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Doing What We Can To Help People

By William May
Published: 11/19/09 Topics: Comments: 0

For a number of years our company has donated vacation rental home use to a wonderful group called OutdoorsForAll.org (Formerly SkiForAll.org). Their mission is to enrich the quality of life for children and adults with disabilities through outdoor recreation.

OFA takes handicapped folks to destinations and into sports they could never imagine otherwise. Blind kids go skiing, the wheelchair bound go biking. The offer horseback riding, hiking, swimming, canoeing, rafting, water skiing and more.

The first time they stayed with us they brought a dozen kids to a ski area. It made us feel good to help, but we were disappointed when the housekeepers found that the beds had not been slept. A bit alarmed we placed a quick phone call to the organization apologizing because we didn't want them to think they could not use the beds.

We were greeted with boisterous laughter. "Oh you don't understand do you?" said the director. "These kids are mostly bed bound so staying in a big bed in a luxurious home is not an adventure." She explained. "But sleeping in a sleeping bag on the floor by a fireplace is a thrilling experience for them. They could hardly sleep." We smiled and felt better.

If you want to make yourself feel great today, click here to make a donation to the Ski For All Organization.

Besides wonderful groups like Outdoors For All, we sometimes have guests that require special assistance.

Recently one such guest complained that we could not provide her with a wheel chair condo during her stay - even though she failed to request one when booking. She complained her condo wasn't actually on the beach, even though it was as close or closer than every other accommodation in town.

Never the less, she went home and THREE MONTHS later demanded a full refund, complained to every agency and media (who bought her trumped up story without corroboration) and then demanded a full refund for the week long vacation she received.

Businesses are often maligned for being callous or uncaring. That is unfortunate because businesses are nothing more than people; people who care about every guest and work diligently to satisfy them.

Our staff and affiliates were crest-fallen when that guest complained. But should they be?

Their actions went beyond the call of duty. Instead of sulking about one person who seemed to be asking for far more than she ordered, they need to focus on the hundreds of thousands who appreciate their lodging, noticed how clean the linens are, appreciate the comfortable furniture, relax at the pools, use the fully furnished kitchens and offer those little compliments everyone needs in life.

We need to judge our own compassion by those who appreciate it, but keep working for those pesky people as well. You know we will.

P.S. A good thing came out of this incident. We sponsored and our not-for-profit trade association - the Vacation Rental Association (www.Vrai.org) formed a donation program where owners can announce their giving to charitable causes. See VacationRentalAngels.com

.

P.S. Coming Soon. The VacationRentalAngels.com program sponsored by the Vacation Rental Association. Where owners can announce their donations to charitable causes.

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Author: William May – Volunteer, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0128 – 11/19/09

Complaints, Compliments and Compassion

By William May
Published: 11/18/09 Topics: Comments: 0

She wanted to go to the beach. It was to be a special trip with her daughter who had special needs. Larger homes were her preference, but a plain ocean front condo was her budget. She asked for a first floor home and a vendor to provide oxygen.

On the coast of Washington State oceanfront means there is nothing between you and the ocean, except for a hundred yards of sand dunes, dune grass and sometimes scraggly pine trees that reach out to very wide, very flat beaches.

Upon arrival the woman requested a wheelchair unit for her son (not her daughter it seems), a view and easier beach access. The condo was on-grade with no steps of any kind, but she also now wanted a view. The condo faces the ocean but it is not exactly right outside the front door. It is as close to, or closer than every other accommodations in town.

She was offered and selected a different condo to the North. But after moving she complained there were too many pine trees blocking the view and no path to the ocean through the dunes to accommodate the wheelchair.

The next day, she wanted a higher view. After inspecting several condo complexes she selected one to the South but soon that was not to her liking. She then demanded and was upgraded to an ocean front house far north.

Was it enough? Well no, because then the guest insisted she be moved back to the very first condo. The dutiful staff loaded up her things and drove them back. She was offered the option of canceling and receiving a refund but declined. Then every day for the rest of the week she called central reservations office asking for a larger house.

She wanted some owner to donate a bigger home due to her personal situation? A difficult request but a staffer called competitors, asking for donations. He waived his fee to afford something even bigger, but in the summer high season there were no better alternatives.

The guest stayed for the week and upon departing complimented the staff for all their great help.

So it was a big surprise when THREE MONTHS later the guest filed complaints with the government and a TV station claiming that no one took care of her, no one satisfied her needs, no one understood her problems and no one solved them for her. And all it would take to make her feel better is to receive a full refund for her entire stay.

The TV reporter didn't check the facts, didn't ask to speak with the manager, and featured the wrong condos in his report. He didn't care that the guest signed paperwork that specified a condo that was exactly as ordered; that she saw actual photos before booking; or that she got driving directions a week in advance that also showed the photos of the home again.

He didn't care that she had been offered a full refund repeatedly. He didn't care that staff personally carted the woman's belongings from home to home to home to home. He didn't care because he had a deadline and needed to get a story out to please his boss. The facts be damned.

In 1861, Wilbur F. Story, Editor of the Chicago Times said, "It is a newspaper's duty to print the news, and raise hell." Unfortunately today's quasi journalists only remember the raise hell part.

For a number of years the company has been donating vacation rental use to a wonderful group called OutdoorsForAll.org. (Formerly SkiForAll.org). Their mission is to enrich the quality of life for children and adults with disabilities through outdoor recreation.

They take handicapped folks to destinations and into sports they could never imagine otherwise. Blind kids go skiing. The wheelchair bound go biking. They offer horseback riding, hiking, swimming, canoeing, rafting, water skiing and more.

The first time OFA stayed in a vacation rental from the company they brought a dozen kids to a ski area. It made everyone feel good to help, but housekeepers were disappointed found that the beds had not been slept in.

A bit alarmed a quick phone call was made to the organization apologizing because no one wanted them to think they could not use the beds.

The call was greeted with boisterous laughter. "Oh you don't understand do you?"; said the director. "These kids are mostly bed bound so staying in a big bed in a luxurious home is not an adventure," she explained. "sleeping in a sleeping bag on the floor by a fireplace is a thrilling experience for them.

They could hardly sleep." Everyone smiled and felt better.

Businesses are often maligned for being callous or uncaring. A media reporter then telephoned to call the company on the carpet for failing to do enough. The guest filed complaints with the State and the Better Business Bureau.

All of that is unfortunate because businesses are nothing more than people; people who care about every guest and work diligently to satisfy them.

Staff members were crest-fallen when that guest complained. But should they be? Their actions went beyond the call of duty.

Instead of worrying about one person who seemed to be asking for far more than she ordered, and whose needs were impossible to meet, they need to focus on the thousands who appreciate their lodging, notice how clean the linens are, appreciate the comfortable furniture, relax at the pool, use the fully outfitted kitchens and offer those little compliments everyone needs in life.

After a person has done all they can to help others, after they have gone far beyond what is reasonable, they need to have the wisdom to judge their own compassion by those who understand and appreciate it!

P.S. To see a much better explain of philanthropy visit VRAI's VacationRentalAngels.com program where Owners can announce their donations to worthy charities.

Or, go to OutdoorsForAll.org and make a donation to a worthy group. They deserve it.

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Author: William May – Volunteer, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0127 – 11/18/09

Everything Robert Fulgham Learned in Kindergarten

By William May
Published: 11/01/09 Topics: Comments: 0

I stumbled onto an Internet posting the other day that told me it has been twenty years since Robert Fulgham wrote "Everything I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten."

That is stunning really because it does, as they say, seem like yesterday. Of course I've read some of his other books and now that I've visited his website (RobertFulgham.com). I see there are others I will have to savor. So should you.

After 22 years as a Unitarian Minister in the Pacific Northwest, Fulgham published that first book and has never looked back. His view of the world is pretty simple or so it seems. As the world accelerates and technology dominates, Fulgham would remind us of the basic, appropriate and mature.

Although his attitude might strike some as youngish or maybe even immature, the stories and ideas he illustrates so well are the basic foundation on which we as humans should strive.

So what would all of this have to do with the somewhat non-universal industry of vacation rentals? Well plenty as it seems. Or maybe I should say it has to do with every business, every career and certainly every calling.


The kindergarten book reminds us all to foster those concepts which are universal in every culture. Things like:

- Don't lie. Always tell the truth.
- Don't hit.
- Treat your parents well.
- Pick up after yourself.
- Say Please and Thank You.

To me it seems like Fulgham’s message might be summed up in the phrase "treat everyone well" or at least try.

I am not sure I have always accomplished that goal but I know I am always aware of it and have always tried. I also know that isn't easy when conflict exists in the world, as it inevitably does. Nor is it easy when others might try to bring you down to their level. An acquaintance who becomes distraught, a customer who is unreasonable or even governmental bureaucrats who steal more and more freedom from Americans.

It would be easy to despise such people but in the end, we have to remember to treat them well also. Even if that respect will not be reciprocated.

VACATION RENTALS & LODGING

So is there anything practical in this blog? Yes I assure you there is. Here are a set of rules for how we conduct our business in hopes that guests, owners and vendors will treat us likewise.

- Be Clear. In advertising, contracts, phone calls, emails.

