Frequently Asked Questions for Prospective Homeowners
An Interview with Amy:Tell us about your philosophical approach to creating Escape?
Escape's model truly represents an evolution in my approach to the Vacation Rental business as I have watched the industry change over the last 20 years. As a General Manager in a very notable destination in our region for the last four years, it has become increasingly difficult for destination companies to maintain a competitive advantage over operators flooding onto the scene with extremely low management fees and little or no overhead. Destination Companies were already up against an economic recession and then regionally the negative perception caused by an oil spill. And, as a result, most of there cost metrics for services rendered was already as lean as possible, but they were still struggling to find their edge. So, myself and my respected colleagues in the area operating these type companies, were constantly challenging ourselves more than ever before to think outside the box, improve our top line revenue, our services, and our guest satisfaction in order to ultimately improve our owner's bottom line. After all, in our minds, the answer to stabilizing and growing inventory was generating more money for our owners. And, if we did that, in a well-managed business, our own bottom line would take care of itself. But, we were experiencing positive trends from our efforts, and still finding it wasn't enough for a growing number of homeowners.
Vacation rentals are like any other business... those trying to push their margin too fast or too far are going to suffer as a result through the normal means of inventory attrition due to dissatisfied owners and guests. And, when you look at the costs involved such as labor, supplies, amenities, ad placements, sponsorships, software, office lease costs, etc... viewed by region, they don't vary vastly. Thus, my favorite saying over the years remains true: "there is no magic in the model". There are two types of vacation rental companies right now. There are the one's offering a 10% to 15% management fee while others offer 25% to 35%. Within each group, like services are provided leaving similar costs bases. So, the ultimate revelation was that you cannot make one the other but you could consider offering homeowners both under one umbrella. And, I now believe the magic is not in trying to change the model...it is in better understanding the end users goals and being more aggressive in creating ways to meet those goals.
So, the philosophical approach to Escape is actually simple: While we as operators may believe the Traditional/Destination model is what best serves the homeowners, the industry and our business, you are the homeowner and should have the final say in how you want you property managed. We completely respect your right to choose the model that works best to meet your unique needs and expectations. And, we are going to be 100% committed to helping you fulfill those needs and expectations while adding professional industry expertise to maximize the results of that choice.What will separate Escape's Traditional Model from other operators in the area?
We are going to be a true partner with our owners AND guests. I have enjoyed very strong relationships with homeowners during my career not by always getting it right, but because of a willingness to make it right with a genuinely caring attitude. And, I have a proven track record of being able to take that attitude and ensure it is drilled down to all levels of departments and organizations.
Escape's guest experience will encourage loyalty from those returning to our area year after year. But, not only do want guests to return to Escape, we are going to use creative ways to entice them to return to your property. If you choose Escape, even in the Traditional Model, you will receive management and care that ensures you know you are a name not a number. And, your guests will experience the same level of attention.
Finally, Escape is going to provide the highest return and the best care for you and your property.How do you feel about Homeaway/VRBO?
After fighting the concept of this and other like sites for a lot of years, I actually tipped my hat to their success a few years back with a recommendation to homeowners on the program I was affiliated with to utilize the site. At the time, my true thought was that all the additional listings would assist us in saturating the inventory on the site thus helping us protect rate making it harder for smaller operators who weren't spending incremental marketing dollars to be successful. I'm sure some of you just thought shame on you. But, I was open about this philosophy in our annual owners meeting and added if it drives incremental reservations great. Well guess what? it did... And, since that time the site continues to grow even more powerful as a valid source of bookings. Today, I view the site as the Expedia or Travelocity of the Vacation Rental Industry. Around the time of the Homeaway acquisition in 2006, they successfully reinvented themselves by allowing property managers to use the site. And as a result, individuals who wanted to provide management services without significant sales and marketing costs were handed a very viable booking engine. And, ultimately this served as the biggest catalyst forcing destination companies to look at their models and at times push their guest rates and management fees down as they tried to keep up.
But, I also have to give them credit where credit is due. According to an article in Travel Weekly on June 15th, 2011 currently only 1 in 10 Americans has rented a vacation home, according to PhoCusWright research, which is actually up 2% from industry statistics reported a little over a year ago. That is a lot of untapped potential. Vacation Rentals has been one of the fastest growing travel segments for the past two years and industry experts predict this as a continued trend. There is no question one of the factors driving this growth is the advertising and media coverage they have garnered.
So, to wrap up, I think the pendulum was in the favor of the Destination Management Company for many years, it swung in the direction of VRBO during the economic downturn, and now I believe it will swing back to the center. And, successful destination companies will accept their power in the industry and work with them and other like sites. Many already have. But, by that same token, I anticipate the days of VRBO serving as a sole booking source for properties will also come to an end. Either way, Escape will be ready to react to future industry trends and we'll share the information we have with our homeowners so they can make educated decisions about their property. And, for owners on our Traditional Model and our Sales and Marketing Model, we will be using a variety of marketing strategies to ensure we aren't solely reliant on any one sourceSo, if you personally believe that homeowners will need both mediums to be successful, why did Escape create a Service Only and On Call Model?
Before I answer that as it applies to rentals, I would like to say that the On Call Model is a great option for non-rental homeowners who don't live in our area as well. But, as it applies to rentals, the first reason is because I truly believe there will always be homeowners who choose to self manage their properties. It is often assumed that owners who choose to self manage do it strictly to retain a larger percentage of the revenue and, more often than not, that is the case. But, I have met many homeowners over the years that prefer this method because they want to personally interact with the guest going into their property to ensure they feel comfortable they will take proper care of their asset. And, we believe that we can add value to their choice to do that by bringing professional services to their individual efforts.
In addition, as noted when discussing VRBO, we are in a quickly changing industry right now and having a variety of models established with procedures and technology place to support them allows us the ability to react quickly to market demands on behalf of our homeowners and our business.Can you tell us a little more about your Sales and Marketing Only model?
If there were anything truly original in what we are doing differently than a lot of companies, this would be it. And, again, it comes straight out of my "hundreds of homeowner meetings" book. When you line up homeowners top three expectations they are guest satisfaction, return on investment, and protection of asset. In my 20 years in the business these haven't changed and they likely never will. And, the driving force behind guest satisfaction and protecting the owner's asset, and doing it well, is a very solid housekeeping team. It all drives from there...reporting damage, reporting issues that need to be fixed so that maintenance knows to repair them, properly cleaning the property between guests, ensuring proper item placement, and reporting any additional cleaning needs beyond the routine items. And, by the way, they need to do it all in just a few short hours during the busy summer season. Vacation Rental housekeepers have a HUGE job. I had the privilege of managing one of the largest housekeeping operations in our region for two and half years, and while it was the most rewarding job I have ever had, it was also the toughest hands down.So, if homeowners have established service providers that they trust to play this huge role, why are so many current management companies against this?
To date, mainly control. And, I understand that, it is key that properties are prepared to very high standards and most are truly concerned that a service provider not in their direct control could leave the cottage in substandard condition for the incoming guest. But, my experience with the homeowners who have requested this of me has been if the individual can clean to their standards...there won't be an issue cleaning to ours. However, in order to ensure brand standards are met and our guests' expectations exceeded we will have an inspection process behind every outside cleaner. So, the main reason a homeowner would choose this option is simply to have more direct control and involvement in the care of their property.In one sentence, tell me as an owner why we should choose Escape?
No matter the model you choose, the Escape team is going to take a genuine interest in you personally as a valued partner and we will do the best job maximizing your return, satisfying your guests, and protecting your investment.