VRS105 – Is Your Vacation Rental Really Family Friendly?

From the early days of vacation rentals, families have found them to be a great alternative to hotels, and all the listing sites tout families as being a prime group to target.

So, why do so many owners fall short of expectations and fail to provide many of the essentials to modern day parents?

Probably because they haven’t been parents for a long time, and things have changed dramatically since the days they used to kick the kids out of the door at the start of the day and tell them not to be late for supper.

Parenting now involves a lot more and if owners are to meet the needs of families with all ages of children, they need to consider what is the new ‘normal’ and get equipped and prepared for them.

Nikki Woodson Blair is a mom to three kids and she has experienced many vacations where a little more attention to detail and an understanding of parental (and child) needs would have made a big difference.

tweetTweet: Make sure your #vacationrental property is really #familyfriendly @clanventure @cottageguru http://ctt.ec/om3jT+ pic.twitter.com/FMEOngYqd

In our conversation Nikki cites several reasons we should be targeting families

  • those with babies and toddlers book in the low season when most owners are struggling to maintain occupancy; school seasons
  • the school year is changing and there are many families with kids at year-round schools. The nature of traditional vacation times are changing.
  • homeschoolers which are a tight but growing niche


She also shares what owners need to supply for different age groups from the sleeping and eating essentials for babies to safety requirements for the toddler and younger child stage, on to the little extras that make life fun for pre-schoolers.

In this episode Nikki explains:

  • Why she saw the need for Clanventure and her goals for its growth
  • Why property owners need to be specifically targeting families with young children
  • The steps an owner needs to take to prepare their property for this niche group
  • Ideas on making a home more attractive for families
  • How owners can benefit from listing with her site


So, before you tick that box that says you are a ‘Family Friendly’ property, make sure you download Nikki’s list of must-haves and really own the designation. Your parent guests will love you for it!

VRS005 – with Wendy Shand of Tot to Travel

Where you can find Nikki:










It’s probably right in front of me, but I can’t seem to find Nikki’s list of “must-haves” to download?

    Heather Bayer

    Stand by Jenny. I missed that on my to do list ? it will be in be show notes by the end of the day ??

    Heather Bayer

    My fault Jenny, sorry. I missed that on my to do list for this episode. I’ll get it on the show notes by the end of the day.


      OK Thanks!

        Heather Bayer

        Good to go Jenny


          I must still be looking in the wrong place. Is there a special site for these files?



Julia Hill

Hi Nikki and Heather! Mike too 🙂

Thankful the US will be represented in the “truly family friendly” rental space. We started off early welcoming families with children of all ages and have specific set ups dependent on age. We’ve added locks, additional gates outside, and other safety measures. Wendy Shand and Tots to Travel are a fantastic resource. The one thing I haven’t been able to accomplish is Wendy’s concept of booking days not nights- the ability to accommodate check in/out at anytime during the day- very early to very late. Would love the opportunity to explore the discussion with liked minded family centric VR owners.

Nikki, congrats on your official launch. Since meeting you I’ve enjoyed watching your journey progress. When you open our area- you know I’m interested.


    Nikki Woodson Blair

    Hello Julia! Thank you for your kind comments. I’ll ask Wendy about the booking days, not nights concept. That isn’t something we’ve discussed. And you know how I love your place! I’ll be in touch soon. 🙂

      Julia Hill

      Thanks Nikki! Wendy spoke about the days not nights concept during her session of the VRWS 2014. 🙂

        Nikki Woodson Blair

        Ah! I will ask her when I speak to her next week. Thanks for that! 🙂

Nick Marshall

I found this podcast very helpful – thank you Nikki and Heather. Two things really struck me as important. Because I write the copy on our website, I will be more precise in my descriptions and be careful about applying the child-friendly term. In fact, this podcast will be a huge help in drawing up a child-friendly checklist of for my owners to consider

    Nikki Woodson Blair

    Hi Nick,
    I’m so glad it was useful to you. I think you made a good point: the market is becoming more and more competitive and some owners will see the benefits of targeting a niche market. Like in anything, you’ve got some who are risk-takers and jump right in and others who need to wade in more slowly. I think our difference is that we don’t manage properties, just market them and we don’t take on properties that don’t match our standards. Those difficult conversations about change take place before homes are listed on our site. It is initially harder for us to find properties to list, but we feel building something of value is worth that time and effort… value for parents (ease of finding what they need) and value for owners and managers (exclusive marketing with a focus on off season bookings). Let me know if you need any help with your checklist!

