homes, villas, and condos are more secluded, more private than a room in a hotel. In a resort hotel, you may have revelers roaming the halls at all hours. 5. Fully equipped - In addition to a furnished kitchen with microwave and refrigerator, the vacation property may have a washer and dryer. Guests can wash their golf, tennis, ski, or beachwear each day. Hidden benefit: less luggage to haul on the trip. 6. Mini bar vs. refrigerator - Take a single beer from the hotel mini-bar or take a six-pack from the refrigerator at the condo. Guess what? The cost is about the same. Mini-bars provide great profit centers for hotels. Refrigerators, microwaves, VCRs, washers and dryers provide excellent convenience and savings for vacationers. 7. Better rates - Despite these many advantages, privately-owned vacation property often costs less per week or per day than a hotel room at the same resort. We had a wonderful trip to Paris. But, when we return - and I hope it is soon - we will take the extra step of finding an apartment or condo to rent. About the Author -- Chris Cain wrote "Maximize Your Resort Property Investment" (1984), "Road Map to Your Vacation Property Dream" (1998), and dozens of articles on vacation property. He is a nationally-known speaker on the topic and he sells vacation property in Orlando, FL. Chris bases his writings and counseling on his 16 year ownership experience of a seaside villa at Kiawah Island, SC. Contact Chris Cain at

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Author: Christopher S. Cain, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0059 – 03/08/05

Concierge Services Can Save You Money

By Emily Glossbrenner
Published: 02/28/05 Topics: Comments: 0

These are exciting times for anyone who owns or is considering buying a vacation rental property. After decades of somnolence - which at least one dictionary defines as "a condition of semi-consciousness approaching coma" - the vacation rental field is crackling with activity.

A lot of that activity is driven by the internet. After all, thanks to the net, it has never been easier for a vacationer to locate and book a vacation rental. And it has never been easier (or cheaper) for owners to advertise their properties. So the question arises: "If the internet can bring me together with the folks who want to rent my place, why do I need a property management company or a rental agency? Why do I have to keep paying them 15 to 50 percent of my rental income?"

The answer is: you don't. But before severing your ties, you will definitely need to replace the maintenance and repair services these companies provide. For most of us, the trick is developing a network of trusted service people you can phone from wherever you happen to be when there's a problem at your vacation property. This takes a little doing, but it is usually worth the effort when you consider how much money you can save by managing things yourself. Still, you're always the "general contractor" and manager. And that can be a hassle, particularly if you happen to be on vacation yourself - say in the south of France - when your renters have a plumbing problem.

And what if you've just purchased your second home and don't know any tradespeople in the area? What if you have no idea who you should use as a cleaning service? What if you just need someone to come in to turn the water heater down or adjust the thermostat so that you're not paying more than is necessary to heat or cool your place when it is unoccupied?

Well, have we got a solution for you! It's called a "concierge service" or an "errand company." These small, very personal firms can do everything a property management company can do on the maintenance and management front - and more - and they will do it for far less money, charging by the hour or by the service performed, not a percentage of your rental income.

An hourly rate of between $20 and $25 is typical for any job that requires a car, like a trip to the store or a trip to check on your property. For work that can be done on the phone or via e-mail, like scheduling a tradesperson, confirming a renter's reservation or responding to renter questions, you might be billed at between $10 and $15 an hour.

A concierge service can have someone greet your guests when they arrive and turn over the keys. It can check your guests out and have someone make sure the cleaning service did everything it was supposed to do, while surveying the property for guest-caused damage or missing items. It can make sure that the refrigerator and pantry are appropriately stocked before the next guest arrives. And it can arrange for necessary maintenance or repairs. In fact, reviewing the Web sites of many concierge and errand companies gives you the impression that they can do just about anything.

To locate these kinds of services in your vacation rental area, do a Google search on "errand service" followed by your vacation area ZIP code. (Be sure to put the phrase "errand service" in quotes.) This will pull up most of the services you're interested in without also presenting all the hotels that offer "concierge services." Still, doing a second search on "concierge" and your target ZIP code is probably a good idea.

The next step is to go to the Web sites of the two main concierge and errand company associations. These are ( and ( You'll find searchable directories at both sites.

When choosing a concierge or errand service company, it is naturally a very good sign if they say they are insured and bonded. But you should probably ask to see the paperwork that backs this up. Don't be shy. You're going to be giving these folks full access to your second home. You have every right to make sure you know who you're dealing with, and no legitimate service will object.

References from satisfied customers are even more important. Ask for several, and then follow up by calling each person. You might also check with the Better Business Bureau to see if any complaints have been lodged against the company you're considering.

These steps are simple prudence. But there are three other points to bear in mind. First, this is a relatively new industry. It is growing rapidly, but at this writing, you may not have a lot of firms to choose from in your area. Second, only someone who is clever, energetic, and blessed with the entrepreneurial spirit would start a concierge/errand service. The slackers and slugs of the world wouldn't last five minutes. So the chances are good that you're dealing with quality people, regardless of the firm you choose.

Finally, "it's personal." Property management companies and rental agencies represent hundreds of property owners. Their account executives and customer service people may have wonderful, caring personalities. But at the end of the day, you're just another owner who's paying out several thousand dollars or more in fees and commissions each year.

Concierge and errand service companies, in contrast, usually consist of a single person or a married couple with a lot of contacts in the area. You deal directly with the owners of the company, and much of the time, they themselves will be doing the work. So the dynamic is much different than the property management company model. It's personal, as we said. And if the person who runs the concierge company doesn't do a good job, he or she will shortly be out of business.

Economic theoreticians and academics would probably have a term for it. (The word "convergence" comes to mind.) But the facts are these: The internet wasn't created to help property owners market and book their vacation rentals. But it does a superb job of doing so.

And the concierge business wasn't created to handle the management of vacation properties. It was created to help busy men and women deal with their never-ending "to-do" lists. But it just so happens that most of these services are also ideally suited to handling the kinds of things property management companies have traditionally done. And for * a lot less money*! (We recently discovered a company in Orlando that offers customized "snowbird/vacation services" for owners of vacation rentals.)

No single path is "right" for every property owner. Thanks to the internet, concierge services, and other developments, turning your property over to a management company or rental agency and accepting their terms (and often outrageous commissions) without question is no longer the only choice. Today we have real options and whether you decide to go with it or not, the concierge service option is definitely worth exploring.

-- Alfred and Emily Glossbrenner

About the Authors -- Alfred and Emily Glossbrenner are frequent VROA newsletter contributors. "A&E," as they are known to their friends, are the authors of "How to Make Your Vacation Property Work for You!: The Quick & Easy Guide to Advertising, Renting, Managing, and Making Money from Your Second Home". For more information, please visit ( The Glossbrenners have written over 60 other books, with combined sales of over one million copies since 1977. Their works have received enthusiastic reviews from the *New York Times*, the *Washington Post*, *Forbes*, *Inc.*, the editors of (, the *Los Angeles Times* and hundreds of other publications worldwide.

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Author: Emily Glossbrenner, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0058 – 02/28/05

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