VRS472 – Ciao Italia – Lessons Learned From Being an STR Guest with Andy Meddick


This episode of the Vacation Rental Success Podcast is sponsored by Hostfully
An All-In-One property management platform that allows Vacation Rental Owners & Property Managers to handle all aspects of their business in one easy-to-use space.


It’s shocking to me that many short-term rental owners and vacation rental property managers have never experienced making a booking and staying in an STR property. Shocking, because it is only by being a guest that you can truly understand what your own guests feel and experience as a traveler.

Andy Meddick is the former CEO of Seachange Vacation Rentals in Delaware, and after the sale of his company earlier in 2022, took a long-awaited vacation in Italy.  The meticulous planning involved ensuring that all the accommodations would be suitable for his group of 6, which included his elderly parents and others with mobility issues.

Since Andy had been a rental guest on multiple previous occasions he knew the importance of sharing his group dynamics with his hosts. 

It didn’t all go as planned, as Andy explains four out of the six places he rented had serious shortfalls, one of which involved 48 steps up an uneven and badly lit staircase – exactly what he’d tried to avoid.

In this episode, we hear the best and worst of the Italy trip and learn what we need to do as hosts and managers to ensure our guests have great vacations, and not those peppered with avoidable issues.

Andy shares:

  • His challenges in trying to book direct
  • Issues with property access & parking information
  • Their ‘worst vacation rental experience ever
  • The importance of a digital guide
  • The safety issues experienced at some of the homes
  • The ‘craziness’ of having to meet a host at a property
  • Why the period between booking and stay is all-important from a guest perspective
  • The differences between OTA and direct book experiences
  • What we can learn from what he encountered.

Heather Bayer

Welcome to another episode of the Vacation Rental Success Podcast. This is your host, Heather Bayer, and, as ever, I am super delighted to be back with you once again today. I'm talking about the experience of being a guest and I've done this a few times before. I think it's so important that as hosts and property managers, that everybody that's involved in the business gets out and experiences it for themselves.  And that's not just going to look at a property and checking it out, it's actually experiencing the whole process from the search phase to the booking phase, to that phase Andy McNulty calls ‘the tumbleweed time'. That period between booking and stay when often you hear absolutely nothing from your host, right the way through the stay itself and then the follow up. The reason it's important to experience that, is that it can guide you in how to do it in the best possible way yourself. So I wanted to check in with Andy Medick who has – I say recently – it was a couple of months ago, he took a family trip to Italy. It was a three-week stay and he's going to tell you all about it. There were some good parts and there were some, well he called them disasters. So I think it's very worthwhile to hear from Andy what his experiences were like and we're going to hear how his family felt about it, not just him as an experienced property manager, and I'm going to chip in on the odd occasion with some of my own experiences as well. So without further ado, let's move on over to my great discussion with Andy Medick.

Heather Bayer

So I'm super happy to have with me today again, Andy Medick the former owner of Sea Change Vacation Rentals. Is this the first time we've spoken since you sold the company?

Andy Medick

I think it is, and you know like you, I have joined this rare club – well actually not that rare – this club of former CEOs of vacation rental management companies that have sold. What a wild year! If you had asked me a year ago would I be here now? Not this fast! I would have said, but here we are.

Heather Bayer

Yes, I was thinking that today, thinking back a year ago, December 2021, I think I just put together the sales brochure for selling CottageLINK Rental Management, and I had it in my head that we might sell it. And then the broker was saying, it takes a long time. So, no, at that point, I was not allowing myself to think that by the time I got to this point, we would have been six-months out of the business.

Andy Medick

Yes., and honestly, I had about a five-year plan. I was thinking I would sell probably within or at the end of the next five years. I had specific goals in mind that I wanted to achieve with the business, and this might be an actual separate episode. I'm happy to come on and chat about the sale of the business and the whys and wherefores, but just suffice to say, we hired a really good broker, and we went through the process of getting the business ready, and the timing was right. I didn't want to miss the opportunity, and now I am freed up. I'm freed up from day-to-day operations. I can realign the way I feel now. I can realign myself to things that I am better skilled at rather than trying to hold everything down.

Heather Bayer

Yes, I always have in mind the photos you were posting on your Facebook page of your vehicle just piled high with linens at changeover time. And then there was one with you sitting in – I hesitate to say, office. You had a little desk, and you were just surrounded by racks and racks of sheets and duvets and towels.

Andy Medick

Yes, we called that the bunker. That was our linen storage facility….'He disappeared into the bunker'.

Heather Bayer

No more linen checking for you then.

