“What’s the point of learning about crypto-currency? It will never affect me.”
That was my sister’s response when I told her I was researching distributed networks for travel and how consumer transactions for vacation rentals might one day be in Bitcoin.
She could be right—she’s in her early 70s, lives in rural Ontario (albeit in the posh part), and has gotten by for years on minimal technology; she hates Facebook and has only recently mastered Spotify. Indeed, there is so much new to learn that perhaps it is best to stick with what is important to us, rather than trying to understand every bright and shiny thing that comes along.
So, we got into this lively discussion about learning and what to spend our time on.
It just so happens that my sister is about to start renting part of her home on Airbnb. This isn’t a new activity, since she’s been in the vacation rental business almost as long as I have, but it’s been a while since she last rented, and things have changed.
It’s not a matter of just listing and watching the bookings flow in, as it used to be when we started out.
You need to know about marketing on Twitter and Instagram, how to write a blog post (and what to write about), what to put in a rental agreement, and how to manage today’s guest expectations. If you are a property manager, as I am, it’s all about continuously learning how to stay abreast of or even ahead of the competition, in terms of marketing automation, channel management, reservation systems, and managing operations.
And that’s just the beginning.
Learning in this industry is like parenting. There’s so much advice from so many people that it’s tough to distinguish what will work specifically for you from what to discard because it’s faddy or irrelevant to your needs.
What do you want to learn?
The type of education that is going to be right for you will most likely depend on where you are in your short-term rental journey.
A new owner might have minimal knowledge of how to market, operate, and manage a rental business and may need more comprehensive education than a seasoned operator who wants to upgrade his or her knowledge of rental practices.
At the next level, someone preparing to move into property management will have different learning needs from an established property manager with employees, a significant number of owners, and a larger budget.
So, the first task is to define your learning needs, which is easier if you can sort them into the following categories:
- Strategic Management
- Operational Management
- Guest Services
- People Management
- Technical Skills
Take each one and map out what you need to know now, what is important but less urgent, and what could be outsourced. For example, it may be fun to learn about Instagram for Business, but if it’s going to contribute less to your bottom line than a course in converting website traffic to reservations, it may be best to leave that to someone else—or a third-party company that can take care of social media marketing for you.
So where do you learn all this stuff that will make a difference to your business?
Should you really trust someone who has been in the business six months and is now telling you how to make $100K a year as an Airbnb host, or the owner of one small vacation rental who is touting consultancy at $100 per hour or offering a course that will unlock the “secrets” of the short-term rental industry? Do you need a “boot camp” experience, or a sampling of the education available at one of the many conferences held throughout the year, or can you glean all you need to know from a Facebook group or a Learning Center hosted on one of the OTA sites?
There are plenty of knowledge sources, including the following:
There are dozens of peer-operated Facebook groups in which owners ask questions about managing rentals and members contribute their knowledge. For a pressing question on an operational topic, you can usually find a quick answer there. However, you’ll find that the quality of the answers differs widely.
These can be a great source of information on a single topic, such as social media marketing or insurance issues. The Association of Vacation Rental Operators and Affiliates (AVROA) and the Vacation Rental Management Association (VRMA) deliver monthly webinars featuring known industry experts (free for members).
There are plenty of events to attend at which you can immerse yourself in the world of vacation rentals over a few days. The largest, the VRMA International Conference, is held primarily for property managers and is worth attending for both the educational content and the army of industry vendors filling the exhibition hall. The Vacation Rental Success Summit (Canada/US) and the Vacation Rental World Summit (Europe) are focused more on the independents, while VRM Intel and VRMA also hold regional events. Some industry software suppliers have their own user events (e.g., HomeAway, Streamline, and LiveRez).
There are plenty of courses available online, so lay out your criteria for credibility testing and contact them for details. For example, Cottage Blogger has just been relaunched as Vacation Rental Formula and offers a range of short courses on numerous topics, with some longer courses scheduled for publication later in 2018.
(Editor’s Note: In addition to Vacation Rental Formula, the VRMA now has an online VRM certificate program, and RealJoy’s Micah Berg recently launched the Vacation Rental University. While have not yet thoroughly vetted these programs, they are worth investigating.)
To identify which resource is going to work for you and how you can sift through all the learning opportunities available, start by defining your criteria for a source of knowledge.
There’s a whole industry out there that involves teaching people how to sell courses on any subject without knowing much about it, so checking out the credentials of the person providing the learning is the first step.
At the moment there’s no accreditation system for learning resources in our industry. Anyone can put together a professional-looking website, create a course, slap a price on it, buy some Facebook ads, and take your money. And you have no idea whether what you are buying is going to be worth the time you’ve spent and the price you’ve paid.
Ask these questions:
- How long have you been in the business?
- How many properties have you owned and managed?
- What experience do you have with property management issues?
- Have you spoken at industry conferences?
- Have you published articles in any journals or other publications?
Check the source’s website for an About page that answers all of the above questions, and if it doesn’t answer them, be wary.
A final note about vacation rental education
Our industry changes frequently, whether it’s an algorithm adjustment by one of the OTAs, a threat from a new entrant, a shift in the way guests perceive the business, or new technology forcing us to look differently at the way we do things.
This is why we need to keep up to date with what’s new, adapt and evolve our practices, and be prepared for whatever may come next. Disruption is always on the horizon, and those with the in-depth knowledge necessary to handle change effectively will be the winners in the constant battle to remain successful.
Education is key to this process, so when you hear someone tell you that there is nothing new to learn about this business, know that you’ve just overtaken them in your quest for knowledge.