      Nick Marshall

      Thank you for your offer of help with a checklist, Nikki. We don’t manage our listed properties either but we provide as much useful information as we can to owners listing on our website. We do not take on absent owners unless they have a house-keeper in place. Most of our owners have very little, if any, experience of renting out holiday homes or providing great customer service to their guests. Our own reputation is very much tied to how well our owners manage their property and the interaction with their guests. We cannot visit every property more than once or twice a year and a lot can happen between visits. The best we can do is to provide lots of good reasons to our owners for taking any action that will improve the guest experience which in the longer run will improve the return on investment. You are so right in your comment about finding the right owners. Those owners who understand that you have to spend money to make money, to be helpful and to constantly try to put themselves in their guest’s shoes. Our experience has shown that the more we look after our guests, the better they look after our home.

        Nikki Woodson Blair

        I love your model! I was wondering if you had a blog or newsletter for your owners, to help them understand what they need to do. I feel like breaking it up a bit is a good way to let owners know what the industry’s best practices are. And you are so right, the guest experience is key!

          Nick Marshall

          I guiltily admit that we don’t have a blog or a newsletter yet. We help each owner on a case by case basis. I am working on an e-book for new owners but it is having to take a backseat to our new website which we are building.
          There is a lot of commentary about achieving “scale” with online businesses but we enjoy working with our owners and there is a limit to how much you can scale that. The point about scale is that it can only be at arms length and it is not always easy to monetize at arms length because every man, woman and their dog is trying to do the same. Think about the number of amazing applications that are mostly free. They have scale but monetizing is difficult. The big listing sites have huge revenue but their outgoings are huge too and they are highly dependent on raising vast amounts of fresh capital. The valuation of AirBnB is only based on what the investors paid for the last capital raising. I’m not sure it bears much relationship to the real value of the company. AirBnB is already trialling a 12-15% owner fee for bookings that come off an Adwords lead. The cost to owners of the big sites is going up both financially and through loss of control and the owner’s brand.
          My experience is that if you can make yourself indispensable to your niche, you can earn a good living. There is a big move towards Listing Site Independence but many owners do not have the time or the inclination to run the marketing/booking side of their investment. The big sites may get them the leads but they still have to deal with those leads. We manage that task for them. We have around 30 properties listed which means we dont “waste” so many leads as we might have done with only 10 properties. If a requested property is booked, we have others to offer. Because we are just operating in the one area, our focus is tight and our knowledge is good. Try going to any of the big sites and asking a question about a property. AirBnB makes a big deal about “local”. We really are local.

            Nikki Woodson Blair

            I really love your model, Nick. I’d love to hear how you promote the homes.

              Nick Marshall

              We promote the homes with our website. Its not a very pretty website and it is over 4 years old (and about to be replaced) but it works. The backend, though, is a bit of a pain to use and one of the reasons I have not written many blog posts.

              I have plenty of material on the site about things to do in the area. These get visited quite a lot. I really do not know why it all worked so well for us – perhaps it is because we have been around a long time.

              Our first website was published more than 10 years ago with one listing – our beachfront cottage with the rustiest roof in the street! That got bookings from the word Go. That website did not even have a content management system so I had to call the developer for every copy or image change.

              Early on, I paid quite a lot to get a top 4 listing on a travel website which was doing really well in Australia. That was the best move I made because it got a lot of business and gave us prominence. It was after that we found ourselves getting onto Google page 1 search results. The site I paid to get a top 4 listing on was subsequently taken over by Yahoo and went downhill after that.
              We also make a modest use of Adwords.

              Most of our owners list on other sites too but we would get them at least one third of their bookings. For some we manage those enquiries too.

              I suspect that quite a lot of customers find a house they like on one of the big sites, then do a search using the name of the house and find us.

              Our advantage is we are locals and we are on the phone so we can answer questions about any of the homes we list because we have visited and photographed all of them. This is not something you can easily scale but you can provide a much better service.

One Chic Retreat

I found this podcast really valueable! Thanks for all of your tips, Nikki! I would not have thought of a video baby monitor. My kids are teenagers now so I’m out of the loop. Great ideas about keeping up with current equipment. I think baby blogs and kids blogs are probably great sources.