Andy Medick

No, and you know people joke, oh, what's the title of your autobiography going to be, Andy? And I think it probably will be something along the lines of, I lost a toenail to linens.  Brittany Blackman posted a photo, she was bruised from a turnover, and I've been there. I actually broke my nose making beds one day. I lost a toenail. That's a long story you probably don't want to get into. You know linens are a dangerous business to be in!

Heather Bayer

Well, you're not doing that anymore; what are you doing?

Andy Medick

I think probably a period of reflection. I think some days I wake up and I think, you know what? I could really be retired. I could really enjoy this, because when you run a business, you have the ability to make direct changes. You're in control of your own world and if you see a problem, you can directly address it. You can roll out a new initiative, you can make a big difference to guests or property owners, but then you sell. You wake up one day and you've sold your business and you're thinking, okay, now what's next? I'm not ready. I love this industry. At the point in time I sold my company, I was not done in terms of the things that I set out to achieve 10- years ago when I first set it up. So you think, what next? So I think right now I'm leaning towards, I really want to help other small to medium operators really get their professional house in order. And really, I really don't like the word optimized, it kind of sounds greedy. And I don't really want to focus on the money side of this, because I think if you chase the money, you're always chasing the money.

Andy Medick

But if you put a good foundation in place first, then the money is going to come, and that sounds kind of crunchy and holistic, but I think it's true. If you're chasing the money first and foremost, then I think there's just a lot of muddling. So to that end, I've been muddling and mulling over for the past six or seven months of what comes next. And some days I feel like I'm sort of yelling into the wind. I'm ranting and raving and driving Tom crazy by “Can you believe what they're doing on Airbnb now?” Like I said previously, I could just make a direct change, so I've started a vacation rental consulting company and it's called Stay Attention Vacation Rental Consulting.  The Stay Attention, is all based on the concept of how I set up my vacation rental management company, Sea Change Vacation Rentals. It's basically based on designing a company around the needs of the guest first. We're managing a real estate asset for our owners, yes, but we have to put the needs of the guest first and, if you take care of the guest, they're going to take care of you in terms of bringing you the income and revenue.

Andy Medick

So, Stay Attention, it's aimed at small to medium-sized vacation rental operators to help them figure out how they're going to do it. And I think if you ask your average person who is knee-deep running a business, working long days, if you ask them, why are you doing this? What problem are you trying to solve? A lot of people are just deer-in-the-headlights. Like they don't really understand the context of the question. So it's really helped people pick through that, and then from there I could dive deeper and help them figure out, what do you need to put into a vacation rental kitchen. Where are you going to source your linens? There are some things for me that you learn the hard way, that are non-negotiable. I'm a firm believer that the beds should be made and stripped for the guest. You should not put the guests through any kind of workload on arrival or departure. If you had asked me that five-years ago, I was struggling with the same issues everybody is. Guests would arrive to a nice, neat linen package on the front porch. Then they have to make the beds at midnight when they arrive.  That's not good. So there you go; that's what's coming next.

Heather Bayer

Oh, that sounds a lot of fun, and I shall look forward to hearing how that progresses. But today we're going to be talking about your experience as a guest. And I know that you had this wonderful trip that you'd planned to Italy. Three-weeks with you and Tom and family. So take it away, just give us a bit of the background of what this trip was about and how you went about planning it.

Andy Medick

So this trip, for me, was the first trip that I've planned. When we travel, we always stay in vacation rentals where and when we can. And I enjoy the experience, I enjoy the product. But this was my first time planning the trip purely as a guest. I'd sold my own vacation rental company, and I was kind of between gigs, if you will, and I thought, this is a really good opportunity to get the family together, and it's multi-generational, so it's a good ‘use case', if you like, for any kind of product out there. But there you go,  I'm going back into my professional mode and I want to just stick to the guest.

Andy Medick

So, I think the overall experience of this – we were three-weeks across Italy – it was quite an ambitious trip to undertake given the needs of our group. I had two elderly parents in their mid-80s, in great shape, but typical for people in their mid-80s, some mobility issues and a need to rest and stairs and elevators and all those things. And then my sister and her husband, both have some mobility issues with some accidents that they've had. So for me, there were some non-negotiable requirements that I had.