- Be Fair. It can be difficult to understand unreasonable requests, but we gotta keep trying.

- Be Quick. Get back to people. Take care of problems as fast as possible.

- Be Happy. No job is easy and half the job is simply deciding to go about it with joy.

You can buy Robert Fulgham's Book at Amazon.com.

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Author: William May, MayPartners Advertising
Blog #: 0125 – 11/01/09

Lodging Newsletter November 1st, 2009

By William May
Published: 11/01/09 Topics: Lodging Newsletter Comments: 0

Sometimes it is nice to see your name in the media and sometimes it is not.

As the volunteer Director of the Vacation Rental Association (VRA) I receive calls from media all over the country. Speaking with most reporters reminds me of sitting in Journalism class while pursuing my college degree in Communications from Washington State University all those years ago.

The Communications Department is now named after Edward R. Murrow the CBS television journalist made famous for his broadcasts from London during the Blitzkriegs of World War II. Murrow is idolized by virtually every professional well meaning journalism student for his strength in exposing the McCarthy era Communist witch hunts of the 1950's.

Murrow didn't go after destroying every small business person or government bureaucrat he could intimidate. In fact, I'm pretty sure he would be embarrassed by the state of some current news organizations who have nothing better to do than harass small businesses and well meaning companies.

Instead, Murrow focused on those very few evil and bad will people who seem intent to do harm to others. His ethics were sound unlike those of many reports in conventional media today.

FREEDOM OF THE PRESS

Benjamin Franklin was quoted as saying, 'Freedom of the press is reserved for those who own one." That powerful statement warns citizens about the power of the press. And it encourages them to resist over zealous journalism by fighting fire with fire.

Franklin's thought was the rule from the American Revolution until very recently. Today every person on the planet with a computer with an internet connection has the opportunity print their thoughts and stories on line.

While much of that information is flawed, biased and selfish, there is hope this new age of unlimited visibility may level the playing field between laymen and reporters.

For too long reporters with little proper training, no adherence to ethical principals, insufficient time to examine both sides of a story and, frankly, a dangerous casual disregard for the position of others have begun to pop up in main stream newspaper and broadcast organizations and not just in odd-ball print publications.

It is really too bad. Bad for everyone. For those who slander others. And for those who believe such lies without questioning the integrity of the writer.

But the internet is good because now those conventional media reporters themselves can become targets of probes from anyone with a computer, video camera and website. They find out what he feels to be parenthetically stripped searched and exposed to the world for any failing real or imagined.

TODAY'S WRITERS

It is good news to know that there still exists today a legion of journalists who hold true to the principals of Ed Murrow, Walter Cronkite and other greats. But sadly, the quest for ratings, notoriety and ever declining newspaper readership and broadcast audience has forced conventional media managers to hire folks simply not equipped to cautiously handle the immense public-opinion power they are given.

In 1861, Wilbur F. Story, Editor of the Chicago Times said, "It is a newspaper's duty to print the news, and raise hell." This quote, or something pretty darn close, has also been frequently attributed to Mark Twain.

In that regard we could consider unethical reporters a success.

Unfortunately they have focused on the raising hell part because it’s a lot easier than digging for information, being factual and attempting to report accurately.

They seek out stories to bolster their resume and inflate their own egos. Unfortunately that is done by spewing innuendo, falsifying the facts and not even pretending to pursue a neutral reporting stance.

The difference between Mark Twain and so many current writers is that Twain knew the difference between when he was reporting the news and when he was writing fiction. (Pretty good darn fiction too, most folks say.)

That is not true of the vast majority of folks, with little training or great thinking, who can blog away at all hours of the day and for page after page about every conceivable subject from the lurid to the boring.

Citizen journalists however can be forgiven because they haven't studied the craft nor been entrusted with the

public airwaves or widely read print media. They are kind of like people with gun's who have only seen them on TV.

What may seem glamorous in a scripted made-for-TV war movie is, as any soldier will tell you, a pretty great place to have a gun turn you into blood and guts and death. So these writers know little of the damage they can cause.

Educated journalists on the other hand know better.

A look at online bio's for reporters shows that most have some form of degree in journalism, broadcast or some similar line of study. Unless colleges have changed radically in recent years I know there are well-meaning, well-trained and ethical professors who care deeply about teaching students to research facts, evaluate testimony, and attempt to provide a seemingly unbiased version of the news.

These colleges turn out a great many skilled and well meaning reporters. Like any industry where participants willingly agree to pursue big money, big fame and fan worship (think of sports here) journalists can fall victim to the lure of the game.

You only have to travel from town to town watching sportscasts to admit that all home-town sports reporters are sporting the home-town at the expense of pretty much every other town. Perhaps with sports that should not be concern - after all no one gets killed in sports and even drug-taking athletes can get back in the good graces of fans if they repent.

PROCLAIMING THEIR BIAS:

Consumer advocate journalists are the next category of reporters to fall under the spell of self-aggrandizement. They openly admit they are here to "fight for consumers". No where in their diatribes do they promise to care if the consumer is correct or accurate. Never do they check out the reputation of the consumer.

Instead, they start with the bias the "consumer is always right."

That is tantamount to saying that in a divorce, the "Husband is always right." Society has learned there are seldom absolutes like that and anyone with sufficient education or self-thought knows better.

A good reporter’s job is not to become the story. But to report it fairly. Those who take delight in chasing people down the street, jumping on employees, demanding meetings with people they have never met or and making life hell for other people so he can print a dishonest and disreputable story have sunk to the lowest level.

If a reporter has to big, ugly, ineloquent, rude and obnoxious to get a story, then he is making the story instead of finding one. There will always be consumers who fall for everything, but to fool them into believing a story because of such tactics should be objectionable to all involved.

Naturally creating a story is a lot easier than investing the time necessary to locate a story, determine if it is legitimate and gathering sufficient fact to determine if the story is true and worth of the reader or viewers time. But being lazy should not be a substitute for destroying the honor that Murrow and prior practitioners brought to the craft of news.

Oh and about our own self-aggrandizement here are a couple of stories you might like. Unlike those reporters who need a story before 5pm everyday, we didn't solicit the inclusions or intimidate anyone to get included.

Go to www.WashingtonPost.com and search for "Andrea Sachs" Reporter and "Vacation Rental".

Read more Leave comments

Author: William May – Manager, Sunspot Vacation Rentals
Blog #: 0114 – 11/01/09

Seeing your Name in Print

By William May
Published: 10/01/09 Topics: Comments: 0

Sometimes it is nice to see your name in the media and sometimes it is not.

As the volunteer Director of the Vacation Rental Association (VRA) I receive calls from media all over the country. Speaking with most reporters reminds me of sitting ` Journalism class while pursuing my college degree in Communications from Washington State University all those years ago.

The Communications Department is now named after Edward R. Murrow the CBS television journalist made famous for his broadcasts from London during the Blitzkriegs of World War II. Murrow is idolized by virtually every professional well meaning journalism student for his strength in exposing the McCarthy era Communist witch hunts of the 1950's.

Murrow didn't go after destroying every small business person or government bureaucrat he could intimidate. In fact, I'm pretty sure he would be embarrassed by the state of some current news organizations who have nothing better to do than harass small businesses and well meaning companies.

Instead, Murrow focused on those very few evil and bad will people who seem intent to do harm to others. His ethics were sound unlike those of many reports in conventional media today.

FREEDOM OF THE PRESS

Benjamin Franklin was quoted as saying, 'Freedom of the press is reserved for those who own one." That powerful statement warns citizens about the power of the press. And it encourages them to resist over zealous journalism by fighting fire with fire.

Franklin's thought was the rule from the American Revolution until very recently. Today every person on the planet with a computer with an internet connection has the opportunity print their thoughts and stories on line.

While much of that information is flawed, biased and selfish, there is hope this new age of unlimited visibility may level the playing field between laymen and reporters.

For too long reporters with little proper training, no adherence to ethical principals, insufficient time to examine both sides of a story and, frankly, a dangerous casual disregard for the position of others have begun to pop up in main stream newspaper and broadcast organizations and not just in odd-ball print publications.

It is really too bad. Bad for everyone. For those who slander others. And for those who believe such lies without questioning the integrity of the writer.

But the internet is good because now those conventional media reporters themselves can become targets of probes from anyone with a computer, video camera and website. They find out what he feels to be parenthetically stripped searched and exposed to the world for any failing real or imagined.

TODAY'S WRITERS

It is good news to know that there still exists today a legion of journalists who hold true to the principals of Ed Murrow, Walter Cronkite and other greats. But sadly, the quest for ratings, notoriety and ever declining newspaper readership and broadcast audience has forced conventional media managers to hire folks simply not equipped to cautiously handle the immense public-opinion power they are given.

In 1861, Wilbur F. Story, Editor of the Chicago Times said, "It is a newspaper's duty to print the news, and raise hell." This quote, or something pretty darn close, has also been frequently attributed to Mark Twain.

In that regard we could consider unethical reporters a success. Unfortunately they have focused on the raising hell part because it’s a lot easier than digging for information, being factual and attempting to report accurately.

