The advance of technology, particularly entertainment technology, is relentless. So if you offer your second home as a vacation rental, you absolutely must provide up-to-date entertainment amenities.
When we first got into the vacation-rental business in 1994, we provided tube TVs with VCR players and a library of videotapes. When DVDs appeared, we replaced the VCR players with combo units that could handle both VHS tapes and DVDs. At this writing, those units and the tube TVs they were hooked up to have all been taken out of service and donated to the Salvation Army.
That’s because today, you’ve got to have flat-screen TVs. This is simply the way of the world. And not just any flat-screen TV will do. It’s got to be at least 32 inches measured diagonally, and it has to be HD (high-definition) capable. Our cable supplier is Comcast, so that means a new box for each of the two TVs in our vacation rental property, and an extra “technology fee” for each box.
Listening to Our Guests
We weren’t thrilled about this extra fee, but we figured it was just a cost of doing business. Fortunately, the price of flat-screen TVs has fallen greatly in recent years. But (and this is important), we didn’t decide to upgrade our entertainment equipment on our own. What pushed us to the tipping point were requests from two sets of guests.
The first was a relocated business executive who informed us shortly after he arrived for a multi-week stay that he planned to buy a 32-inch TV to use in place of the smaller one in our vacation rental’s living room. The second was a couple who said that having a large HDTV was so important to them that they planned to bring their own from Florida and hook it up to our cable box.
Clearly, it was time to do something. We must listen to our customers/guests if we want to survive and thrive in an increasingly competitive market.
Upgrading our TVs and Video Library
So here is what we did. We bought and installed two HDTVs. We had Comcast come out and install two HD-capable cable boxes. We got rid of our library of VHS tapes but left in place our limited selection of DVDs.
Then, in what we consider the masterstroke, we replaced the VHS/DVD combo units with Panasonic Blu-ray Disc players that are Internet-enabled. This means that both units can play the DVDs in our small library (or any discs our guests may bring with them). But they can also play content streamed in from the Internet via our vacation rental’s wireless network.
Sounds great, but what are they going to play via the Internet? The answer: Netflix! (And other streaming options, of course.)
We opened a Netflix account for our cottage and linked the Blu-ray players to it. The cost is $7.99 a month for Netflix streaming, which gives our guests access to over 12,000 movies and TV shows. No need for the video libraries of old.
We have preloaded the Netflix streaming queue with some of our favorite titles. But guests can easily search for and add their own selections by following the onscreen prompts. Netflix even offers a special “Just for Kids” tab with hundreds of movies and TV shows to keep the little ones entertained while mom and dad relax or fix dinner.
A few further notes on the necessary hardware: We chose to offer our guests Netflix streaming capability by installing Blu-ray Disc players, but there are other options. You can buy a “Smart TV,” for example. Or you can install a Roku or NeoTV wireless streaming device. You may find that such devices are cheaper than buying new Smart TVs or Blu-ray players. It all depends on the age and capabilities of the equipment that’s already installed.
Two Additional Recommendations
Whatever option you choose, once you’ve upgraded the entertainment equipment for your vacation rental, be sure to do the following:
- Write up simple instructions explaining how to use the equipment. Our instructions fit on a single sheet of paper with headings that read “To Watch TV,” “To Watch Netflix” and “To Play a DVD.” We’ve slipped it into the front cover of a 3-ring “view binder” that holds the owner manuals for the equipment. Many of our guests, especially the younger ones, are thoroughly familiar with the current technology and know exactly what to do. But others really appreciate having a step-by-step guide that tells them which remote to use and what buttons to press.
- Update your vacation rental listings. For heaven’s sake, be sure to publicize your new entertainment amenities! Tell your prospective guests that not only do you have HDTV, but you also offer “thousands of streaming movies and TV shows via Netflix.” You can present this information in the description of your property on sites like VRBO, HomeAway, and FlipKey. But these and many other vacation rental advertising sites also include an “Entertainment” section with checkboxes and text fields that you can fill out with details on what you offer in the way of TVs, DVD players and video library.
Right now, HDTV and WiFi streaming are fairly new amenities. Vacation rental owners who install the equipment and vigorously promote its features have a golden—though probably temporary—opportunity to gain a competitive edge.
Alfred and Emily Glossbrenner
Alfred and Emily Glossbrenner own and operate a very successful vacation-rental property in Bucks County, Pennsylvania (www.buckscountycottage.com). They are also the founders of FullyBookedRentals (www.fullybookedrentals.com), a website focused on helping new and experienced VR owners advertise, market, manage, and make money from their second homes.