Andy Medick

So I set about just doing the research. I hit the OTAs; if I find a property I like after days of research, I try to find that company off-OTA and ‘book direct', and I had very little success – maybe it's trying to do this from across the Atlantic, but I had very little success in finding ‘book direct' in Italy. So we booked overall – across three weeks – six vacation rental properties. Two of them were ‘book direct', and four were sourced through OTAs. So of those, three were Airbnb and one Vrbo.  My experience overall was very good with the book directs, they nailed it. All of these properties, I will say, were marketed as ‘luxury properties' and ‘luxury experiences'. The two book directs really knocked it out of the park. The OTAs, not so much. And without blaming any one particular OTA, because that's not my game here, I'm a big fan of the OTAs. I think they provide a very good function for our industry, and I'm not anti-OTA. I would just say for the people listening who are running vacation rental companies, make sure you have a strategy for using the OTAs. They are really good at lead generating for first-time guests.

Andy Medick

So that being said, I'll summarize my experience. Firstly, I had some issues during booking in terms of the research I had to do. It's a big responsibility being the registered guest, the primary for five other people, and none of them had stayed in vacation rentals before. So I kind of felt pressure, you know.  As the guy who just sold a company, I wanted to show my family, hey, these vacation rentals are really good. And I was a little embarrassed at the experience we had in four of these properties.

Heather Bayer

That's a lot. Four out of the six gave you a cause for embarrassment to family members who'd never been in a vacation rental before. I can understand that.

Andy Medick

Yes, and the shame with this, there's a lot of these issues I think are not easy. I mean, this is a very complicated business, there's a lot of moving parts, and there's a lot of labor that's needed to get this done right. But I think from a structural standpoint, these are fairly simple problems to solve, but complicated to execute, if you get my meaning. So consistently, I see a problem with kitchens. You check in and the kitchens are just awful. We cook a lot. We cook a lot at home, and we cook a lot while we're traveling. And then you factor in mobility issues. It's hard to get elderly parents out to a restaurant, and then you've got to find somewhere.  My brother was on crutches, you've got to deal with that, and so we cook a lot.  And you open the cupboards and I feel like I've stumbled into somebody else's house. It's just not set up for somebody who likes to cook. And that, to me, is a pretty simple thing to fix. Have a standard guide for your listing in terms of what you put in a kitchen and put it up on your listing on your website somewhere, and people can see, hey, if you book a property through this company, this is what I get in the kitchen.

Andy Medick

I think there were a lot of maintenance issues. I had an issue during booking. There seems to be, and again I don't know if this is a European thing versus a North American thing, the definition of what constitutes a bed seems to be different in Europe and specifically Italy. I really had to trawl through a lot of listing photographs, hours trying to figure out where the beds were, how big they were, and then you realize a futon or somebody's childhood bed is not a suitable bed for an adult in their 80s, and that would nix that listing and then back to the beginning again. And then the other thing for me, parking.  Access to the property was very important given our family needs. And I was very specific chatting with hosts and managers through OTAs, back and forth before I booked, and then after I booked, going back, being really paranoid again. I just want to make sure that I can actually park the car at the property, and before there were an issue.  One was a complete disaster, and that was centered around arrival instructions, check-in instructions, parking and access. And in this particular case, the reason why I think this was so disastrous, I didn't realize when I was chatting on Airbnb, I was actually emailing and chatting with the owner of a professional management company, who listed her properties on Airbnb.

Andy Medick

 I later found that company when I was in Italy, and the search engines gave you a slightly different exposure, and I found them marketed as ‘high-end luxury'. There were specific relevant items for me with that property, that should have been included in the listing description.  And then when I asked the host directly and I disclose I have two elderly parents, there are things that you should disclose about the property and say, you know what, Andy, maybe this isn't the best property for you to book with your parents.

Andy Medick

Specifically, the problem I had with it was that it was in Lucca, which is a medieval historic walled-city in Tuscany. I'm not stupid, I know the product I'm booking, I know there are going to be some limitations in a historic building, but if I ask you, can I park at the property? What are the arrangements for parking because of elderly parents? And you tell me, Andy, no problem, parking is an easy ten-minute walk away, and you don't discover until you arrive at the property at 09:00 at night that you can't actually enter the city in a private car.

Andy Medick

Italy now has these ZTL zones, which means you can only enter certain historic city centers if you are a resident, or if you are in a taxi cab going to a hotel, and this was not disclosed.  So we eventually didn't end up arriving into the apartment until 1030 at night, and the staff member who facilitated our arrival was very irate that we were keeping him out that late and gave us no help at all. The only thing he wanted us to understand was how to reset the circuit breaker in the apartment! And we have questions about where's the air conditioning, all that kind of stuff. No, I'm just here to tell you how to reset the breaker. And then I understood why after he left, circuits were overloaded. You could see the adapters on the electrical outlets overloaded. My father moved a chair in their bedroom and there was a hole in the wall with bare wires hanging out. Well, gee, you wonder why the circuits keep breaking. But in reality, the main problem I had was that it was 48 steps up from street level to the apartment in a dark hallway, no natural lighting, with a bare light bulb on each level on a timer.