They seek out stories to bolster their resume and inflate their own egos. Unfortunately that is done by spewing innuendo, falsifying the facts and not even pretending to pursue a neutral reporting stance.

The difference between Mark Twain and so many current writers is that Twain knew the difference between when he was reporting the news and when he was writing fiction. (Pretty good darn fiction too, most folks say.) That is not true of the vast majority of folks, with little training or great thinking, who can blog away at all hours of the day and for page after page about every conceivable subject from the lurid to the boring.

Citizen journalists however can be forgiven because they haven't studied the craft nor been entrusted with the public airwaves or widely read print media. They are kind of like people with gun's who have only seen them on TV. What may seem glamorous in a scripted made-for-TV war movie is, as any soldier will tell you, a pretty great place to have a gun turn you into blood and guts and death. So these writers know little of the damage they can cause.

Educated journalists on the other hand know better.

A look at online bio's for reporters shows that most have some form of degree in journalism, broadcast or some similar line of study. Unless colleges have changed radically in recent years I know there are well-meaning, well-trained and ethical professors who care deeply about teaching students to research facts, evaluate testimony, and attempt to provide a seemingly unbiased version of the news.

These colleges turn out a great many skilled and well meaning reporters. Like any industry where participants willingly agree to pursue big money, big fame and fan worship (think of sports here) journalists can fall victim to the lure of the game.

You only have to travel from town to town watching sportscasts to admit that all home-town sports reporters are sporting the home-town at the expense of pretty much every other town. Perhaps with sports that should not be concern - after all no one gets killed in sports and even drug-taking athletes can get back in the good graces of fans if they repent.

PROCLAIMING THEIR BIAS:

Consumer advocate journalists are the next category of reporters to fall under the spell of self-aggrandizement. They openly admit they are here to "fight for consumers". No where in their diatribes do they promise to care if the consumer is correct or accurate. Never do they check out the reputation of the consumer.

Instead, they start with the bias the "consumer is always right." That is tantamount to saying that in a divorce, the "Husband is always right." Society has learned there are seldom absolutes like that and anyone with sufficient education or self-thought knows better.

A good reporter’s job is not to become the story. But to report it fairly. Those who take delight in chasing people down the street, jumping on employees, demanding meetings with people they have never met or and making life hell for other people so he can print a dishonest and disreputable story have sunk to the lowest level.

If a reporter has to big, ugly, ineloquent, rude and obnoxious to get a story, then he is making the story instead of finding one. There will always be consumers who fall for everything, but to fool them into believing a story because of such tactics should be objectionable to all involved.

Naturally creating a story is a lot easier than investing the time necessary to locate a story, determine if it is legitimate and gathering sufficient fact to determine if the story is true and worth of the reader or viewers time. But being lazy should not be a substitute for destroying the honor that Murrow and prior practitioners brought to the craft of news.

Oh and about our own self-aggrandizement here are a couple of stories you might like. Unlike those reporters who need a story before 5pm everyday, we didn't solicit the inclusions or intimidate anyone to get included.

Go to (WashingtonPost.com)WashingtonPost.com and search for "Andrea Sachs" Reporter and "Vacation Rental".

Read more Leave comments

Author: William May, MayPartners Advertising
Blog #: 0126 – 10/01/09

Remembering the "Thank You" Game

By William May
Published: 09/01/09 Topics: Comments: 0

Surprises are great. And thank you's are best.

In an industry like property management that requires attention to detail, constant supervision and reconciliation of occasionally conflicting goals between guests and owners it is too easy to forget the little personal things that make life worth living.

Long ago I attended a parent-child basketball camp and had the great luck to meet a man who I now call hero. Having built the largest basketball camp for kids in the United States, Coach's success seems based more on his knowledge and approach to life than on his immense basketball training skills.

At one camp he suggested to everyone they could learn how to be thankful by using his now famous thank-you game. The rules are simple.

You can be in a meeting, watching television or whenever you find yourself in the car with your family, especially on those long boring drives. The games starts by one person mentioning something they are thankful for. Then next person does likewise and so one until everyone has spoken.

The first responses are what you might expect like, "I am thankful for what wonderful children I have." or "I am thankful for having a loving Dad."

These kinds of honesty is not easy for everyone. Some people seldom tell anyone how they feel about things. And complimenting another person directly to their face is a lost art unfortunately.

After each person has spoken you should sneak a peak around the room. Smirking smiles will be breaking out all over the place.

But the game is not over. Because this game goes on until you reach your destination, or everyone is out of ideas. In a car, thank you's may come tumbling out one after another but be separated by pauses and that too is acceptable. Be thankful that there is no hurry. Give everyone sufficient time to dig deeply into their thoughts.

My family once spent over two hours in a car as compliments went round and round. Eventually resulting in "Thankful that the car still has gas" and that "I am sure happy it didn't snow or we would be stuck somewhere."

Does this sound a little mundane? That's OK because the best thank you's come near the end when each person realizes they have so much to be thankful about. My young son once said, "I am thank you for this game because it makes me remember how much I have."

Today I am thankful that the recession wasn't worse that it was. I could say thanks for all the owners and guests who have hung with us as the industry continues rapid change. My thanks for the housekeepers, maintenance people and reservation crew knows no bounds. So many people have been understanding and compassionate and kind. I am very thankful that guest inquiries continue to rise and that our team is in tact and making constant headway.

Of course, not everyone has been pleasant. But maybe that's because no one taught them the thank you game.

So that means this year I have to be thankful because maybe I'll get the opportunity to introduce the game to more people and hope they'll enjoy the great benefits I have received from a kids basketball coach.

Give it a try before the end of the week.

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Author: William May, MayPartners Advertising
Blog #: 0119 – 09/01/09

Owners Who Kill The Messenger. And Managers who help them.

By William May
Published: 07/01/09 Topics: Comments: 0

The stinging effect on vacation rentals and vacation rental managers through out the US due to today's economy is having a effects that none of us can do anything about.

The loss of demand is bad enough but now some managers are receiving those proverbial calls from owners who want to kill the messenger instead of rewarding those operators who are busting their butts to make things happen. For top managers it is a time to capitalize on the opportunities but I do hope you are one of the ethical groups out there who refuses to do so with the old Peter-Paul scheme.

This newsletter is a wake-up call to managers to watch out for the scoundrels who will misuse current owners just to steal new ones. And to owners about how to do themselves a favor.

Lack of Demand

If fewer travelers in total are going on vacation then surely vacation rental revenue will also suffer. Traveler preference for vacation rentals may still be increasing as it has for a decade at least. It might even be increasing as guests look to cheaper ways to travel and realize what a bargain they get renting a home instead of a hotel room. More space, fewer restaurant bills and the opportunity to split the costs among more friends.

But recent drops in pre-booking demand and current month occupancy in virtually every geographic market must be out pacing any perceived growth in vacation rental preference. The numbers don't lie. From vacation rentals and rent-direct owners every member calling VRA has reported a drop.

Some see as little as 10 to 20%. Tourism in Hawaii is reporting an over all deficit of 30-40% and there are rumors in some Florida destinations of being hammered by 70% drop offs. Yikes that hurts.

Taking Action

So what should the industry and individual practitioners be doing right now, immediately to retain business or stay in business? The laundry list must include cutting costs of course but that is a double edge sword. All businesses should only spend what is needed to provide a good product. Being opulent is seldom a good tactic.

One seemingly smart move is really just the opposite. In every recession there are businesses that cut advertising because doing so is easy, immediate and visible. If past recessions are an indication (and why wouldn't they be?) dropping out of public view is the beginning of the end.

That is more true now because consumers use the internet to daily to determine if you are still in business. Some go directly to your busy website but most revert to finding you gain through search engine and website directories. If you aren't there, they don't find you in the first place and probably not on return.

In another newsletter we'll ask experts from everywhere there strategies on the cost cutting side of things. For now, however, let's focus on retaining or increasing revenue.

Get Your Game On

I must admit I quit playing basketball at the tender age of 50. I miss it, I do. From it I learned many things. First, if you aren't talented it still feels good to play. Second, the game is all about being ready to play and pouring it on.

If you play basketball in various gyms you also learn an important rule - known when not to enter the game. Unless you are Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant or some other superstar there may always be someone in the place who will enjoy kicking your posterior.

Today the economy is the opponent and we must all decide whether we stay in the game or throw in the towel. If you are a gamer, then the next decision is to decide how hard you are going to play.

Here are some things my rental management company has done to up our game. We're increased our reservation hours and are open seven days a week. Plus someone always has the mobile in their pocket for reservations. (We already have a 24-7 emergency operator for other matters). We have built faster, more efficient software. Think one-second quotes and fully signed, sealed and done reservations in 60 seconds or less.

We have asked our creative staff to reshoot photos of units that needed them. Non-reservation staff are in the call-queue to attempt to grab every phone call with a live person, no matter how busy the phones (Yes the phones still get busy but they get cold sometimes too.)

Our part-time media buyer is now full time. The ad budget has been doubled and with staff that triples our costs. We have crated a software driven automated ad placement system and helped started the industries first multiple listing service (MLS) for vacation rentals, mostly so we could use it.

