Why Boutique Vacation Rentals?
The Vacation Rental and Airbnb Gamble: A Short Airbnb Story
Imagine you are excited to find an affordable river house on Airbnb for your annual summer vacation in Northern California. You look forward to it and daydream about having good times with friends and family and drifting away into a mellow mood after an epic BBQ, among many other things. As the excitement of the upcoming trip nears, you finally arrive to the Russian River House only to be greeted by a few water bugs. “No worries! All homes have a couple of critters creeping around,” you think to yourself. But as you get more acquainted with the place, you start to realize the multitude of functionality issues: the TV is mounted on a wall, and you must rubberneck to see it from the couch; the Internet doesn’t work (oh my!); and the so-called kitchen lacks most essentials and has a one-burner plug in hot plate instead of a proper stove. You begin to think, “This place is a dump, I wish I had considered some of the boutique vacation rentals I saw online.” Clearly, this experience not what you expected from the advertised listing. Disappointed and frustrated, you spend several hours of the next two vacation days on the phone with Airbnb customer service and the management company.
Airbnbs and vacation rentals are a great way for guest travelers to get more value, more space, more amenities and more privacy when things go well. However, it can still be a gamble.
Such amateurism creates and opportunity for professionals, particularly those who aim NOT to be another “commodity” vacation rental owner but those open to building boutique vacation rentals.
How did Live Swell build its brand of boutique vacation rentals?
We started to get to know our customers better through “customer intelligence.” Customer intelligence is not “how intelligent they are [our customers],” rather what we know about them, their desires, dreams, reason(s) for staying with us and in this location etc. Done well, we can better craft our product and offering to them. Our goal is to listen and serve our guests.
I learned a long time ago, people don’t buy what they need; they buy what they want. Most people, in general, want value and they want to feel important. That does not mean a discount; it simply means they want to feel good about what they are getting for their hard-earned money.
Our belief is that if we can give guests what they want and continue to add value, we can now stand out, be unique and create brand of boutique vacation rentals. This approach helps in a quest to make price less of a determining factor and creates more demand for a particular unit or brand of units, thus, we can GET PAID premium rates.
How is Live Swell different in a competitive and established vacation rental market place of well over 350+ rental units listed just on Airbnb alone? How, in a short while, can we produce independently ranked “top performing properties” on AirDNA? These are the three most important reasons in building our boutique vacation rentals:
#1 Unique Theme: Laid-back Surf Lifestyle Inspiration, Amenities and Live Swell Experience Information
The mission of Live Swell is to open the doors to the laid-back surf lifestyle. Our guests begin to feel this as they view the listing and truly experience it once they arrive to the property. Inside our guests’ experience is the décor—the local professional photography, surf art and our “seashell museum.” Upon arrival, our guests discover a “treasure chest”—typically, with local goodies or Live Swell swag in it upon arrival. What can your vacation rental theme be?
We also aim to provide value added content for guests like, “Outer Banks Seashells: Live Swell Cheat Sheet.” Content like this is housed on our blog, part of which is video and part of which is text. Specifically designing content for our guests who enjoy activities like these adds a lot of value and demonstrates care. We also know that our guests’ primary reason for visiting a coastal location is to spend time relaxing and being near the beach, most times.
What can we do to help guests relax?
People love the idea of hammocks, yet many don’t have them accessible in everyday life. So they daydream about swaying in a hammock near the beach, and we make sure they have this opportunity!
How to make visiting the beach easy?
Simple—give them what they need! By anticipating your guest needs, you can make sure they enjoy their vacation and love you for it. At each property, we stock a shed or a garage, known as a “sled shack,” with beach essentials—a Mexican beach blanket, a couple of beach chairs, an umbrella, a couple of Beach Cruiser bikes, a Gorilla Cart—to make the easy walk to the beach a bit easier. Keeping in concert with our mission, we provide our guests with the opportunity to surf or learn how to surf. In the “sled shack,” we have both boogie boards and two surfboards. In our on-site guides, guests can find access to Mike’s Surf Lessons located on our website, which provide basic beginner education in text, picture and video.