Andy Medick

So my poor parents could not make it up from one level to the next without the light going off.  The steps were worn – it's an old building. The host manager should not have allowed us to book that property. We stayed one night. There were other issues with the property that I didn't involve people with, but suffice to say that this property really was misrepresented and I'm not a whiner by nature, I looked for a solution. I couldn't sleep that night because of some problems in the property, so I went online and found another property and we moved the next day. We were due to stay there for five nights. We left after one, and then I started a dialogue from the new property with Airbnb. I reported the listing and Airbnb reached out to the owner and they closed my case without even following up with me. The owner told Airbnb that I had lied to her about my group and meeting my group. And it was just not a great experience.

Heather Bayer

That's horrible to hear, because I think as guest, and I've done this myself this past summer. We went to Germany, we went to England and did the same planning. And like any vacation rental guest, all you have to go on is those pictures online and the dialogue that you have between you and the host of the property manager. And if you then arrive and find it's not as described, do you remember that old expression? It was SNAD – significantly not as described.

Andy Medick

Right? Yes.

Heather Bayer

And it seems to have disappeared. I don't see it that much, but clearly you had that experience. Let me just go back a bit and ask you, with all these bookings, what was your experience between booking and the actual stay in terms of information that was provided? Because, you know, this is a particular bugbear of mine. I've mentioned it before. Andy McNulty called it ‘tumbleweed time' in a presentation he did. He had this wonderful graphic of an old gas station way out in the Arizona desert, with just this bit of tumbleweed going past, which is exactly what it's like for most people. You sit there thinking, well, I made this booking and I'm going to be there in a week, two weeks, and nobody has contacted me. I had mentioned this before going to Miami for the Book Direct Show. The same thing happened with the property management company I booked with and I'd dropped this great breadcrumb which said, “I'm coming to Miami, I've never been to your city before”. And to me, as a former property manager, that would have been the clue, you know, oh great, you haven't been to this place before.  I'm going to bombard you with information about how to enjoy it because then you're going to become my ambassador afterwards and be my word-of-mouth referee. But I got nothing. So I'm interested to hear what you got.

Andy Medick

Well, two thoughts on that. Number one, funny thing about tumbleweeds, we drive across country every winter. We come to the California desert, we see lots of tumbleweed in Arizona, Nevada and California. Tumbleweeds are not gentle, fluffy, soft things. Tumbleweed are really tough plants and when they hit your car, they hit you with a wack. So there's your analogy. The time the tumbleweed comes, it wacks, you upside down.

Andy Medick

My experience, you're not going to be surprised at my answer. Nothing! Complete silence. After booking, if you don't reach out to the host manager, you don't hear from them, and then you get an email or a text the day before check-in, giving you a lot of detailed information on what you should do for arrival. And that's great if you're still at home, but if you're actually traveling when that communication comes in, you might not see it for a while. You may be, as in our case, traveling across rural areas of Italy with very poor cell phone service and relying on gas stations to go in and get their WiFi to of check, did I get anything? And then you're told, hey, when you get close to arrival, call us and let us know how far you are away because we need to meet you at the property with a key; that's really difficult to navigate when you're traveling long distance.  And it just made me think this is not thought through from a guest perspective, it's thought through from an operational company perspective. And again, as I said earlier on, I think these issues are conceptually very easy to resolve. Just set some kind of yardstick and say non-negotiable. For me for guest experience is check-in and check-out directly at the property and you do not need to come to a rental office to pick up the key. You do not need to schedule an appointment for me to come and give you a key, at the very least, put a lockbox on the building. Smart locks or digital locks are very inexpensive, put those on the property. So yeah, tumbleweed communication was a big issue across all the properties. All of my experience, with the exception, again, of the two book directs and these were very different because of lots of personalized service, which I think overcame some areas where I think they could improve a little bit. I booked through a very high-end travel company in Italy and they were wonderful. I'll mention them – “Feeling Italy” – they were great.