We call every phone or email inquiry lead three times before setting them aside for fresher calls. The on-site staff are spending more time double checking properties, attending to issues and following up on details.

These are all good things we were doing anyway. We just decided to go into hyper mode.

John Wooden was the Coach of UCLA for a great many years. He won ten NCAA championships with his closest competitor no where near. I had the great opportunity have a long breakfast with him years ago, after hearing him speak for four straight hours to a group of kids.

In all his years of coaching, Coach Wooden ran a full-court press 75% of the time. For those of you not basketball fans, that means his players contested every pass from one end of the court to the other. This is terribly tiring and no player really wants to do it. But players, you see, like to win. And wining is what Coach Wooden taught.

There are great players and smart players and skilled players. But the player who wants to win the most usually does so. The one who will put in hours at practice, live and breathe the sport and always be one step ahead of the competitor.

This economy is every rental manager's chance to win a championship. If they have the stomach for it. And if they go at it hard enough.

Killing The Messenger

Our owners know this. We try to find time to keep them posted of the situation and try not to sugar coat the economy. Taking the time to report takes time away from serving them so it is a delicate balance.

It is satisfying to find so many who understand the plight and appreciate our extra energy and effort. But we can't expect that with everyone. Owners are like bosses. There are good ones, lazy ones and the kind - those who don't care about the details they only want results. Unfortunately the economy is going to make some want the impossible. And that is tough to deliver.

Accomplices

I guess the only thing that surprises me in this economic meltdown is when I see other managers taking devious steps to steal owners away from other managers. Almost always competition is good. We have had numerous owners come to us from other managers asking if we can do more.

It would be tempting to inflate the truth and make pie-in-the-sky projections. Having been in three professional service industries over the years I have been offered this easy out before. But easy outs seldom are.

Dear Owners

So if you are a property owner and wondering if your manager is up to the task of meeting this catastrophe head on, how should you go about evaluating the work your manager does?

First, realize there are no magic elixirs. No manager has an unlimited number of guest inquiries that they can just casually throw your way. Whether they have 10, 100 or 1,000 homes they must market relentlessly to fill them and more so in this economy.

Another manger tells the store of losing a long time landlord for whom they had increased business about 10% every year including in 2008. The owner switched to a new manager who is open just 6 hours a day for reservations, has an ugly website and no on-line booking engine - but it does have an online calendar which is very revealing.

It has only been 3 months and the new manager has secured absolutely no bookings. Nada.

Beware of managers who rob Peter to pay Paul. One recent caller told the story of losing one of her condo owners to another manager and two weeks later signing back another condo in same complex who was leaving that other manager.

The reason? It seems some current bookings had mysteriously canceled at the same time that the first owner was getting bookings. Same complex. Same dates.

It is obvious and it is not ethical. The other manager moved guests from an old owner to a new one to get the new property. Luckily, in this case, the owner figured it out and jumped shipped. But I worry many owners are falling for the ploy.

Is The Grass Greener?

We have heard the click "The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence." We all know it is never true. But asking questions is particularly important now-a-days.

The surest way to determine if your current manager is well underway to protecting your rental interest is to become knowledgeable. Ask detailed questions and be a smart savvy boss. Evaluate the effort but not the results because right now no one can guarantee you anything. In fact, walk quickly away form any manager who tries to BS you with promises.

Instead, you should want to know these facts:

- Has your manager increased or decreased operating hours?

- Have they hired or laid off sales people?

- Are they working longer hours or letting dejection take its toll?

- Has advertising and marketing been increased decisively?

- Are they undertaking new websites, photos, panoramas and more?

- Do they invest heavily in the internet or are their websites second-class and antiquated?

Making subjective decisions takes time. It is emotionally satisfying to fire the messenger. But don't lose the investment you have already made in your current manager.

If they are innovating, cooperating and hustling you have a keeper. Musical chairs won't get you anywhere.

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Author: William May, MayPartners Advertising
Blog #: 0117 – 07/01/09

FlipKey Flips Misses the Point of Fairness.

By Ronald Wallace Lea
Published: 05/24/09 Topics: Comments: 0

Half the challenge of war is knowing who the enemy is. Sometimes he paints himself as your ally. But beware; those who operate opposite to your best interest are always your enemy. Today's newsletter alerts you to a traitor in the midst of the lodging industry.

Over the past months a graphically pleasing new website - (FlipKey.com)FlipKey.com - has been over promoting its services to the vacation rental market. I gave them my ear at the trade association meeting but it sounded like a case of something sounding too good to be true.

And now we know the truth. It was too good to be true.

IN LEAGUE WITH WHO:

FlipKey has just announced (or maybe we should say admitted) that (TripAdvisor.com)TripAdvisor.com has made a major investment in FlipKey. It was not announced if TripAdvisor will now control FlipKey but they will re-distribute FlipKey content. Unfortunately TripAdvisor is already one of the most dishonorable services on the web. So that means that two uncontrolled, unedited and therefore free-for-all media will now publish the dribs and drabs of consumers who never car about truth or fair dealing.

The idea that consumer reviews provide an unbiased look at travel is really just the opposite. In fact it is only the biased who take the time to post. An intelligent reader can see through the self-serving reviews but as we all know most consumers are not very discerning fact from fiction in any kind of journalism, let alone what are portrayed as balanced reviews.

So every business in the travel business knows that TripAdvisor makes it very easy for consumers to extort response from business and very difficult for that same business to respond and get an adjudicated answer. Remember TripAdvisor is NOT a place to have the truth found. It is a place for lies to be spread where the targets of the lies can not get them decided by an independent judge.

FLIPKEY PITCH

The FlipKey story, their sales pitch - is that guest reviews are a great way to promote your business. The founders are former employees of (Compete.com)Compete.com and unique service in its own right. They are surely honed on the - Internet can do anything and we intend to get rich doing it - get rich quick scheme.

The FlipKey plan sounds good except for one thing. The people who they will empower to post revues will allow be rebel rousers, liars and cheats. And the reasons they open up their editorial pages to low life is - well because they work for free.

Starting a real media with real journalist and professionals who have been schooled in the art of fair and unbiased reporting would actually cost money. What better way to build a whole bunch of content without having to pay for it. And all to line the pockets of the FlipKey crew. Smart yes. Ethical, well no.

PULLING TEETH

Getting reviews out of satisfied guests is like finding water in the desert. Most happy industrious people are just too busy to take time to compliment vacation rentals no matter how great the accommodations. Ask any owner who sends surveys, plants GuestBooks, send follow-up emails or telephone after stays to get feedback.

Querying the vast majority of guests will result in very few responses. Why you could pay them for reviews and still get almost no takers. And when you get answers they sound like this. "Yes it was fine, why are you asking". Or, "Well we paid $5,000 and it was worth it but I would like it better for half the price."

CROOKS & CREEPS

On the other hand, there are guests who will be happy to respond. In fact, even without a chance to blather to FlipKey weirdos will search diligently for a place to spew their venom. And what are they unhappy about. A list would be humorous if it didn't do so much unrepairable harm to property owners.

The FlipKey scam is just another in the long line of scams that consumers fall for. Another example is the Better Business Bureau the grand daddy of all "we're helping consumers scam." The BBB has existed for so long solely because of its highly effective (but inaccurately) named organization. I mean who could argue with something called the Better Business Bureau even if they were, let's say, operated by terrorists.

HOW THE SCAM WORKS

But the BBB is anything but a valid resolution service. They report on and allow customers to libel and slander businesses. They then publish complaints by category and business name. They DO NOT review the claims to weed out the crazies; instead they just send them on to the business and demand a response. Remember this is with a business with whom the BBB has no relationship (you will already be labeled "Not an accredited business"). And if the business does not satisfy the guest then the business is labeled as "Has an unsatisfactory rating."

Go ahead and respond and the minimum wage BBB clerk will forward your answer back to the customer who will never accept an invitation that does not line their pocket. And when they don't like the answer well then you are labeled "Has an unsatisfactory rating" again. In short, you can't win by cooperating and you can't win by not cooperating.

Oh by the way, soon after a complaint you will get a phone call from a hard-sales BBB rep twisting your arm to join and thereby implying that membership might protect you from the customer scammers. You can even sign up for arbitration or mediation service and, surprise, you get to pay for that too.

FlipKey has packaged their poison pill with some tasty treats. They have a very nice contemporary interface. The site runs fast.

WHY EBAY WORKS;

An interesting comparison to consumer reviews is to look at eBay. Sure providing on-line auctions was a great idea. But the secret to Ebay's success was that Buyer and Seller - both - get to rate the other. And the comments are actually posted online for the entire world to see. This causes participants to act reasonably with each other. Buyer's who continually ridicule sellers are quickly figured out as chronic liars.

Better yet, eBay almost requires and greatly pushes both parties to report. When you see a company with 990 good reviews and 10 bad ones you know it’s the consumers who are the problem not the seller.

The secret is that the defendant (business) gets to face his accuser (Consumer) and that is a primary tenant in fair minded courts in all civilized countries. Unfortunately the BBB's, the TripAdvisors and now the FlipKeyers don't offer and don't understand.

