There’s a push-pull situation emerging in vacation home rentals where operators must determine the right balance between how much touch-free service they can or should provide guests versus providing personal attentiveness and frequent, detailed communication.
As supply and demand of hotel and vacation rental inventory continue to co-mingle, service expectations at short-term rental properties have accelerated. Operators are tasked with more work to maintain higher-quality property and provide personalized concierge.
A Breezeway Elevate Operations Summit virtual event panel in March discussed the identity shift from property manager to hospitality provider, and its implications on the future of the industry. It featured Jessica Gillingham of Abode PR, J.D. Wagner of Luxury Properties Jackson Hole, Amber Carpenter of ACME House Company based in Palm Springs, Calif., and Anthony Lee of UK-based ALTIDO.
“It’s about taking better care of guests from the time they research your properties to when they checkout of them,” Carpenter said. “Call handles are longer. More white-glove service required. Before they book, they want to understand what you are doing for cleaning time. Over-communication is wanted.”
Carpenter said she has seen that 65 percent of owners want to be able to differentiate themselves from the competition through their customer service. One step she’s taking is to communicate with them more and more through texting.
“If we text guests, there’s a 90 percent chance they will respond,” Carpenter said. “If we call them, you never know if they’ll pick-up the phone or return the call. Guests will text us on a whim. Enabling contact through texting used to be considered a VIP perk, but now it’s more commonplace, and they will pay more to have that ability. They are not price-sensitive to receiving this level of service.”
Going further, Carpenter said she tries to provide guests with everything but the groceries.
“Guests’ time is important to them,” she said. “Guests want to know that everything they need will be taken care of for them. Providing PPEs (personal protective equipment) and other needed items such as sunscreen and extra towels as a convenience is now viewed as a value-add. If they want mid-week cleaning, we give it to them.”
Lee said his guests are wanting innovative services such as touch-free check-in.
“But you still need to have in-person check in for those who want to speak to a person,” he said. “Customers’ expectations are as high as ever. We will do grocery shopping for them. We offer to help carry their luggage from the top floor at checkout.”
Lee’s properties began offering virtual tours of the home and common areas in December, a marketing trend that is accelerating in nearly all forms of commercial real estate and housing.
Wagner said his guests used to visit Jackson Hole mostly to enjoy the western lifestyle. Now, they are coming and staying in rentals so they can check on the progress in the construction of their new homes there.
“We call this new breed of traveler a flexcationer,” Wagner said. “People are booking longer stays on shorter notice. It once was common for bookings to happen 60 days out, now it’s 30 days out. There’s a sense of ‘rootedness,’ where they want to feel like they are part of the community. They want to relax there and work there. We need to cater to giving them the best of both worlds.”
Wagner said his guests are communicating with the properties leading up to their stay even more.
“We look to find ways to insulate our staff from guest contact (for privacy and social distancing reasons),” he said. “Text-messaging helps us to do that. We are using You’re Welcome tablets. (The tablet is set up in the home for the guest and offers a communication channel to management as well as opportunities to up-sell the guest on available property features). We partnered with concierge services so our guests can get precise service on their questions and not have to rely on us. It’s all about not overpromising and under-delivering.”
Carpenter said guests who are treated well “don’t want to leave” and will re-book while they are in the rental home. When they do, she said, “the last experience they have with you will be the most important and will make the biggest impression. A smooth checkout process means a lot. Having them arrive to a welcome basket is fine, but what about a road-trip basket? That will leave an impression.”
Carpenter tracks her staff’s performance with “simple” KPIs, she said. “We measure ourselves through net promoter scores and by keeping track of how many times we have to repeat things before the guest understands it.”
Carpenter believes that the future of vacation rental management (three years down the road) will be hyper-competitive. “I hope at that time we have standards in place so that we can gain more trust from the public,” she said.
Lee said the future will have more innovation in products and services.
“There will be more options on where to vacation that are outside of cities,” he said. “And, we’ll be more prepared for another emergency event like a pandemic.”