Holiday “Re-Charge” With Family Contest

It’s that time again! The Holiday Season is upon us, and that means there are plenty of gifts to be wrapped, meals to be cooked, and parties to be attended. The Holiday Season is magical, but it sure is tiring, too!

Let VacationHomeRentals.com help your family get “Re-Charged” after this Holiday Season, so that 2014 starts off fresh!

In the comment section below, just share the property type and/or number that would be your family’s top choice for post-holiday relaxation. The winner will be awarded $500 to start the New Year with!

The winner of the contest will be randomly selected, and announced December 31, 2013.

UPDATE! We Have a winner!!!!! Ginger W. of Austin, Texas was randomly selected as the winner of our Holiday ‘Re-Charge’ with Family contest :) Thanks for all those that entered. Please feel free to congratulate Ginger in the comments below!

Snow Bunny Escape Disney Lovers
A Taste for the Finer Things Out-of-the-Box Adventurers
Nature Explorers City Slickers
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Globetrotters California Dreamers
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Essential Information for Your Guests

teaching new renters to trust
When we become so familiar with a place and its individual quirks it’s easy to forget that guests may become confused over what seems like a very simple activity or procedure.  For example, lighting a barbecue when the automatic starter refuses to work, or flushing a toilet during a power outage when the electric water pump fails to start.  As vacation rentals become more popular with people from around the world we need to be aware they will not be as ‘at home’ and comfortable with systems and amenities as you probably are.  Here’s a few areas where it’s worthwhile delivering some extra information in your Welcome Book.

BBQ operation – most up to date barbecues have automatic starters and are easy to use, but they are prone to breakdown which can put some guests in a difficult position if they don’t know how to light them manually.  You could have guests who have never used a BBQ – you may be surprised how many there are – so having instructions on how to operate it is essential.  If your Welcome Guide is in a PDF downloadable format, you could include a link to a YouTube videos demonstration.

Entertainment systems – Of course you know your TV/DVD/DVR system like the back of your hand.  In fact your nine year old daughter or grand-daughter can probably zip through every part of the operation of the system, so why shouldn’t your guests be able to turn the TV on and off without disengaging the satellite?  After all, doesn’t everyone have this system at home?  Well no, they probably don’t – at least, not your set-up.  Giving guests an easy time to settle into your home means creating a quick start guide to all your entertainment systems.

Garbage separation – here’s another one that seems like a no-brainer, but every area will have different requirements for segregation if there is anything at all.  This is one where it really pays to lay it out clearly and ensure guests get it right, because if you don’t either you or your caretaker may end up elbow deep in someone else’s holiday garbage separating bottles and cans.  Most guests are eager to comply with local recycling regulations and they just need to know what you want them to do.  If transparent bags are required, make sure you supply them, because it’s unlikely your guests will be bringing them with them.

Power Outages – it seems like it should be common sense when the power goes out, to ensure the stove is switched off, but when it happens to your guests (particularly when they have just arrived) they can be very confused.  They are in unfamiliar surroundings and have not had sufficient time to find their way around.  If they were cooking when the power failed, they might easily forget that a hob ring was left on, which could create a dangerous situation if they ultimately go to bed and the power comes back on.  A power out information sheet needs to be placed somewhere they will see it when they arrive.

Driving regulations – Did you know that there are no 4-Way or All-Way junctions in Europe and UK?  This means that your overseas visitors may sit in total confusion at a four way, not knowing they are meant to take their turn.  Similarly, there are no rules governing stopping for school buses across the pond.  If you don’t want your guests to arrive in a bad mood because they have been ticketed on the way from the airport to your place, send them some driving guidance before they arrive.  It is always useful to prepare a Guide for International Guests that covers all the things that you take for granted, but they don’t know if they have never traveled to the US before.

Your goal should always be to be one step ahead of your guests, anticipating problems that may arise and giving them tools to deal with them before they happen, or to at least manage them with minimal fuss.  Being proactive with comprehensive information is always preferable to having to react to a panic call from your guests.