CONGRATS FLIPKEY

So for (FlipKey.com)FlipKey.com the model of disinterested standard bearer is a great strategy. Unfortunately its one built on deceit and rebel rousing that services no one. Not guests and certainly not lodging operators. By the way it could be fixed - all they have to do is require consumers to allow themselves to be criticized in return. Then a prospective visitor could listen to both sides and make an informed decision.

I doubt FlipKey will do this however, because the number of reviews would dwindle to almost nothing. Scoundrel consumers get away with bad behavior by hiding behind anonymity.

TAKE ACTION:

So if you have your properties listed on (FlipKey.com)FlipKey.com be warned that you are dancing with the devil. Facilitating third party reviews from guests is one of those great smelling means that tastes awful. We recommend pulling your properties from FlipKey before you get burned and the content because public domain for the rest of your life.

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Author: Ronald Wallace Lea, Sunspot Vacation Rentals
Blog #: 0090 – 05/24/09

World's First Vacation Rental Multiple Listing Service (MLS)

By William May
Published: 03/18/09 Topics: Comments: 0

The every increasing cost of advertising on the mammoth impersonal vacation rental listing websites has spawned innovation. On April 6th, the Vacation Rental Association, with the help of Plumbob Publishing is unveiling the first every Multiple Listing Service (MLS) for Vacation Rentals.

The Vacation Rental Multiple Listing Services (VRMLS.org)VRMLS.org allows guests from around the world or around the corner to find short-term vacation rental lodging in their own backyard. "Searching through hundreds of thousands of rentals is a pain," says Salman Arshad, chief programmer on the websites. "We're offering micro sites for specific areas which will actually have far more listings than the big guys, because it is so much more affordable."

This MLS service is, "The only ‘Open-Listing' and 'Open-Distribution' service in the industry," says William May, president of VRA and it is going to make lodging advertising cheaper and easier.

Open Listing means that all industry participants including Owners, Managers and Resort Operators are entitled to list their properties on the MLS. The fee is modest and used primarily for the maintenance of the VRA database.

Website publishers to can then re-publish rentals from the MLS on their own sites as service to guests as well as managers. Publishers too pay a small price and secure a large list of available properties.

After submitting listings, Owners and Managers can then select those publishers on which they want to display their rental offerings. Penny Taylor, co-developer of the website says, "Instead of spending hours submitting a single property to multiple websites, on the VRMLS it is all done with a few clicks."

The first website to utilize this revolutionary concept is (VacationRentals.ws)VacationRentals.ws. The WS stands for Washington State and the site features cabins, condos, homes and villas for rent in the Evergreen State only.

One enthusiastic supporter is Dan Graham, operator of Mount Baker Lodging in Washington State. "I track hundreds of Vacation Rental listing sites and buy a great many ads per year. But this service is going to make it far easier. I wish we had had it years ago."

And the site offers applets that allow non-traditional websites such as local merchants and activity providers to embed listings onto their websites and include only lodging in their immediate area. These same applets can be used by managers and owners for the same purpose.

William May adds, "Paying for advertising is a hurdle to marketing of course, but the expense of labor to publish multiple properties to multiple websites has become overwhelming." We've solved that problem by putting control of vacation rental advertising into the hands of the people who should control it - owners and managers.

"Because we operate Vacation Rentals ourselves in Washington State, we can't wait to place ads on VacationRentals.ws," adds May. "I just wish the site had been created years ago."

What about the mammoth websites that now dominate the industry? "We will be happy to cooperate with them providing they act like good citizens and serve the owners and managers responsibly." says May.

The Vacation Rental Association was originally started by people in the industry as the Vacation Rental Owners Association (VROA.org) but recently changed to VRA. "We just felt there was too much conflict between Owners and Managers," says Taylor. The problem, she says, is that "Folks need to cooperate to better compete with traditional hotel, motel lodging, because they still have the lion's share of the market."

"Starting the VR-MLS is just one step in working together for mutual benefit." adds May.

ABOUT VRA: Membership in the Vacation Rental Association is open to all owners, managers and the vendors who supply them. Guests too can join to participate as consumers. VRA sponsors the Vacation Rental MLS which was created by programmers from Plumbob Publishing. Plumbob was started by the principals of Sunspot Vacation Rentals headquartered in Seattle. For more information contact William May 206-734-4507, or William@Plumbob.comWilliam@Plumbob.com

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Author: William May – Volunteer, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0105 – 03/18/09

You Can Still Go On Vacation

By William May
Published: 03/09/09 Topics: Comments: 0

What will happen if unemployment hits 8% in the US? If you passed remedial math in school you know that means 92% of folks are still employed.

While the 92% may be holding back on expenses but life goes on. The employed will continue to buy groceries, clothes, cable TV, phone services and - make no mistake - they will continue to go on vacation.

Human beings know one thing for sure - Life is short. Remember that old adage "Eat desert first, like is uncertain?" Well going on vacation is like that.

And while the employed may feel bad for their unemployed neighbors most take a Homer Simpson attitude. In one episode the owner of the Kwik-E-Mart, the convenience store that Home frequents, confides in him saying "This is terrible. My visa is a problem and I am going to get deported, and lose my store and won't be able to come back."

Being the considerate person he is Homer laments, "Oh that is terrible, I feel so bad for you. And for your family. That is really bad news . . . Well good luck in the old country. Bye"

So the employed go on vacation, spend money at restaurants and enjoy themselves while they are feeling bad for others. You would be hard pressed to find a employed neighbor who has cut their overhead 50% in order to give money to a friend or even family member.

So should all of these people do more or feel bad about not doing more? In the long run no. Because during this economy those folks are actually benefiting. For example: homes have become more affordable, gas prices are down and even basic commodity and stables have gone down.

Vacation Rentals are no different. Many managers and owners see the wisdom in lower rates in order to increase occupancy. There is evidence this is exactly what is happening. Lodging prices have always been more flexible than most consumers know. Buy online and you might get a deal. Call direct to get the senior, military or other discount.

Travel in the shoulder season - when temperatures and weather are sometimes actually at their best - and you can save money. Stay longer for lower rates and you may actually spend less than insisting on the high season.

So if you are one of the lucky still employed, stable jobs folks take this opportunity to get out and enjoy your travels. Visit some great places, try out a new restaurant and do all this while helping that friend or family member by taking them with you. In most Vacation Rentals you can usually squeeze in a few more people for no more rental cost. As always, its a deal and there has never been a better time to go on vacation in a Vacation Rental.

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Author: William May – Volunteer, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0104 – 03/09/09

Protecting the Value of your Vacation Rental Home Investment

By William May
Published: 02/15/09 Topics: Comments: 0

Many books have been written about offering second homes as vacation rental lodging; promising income and appreciation from an asset that sits unused when owners are away. But renting means the owner is in business and, like any other business, one that will occasionally have to deal with cranky consumers.

Dealing with the public can produce happy and healthy relationships. But no industry is exempt from the tiny percentage of people who ask too much, are irresponsible, or are out-right crooks. That is why hiring a cordial, professional and even-minded vacation rental manager is essential.

CHOOSING A VACATION RENTAL MANAGER

From a vacation rental manager you may want extensive marketing, advertising and sales in order to maximize income. Or maybe you feel that housekeeping, maintenance and customer service are of most importance. Or perhaps you seek the assurance of a trusted and reliable person located close by to insure quick response and oversight should something go awry. Good managers have mastered all those skills.

They work diligently to increase capabilities and Owners are assured of our good intentions, our desire to serve and reasonable response when needed.

ESSENTIAL HIDDEN SKILLS

There are attributes some management companies are unwilling to shoulder and some owners may fail to examine. One is for the manager to be clear and concise when dealing with guest complaints, demands and even legal action.

The ability to reconcile opposing goals is at the center of good management. Lodging managers must advocate for good behavior from owner and guest to insure properties are safe, sound and successful. The manager should not advocate for the owner or the guest, instead, they must make decisions based on the best interests of the property itself.

UNLIMITED GUEST INTERFERENCE

Consumers have come to know there are many ways to get what they want – even when they are wrong. They can:

- Send repeated letters & emails to the business.
- Answer guest surveys dishonestly.
- Notify the Better Business Bureau.
- Contact a newspaper or television reporter.
- File a complaint with City or State agencies.
- Post negative online reviews.
- File suit in small claims or higher courts.
- Harass the manager with redundant complaints.

Businesses should expect some consumers to use all these tools to push demands even when they are not justified.

COMPLAINTS ARE NOW CONVICTIONS

Seeking to resolve disputes is a good thing, especially when a complaint is justified. Unfortunately there is no reciprocal requirement that complainers make accurate assertions. Many forums do not require that complainer’s identity themselves nor do they allow viewing of the consumer’s complaint history. Consumers can extort free products or cash by applying undeserved pressure, and there is no backlash on the consumer if they make fraudulent claims.

Can consumers be blamed for cheating? Authorities like the BBB and government accept complaints but do not evaluate them. They employ clerks to pop information into a database, email it to the business and demand a response. Failure to respond brands the business as irresponsible. Responses are forwarded to the consumer again without evaluation.

Consumer advocate organizations portray themselves as mediators when they are nothing of the kind. The purpose of the BBB is to sell memberships. Businesses which get complaints also get high pressure sales pitches to join for a hefty fee.

