Podcast Over the course of a year, I’ll talk to hundreds of influential vacation rental professionals from owners and managers to technology product developers, insurers, web designers and other providers to the industry. And talking over Skype or on the phone is great but nothing beats the face-to-face connection that a good conference brings. So it was last week at the Vacation Rental Manager’s Association annual event in beautiful Chandler, Arizona, I had the chance to network with all my friends, make new ones and get immersed in industry conversation for 3 days. Along with the array of industry suppliers showcasing their products and services in the vendor area, the educational element was excellent, and I came away with new ideas to apply to my own business – both in the agency and for my personal properties. In this episode, I’ve picked out the highlights of the conference and share the best of the event. First of all, I wanted to thank all the people who talked to me about the podcast – some who just recognized my voice and wanted to mention how much they enjoyed listening. You cannot know how much I appreciate that and how it makes it all worthwhile. I included as many as I could recall and if I missed you out, please mention yourself in the comments. After I recorded the episode I realized that one important person was left off the roll call, so Tim Hubbard from Sacramento – it was great to meet you again. You were at VRSS2016 in Toronto and it was fun to catch up again at the Sunday reception! I broke down my key takeaways into categories: Guest Gifts For those of us who leave a gift for guests, I know that most strive to be a little more unique than a supermarket bottle of wine and a few snacks. My guests will sometimes get a dozen just-collected free-range eggs from our local farm or a jar of honey from our beekeeper down the road, but sometimes in the depths of winter, I just run out of ideas. So meeting Jason Halliburton from Bring Fido was inspirational. His array of gift bags for pets was the perfect nudge for me to look at how to create a wow moment for our pet-owning guests. I also stopped to chat with Steve Zimmerman from Beach House Logos. If you’ve ever considered creating a promotional product, head over to his website. Whereas most companies like this are generic, this one is focused on our industry and there are so many ideas for memorable gifts for your guests. Social Media Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get to all the education sessions and had to miss Thibault Masson’s presentation however I did catch a great hour with April Burns from InterCoastal Net Design (ICND). Her talk on Facebook marketing was geared less on Facebook ads but more on the content you should use in posting and the importance of an editorial calendar. My big takeaway from that was that it's not necessary to buy into any fancy software to produce this type of scheduling. Just use a Google calendar or iCal to create a monthly grid and plan your posts ahead of time. One for each day mixing different types of post over the course of a month. I want to schedule April for an interview shortly and get a little more from her on the topic. Technology Naturally, the tech companies abound at an event like this. I enjoyed catching up with Brad Huber from Parakeet and actually seeing the products he talked about on Episode 143. In talking to Brad and Mike Ferguson from Parakeet I was motivated to look at ways we can get all our owners in our PM company to come on board with remote locks. One of our biggest issues in the summer is access because codes get set incorrectly, or keys get mislaid and having a method of standardizing this element would save a lot of time and stress at such a busy time of the year. I also had a great conversation with Matthew Elmore at Kaba – another company offering remote access systems. Many PMs use Kaba locks and it’s another I’ll be looking into. Insurance We all need to be insured, not only to have substantial property cover but also for liability. In addition to that, there are opportunities to sell insurance to our guests for damage protection and cancellation. I particularly liked a product offered by Rental Guardian which is a ‘cancel for any reason’ policy. How much easier it would be to deal with the plea from a guest to cancel a vacation because of a job loss, or domestic reason (that a standard travel protection policy doesn’t include), if they had been offered this type of insurance at the time of booking. If they didn’t take it, then the risk was theirs and turning down a request for a refund considerably reduces the emotional element in their argument. It was also good to meet the team from Proper Insurance since they have been recommended by a few Vacation Rental Formula members in our private Facebook group. Nice people and they know the business of vacation rental which really helps. Bed Linens Buying sheets and bed coverings has always been a bit hit or miss for me. I’ve never been 100% sure that what’s in the packaging will be right for my beds. I also want to recommend the right types of linens to my owners, so it was great to be able to feel samples at InnStyle and to actually ‘get’ the difference between cotton, Egyptian cotton, and cotton/polyester mixes. We know our guests want a good night’s sleep and paying attention to the feel of what goes on the beds can go a long way to guest satisfaction. My takeaway from the half hour I spent talking to someone who has been in the linens business for decades is that this is an area I need to discuss more with my owner clients. Getting the bed and bedding right can make the difference between a so-so review and an outstanding one. There were so many companies that I stopped by to check out I just didn’t have the space and time to mention them all but here’s a couple more I wanted to include: Lodgify – website templates and reservation management Booking Pal – booking distribution and channel management (they supported VRSS2016 and are just such nice people) Rentals United – channel management and a great blog MYVR – website builder, reservation management Going to the VRMA events underlies my belief that attending live conferences can ultimately boost your bookings and create more professionalism in your business. Make sure you pick up your tickets to the next Vacation Rental Success Summit before the price goes up.