As part of our continuing series "Notes from the Edge", our anonymous vacation
rental staffer and guest blogger offers thoughts on the the subject of homes vs hotels.
"I used to work with someone who told his staff “In God we trust, everyone else has to bring their data” . At the time I thought that was pretty clever, until I happened upon the vacation rental business where a simple exercise of benchmarking vacation rental homes to hotel room prices turns out to be not so simple.
Every summer I watch scores of vacationers flock to the beaches of North Carolina. For several summer week-ends, tourists spend their time in traffic gridlock. Cars and SUVs stack up for miles, and every 5th car or so is crowned with a great big storage device that looks like a giant hamburger or hot dog bun. Interspersed, all sorts of vehicles spill over with families, trailing bikes and canoes - telltale signs that they are planning to catch up on a year of sentimental family time together.
For this vacation, this is not about going to a hotel where everything is about being pampered and the price includes a break from cooking and cleaning in favor of room service, shops, fine restaurants, massages, saunas, and manicures.
These guests are looking for something different – something powerful. They often talk about the family they plan to see when they get here, for a yearly family reunion, or an anniversary, a wedding, the scattering of ashes or some other significant family event. The expectation is that their vacation home will provide just the right setting for a deeply meaningful experience - one that will make them laugh and cry at the same time when they look back. It’s no mystery why seating capacity for dinner is often high on their list of “must haves”. These are folks who plan to break bread together. There’s an intrinsic need for intimacy here.
One of the guiding principles of the quality movement, coined by W. Edwards Deming, is called “ constancy of purpose” – meaning if you don’t know what your core business is really about, you’re doomed. In the book Quality or Else, writers Lloyd Dobyns and Clare Crawford Mason explained it with this example. If the buggy whip makers of early 20th century did not realize that their core business was vehicle acceleration, when the motor came along, they were still making buggy whips.
No one can deny that the business rules of the vacation rental management industry change as rapidly as the climate. But some things have not changed yet - the human component –reservationists who can skillfully manage each category of guest, support staff that care so much that they watch after these homes as if they were their own, and the property manager who is passionate that his owner and guest both get what they need. Despite compelling pricing data, property managers often strike a balance with their owners who are up against high mortgages, spiraling insurance costs, and spouses who keep asking them why the vacation houses next door seem to be renting better. And ultimately, property management companies constantly straddle two worlds, tasked with making two sets of customers, owners and guests, each with competing interests, happy. Simply, none of this seems to spell hotel industry.
And, in the midst of all of this there is a continuing evolution of automation – keyless entry, automated vendor management, on line reservations – it’s not hard to see a virtual world of vacation home management unfolding. It seems to me that the practice of comparing vacation homes to hotels begs the question – Has the vacation rental management industry really figured out what their core business is? Will they be around in 20 more years? Because if Deming was right, their survival might depend upon it."