The Better Business Bureau has one compelling attribute - a name that falsely implies members have a stamp of approval. That is not the case. The BBB violates its own guidelines in advertising, sales and marketing by selling what it is not - an unbiased evaluator of businesses. Worse yet, most media, government agencies and other such organizations do the same. They pass information along but fail to make determinations as to the merit of the consumers claim.

KANGAROO MEDIA COURTS

Newspaper, Broadcast and Website reporters are the most questionable of third parties. Branded themselves as consumer advocates (without any requirement for legal training or journalistic training) they anoint themselves as judge, jury and prosecutor in a kangaroo media court of their own choosing.

They use their pulpit to demand a central role in conflicts they know too little about. They are gleeful when intimidating employees, ambushing managers and evading legal advocates. These publicity hounding "judges" proclaiming themselves advocates for the plaintiff and that exposes their thinly veiled prejudices.

Whether government, pseudo agencies or media - any organization that reports complaints without allowing for compliments, is on its face, presenting an unbalanced view of their target.

THE EBAY STANDARD

There is a model for consumer feedback that works brilliantly. One based on age old legal concepts.
When online purchases began, consumers were leery about buying and providing credit cards. (Ebay.com)Ebay.com - an early pioneer of web auctions and commerce - became a blockbuster company by requiring buyers to be evaluated as openly as the businesses they utilize. It’s a two way street that causes complainers to justify their unhappiness and for businesses to publicly respond.

Better yet, the printed words of both buyer and business can be reviewed. Businesses are not saddled with an undefined grade like the BBB. And consumers are not allowed to make unidentified, drive-by problems. This system is based on a requirement of fair jurisprudence - that every person has a right to face their accuser in an open and fair forum.

By recording all transactions, not just those from the tiny percentage of complainers, Ebay levels the playing field. Business with thousands of transactions can never achieve 100% satisfaction because they will always bump into unscrupulous buyers. Buyers can also be evaluated and rejected when they exaggerate, lie and distort.

Ebay allows everyone to make informed decisions. Would you stay at a hotel with 10,000 positive ratings and 20 negatives? Or would you rely on the BBB for a property with 20 negatives but no place for the 10,000 happy guests to post a review. Omission of positives by any complaint reporting forum distorts the facts and is unfair and misleading.

If government, pseudo agencies, conventional media and online websites switch to a fair, balanced and fully disclosed environment like Ebay’s the value of consumer feedback would become a legitimate and valued service. For now it is heavily weighted to help get what they want, regardless of the merit of their claim.

DEALING WITH THE DETAILS

Guests will demand refunds because the Beach Resort was too hot., or the ski resorts had too much snow, or the water at the lake home was too rough to water ski. These are all actual cases. Large hotel operators suffer less because they can more easily relocate a guest or offer appropriately small consolations.

Vacation Rental managers are damned if they deal with such groups because they eat time and money. And damned if they don’t because groups will slander the business for failing to respond to outside organizations whose primary purpose is to extract retribution from them.

The internet has made this situation worse. Consumers who would be loath to go to an office and falsify in person seem eager to libel businesses on-line. The BBB’s website says their “vision” is to provide an ethical marketplace where buyers and sellers can trust each other. But by not posting the history of consumers they fail to make trust possible.

THE MANAGER SERVES TWO MASTERS

Property managers serve a unique role as middle-man between the property owner and guests. Valid consumer complaints must be handled quickly, correctly and with courtesy. Sometimes discounts are warranted if the guest suffers a valid inconvenience, but usually careful listening and personal empathy are sufficient to resolve concerns.

But unreasonable demands must be resisted so that the property’s money is not handed over blindly to undeserving customers. To do both of these things fairly, the Manager has to walk a tight rope.

FIRST - managers must have clear policies, procedures, legal forms, rules and regulations, responsive staff and regular training. This is the foundation on which proper dispute decisions can be made.

SECOND - managers must investigate claims and make judgments about right and wrong. The manager becomes mediator between wild customer requests and a property’s condition. It is not a desirable job.
Many managers find it easy to hand over the owner’s money to save them selves’ aggravation. A competent manager bases decisions on facts only.

They must do so even if that results in a record of holding consumers responsible. A manager with no complaints is a manager who freely gives away the owners money. Smart owners want managers wise enough to compromise when legitimate and strong enough to resist extortion.

There are far more enjoyable parts of the manager’s job then dealing with conflict but doing so is just another aspect of what a professional management firm must provide.

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Author: William May – Volunteer, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0118 – 02/15/09

The New World of Publishing

By William May
Published: 01/23/09 Topics: Comments: 0

I have been in, around, up to and about communication, journalism, advertising, marketing and publishing for a lot of years in one form or another.

But this is a new era. The era of online publishing. Our company Plumbob Publishing is a thrown back to the era when journalists actually tried to verify what they write, where they get information and how well they convey it.

In case you don't know, a plumbob is a carpenter's tool. In it simplest form it includes nothing more than a weight on a string. As any fourth grader will tell you, holding the string with the weight on the bottom will always yield a true 90 degree angel to the earth. From there a carpenter can calculate level and square and straight. They call it being "In Plumb" and that is exactly what we want to do with Plumbob.

To start with we offer specialty Websites that report on, provide services to and support the industries they feature. Currently those are Vacation Rentals, Executive Suits and Photography, such as:

(Vrai.org)Vrai.org (For the Vacation Rental Association)
(VRMLS.org)VRMLS.org (The world's first Multiple-Listing-Services [ MLS ] For Vacation Rentals )
(ExecutiveSuites.org)ExecutiveSuites.org (For the Executive Suite Association)

And some prototypes of the Vacation Rental Listing Sites which use the VRMLS service to list and display vacation rentals from around the world to just around the corner.

(VacationRentalCentral.com)VacationRentalCentral.com
(FriendlyPetVacationRentals.com)FriendlyPetVacationRentals.com
(VRBpro.com)VRBpro.com
(WashingtonCoastVacationRentals.com)WashingtonCoastVacationRentals.com
(OceanShoresVacationRentals.com)OceanShoresVacationRentals.com
(Hawaii.nu)Hawaii.nu
(Many more of these to come)

Overtime we'll be sliding back into the world of print publications and other kinds of Internet activity. Check often to see what we are up to. Or visit any site to register and use our services.

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Author: William May – Manager, Plumbob Publishing
Blog #: 0100 – 01/23/09

HomeAway's Pillaging of Vacation Rentals

By William May
Published: 01/21/09 Topics: Comments: 0

Somebody has to say it I suppose. The era of vacation rental home ownership has been taken over by people hell bent on dominating the industry and sucking the profit out of it from all other participants.

For the last 10 years or so the market for vacation rentals has grown faster then any other kind of lodging. At first, during that time, owning and operating a rental by managers or owners became an enjoyable and profitable experience.

Some homes actually make a cash profit after all expenses including mortgage. But many simply help to offset the costs property owners experience in holding a wonderful family asset in highly desirable locations.

Now, however, the fun is over. A company by the name of HomeAway has brought big finance to the small industry. They are offering website advertising and other services to owners and managers but they are doing so without consideration of the effects on those people.

The reason for their mistakes is clear. They've raised a purported $450 million dollars US to buy vacation rental advertising sites promising investors the kind of astronomical returns that were common in the pre-dot com bust and now in the pre-mortgage bust era. HomeAway managers have no choice but to wring out every possible dollar in profit immediately in hopes of satisfying their overly ambitious promises.

Bringing rentals into a centralize database for easy website distribution makes selection seemingly easier by guests. Anything that streamlines the buying process should serve to increase consumer awareness and the market size.

Unfortunately, HomeAway is followed a path common for companies hell bent on growth. They are instituting monopolist practices to limit competition and adding features which may sound good to owners and guests but which are leading to the demise of the customers (owners and managers) who actually by the bills. Here are some examples:

Search Engine Optimization - In the travel industry, getting your website to appear high on Google, MSN and other dominant portals can mean the difference between success and failure in any industry. But the technology and diligence required to do so are daunting. Google changes its ranking algorithm 500 times last year alone.

The only way to stay on top is to have expert staff to manipulate the system. HomeAway has the people to do it and no one else does. They constantly appear high on listings but it is a position they do not deserve. Consumer use search engines to find businesses not businesses that list other businesses.

Can you imagine newspapers allowing radios to appear in the first article on the first page of every issue? Google has lost its mind to allow this kind of manipulation. But HomeAway has been happy to capitalize on Google’s failure.

Pay Per Click Dominance - Another way to appear high on portal sites is to buy Pay-Per-Click (PPC) ads. When Google solidify this opportunity PPC's were a god send for owners and managers. It allowed commercial sites some opportunity to get their ad and website noticed.

Providing you were in a unique location with unique key words such as "Kitty Hawk", "Kapalua Maui" or "Deer Valley UT" advertisers could figure out how to be found and pay reasonably affordable rates.

But Google didn't get blasphemously rich by being stupid. Their PPC system (now copied by pretty much all portals) allowed competitors to bid for position to get higher on the page and gain more attention. Of late Google has been killing the fatted cow by making their ad placement system more and more complex. All of these present several problems for Vacation Rental Operators.

