ORLANDO – Not long ago, John J. Suzuki flew into Los Angeles, got a rental car, and began driving to his destination – guided by the Internet site Mapquest.
He reached a particular point, and with some past familiarity of Los Angeles, knew he was supposed to turn right to get to his destination. There was only one problem: Mapquest insisted he turn left.
Against his own better judgment, Suzuki decided to follow Mapquest’s advice – after all, the site boasted of its ability to deliver travelers anywhere they needed to go, with uniquely accurate directions. So he did turn left. And he did get lost.
Suzuki’s initial instincts to turn right had been correct, and Mapquest had indeed led him astray. It was, he said on Thursday, the last time he ever used Mapquest.
“That one error on their part means I never used them again,” Suzuki said. Likewise, Suzuki – the vice president of sales and relationship management for Home Away Software for Professionals — which helps promote and assist the vacation home industry – said he also would never recommend Mapquest to a guest traveling to Central Florida, looking for directions to their vacation home rental or the local attractions.
“If their site is not working right, how can I trust them for my guests,” Suzuki said.
That story holds lessons for any business today that relies on a Web site to attract customers – and for the vacation home industry, which has increasingly relied on the Internet as a marketing tool, he added.
“The growth in inquiries coming to our site is up 30 percent,” Suzuki said. “That‘s big.”
On Thursday, Suzuki was a guest speaker at the Central Florida Vacation Rental Managers Association’s annual Trade Show, held at SeaWorld’s Ports of Call convention center.
Home Away provides software for the industry made up of property managers who oversee fully furnished homes rented to tourists and visitors on a short term basis. It’s become a particularly strong industry in Osceola County and Northeast Polk County.
As Suzuki noted, this industry has weathered a steep recession and is now on the rise.
“The vacation rental industry is burgeoning,” he said. “Across the country, business was up 8 percent. The trend is up. I know this market has been really, really hard hit by the real estate market, but it’s getting better. Everyone knows about the accelerated growth curb, and you guys are in the right place at the right time.”
In fact, more travelers are moving away from hotels and toward “alternative accommodations” such as vacation homes, he added.
“It’s the most pronounced trend in travel,” Suzuki said. “Today it’s hitting the mainstream, and next year, a little more, and the year after, even more. Vacation home rentals are coming on, and coming on strong.”
A lot of that success, Suzuki added, is owed to the Internet for helping to introduce the entire concept of a vacation home rental to a growing segment of the tourism market and hospitality industry.
“How many of you would have a really bad day if the Internet went down?” he asked. “It has changed out lives.”
In particular, it has changed the way people do business – opening up new opportunities for those who understand how to maximize the possibilities offered by the Internet, Suzuki added. But not all vacation home managers have come to understand that, he added.
“One of the things we do not have in this industry is the benefit of a brand,” Suzuki said. “If you are going to stay at the Ritz-Carlton (Hotels), you pretty much know what to expect. You also do if you stay at a Motel 6. We don’t have the benefit of a brand. But that is coming.”
And it’s on the way, Suzuki added, because of exactly what the Internet provides for a firm like Home Away, which is a collection of rental home companies under the shared motto Let’s Stay Together.
“It’s all about the experience of all of you staying together,” he said. “That’s what we’re trying to communicate – let’s stay together. Ask yourself this, do you guys know what your quests want? Paint me a picture of your perfect vacation home. This is all about raising your visibility.”
As more travelers look for the perfect vacation destination – and the ideal place to stay while there – through the Internet, online sites offer unlimited opportunities, Suzuki said.
“A recent Home Away survey shows that 44 percent of vacation rental travelers stayed in a vacation home for the first time,” he said. “That’s a 12 percent increase from the previous quarter’s survey. That is huge. Eighty-eight percent of vacation home travelers say they will return when booking their next vacation.”
To facilitate that growth, Home Away is putting a focus on making cutting-edge technology available to property managers, he said.
“We’re building first-class software to bring this all together,” he said. “We’re also doing things on mobile phones. This is a very big deal. The growth to visits on our sites from mobile phones is 150 percent.”
To gain the most benefit from a Web site, Suzuki recommended that property managers make sure their sites are easy to use.
“There is always room for improvement,” he said. “For the average traveler, it takes eight inquiries, three emails and nine days to book a vacation rental. That is crazy.”
Vacation home managers should also be sure to make the site attractive to the eye.
“Photos are the absolute most important thing to invest in,” he said.
He also recommended that each site have maps, booking rates, reviews, and updated calendars.
They should also recognize, he said, that Web sites are started to shift from the traditional role of marketing a product.
“The role of Web sites is changing,” he said. “The role of Web sites is going to change from marketing to sales. Soon it will be, ‘You’re interested in my home, go to my site.’ It becomes a sales tool. What you should be doing right now is preparing for ecommerce – for distribution management, for dynamic rates, and for rates that change based on changing business conditions.”
To learn more about Home Away, log on to Home Away.
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