Destin-005.jpgHi everyone,


I am finally back in the office from my whirlwind trip that included  visiting a college for my son, redecorating my vacation rentals, and  hosting the “Revive the Gulf” Symposium in Destin! Though it was  jam-packed with activity (and I’m certainly glad to be home), it was  also great to accomplish so much during one trip.


As promised, below is my recap of each of the sessions of our  Symposium. To start, here is a look at who attended:



  • A majority of the owners in attendance owned property in the local  area, but we also met quite a few with homes in Alabama and Mississippi
  • A significant amount of owners have been renting for more than five  years
  • Many of the attendees owned more than one vacation rental property
  • About half of the attendees had already filed with the Gulf Coast  Claims Facility


1st Session: State of the Vacation Rental Industry in the Gulf



Tom Hale, Chief Product Officer of HomeAway, Inc.



Tom’s presentation focused on the efforts HomeAway made to help boost  inquiries in the Gulf Coast following the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill,  which included increased pay-per-click advertising, targeted emails to  Gulf Coast travelers, a dedicated

oil spill  response website

, and customized banner ads throughout our website.


But perhaps more importantly, Tom shared some of HomeAway’s plans to  continue to promote the Gulf Coast and the entire vacation rental  industry in 2011. The owners seemed most excited about the improvements  to the Owner Dashboard, our upcoming Super Bowl commercial, the sneak  peek of our new listing analysis tool, and most of all, VRBO phone  support! Phone support, with click-to-call technology, is currently in  test mode, but it should roll out to all customers sometime early next  year. Stay tuned for more info!



2nd Session: Restoring Tourism and Economic Activity



Pamela Watkins, Beaches of South Walton



Pamela spent her session telling us all the things that the visitors’  bureau has done with their BP claims money to help boost tourism and  restore the image of the area following the oil spill. Pamela felt  strongly that the media didn’t necessarily portray the true state of our  beaches, so the media is the best way to correct that perception.


So, with their payments from BP, the Beaches of South Walton invested  in the following marketing efforts:



  • Community workshops
  • Dedicated websites
  • Seaside newsletter
  • Television and radio commercials
  • Employee training
  • Satellite media tours to 60 stations nationwide
  • Celebrity PSA campaigns
  • Partner co-op campaigns
  • Rewards programs
  • Back to the Beach concert


What I found even more interesting, though, was the study that the  Beaches of South Walton conducted with travelers who visited the area in  2009 but didn’t return in 2010. Here is what they found:



  • 48% who traveled this summer but not to BoSW sited the oil spill as  their #1 reason
  • 15% who had booked cancelled
  • 85% never made a reservation this summer
  • 49% of those who went somewhere else said that their experience  wasn’t as good as BoSW; 41% said it was about the same; 10% said it was  better
  • 83% of those who did return intend to come back again in 2011; 6%  have already made reservations
  • 66% do not plan to make their reservations sooner than a few months  before their trip
  • 16% think the beaches will still be impacted next summer


Although there were some minor negative findings in the survey results,  overall it gives me hope that bookings will be just about back to  normal for next summer.



3rd Session: The Claims Process



Caroline Adams, Buzbee Law Firm



The Buzbee Law Firm has been involved in the oil spill since day one,  representing many rig workers, oystermen and shrimpers in addition to  vacation rental owners. When it came to our group and the claims  process, most people have filed for 1-6 month payments. No one has filed  for a final payment, and Buzbee recommends holding off on that as of  right now. Most people were paid about 2-3 weeks after submitting their  claims, if not sooner.


So, if you are among those who have not submitted your claim yet,  Buzbee recommends submitting your emergency claim with the following  supporting documents:



  • Description of business losses due to spill
  • Records showing gross revenues for 2010
  • Letters of business cancellations
  • Maps or descriptions of the area
  • Financial statements for 2007-2010
  • Signed income tax returns for 2007-2009
  • Details on efforts to mitigate losses
  • Daily/monthly occupancy information 2007-2010
  • Documents of insurance/collateral source payments from government  entities



4th Session: Recovering from the Oil Spill



Christine Karpinski, Director of Owner Community for HomeAway, Inc.



Ok, I’m not going to toot my own horn too much, but here are the main  points I addressed in my session. For more information on these topics, I  encourage you to read the articles I’ve linked below:



  • Stay firm on your cancellation  policy, and be up front about it with guests
  • Have confidence when speaking to your renters! Hundreds of owners  sent checks back to travelers unnecessarily; we must change this whole  mentality and have more confidence in our business as a group.
  • Encourage guests to purchase travel  insurance. Although most natural disasters aren’t covered, several  companies made exceptions for the oil spill.
  • The oil spill created some bargain-hunting monsters, but you just need to know how to deal with them.
  • Don’t undercut  your neighbors’ prices. None of us want to see a price war break  out.
  • After you’ve met your booking goal for the year, consider raising  your prices. It’s perfectly fair to raise prices once a year, but  be sure to leave them that way. Rather than cutting prices later, you  can always run a special.
  • Don’t scrimp on silly things – be sure to provide  the necessities like spices, detergent, a hair dryer etc.


So that just about covers it. If you have additional questions, I  encourage you to become a member of our forum on the Gulf Coast Response  Center website. I hope this event provided some much needed reassurance  for the future of our rentals. Here’s to a successful 2011!


Happy Renting,