First, Google may couch their overly ambitious ad system as allowing advertisers to buy only what they want and where they want it. But manipulating the PPC console has become arcane. Even knowledgeable operators find the time necessary to manage their ads simply not worth the time.

Second, the end result of Google's endless tinkering has, surprise, only served to increase the per click price and decrease the cost effectiveness of the ads. Most operators no longer find PPC’s of adequate benefit.

Third, and here again we come to HomeAway. Guess who is the only company large enough to employ staff to constantly monitor and manipulate the PPC system? But HomeAway also have a known habit of picking and choosing where they advertise on the portals to keep their listed operators happy. One day an advertiser thinks they are doing you a favor and the next day their inquiries plummet because they moved their ad money elsewhere. Of course HomeAway won’t tell them but is happy to keep the listing fee.

This also means the consumer is ill served. When he types in a town to find a vacation rental, he doesn't get a listing of the managers and operators in Orlando. Instead he gets links to HomeAway websites which, in turn, have listings to that town. A link to a link to a link. Anything that makes finding director operators more difficult harms the entire industry.

Surely Google and HomeAway know that consumers want easy to find products and services and don’t want to be clicked from one portal to another to another. But they have an unspoken collusion to force consumers through the hoops, to justify their existence and extract ever heavily ad costs from owners and operators.

Unaffordable Pricing - When (VRBO.com)VRBO.com was started ads were affordable, the number of properties was manageable and the service was cost effective. The prior owners of (VRBO.com)VRBO.com held out a long time but eventually succumbed to HomeAway's huge offer to buy the website.

But assets are hungry investments. The only way to service the debt or profit demands of investors is to crank up gross income. HomeAway has found insidious ways to do that. Like charging for extra photos – which no other site does.

They have been raising rates relentlessly, while at the same time increasing the number of properties rented. They do not publish the kind of statistics traditional media (newspapers, magazines, radio and television) but surely the number of inquiries per home has plummet. A business built on hidden deficiencies has something to hide.

Less Efficient Cost - In the end HomeAway's lust for increasing revenue will be its undoing. They probably know that already.

But HomeAway management will not relent from its assault on operators. They have no choice but to squeeze every dime out of its advertisers at the same time that the economy falters and owners and managers are failing. Small publications have always adjusted rates to compensate for the benefit delivered.

Heavy Handed Policies - Recently HomeAway has been promoting a seemingly advantageous problem of guaranteeing the quality of vacation rentals on its site. That must sound good to consumers especially first-time vacation rental guests who worry they are dealing with smaller companies of unknown capabilities.

Surely there is nothing wrong with HomeAway guaranteeing anything it chooses except that they are doing it with the advertisers’ money in an underhanded method. A Maui owner recently reported that HomeAway demand he refund a large rental fee to a guest. Seems the guest was charged with damage and filed a claim with HomeAway, who demanded it anyway. No trial, no jury just a hanging judge.

HomeAway has no sense of due process. To protect its franchise, they find it easier to just give away the advertiser's money even to dishonest guests. Great deal of HomeAway, Great for the consumer and terrible for operators, who are obligated to comply with HomeAway's dictates even if they don't sign up for the program.

Hidden Failures - HomeAway is not without its failures. In the investment world, buying various businesses and combining them under a single shingle is called a "Roll Up." It can make good sense in the proper forum. But HomeAway failed to understand that advertisers duplicate their efforts on various sites. They have tried various schemes of combining listings on the various websites they have bought. Often the advertiser's results go down while their costs go up.

It is safe to say that HomeAway is very lucky they were able to buy (VRBO.com)VRBO.com which continues to be its stellar producer because many of the other sites simply do not produce sufficient results for advertisers.

Disingenuous Advice - One of the smartest things HomeAway did several years ago was to hire Christine Karpinski, about the only person who had written about on how owners could operate their own homes without assistance by managers.

Some of the suggestions in Ms. Karpinski's book made reasonable sense some years ago. But as home prices sky-rocketed and the economy has faltered her observations have become out of date. Unfortunately, she is obligated to continue her mantra that owning a vacation rental home is a great investment. An investment, of course, which requires operators to pay big bucks to her employer.

Prior to the last 10 years, the reason families bought vacation homes was to share and enjoy them with family and friends. They were respites from the hum-drum of our regular lives. Renting an unused home was a good way to offset some of its costs. Families that owned such homes for long periods surely benefited when the property was resold, but covering all costs or even producing a yearly profit were not in the cards.

HomeAway's need to continually promote vacation rental homes as the next get rick quick scheme is off the mark. They know so but remember again they have investors to pay and offering more prudent advice is not something they can afford to do.

No Customer Service - The sure sign of a monopolistic intent is when a company fails to offer reasonable customer service. Remember when Ma Bell was accused of the slogan "We don't care. We don't have to". HomeAway has now earned that dubious honor.

Owners and managers constantly report being unable to reach HomeAway on the phone, emails that don't get answered and employees who take a less than understanding approach to problems.

On occasion HomeAway calls with discounts and offers on advertising and sometimes provides better pricing to new operators than to long-time customers. This is a common mistake in the ad world, one that traditional media no longer make. Taking care of your best customers always makes more sense than fishing for new ones.

The End of the Road - HomeAway is beginning to reach the end of its road. It won't die of course because too many people have too much money invested. But they have made a great many mistakes and have been able to gloss over them for too long by injecting money as a salve for all wounds.

The company has some bad habits: employees who don't take care of customers who have over-paid for websites that no longer produce the results they once did. They are no longer cost effective.

HomeAway is promoting investments not in the best interest of the customers who support them. And is then sucking all the profit out of those customers. It is not clear why industry leaders have allowed this to take place. They see the company pillaging the industry and have stood by and allowed it to happen.

Independent associations are the heart of almost every industry. But the Vacation Rental business has allowed a for-profit and for-huge-profits company become too close to the center of the world.

New Ideas and Methods - The good news is that the industry will eventually respond and find new and better ways of advertising. It will find ways of assuming a more normal arrangement where participants decide the direction of the industry and no on company dominates.

Those who are the heart of the business - owners and managers - will innovate, cooperate and beat back this threat to their industry. More about that in future issues of this blog.

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Author: William May – Volunteer, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0099 – 01/21/09

Google Shoots Itself in the Advertising Foot

By William May
Published: 01/17/09 Topics: Comments: 0

I can remember the first time I used Google. Up pops the browser there sits a simple single line search box. Type in what you are looking for and get some results.

Or use that "I'm Feeling Lucky" button which is still the dumbest thing they've ever done. I can't imagine why they hold onto it except that humans have a had time discarding bad ideas that they think are good.

But the simple page design concept was unique at the time. Even today most website publisher crowd their screens with so much flotsam the user has to spend previous time trying to find what he wants.

Actually the concept of good graphics and simple design are centuries old. The Advertising business has changed greatly in the last few decades but smart ad guys still know that you have to find one or two good propositions and push them relentlessly to consumers. I still can't figure out what the heck a gecko has to do with advertising but it is tough to avoid the messages.

Internet industry competitors seem to want to fight over the accuracy or relevance of the search results but I say Google rise to prominence was mostly because they kept it simple. Over the last few years Google has begun to destroy what it built. Customizing and adding all those gadgets, widgets and flotsam to your desktop may tickle the hears of the Google engineers who built them but the more the user clutters his own screen the more it detracts from that search bar.

Google is on the right track for services however. Can you imagine getting by without Maps, Images and some of the other tools? I hear their Documents and online office type applications have not zoomed into preference as they had hoped. But the services don't have to kill the simple desktop because you can just keep them in the simple menu.

ADWORDS: Every industry can have it picks and pans for how Google has affected their business. At first AdWords (the google paid advertising system) was a God send. For pennies we could get in front of users and onto the first or second screen. Cost versus financial return is the bible by which advertisers worship. At first AdWords were a religious experience.

But Google didn't get rich by giving away ads. Over the years they have devised intricate systems by which the advertiser could manipulate where his ads ran, when, how much he spent, and then could review the results based on Google analytics. All of that sounds pretty good until you realize it has resulted in an ever upward march of ad costs. I don't mean just the price per click (PPC), but I mean the cost to produce each and every inquiry. In short, the cost to benefit ratio on Google is plummeting.

The learning curse is jumping as well. Being proficient and having control of costs requires a PHD in Google University speak. Our firm spends time managing the process but we are coming to the end of the productivity road. That causes us to search out PPC ads elsewhere that can still be purchased at lower cost. It is easy to get lots of clicks at Google but we're taking more time to use alternate.

ALTERNATES: And we work on the premise, correct I think, that a click is a click is a click - no matter where it comes from. In traditional media like radio, TV, newspapers and magazines the forum in which the ad appears does affect the perception of the product advertised. But let's face it, Google, MSN and other portfolio websites are nothing more than glorified nickel want ads. It takes more time to manage additional ad serving services but the cost can be as much as 90% lower - a difference no advertiser can afford to overlooked.

