VRMA 2014 Conference Round-Up

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Imagine spending 3 days of networking, attending presentations and learning sessions, interspersed with talking to industry suppliers and you’ll appreciate I’ve got a lot to share from the Vacation Rental Managers Associiation conference in San Diego!

The final count of attendees was over 1000 – a new record for the event and further proof that this industry is dynamic, growing and mainstream.

Even though the conference is targeted to rental managers, the education content and many of the products are just as relevant to the rent-by-owner market so over the next couple of weeks I’ll be sharing what I learned.

From new products on the market to help manage your business better, to innovative ideas for marketing and down-to-earth conversations with others in tbe business, I am still processing much of what was on offer.

My podcast this week touches on many of these things so this post is a more chronological version – more to put it into context for me, as well as to bring you a flavor of the conference.


The ups and the downs of #vrma14 from the point of view of @cottageguru. Always a great event to attend!


Because I’m here in Alabama on vacation I took a flight from Pensacola on Sunday morning, connected in Houston for the leg to San Diego and then a 5 minute shuttle to the Sheraton Harbourfront and Marina Hotel which is just as described. The patio seating area overlooks the Marina and the myriad multi-million dollar boats moored almost within touching distance. Quite a spectacular outlook.

It’s never easy being a lone conference-goer particularly if you are a little introverted. Just because I get behind a microphone and sound confident and outgoing on the podcast doesn’t mean it’s comfortable walking into a space with lots of people who all seem to know each other. However, the VRMA volunteers are cued to look out for those who aren’t in groups and this made it much easier.

New Members Reception

Even though I’d been to a VRMA conference before (San Antonio 2011), I snuck into the New Members reception which was packed with property managers swapping experiences, reasons for joining, travel stories and some disbelief at the amount of attendees overall. This is a big Association!

One of the first people I ran into was Paula Vaughan from Next Stop San Diego. Paula and her business partner Yasmin Davis are independent vacation rental owners who have made the move to partner up and form a property management company. They were both managing their own places and saw an opportunity to bring together their respective skills and passion for the industry.

Paula has been a long-time follower of the blog and it was great to finally meet her in person.

VRMA Communications Committee

I was recently invited to join the VRMA Communications Committee and Sunday night was an opportunity to get together with some of the other committee members and get to know them a little better. Not all are property managers – VRMA encourages supplier members to be active on committees which brings a lot of balance to the amazing teams that help drive the organization forward.

As part of the Committee I will be contributing to the VRMA blog and promoting the Association in social media. Maybe I can even start the first VRMA Podcast…..we shall see.

Customer Service Revolution

Monday morning kicked of with the Keynote address by John diJulius, author of Secret Service and The Customer Service Revolution.

I was in a customer service role with Readers’ Digest in UK for some years before moving into training, so was interested to see what has changed in customer service ‘theory’ (if there is such a thing) in the last 20 years. John’s presentation intrigued me enough that I moved on to attend a more practical session with him later in the morning titled ‘Making Price Irrelevant’ With standing room only (actually I was sitting on the floor at the front), it was clear his keynote had impacted many more people, and I came away with lots of action points and a plan for making changes when I got back to the office.

There was so much material here for me to digest and translate into WOW moments for our guests that this merits a blog post all to itself, and that will be coming up next week.

Doze by Powerpoint

I sat in on a session in the afternoon about customer expectations but unfortunately after a heavy lunch of pasta eaten outside in the sun, I can honestly say I don’t remember much of it. As a trainer, I know the challenge of getting a post-lunch audience to pay attention and it is not with slide after slide of statistics and dense text. I’m not so sure about death by Powerpoint but for me it was at least doze by Powerpoint.

It was a shame because the topic of the presentation was “Lessons from a National Survey Examining Vacation Rental Guests’ Expectations” so there was a promise of much more than was actually delivered.

Peer Discussion with Round-Table Networking

There was a huge choice of sessions for the last two of the day from how to Navigate the Legal Implications of Owning a Vacation Rental, to learning how to keep up with competitors who are successfully accessing their mobile market with a range of marketing channels. I chose a unique session that was a two hour round-table discussion with other managers of small companies. With a framework of questions to begin with, we explored the issues we all face as property managers, including screening, dealing with damage, tackling staffing issues, and that was just for starters.

This sort of networking with people who are in the same business, who experience the same issues, and deal with similar problems is one of the best parts of a conference. I came away with new ideas, new perspectives old situations and a lot of new friends.

A Tour of San Diego Harbour

I was delighted to meet Eric Mason during the day on Monday. For anyone not aware of Eric’s extensive experience in the vacation rental field – check his LinkedIn profile. I guess Vacation Rental Strategist could be an overall descriptor. I was in awe. From involvement in so many projects that have impacted this industry such as Booking Pal, Ratecoaster and now Real Voice, there are few areas Eric has not touched with his operational and strategic magic. So, being invited to join him and the Real Voice team along with other selected attendees on a boat tour of San Diego Harbour, was a real honour.

Disappointed but Not Surprised….

…is how I’d describe Tuesday’s opening session with Home Away co-founder Brian Sharples. There is no doubt he is an accomplished speaker but the session was little more than a thinly disguised Home Away commercial. The title was E-Commerce: Third Party Distribution and the Industry’s Path to Greatness, which could just as easily have been Home Away: Home Away and Home Away’s Path to Greatness.

Sharples was clear that he was addressing property managers and gave us all the good news that if individual owners fail to toe the HA party line, we would all benefit as they come flocking to the safe harbor of management companies.

I await the fallout with interest.

Breaking Out

An afternoon panel session led by Kirby Winfield of Dwellable and featuring Richard Vaughton of Discovery Holiday Homes, an outspoken advocate of independent marketing, was the antithesis of the morning opener. Aptly titled, ‘Break Away from Listing Site Conglomerates’ this packed session clearly demonstrated there are many who are seeking alternatives to the current major marketing providers.

Amy Hinote of VRM Intel summed it up beautifully on Twitter:


There is undoubtedly more to come on this topic so watch this space….

Interspersed between the sessions were visits to the supplier tent where a good range of booths were displaying their services and products.

The other part of this Conference round-up is podcast episode VRS049 so make sure you listen to that for a summary of the best suppliers, why I think we should all attend conferences and the super-charged value of networking.