I would add that stain resistant fabrics and carpets are a good idea in kid-friendly rentals. Commercial carpet tiles and Sunbrella type fabrics all work wonderfully and look great and are a cinch to keep clean.

Thanks you two for the great interview!

    Heather Bayer

    Thanks Mercedes – I found all Nikki’s ideas so useful and am adding your tips on Sunbrella fabrics to my list as I plan my new vacation rental.

    Nikki Woodson Blair

    Thanks so much! Yes, keeping up with what new parents want is important. Great tip about fabrics!


Thank you Nikki and Heather! What a GREAT podcast! I had not thought of targeting Home Schooling families.

We have a toddler-friendly home and another really great feature (you may already have this or are have plans to build) a deck using composite (trex-like) material. No splinters! We have a toddler climbing cube on one deck, and a covered sandbox for the little ones.

Regarding toys, we have purchased rigid plastic and cloth toys – the plastic bathtub toys can go into the dishwasher and the stuffed animals into the washing machine.

Best of luck, Nikki! I really think the US needs this. I’ll be getting in touch with you soon.

    Nikki Woodson Blair

    Thank you for sharing your tips Debi! I would add not buying bath toys that hold water (like squirt toys). Eventually, they will get moldy. Yuck! A few choice boats for the bath I think would work well. The simpler, the better. Love the idea of putting them in the dishwasher!

Villa Ausblick

Long-time Heather B. fan, first-time commenting! This topic perfectly describes our own niche marketing success as truly family-friendly 5-BR VR near Stowe, Vermont. We bought “Villa Ausblick” back in 2005 when our daughter was just three weeks and our son 17 months old. From the get-go we set up the house with everything a young family needs and added over the past 10 years as our kids grew to be tweens. Here is a summary of what our guests will find onsite:

– baby crib, high chair, booster seat, audio monitor, bath tub toys, outdoor baby swing, gates, safe latches for outlets & cabinets, outdoor baby pool (portable), plastic dishes/cups/utensils
– carpeted toddler playroom right next to dining area with tons of books and age appropriate toys for boys & girls; board games for all ages
– 2 rooms with bunk beds and trundles sleeping 6 kids (or adults)
– jacuzzi bathtub (fits 7 toddlers or 5 preK or 3 first graders)
– basement gameroom with flatscreen HD-TV and basic cable, limited DVD collection; foosball table; shuffle board (up until last week we also offered a pool table with ping-pong table topping… until recent guests moved the table and trashed the legs!)
– endless outdoor amenities: sandbox with playhouse, slide and toys; tree house; fire pit (“you must finish your dinner or we can’t do smores”); two separate dining areas: one for adults, one for kids (plastic picnic table = easy cleaning); in-ground pool; pond with waterfall and tons of living creatures (salamanders, tiny fish, frogs = endless entertainment); surrounding woods (hide-and-seek, collecting wood for fire pit)
– stuff: tricycle, bicycles for various ages, go-card, winter sleds, chalk, pool toys
– grandparents bedroom separated by two floors from top floor where parents & kids stay (hugely popular amongst seniors)

For the past 10 years we literary had to force our kids and their friends to leave the property during the summer period because they were just so darn happy onsite and zero desire to explore offsite options. And at the end of each stay most kids refuse to get back into the car, some even cry because they don’t want to leave. That is a sign of success! And the fact that I have many repeat bookings, especially from multi-generational families.

We do make it very clear BEFORE families arrive that we are family-friendly, but have clear expectations as to the condition they need to leave the home before they depart. Good communication = ‘normal’ housekeeper costs = full refund.
It definitely is significantly more effort to maintain a family-friendly home, but at the end of the day I get tons of joy knowing that many, many children and their families have had a very special time together.

Heather, best of luck in setting up your own FF VR.
Nikki, I just contacted you via your website for your consideration in your portfolio.

– Sibylle from Villa Ausblick

    Villa Ausblick

    a few photos

      Heather Bayer

      Wow from me as well – now that’s what I call family friendly. I can’t wait to see how you progress with Clanventure

    Nikki Woodson Blair

    You really are family-friendly! Wow! It is a pleasure to know that you are helping families connect and make memories for years to come. I think it isn’t for everyone as you need to be committed. But that commitment comes with rewards as well. (Financial as well!) I’m looking forward to speaking to you about your home. -Nikki

Janny Page

Thank you for giving me some information about Vacation Home Rentals. Because vacation location information very important before going anywhere.

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