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Security Deposit Alternatives

teaching new renters to trust
The topic of damage/security deposits is one of the most contentious in the vacation rental industry and not without cause.  Home owners take a risk when offering their property for rental and the degree of stress this will cause is highly dependent on their tolerance and attitude to risk.  There are different options available and the one you take may depend on identifying what your take on risk is.

There’s been a lot of research involving risk and attitudes, mostly related to project management, and the subject can be complicated, however it can all be stated fairly simply that the level of tolerance to the risk taken in our vacation rental business is related to the attitude we take as owners to our guests and the potential for damage they may cause.

Are you risk averse, risk neutral, or risk tolerant? Your attitude to this could impact your choice of security deposit method. Here’s a couple of examples

Owner A is new to rental and has heard all sorts of horror stories about partying, overcrowding, damage and things going missing so could be classed as risk averse.  She is fearful this will happen at her house so requires a large damage deposit that will be returned after the vacation is over and the property has been checked.  She has an extensive set of ‘rules’ guests must follow and may even have additional charges for things like ‘Extra Cleaning'; ‘Garbage Removal’, and/or ‘Broken Items’.

Outcome: Guests to A’s property may feel they are not trusted to behave in the way the owner expects.  They may enjoy their stay but spend their time worrying that they will be charged for any breakage or what may be generally considered ‘wear and tear’.  Their reviews may rave about the location and quality of the property, but will probably mention their experience was spoiled somewhat by not being trusted and worry that they may not receive their damage deposit back in full if they transgress in any way.

Owner B is risk neutral. He recognizes that the fear of the risk far outweighs the probability, however also appreciates that accidental damage may happen and wants to be covered should something occur that was not foreseeable.  This is something like a pan with a hot handle being dropped on a ceramic hob, or a red wine spill on a carpet.  He takes a two-pronged approach to the security deposit issue and uses a third party damage protection policy which costs his guests around $50 (coverage up to $2500), and also holds a credit card authorization for non-accidental or pet damage.  B’s  Property Guide clearly states the damage protection policy does not cover damage that could have been foreseeable or preventable and the rental agreement asks guests to sign to agree to be charged for non-accidental damage such as that caused by pets.

Outcome: B’s guests feel comfortable they have coverage if something should occur accidentally, but this doesn’t tend to make them less careful.  Their responsibilities are clearly stated in the Terms and Conditions of rental and are generally clearly understood.

Owner C is very risk tolerant, has been in the business for many years with very few incidents of damage of any nature.  She recognizes that her guest groups have varying standards of cleanliness but balances the many great changeovers against the odd poor one.  She has never charged any guest for accidents and enjoys a very high rate of repeat guests.  She does not take any form of upfront damage deposit however self-insures by collecting a $49 damage protection fee from each booking.  This is put into a fund that is used to replace any damaged item or repairs needed.

Outcome:  C’s guests feel valued that the owner trusts them to look after the property.  Because of the high rate of return guests, they have more of a vested interest and generally leave in in excellent condition.  In fact on the occasions where something has been broken or damaged the guests have often left a sum of money for replacement or repair.

Everyone has an opinion on this topic and some owners who have been renting for many years would not consider doing anything differently, but there are new options and products available that can help create a more confident and trusting relationship between owners and guests. It may be worthwhile thinking about an alternative to your current security deposit approach if your risk tolerance improves.

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Amenity Accuracy

teaching new renters to trust
I’m not generally given to rants but occasionally things occur so frequently I have no option but to make my irritation public.  And, if it helps vacation rental owners to look at what they are offering in the way of amenities and facilities and be more accurate about them, I will have achieved my goal.  The topic of the day is amenity accuracy, and more specifically WiFi.

Each year, I do an extended road trip in an RV and we stay in RV sites across the US.  Mostly these are full service commercial places as well as a number of state parks, and we do the research thoroughly.  We read reviews.   We choose places based on a number of criteria, much the same as our vacation rental guests use when they pick out their holiday home.  Our key must-haves are:

Privacy – I don’t want to be jam packed in so I can lean out of my window and shake hands with my neighbor doing the same, so I want to see photos showing what it looks like when the site is full, not empty.

