Written By: Mike Mueller
I do not know how many of you have a Linkedin account, but I would very strongly recommend it. You can go to linkedin.com and sign on. There is an official VRMA group called Vacation Rental Manager Association(Official). It is a private group, but it is well worth joining. It gives you the opportunity to interact with your peers, and provides you timely industry information from industry experts. We all know what happens in one area of the country really affects the whole industry. And it seems like every day there is something new are different that can change how you manage your business. For one example, we all know how our market has changed with Home Away when they purchased vacation rental software companies two years ago. One can argue on either side of this issue whether this is good or bad for the professional property manager (PPM), but that is a discussion for another time. And we are also aware of companies like Wyndham that are quietly affecting our industry as they purchase large property management companies throughout the world, becoming a very large force in our industry. So change is inevitable, and we all need to learn to respond to that change as quickly and effectively as possible.
I would like this discussion to focus on the recent announcement between Home Away and Westgate Resorts, which is the largest, privately owned Timeshare Company in the world. This agreement will put an additional 10,000 unsold and vacant timeshare properties in the Home away inventory, most of them located in the Orlando area, where Westgate manages nine different resorts. As inevitable change comes, the PPM not only has to manage the individual RBO owner, but this introduces another entire aspect to this market. As of 2006, the American Resort Development Association reported there were 154,4340 timeshare units in the US. Home Away currently has a little over 151,000 vacation rental units in the US on their site. So the potential of this timeshare marketing growing significantly is very real. Other timeshare companies might look at the relationship between Home Away and Westgate, and see themselves at an unfair disadvantage, and will want to be a part of this. The potential for an explosion of inexpensive corporate timeshare units on the Home Away website could have very difficult results for the PPM.
If you look at the Linkedin VRMA discussion group (VRMA Discussion on Linkedin), those PPMs that have experience with Westgate know they already offer unsold inventory at very low prices on other online channels. So you can expect that you will see an influx of very inexpensive condos coming to Orlando and other destinations on the Home Away site from Westgate Resorts. It would then seem realistic that it would be very difficult to maintain your pricing of your units with other units priced so low. One could see not only how prices would fall throughout the entire market, but depending on the agreements with Westgate and Home Away, professionally managed vacation rental companies could also potentially end up lower in the listings. Listings from a PPM would certainly be lower if the guest searched just by price. The challenge for the professional property manager now, is how to best respond. One might argue that since most of the Westgate Resort units are in Orlando, they won’t affect units in Tampa, Hilton Head, Ocean City, or the Gulf Shores, but it really does. Westgate only has 10,000 units. But as mentioned there are over 150,000 timeshare units in the US. And our market is becoming more global as aggregators such as Home away has more inventory to offer. We all know that with online booking, and the size and breath of the Home Away reach, this will have an effect throughout the country.
So some questions for the PPM:
How does the PPM maintain pricing with an influx of inexpensive condo units or properties in their market?
If the PPM has units/properties in a destination area, what can be done to get those guests to their particular website to look at properties?
How can the PPM use technology to gain competitive advantages?
Does your vacation rental software company have a singular focus on the professional property manager? Are they looking out exclusively for your needs?
Technology is changing faster than one can imagine. Is the software company you are using providing new tools to level the playing field?
The world of the professional vacation rental manager is changing dramatically, both for good, and in some very challenging ways. PPM’s need to associate with their peers through groups like VRMA and locally, to assist you to develop strategies to respond to new challenges. And there are many people in this industry working independently, with significant experience that can help you. Use the best resources available, and you will continue to grow and thrive in a market that seems to become more challenging each and every day. Good luck to all!