DOWNFALL: Website advertising will be with us forever. Remember when people said Television would mean the end of Radio? Didn't happen and PPC ads won't ever go away. But I predict their current dominance is dimming and will continue to do so. The reason is that the text limits and bland appearance don't leave enough room for creativity.

As a former copywriter myself I love words of course. But let's face it Google PPC ad graphics are boring, bland and did I say boring? Yes Google has instituted the ability to utilize graphic ads and that is nice improvement. But they too are small and not lent to creativity.

The pundits will tell you that manipulating the message, headline, text and offer are heavily manageable factors and I agree. But only the giant companies can ever afford the kind of staffing necessary to stay on top of such factors literally on a minute by minute basis.

Google has made a pile of money by providing ads that small guys can afford and those small guys can't keep up. They have begun to search for alternate modes of advertising, promotion and public relations. And they'll find them too because they can't afford not too.

As Google tarnishes its golden egg other media will rebound.

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Author: William May – Volunteer, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0098 – 01/17/09

Why You Can't Shoot Vacation Rentals with a Camera

By William May
Published: 01/15/09 Topics: Comments: 0

Well of course you can.

Today everyone has a camera or two or three. They've moved up from the decades old "Brownies" to Polaroids to click and shoot and now into the world of digital and now to sophisticated digital cameras with large formats (pixels) and self correcting shooting.

So how come when you look at vacation rental photos they are still kind of lousy. Yes they have gotten better over the years due to technology. Some rental managers and even real estate agents have even taken a class or two. Some actually have some talent but still the photos are over exposed, under exposed, out of focus, have washed out colors or are just plain boring.

The reason is no camera can shoot what you eye can behold.

The human eye is a miraculous device. Made up to three layers of issue its complexity is almost too much to understand. The tough Sclerotic coat creates the "white" of the eye except in the front where it forms the transparent cornea. The Choroid middle layer is deeply pigmented with melanin reducing reflection of stray light. It reduces the amount of light and improves its image forming ability. The retina is the inner layer and contains light receptors, the rods and cones that process the signals before passing them back to the brain.

And it does all of this in low light, bright light and everything in between. It thinks and changes and adapts. Something no camera can do. OH sure scientists can cause the image to appear on a medium such as film or transistors (hence digital cameras) which can then be transferred and printed onto another medium (some kind of paper). But that is all it can do.

No camera can interpret what it gets to determine if the color is correct, if all areas are in focus and if the camera is level to the ground (as an example).So giving a novice a camera and expecting them to make art will not produce another Mona Lisa.

Instead, when it comes to our little area of the world - vacation rental and lodging photos - an additional machine must be added before great photography can be created. And that machine is the human brain.

Surely that is required to locate, light and photograph architectural type photos. But then the same machine needs to use other tools to review, edit and fix photos. The goal is to produce vacation rental photos that reveal nothing more and nothing less than what your eye can see in a split second.

Ancil Adams was famous for shooting nature photos especially mountains and forests. But did you know that he spent far more hours in the dark room than in the field?

Shoot vacation rentals is the same. Using tripods, lighting, Photoshop, macros and rigid shooting rules today's top photographers spend more time correcting photos than they do shooting. That is especially true when completing photos for commercial purposes.

In future blogs we'll reveal why photos by the Signatours Image Team far surpass what you find in the usual travel, lodging, website and real estate web pages. You can get a preview at (signatours.com)signatours.com/. Or look at the photos of fantastic vacation homes on our sister company’s website (sunspotresorts.com)sunspotresorts.com/. Tune in next time for the secrets of great photography.

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Author: William May, MayPartners Advertising
Blog #: 0097 – 01/15/09

Sometimes the Best Ideas are Obvious

By William
Published: 01/10/09 Topics: Comments: 0

It was our very first vacation rental. A sumptuous 3,000 square foot vacation home located at Washington State's top destination - Wapato Point a private resort on 50 miles long Lake Chelan Washington. Because it sits on Native American land we dubbed it the Totem House and filled it with native American art. (totemhouse.info)totemhouse.info.

Now this is a beautiful place. The cleanest water, 300 days of sunshine a year and a resort with pools and hot tubs, tennis and basketball courts, acres of green grass and thousands of feet of white sand beach. There are indoor pools too and an ice skating rink in winter. Close to huge outdoor activities. But best of all is the sense of getting away and being in a place created for recreation.

But we did not know what we were getting into. The year was 1999 and buying the house was a long term goal. The seller had accepted renters for certain weeks of that first summer that was fine for us. And at the end of the year we were delighted to find how much income we had received for no inconvenience at all.

In fact, The Totem House went so well we were able to buy a large condo on Poipu Beach Kauai. The Poipu Place (poipuplace.com)poipuplace.com was an extension of the dream for fun, adventure and relaxation all wrapped into one place. Then we bought a place in a ski resort and other vacation rental homes too, all made possible by the nice income.

With interests in other businesses, operating the rentals was no sweat. But then a neighbor approached one day to say, "Hey, how come your house is full all the time and mine is not." And that is how it started.

In time we started management vacation homes for other folks in a number of locations. Our marketing, sales and guest services were more in depth than others and the business began to grow.

Two years ago we decided it was time to offer what we had built and we have been designing and building an expandable business ever since. Our concept is simple - offer all the back office tools that make rentals successful and that most local managers don't or won't invest in. Things like staff photographer, dynamic database driven front-office and back-office systems. World class websites and multiple channels of marketing.

So far So good. In the next few years we'll be opening in more markets start with the Northwest US and Hawaii and British Columbia Canada. If your own deserves the best management possible all you have to do is call William May at 888-628-8989 x902. Or if you would like to join our growing cadre of offices call today.

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Author: William, MayPartners Advertising
Blog #: 0096 – 01/10/09

Hello Blog. Goodbye Newsletters.

By William May
Published: 01/10/09 Topics: Comments: 0

After years of writing newsletters I've succumbed to writing a blog. Not sure what the difference is - we've been posting newsletters online years ago- as well as emailing them and, in fact, snail mailing them years ago.

What better way to keep in touch with all those people I should keep in touch with. So that is my promise to tell you things you'll want to know about Sunspot Inns, Resorts and Vacation Rentals in specific and about Vacation Rentals and even Lodging in particular.

I'll announce our cool new rentals as they come in. And our new offices and network members as our company continues to grow. Like Poipu Beach and Princeville Kauai in Hawaii. Plus Lake Chelan, Crescent Bar, Sunbanks Resorts, Gig Harbor, Whidbey Island and the Bavarian Village of Leavenworth in Washington State.

I would be remiss if I didn't mentioned we are recruiting agents, professionals and property managers in multiple markets right now. If you want to own your own business, live in a desirable recreation market and grow in our dynamic industry, please give us a call. We are recruiting and training new network members particularly in the Northwest States and Hawaii too.,

And I suppose I should tip you off to the specials, discounts and promotions we offer. In fact right now we're having our annual pre-season sale. You can get two weeks for the price of two in many homes. A big discount in Hawaii. And right now always best pick of dates before the spring rush.

In fact, I guess I better be going. If I don't book my own place before you do I wont have first pick will I? Oh, and by the way, happy new years from all your friends at Sunspot Inns, Resorts and Vacations rentals. You can preview homes and book online at (sunspotresorts.com)sunspotresorts.com. Or give us a call at any time to book 888-628-8989.

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Author: William May, MayPartners Advertising
Blog #: 0093 – 01/10/09

Lotus Hale Hawaiian Villa Vs. Poipu Grand Hyatt Hotel

By William May
Published: 01/09/09 Topics: Comments: 0

The Grand Hyatt at Poipu Kauai Hawaii is a real gem. If you want beauty and pampering this is your place - provided you want to a small room, high prices, less privacy and a hike to everything you might want to do.

For just about $400 per night you get one of the 602 motel 6 size rooms. Better appointed of course but you will be 200 yards from the lobby, 200 yards from your car and 200 yards from the beach.

Oh and about that beach, its not Poipu Beach but Shipwreck beach. A nice place but too dangerous to swim most times of the year. You'll have the pleasure of paying top dollar for breakfast, lunch and dinner and the intrusion of the very pleasant housekeepers.

Or for that same $400 per night you can stay in the Lotus Hale - a true Hawaii villa two blocks west. You are closer to Poipu Beach and inside the Poipu Kai Resort complete with pools, hot tubs, tennis and onsite restaurant. ()(lotushale.com)lotushale.com.

You get privacy and a huge home with 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, huge private lanai, gourmet kitchen, plasma TV. Plus your car is just outside the door. Better yet for that same $400 dollars you can bring 7 of your friends and family and spend time in the huge living room enjoying each other's company.

Lotus Hale is just one of the many discrete vacation rental homes and condo's available from Tradewind Vacation Rentals at (tradewindvacationrentals.com)tradewindvacationrentals.com. A local company that has a national reach due to its membership in the national Sunspot Vacation Rentals Network. (sunspotresorts.com)sunspotresorts.com.

Sunspots is building the first global network for vacation rental managers in order to establish quality standards, instant booking and first-rate owner services. Tradewind provides pristine cleaning, quick maintenance if you need it and first-rate guest and owner services.

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Author: William May – Manager, Sunspot Vacation Rentals
Blog #: 0095 – 01/09/09

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