Cleanliness of facilities – we have pretty much everything on board our fifth wheel but still use laundry and dump trash so I expect these areas to be kept clean, neat and tidy.

WiFi – I should have put this first!  I work on the road – writing blog posts; posting audio and video etc, and the quality and speed of the site internet is my primary concern.  And, when a site advertises hi-speed internet and we arrive and it’s non-existent or at best, patchy, my husband knows that is the time to hide.

The term “internet access” can be interpreted in a number of ways and if you are a rental guests for whom having a connection is vital, I urge you to contact the owner prior to the rental and establish how robust it is and if there are any restrictions.

If you are an owner and offer an internet service, be very careful how you advertise it.  If there are restrictions on usage, please make them clear before your guests arrive.  If they come expecting to be able to stream Netflix, and have the kids access YouTube 24 hours a day, and then find there’s a measly gig or so allotment, there will be some unhappy campers.  You may not find out how unhappy until a review or two gets posted, by which time it’s too late.

This is not the place for a diatribe on the personal impact this has, but I want to share my frustration in general at seeing amenities and facilities described in glowing terms, when the reality is way below the expectations. Amenity accuracy is the right thing to do. I know that occasionally things occur beyond an owners’ control – something gets broken and cannot be fixed in time, or there’s a breakdown in a system, but when an owner is perfectly aware of an issue that may occur and does nothing to prepare their guests for the possibility of losing access to it, they should expect the consequences.

OK….that’s off my chest and I can go back to enjoying the Florida sunshine before trekking up to the nearest Starbucks to post this online!

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Foodie’s Guide To Miami Beach

sushiplate

photo© Zow Shuttleworth

Everyone knows I love food; which is why it might seem shocking that many years ago I was a picky eater. It would drive my mom crazy when I would fold my arms and scowl at the vegetables spread around my plate. It didn’t matter how much area the green beans covered on my plate, my mom always knew I hadn’t eaten a single one. Over time, the list of items I refused to eat became shorter, and the list of items I loved grew longer. Once I moved across the country, I became crazy about food. Florida opened my taste buds to an entirely new world of yummy deliciousness. No longer scared to try something new, I would find myself at many different Miami restaurants trying things I had never even heard of. Here is one blogger’s where to eat list with lots of reviews on Miami restaurants; and here is my shortened list that will please almost any appetite.

Emeril’s

Miami is known for its beaches, and eating from an outdoor terrace with an ocean front view makes Emeril’s one of my favorite places to go. Spend the day at the beach and settle down in a romantic setting while eating French or Creole cuisines with a dash of Caribbean flavor.

Barton G

Barton G is a chef who knows how to make a lasting impression on his guests. Juicy steaks, crisp chicken, and mouth-watering seafood are all on the menu, along with many other tasty appetizers and desserts. Whenever I go to a restaurant, I typically order water as my beverage, but not here, drinks are a must!

Pubbelly

One word: delicious. This place is better than good, it is amazing! I had heard of this place long ago and thought I would give it a go and see if it really was as good as people claimed. To my delight, it lived up to all the hype. The ribs, dumplings, and BBQ pork wings were all delicious and made me feel right at home, but what would shock my mother the most is how much I loved their green beans. Yes, the vegetables are to die for.

Sergio’s

When planning a vacation, eating fancy is always something I like to treat myself to, but some meals need to be both affordable and delicious. This family-friendly restaurant is the perfect place to sit back and eat an unforgettable sandwich and a sweet pastry. Plan the day with entertaining inexpensive activities and then stop at Sergio’s for a fun environment that serves Cuban cuisine on a budget.

Azul

For those wanting an unforgettable experience, Azul is the place. This is fine dining at its finest, and although it is on the more expensive side, the waterfront view and food are well worth it. Serving Mediterranean food, Azul is one of the most popular restaurants around; reserving a table is a must.

Latin Burger and Taco

The first time I ate here I was honestly hesitant. The idea of eating from a truck was new to me, but boy was I in for a surprise. The tacos have a unique taste and eating them along with French fries is a strange combination of yummy. A stop here won’t be regretted.