#2 Commitment to Customer Service
We pay a lot of attention to customer service in every industry. As a business owner who really does care about his customers, I can’t help observing other businesses when they serve me. Why do I feel so much more valued at Chick-fil-A than at Taco Bell? We’ve found that superior customer service is a massive opportunity. Why? Because it’s pretty bad in most industries. Many hosts provide unbelievable, top shelf customer service. But that’s not the norm. Consequently, there are many opportunities to improve the short-term rental space industry.
Maria and I started to take lessons from such industry leaders as Ritz Carlton and a customer service consulting groups, like The DiJulius Group, learning and applying their concepts. Not every concept is feasible to implement. Some are prohibitively expensive or logistically unreasonable. Ritz Carlton introduced us to the concept of secret service—a technique to “wow” your guest though “customer intelligence,” the things we know about them. These books and resources can be found on our Vacation Rental Resources page.
Asking our automated “Guest Discovery” question, prior to a guest’s arrival, allows us an opportunity to add value that is specific to what a guest wants.
Lastly, Do the Right Thing Always, one of our core values at Live Swell, may be the most important point here. Inevitably, in every business, something will go wrong. Extreme weather events happen, all houses—vacation rentals and people’s primary residences—have problems from time to time. We can reduce the risk of these occurrences but we can’t completely avoid them. When we listen to our guests’ feedback, without taking it personally, we have an opportunity to truly demonstrate how much we care and to make our guests feel important. They can’t help but fall in love with you when you do the right thing. If a guest happens to be challenging, difficult or demanding, which is rare, simply “kill” them with kindness.
#3 Renovated, Modern and Clean
The first impression a guest gets when they arrive on-site is that of the exterior. So each property must have good-looking curb appeal that sets a positive tone for the experience. On the interior, we target renovations to kitchens and bath because that’s what sells homes and vacation rental nights. Our objective is to create a modern coastal feel and an open concept and flow. Basically, a Coastal Living worthy property. Where applicable, we implement sizzle features, including Big Ass Haiku ceiling fans, pallet-inspired furniture and oversized rain shower heads.
Renovating and installing new materials inherently makes our places more appealing and cleaner-looking than outdated homes—especially, in listing photos. This doesn’t relive our cleaning staff of detailed cleanliness demands, but it does make it easier for them to clean. People love clean! See the Magical Bungalow: Beach House Renovations Before and After.
Visit: Beach House Renovations Before and After to see more projects.
Whenever I search for a place to stay on Airbnb or HomeAway, I inevitably bump into some gnarly-looking listing photos. Some are simply grainy and out of focus; others capture the true essence of a place, in a bad way. Sometimes, my eyes pop out when I see dark “wet-looking” stains at the head level of a couch. They remind me of the Jenks family, owners of Soul Glo (a hair product), in the comedy film, Coming to America. If you’ve seen this classic, you know what I mean. Remember the scene when they are sitting on the couch at the McDowell engagement party? CLEAN is a non-negotiable and CANNOT be overlooked!
In all, our bungalows are affordable and are much more than a “commodity” place to stay, with the experiences being curated. The level of detail put into our properties is designed to provide outstanding guest experiences and to outpace our competitors.
In doing things like these, you’ll have an opportunity to express yourself and a lifestyle you love. Building Live Swell has been an opportunity for Maria and me to share with others the laid-back surf lifestyle that we love so much. As a result of following our hearts and using our brains, we’ve done well financially and now opened doors to bigger opportunities, like commercial acquisitions and scaling our single-family assets. We’ve created a brand of boutique vacation rentals, which results in premium rates, brand identity and consistency, and which helps to reduce risk.
What makes you unique? What could be your theme? What are your differentiators? What experiences can you provide to add more value to your guests?
Thinking through this will help you establish the foundation of your brand of boutique vacation rentals and hep you GET PAID premium rates! Good luck!