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
, 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!