 

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6 Reasons To Be Addicted To Siesta Key Beach, FL

siestakeybeach

photo©Ben Clark

Growing up in California, I was surrounded by beaches and the freedom the ocean air brings. There were many times I spent walking back and forth with no precise agenda—except to enjoy the gentle breeze and calming crash of waves. The Pacific coast had the best beaches around; but to my pleasant surprise, Florida opened up an entirely new realm of beach-love. Siesta Key beach stole my heart the moment my feet pressed into that perfectly white, silky sand. From the sunsets to the location, there are many reasons to love Siesta Key beach, but here are six reasons it will have you so addicted you can’t help but come back for more.

1. The Sand is 99% Pure Quartz

When I said the first thing I fell in love with was the sand, I wasn’t kidding. The feel of the soft grains against your skin is incredible. One look down the shore and you will see people lounged out and sleeping. If there was a way for me to haul bags of sand home, my mattress would be quickly tossed to the curb and forgotten. Because the sand is Quartz and reflects the sun, it stays cool underfoot unlike the sand at other beaches that will have you hopping around because your toes are burning.

2. Siesta Key Village

A short walk away from the famous beach is an adorable village that makes up a few blocks. Shops filled with souvenirs, clothing, groceries, décor, and swimwear call you inside. Even if you don’t plan to buy anything, it is fun to take a peak around. Intertwined with the shops are delicious restaurants and tasty treats. Michael’s on East serves tasty food in a 1940’s themed club atmosphere and has outstanding service. A favorite place of mine is Hob Nob Drive In; originally opened in the 1950s it will get your burger or hotdog cravings stopped. Another award-winning restaurant is the Broken Egg Restaurant that not only serves amazing food, but hangs breathtaking artwork along the walls. For an entertaining place to eat, the Blue Que Island Grill is a fine dining restaurant that adds live music to the experience.

3. Dolphin Watching

You don’t have to pay to go to SeaWorld to see dolphins jumping playfully through the air, at least not on Siesta Key beach. Every time I take a visit here, I am pointing out, excitedly to my friends, a new animal I spotted swimming through the waves. It is incredible to be in such close proximity to animals as amazing as dolphins.

4. Gorgeous Sunsets

Sunsets, oh how I love you. When a day at the beach is spent and my body begs me for sleep, I always begin packing up my bags and towels to go. As I turn to leave, the sun begins to hide itself and glow its perfect shades of color. No matter how sleep-deprived I am, or exhausted my body feels, I cannot walk away from its beauty. I tell you it is impossible to turn down a sunset while standing on Siesta Key beach.

5. Ideal Location for Weddings

Many times, while relaxing on the beach, I see a wedding ceremony not too far away. As I watch the bride and groom begin their marriage with a kiss, I am always astounded at the beauty around them. It is the prime location to get married. The ocean works as an elegant and timeless back-drop, the weather is ideal year-round, and the natural elements come together for dreamlike photographs.

6. Ocean Activities

To say it simply, Siesta Key beach is fun. There are so many outdoor activities to do, that no one could possibly squeeze them all into one short vacation. From the modest sand castle, to casual biking, peaceful kayaking, or adventurous parasailing high in the air, there really is something to do no matter how old, young, small or large your family is. I often watch enviously from the sidelines, people jumping around and spinning circles in the ocean on jet ski rentals. It is always watching those around me that has me saying, “Next time I come, I am going to try that.” It is that very reason, along with everything else, that brings me back every single time and will also be what brings you back too.

 

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Which Florida Tourist are You?

Have you ever vacationed in Florida? Well, you’re not alone; last year almost 90 million vacationers flocked to The Sunshine State. What makes Florida unique is that while it is a universal hotbed for travelers, the reasons for which folks travel there really run the gamut; from pumping fists at the clubs in Miami, to holding on tight on the roller coasters of Disney, to catching rays at the beaches of Siesta Key – there really is something for everyone in Florida, so what kind of Florida Tourist are you?

Use the infographic below to claim your identity, and learn exactly what kind of Florida Tourist you are!

Which Florida Tourist are You?

