We caught up with the hosts of the Thanks for Visiting podcast, Sarah Karakaian and Annette Grant, and discussed all things short-term rentals. Both hosts have impressive operating experience in the vacation rental industry, which makes it easy for their podcast to cover a wide range of topics and offer a wealth of tactical knowledge. We chatted about how they began their podcast, the current state of the industry, and how they've adapted to travel's "new normal."
Breezeway: So how did you get your start in the vacation rental industry?
Sarah: I was actually an actor in New York City but often had side gigs in the hospitality industry. I found myself in and out of luxury hotels, and eventually worked my way up to management. At the same time, my husband and I wanted to own real estate, so we found a cute little single-family home in New York. I was able to translate my hotel experience to the short-term rental space and fell in love with hosting, which brought us to the Midwest where I could buy and host more short-term rentals.
Annette: Before short-term rentals, my background mainly involved operations for small businesses. I became fascinated with the sharing economy over the years, and naturally gravitated towards Airbnb as I love to travel. I didn’t own any real estate, though, so I partnered with a real estate developer that had some vacancies on properties that weren’t renting long-term. We started with one, and then two, and then three. It wasn’t long before I was bitten by the hosting bug.
Breezeway: It’s clear that you both have a shared love for the short-term rental industry. How did this dovetail into joining forces and creating the ‘Thanks for Visiting’ podcast?
Sarah: Annette and I met at a city council meeting in Columbus Ohio. The meeting was about regulating the short-term rental industry locally. So, we met fighting for the right to host responsibly, is what we always say.
Annette: The decision for us to start the podcast stemmed from our mutual desire to elevate the guest experience and empower managers to run a profitable business. There weren’t a lot of people discussing these topics, and sometimes it’s a lonely world being a host. It was also important to us to bring a female perspective to the industry.
Breezeway: With all of the ups and downs managers have experienced since the start of the pandemic, it’s a great time to have this sense of community within the industry. What has been your favorite part of hosting the podcast so far?
Sarah: We’ve created a really close community of managers who want to keep hospitality in the hosting business. We’re now surrounded with thousands of people who understand the importance of the details – like why I move the salt and pepper shakers seven times and make sure they look just right before the guest arrives. They get me, and that’s been really fun.
Breezeway: Have you found a specific topic that’s resonated most with your audience?
Sarah: I think what surprised our listeners most is most is when we brought on (Breezeway’s) Justin Ford to cover the different aspects of safety. We got an overwhelming amount of responses from our listeners that expressed gratitude for the topics that Justin covered. Those episodes perform really well despite how daunting the topic can feel.
Annette: I’m actually looking at our total downloads right now, and Justin’s “8 Danger Zones in a Short Term Rental and How to Avoid Them” is one of our most downloaded episodes. This fact really shows that our listeners prioritize guest safety and the guest experience and illustrates the type of community we’re trying to build. As a hospitality provider myself, guest safety is my number one priority.
In fact, Justin has inspired us (and many of our listeners) to make safety updates at our own properties. I had a huge shift in design versus safety. Hosts want their design to be cool, that “Boho” look with the mirror leaning, the rug situated a certain way. They don’t want a fire extinguisher in the middle of the room, they want it tucked away. But it’s there for a reason. You need to let the guests protect themselves, and also your property.
Breezeway: The relationship between vacation rental safety and cleanliness has grown closer since the pandemic started. Have you or your listeners made significant changes to property care programs in 2020?
Sarah: Oh, definitely. We’ve sat down with our housekeepers and discussed the additional procedures that we needed to put in place. This included the basics such as wearing masks and changing gloves throughout each turnover, as well as tactical issues like how to safely dissemble a bed. What’s really imperative for us is ensuring we have a concrete plan and that our internal teams are on the same page.
Annette: Our listeners have made a lot of operational changes this year in order to keep their guests safe. They’ve really leveled-up their cleaning game and updated their listings to market these new protocols. Another change has been leaving cleaning supplies and disinfectants for guests to use when they check in.
Breezeway: That’s a smart approach, and we actually authored a post with ICND outlining similar tips on how managers can leverage property care programs to better market their rentals.
Sarah: Our listeners haven’t been shy about leaning into their cleaning and safety measures as an opportunity to overhaul their operational practices and better position themselves. Professional managers (many of which are Breezeway users) who already cared about cleans, inspections, maintenance, and tight turnovers are winning out. Guests feel safe in those properties, and that’s a really great silver lining in how chaotic the industry has felt this year.
Breezeway: I think this trend toward professional operations is really gaining steam across managers, which will help vacation rentals position themselves as the best accommodation option for guests. Do you have any predictions on what the vacation rental market will look like moving forward?
Sarah: The short-term rental industry is in a good spot, and I think its popularity will only rise. I feel really good about drive-to destinations, as these properties have already seen a huge boost of demand from people and families looking for a safe place to escape and explore. We just need to make sure we continue to cater to our guests, and that we’re providing them with safe properties and top-notch service.
Annette: I agree with Sarah, and think the industry is going to continue to climb in our current ‘work-from-home’ climate. The demand for mid-term stays at isolated properties should grow in popularity, which positions vacation rentals really well. There is of course a of uncertainty, but people are taking advantage of processional flexibility and are temporarily relocated.
There’s also an opportunity for vacation rental managers to win over guests who have traditionally stayed in hotels. The pandemic has forced a lot of people to choose short-term rentals who wouldn’t typically do so, and this is our chance to impress this segment of travelers.