Since the start of the pandemic, many vacation rental managers are experiencing challenges in keeping properties open for guests. Breezeway sat down with one of the industry’s most distinguished experts, VRMB Founder Matt Landau, to discuss some of the most notable moments from this season's Unlocked podcast.
Breezeway: Alright Matt! Let's get right to it – thank you for being with us today! You asked Rafat Ali if vacation rentals are well positioned for the pandemic, and he said they are, “due to the fact that they can be professionally managed, allow social distancing, and are often in drive to markets.” While we’re seeing this dynamic now, how do you think vacation rentals will be positioned months down the road?
Matt Landau: Interestingly, Rafat predicted that before it happened, we recorded that interview probably at least a month before it was released. It was pretty impressive that he was able to anticipate that short-term rentals as standalone homes in secluded areas would excel, and they've done just that.
It has become very clear to travelers that there are certain features that vacation rentals offer that hotels can’t, and a lot of people are experimenting with them. This brings up the big question, what does this mean for us moving forward? I honestly think it could go one of two ways:
The good news is that the majority of the traveling public (who had not stayed in a vacation rental pre-COVID) would choose to stay in one and have a great experience. They enjoy one another’s company, and realize what an incredible product this is - clean, safe, reasonably priced, and spacious.
They have such a great time and become a repeat guest as a first-time customer. They continue to choose vacation rentals wherever they go, which would be a fantastic outcome for the broader industry.
Breezeway: We aren't biased or anything [laughs], but we like that outcome.
Matt Landau: The other way it could go is that first experience doesn’t live up to their expectations. It’s not clean. It’s not safe. It’s not managed professionally, and they leave thinking "I’m never going to do this again.”
I'd like to think that the experience of these people trying vacation rentals for the first time will greatly exceed their expectations, and that the pandemic will act as a watershed moment for our industry.
Breezeway: The travel climate was in a completely different position two months ago, but now people are itching to leave their homes and travel.
Matt Landau: Uh-huh. Let’s not overlook the possibility that vacation rentals could be responsible for spreading COVID-19 into a community, making professionally managed rentals all the more important. The people that we work with are on the supreme professional end of the spectrum - it’s the other end that I worry about.
Breezeway: Exactly - so much hinges on the level of care and detail taken to prepare the property.
All right. We’ll move on to the next question. Victoria Ujj stated in an episode that managers who still ignore technology for old-school methods like notepads will struggle being competitive in today's market. We at Breezeway evidently agree with her sentiment, but what role do you think technology can take on as the industry continues to mature?
Matt Landau: There’s the obvious answer that managers need tech to handle the immense amount of work needed to pull off a professional vacation rental stay. You can’t deliver on an amazing experience without technology.
I think what's even more interesting is the perception that property managers hold of technology. Managers like to say that they’re not good with technology, and that it intimidates them since they didn't grow up with it.
The way I see it, changing and growing to adopt technology is all about gaining a competitive advantage. Let's take the iPhone for example. If you’re not using a smartphone for communication, directions, fact checking, etc., then you can't possibly operate as effectively as the guy or gal down the street who is using one. Sure, you might be able to pull your vacation rental business off without using all the technology, but the competition down the street will be using all the latest tools, and that’s giving them a gigantic edge to better market and maintain properties, and serve guests.
Therefore, (I’m kind of coming back full-circle here) taking advantage of all the tools that you can – and this is something Jeremy really hits on in our conversation – will help automate all the things that you’ll get credit for. I think that’s the best way of looking at what and when to use in terms of technology. You don’t want to completely technologize your business because then you are no longer human.
Breezeway: That was going to be my question: do you think that it is possible for managers to get too in the weeds in terms of using all these technologies?