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13 Amazing Facts About Hawaii

Hawaii

photo©Grantzprize

A dream vacation to Hawaii is on plenty of people’s bucket lists, and it is no surprise why. Hawaii is one of the most unusual and breathtaking islands in the entire world. Millions, yes millions, of people travel across the ocean to soak up the sun and spend a few days drenched in the Hawaiian paradise. If I could, a trip here would be marked on my calendar every year. If you are thinking about a trip to Hawaii, check out these 13 amazing facts that might make you buy your plane ticket sooner than later.

1. Hawaii is nicknamed the “Aloha State.” I remember watching Miss Congeniality several years ago and laughing as Sandra Bullock teased the Hawaiian US contestant about the difficulty in ending a conversation on the phone when “Aloha” is used for both “hello” and “goodbye.” A trip here and you will quickly understand why Hawaii is called the “Aloha State” when you are welcomed with a kind “Aloha” as you both come and go.

2. You might wake up in the morning to a hot cup of coffee, but have you ever wondered how far those coffee beans have traveled? Hawaii is the only US state that grows coffee.

3. The first moon landing took a lot of preparation and practice in the 1960s. To get a similar experience to walking on the moon, astronauts trained by walking on Mauna Loa’s hard lava fields.

4. Hawaii was the final state to join the US. I never realized how young Hawaii is to our nation, but on August 21, 1959 it became the 50th state. My dad is older than that!

5. If you are getting tired of looking at skinny models stamped across magazines, you might be happy to hear that ancient Hawaiians thought heavier women were the most beautiful.

6. Hawaii is home to the rainiest place in the world. Don’t believe me? A stop to the island of Kauai and a hike up MT. Waialeale will give you proof with over 476 inches of rainfall per year. Don’t worry about bad weather on your vacation though, Mount Waialeale gets hit the hardest with precipitation because of its conical shape and geographical position between the ocean and trade winds.

7. Hawaii doesn’t do day light savings and is on a different time zone than almost anywhere else. That means no matter where you live, with very few exceptions, it will be a different time in Hawaii.

8. Growing up I dreamed of a trip to Hawaii. I pictured myself packing on the sunscreen, running around in a swimsuit, and swimming in the ocean to cool off from extreme heat. It had to be hot; it was next to the equator! Years later I learned what makes Hawaii so magical, is the warm temperatures that aren’t too hot. The highest recorded temperature was almost a hundred years ago on April 27, 1931, at 100 F. The lowest recorded was on May 17, 1979 at 12 F. A little closer to the ocean level (under 3000 feet) the lowest temperature was only 56 F. The temperatures are typically mild year round with an average of 82 F in July and an average of 72 F in January.

9. From east to west, Hawaii is the widest state in the nation.

10. A whopping 7,627,819 people visited Hawaii in the year 2007. That is a lot of people! Since the economy was been hit, those numbers went down about 5-10% but it doesn’t hide the fact that Hawaii is the place millions of people want to visit every year. In fact, in 2012 7,998,815 visitors went to Hawaii, breaking the previous record.

11. Waikiki attracts the most visitors with roughly 72,000 a day. If you add up all Hawaii tourists in the entire state, Waikiki makes up about 44 percent.

12. The Big Island of Hawaii has three active volcanoes. Many tourists stop to explore the 330,000 acres at The Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on Big Island to see the many volcanoes.

13. Hawaii is made up of eight main islands and one of the islands, Niihau is privately owned by the Robinson family. Over 100 years ago, their ancestors bought it from King Kamehameha IV. How would you like to inherit an island? I know I would love my own island in Hawaii.

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Sharing Your Vacation Home with Guests

teaching new renters to trust
At one time, most vacation rentals were second homes that were used by their owners and rented out when they were not being used.  I remember staying in rental homes back in the nineties where the owners had cleared a shelf in their kitchen cupboard for food, and a couple of drawers for our clothes.  It was clear we were in someone else’s well-used home.  What was acceptable then is no longer OK though, and if you are still in that mindset that you are sharing your vacation home with guests, without any compromise, you may find your stay in the rental business is short-lived.