Matt Landau: Oh, yeah. I’ll say something controversial here, but owners and managers are overwhelmed with the amount of tools they need to run their business. They need to have the following:
- Property management software
- Cleaning and maintenance software
- Channel manager
- Dynamic pricing
- Digital guest welcome book
- Email marketing platform
- Smart home automation
- Noise sensors
- Insurance apps
All of these tools - you kidding me?! I think the tools that do their specialty best win and become a necessity, versus the ones who are trying to do a little bit of everything. That's why we like Breezeway so much, because you guys focus on back-end property operations and have hit it out of the park.
Breezeway: Thank you! In regards to your Shaun Stuart interview, do you agree that the technology used to accomplish these things is available without compromising guest privacy?
Matt Landau: I think there are tools that can make the property manager’s job less painful, and there are also tools that make the guest experience significantly better. I think there is only a subset of tools that really do achieve both of these outcomes, and those are the ones we must embrace. Guest privacy is extremely important, and if it's not preserved, then the best interest of the guest is not being protected.
Breezeway: Absolutely. The next question is based on the interview with Christina Thoreson. Christina talks of growing her direct bookings. How important and influential do you see marketing for a professional manager?
Matt Landau: It’s funny that we don’t often think the guests’ arrival and departure at the home and what they experience during that process. We don’t think of that through a marketing lens. However, if you tilt the picture frame and realize that the best chance of direct bookings come from repeat and/or referral stays, then the marketing process includes the moment a guest walks in the door for the first time.
Everyone knows they want repeats and referrals, but I think professional managers are looking at how to reallocate what we traditionally think of as marketing dollars (e.g. graphics, email marketing, paid advertising, etc.). Reallocating conventional money into the actual stay is often money well spent, and leads to repeat bookings.
I think the way to stay in touch with prior guests is via a regular newsletter, whether it’s monthly or quarterly. Simply staying in touch with updates about the business, and special offers is an effective way to generate loyal and recurring clients.
Breezeway: Agreed! The last question is from your interview with Dana Lubner. Community and thought leadership is something extremely important for us at Breezeway, and also embodies what this season of Unlocked is all about. Can you expand on the sense of community you’re building with the podcast, and that you feel VRMB, in general?
Matt Landau: The word community is thrown around too much and too easily in our industry. “We’re building a community. Join our community. We have a great vacation rental community.” I have had the pleasure of being part of an extraordinary community, and that was my real-life community in Casco Viejo, Panama.
This was the historic district of Panama City that had been left for ruin over 50 years. It was the UNESCO World Heritage site, but it didn’t have love and it didn’t have attention. I moved to that neighborhood and ran my vacation rental business and offered the only luxury accommodations in town.
Over the course of those ten years, I saw the community go from zero to an extraordinary group of thriving neighbors, small businesses and residents. Having seen that transformation was a remarkable experience.
I got to observe what it means to actually have community, and it’s a very special thing. I don’t know if I will ever experience that kind of community again, and I think everybody in Casco Viejo during that period would agree. There are certain characteristics that are very distinct about community. A lot of them I took from that real-world experience and applied to my virtual community, and that is VRMB.
I’ll end this back where I began. I think the word community is overused. It’s cliché. It’s tossed out to vaguely draw a box around something that we think we have. It’s not a terrible word. I like it a lot, but I think those who want to build healthy communities need to really peel back the layers of their people and culture.
Breezeway: Well said. We've definitely noticed a more palpable sense of community in the industry since the start of the pandemic, and that people and companies have prioritized helping over selling. Companies from totally different ends of the spectrum have come together to share their knowledge and offer their expertise as a resource. It's been really great.
Matt Landau: If you look at catastrophes and natural disasters that have taken place, there often seems to be a period immediately afterwards when everybody is just going frantic. When that phase ends, a golden period often begins of gathering together and helping each other work towards a greater good. That’s the beauty that comes out of adversity.
Ironically, in the time when everybody is most challenged, everybody is also most generous with their precious resources, with their experiences, with their time. At the end of the day, I think that really distinguishes our industry from others in that people really do have big hearts and want to help each other.
For more information regarding Breezeway's partnership with Unlocked, visit VRMB.