Many vacation homes are now dedicated to this purpose with many people buying them for investment.  This has created new expectations in a growing client market as more travelers are choosing this type of accommodation for their vacations. Guests are less tolerant of the over-personalized house with a mass of family photographs on the walls, owner’s winter coats in the closet and their food in the freezer.

This by no means says a vacation home has to be a sterile place without any character or personal stamp because it’s the uniqueness of each one that makes them so different from a hotel room or resort suite.  However, a balance between keeping the place a home and creating a welcoming space for guests so they don’t feel they are intruding into your personal life, is the compromise.  Here’s four easy ways to get there:

Junk Drawers

We all have kitchen drawers that attract junk whether it’s matchbooks, rubber bands, half-packs of gum or birthday candles.  Guests will add to that, so it’s important to clear these out regularly and only leave items that are genuinely useful.

Photographs

There’s no need to remove every family photograph because having one or two selected pictures reminds guests that it’s a family-owned place and can serve to generate more respect and better treatment for the property.  Where owners have renovated or built a property, an album of photos that shows the progress of the work is usually well received as guests get a history of the property as well as some personal  owner information.

Clothes

Unless you really want your guests to know you very personally, never leave your own clothing in drawers or closets.  Rental guests will check out every cupboard and drawer that you have, so leaving anything in them is fair game to be found.  If you want to leave clothing at the property, use a separate lockable closet or pack items away in boxes that can be stored in a basement or locked room.

Food Cupboards

This is a tricky one.  I love going to vacation rentals where there’s staple items such as herbs and spices, flour and cornstarch available– those things you may use once or twice on vacation but you don’t want to buy a large bag or carton just for one or two meals.  On the other hand, I have heard of complaints from guests because they have found ‘owners’ food ‘ in cupboards that they expected to be cleared for them.  The solution is to offer guests the option of using the non-perishable foods that are left behind, as long as there is a clear indication in a guest book and pre-arrival information that they will have this choice.

If your vacation home is a place that you and your family use on a regular basis, there is no reason to strip it of everything that makes it personal for you, but you do need to consider how much of yourselves you want to leave behind. Sharing your vacation home with guests is a different practice in today’s market.

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Using Guest Reviews to Improve Your Listing

teaching new renters to trust
We live in a culture where we like to share our opinions, and in a consumer environment we are now more likely to listen to the voice of other buyers than to the sales spiel from the product manufacturer or supplier.  So, when guests take the trouble to write guest reviews on a listing, post a comment on your Facebook page, or leave some notes in your guestbook, think of them as little gems that you can use to create an improved product for your next guests.

What do the following comments tell you?

‘The pictures don’t do the place justice’ or ‘It was much better than we expected from the listing’

At first glance you might get a warm fuzzy feeling because the feedback is good, but what this is really saying is that these guests didn’t see the best of the property from your listing.  The comments would suggest that professional photography may bring more traffic and increased bookings. In fact you might even go back to those guests and ask them to elaborate on their comments.  What was it about the home they liked the most?  What images do they think would improve the listing?  People love being asked their opinion and if you respond to their guest reviews, asking for more, you may be surprised at what they will tell you and how helpful it is.

Using feedback to revamp your listing

Guests reviews left will often tell you things that are important to them and can create some good content for your listing.  If these comments are in your guestbook rather than online you need some place for your potential guests to see them, since they may be the triggers that encourage people to book.  Feedback such as….

‘We loved all the hiking trails and places to walk the dog, and that there are local restaurants where we could take her’

…tells you that pet owners would be interested in hearing about these features of the area, so you could add that to the text on your listing.

Similarly, if a guest comments on how much they enjoyed an activity or attraction in the area, make sure you mention that in your listing too.

Is there anything we missed?

This is a great question to ask on your checkout list as it encourages more feedback.  It could be as simple to rectify as a suggestion you should get an ice-cream scoop, or some additional storage space.  Sometimes it will generate an idea you hadn’t thought of that might bring in extra revenue in the long run.  For example, this comment prompted one owner to install a freestanding propane fireplace which went on to boost her winter rentals substantially:

‘We’d love to come back in the winter but like to stay at places with a fireplace so we can get cozy after skiing’

What guest reviews have you received that have prompted you to make a change?

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