Andy Medick

But I didn't actually find Feeling Italy directly. I found them through a British travel company called Oliver's Travels. Again, great experience, high-end properties. You're guaranteed a certain quality of amenities, and the communications ahead and during booking were very good. My slight complaint, not a complaint just my feedback, was that they were still using printed guest guides at the property, and I just felt that with my professional head on, that's a little bit off-brand for a luxury company. There are good tools out there such as Touch Stay, that we know we can elevate that experience. But I've got to tell you, Oliver's Travels and then a company we booked with in Venice, just for one night, they truly were luxury experiences. And again, the Venice one kind of wasn't a book direct really, it was through Booking.com, but then I was able to find the company outside of Booking.com and reach out to them directly. And they were actually a hotel company that had a suite of apartments on the Grand Canal. Truly luxury experiences. The properties were very well-stocked. The kitchens were amazing. We were in the property for seven nights. We did a lot of cooking. We had a lot of interaction with the company checking-in on us. They were very discreet in how they did it. They didn't just show up at the property, even though their offices are right up the road. Very good experience, great linens, well-stocked property, good guest communications, everything great. Not like the other four.

Heather Bayer

Okay, we're going to come back to a few other things in a moment, but I just want to take a break from our discussion right now to go across to the president and co-founder of Hostfully, our sponsor. David Jacoby is answering one of the most common questions we hear from property managers when they consider switching to a new property management system or a starting up for the first time.

Heather Bayer

So, David, I always love hearing founder origin stories. It's one of the first questions I ask when I'm interviewing anybody on the podcast. How did you get into this business? So how did Hostfully get started?

David Jacoby

Oh, boy, this is such a fun question and I'll try to keep it brief, and if anyone wants to talk with me about it in person, I'd love to go on. It actually started as me as a super guest. I traveled the world for a year and stayed in around 40 homes during that time and saw the experience as a guest first. Then I became a host myself. So I have an in-law unit. I started renting that out and like many hosts, I spent many hours banging my head against the wall, making a really ugly-looking Microsoft Word document guidebook for my guests, thinking, there's got to be a better way to do this. So that was the beginning. The digital guidebook was our first software, and we started integrating with other property management softwares on the digital guidebooks. And that's when we met my co-founder Margot, and I met our third co-founder Stephan, who had started a property management software at the time called Orbirental. We liked each other. It's kind of like dating. We joke about we went out for coffee, went out for lunch, and we jumped off a cliff and said, let's join forces.

David Jacoby

Our skill sets were complementary, our products were complementary, and that's when we became an all-in-one property management software and digital guidebook solution.

Heather Bayer

That is a great story. Thank you.

David Jacoby

You bet.

Heather Bayer

Well back with Andy Medick again. It was interesting just hearing David Jacoby talking about his founder story and being a guest and then managing his own properties and then talking about digital guest guides, because it's exactly what we've been talking about here. So I know to some extent we're preaching to the converted here, Andy, but I think you've got some really strong messages to get out to listeners based on the experiences you've had. And I just want to kick off with asking you whether you think that professional managers make difficult guests.

Andy Medick

Yes and no. Let me ask this a different way. I think there's two things at play here. There's an intellectual standpoint and there's an emotional experience. So I think as professional managers, we understand the business intellectually, but as guests, we experience the business emotionally. So when we are then staying as a guest and we're also involved in the industry, we're having an emotional experience as a guest.  But it's hard to switch off that fact that as you're looking around, you go to put your coffee cup down and there's no coffee table there. Or you're in bed and you go to put your reading glasses down, there's no side table. Little things like that can drive you nuts. Professionally, that's an intellectual exercise. On two sides of the bed, there should be two tables and two lamps. But emotionally, you look at that and you might not see the detail, you just know you're not having a great experience.

Andy Medick

And then I kind of look at my experiences across the board, and again, I'm just picking Italy because it was a nice, discreet three-week trip. I'd say with my professional head on, I had my emotional guest experience, but when I look at that experience from a professional standpoint, for the benefit of the listeners, I think it breaks down into two things. Number one, you've got inexperienced hosts or managers that are getting it wrong, really for lack of experience. They want to do better, but they don't necessarily know how to do it. We've all done that. We're humans, we learn, we grow, we improve our operations with experience and time. And the second one, I think, is kind of more damaging. You've got hosts or managers that are willfully getting it wrong. They know what to do, but they don't really want to incur the cost of doing business, the operational startup costs or the operational continual costs in terms of continual maintenance or refreshing decor, soft furnishings, and they're getting it wrong because they're chasing the money. First and foremost, the money is important. We're all trying to earn a living here. And I really believe that if you're chasing the money purely from an investment asset kind of perspective, and you're not paying attention to the emotional, practical sides for the guest, the money may come, but it's not going to be sustainable.  In order to build a sustainable business, you've got to put the needs of the guest first and then they will deliver the money.

Heather Bayer

Yes, absolutely. You make some great points there, and certainly talking about the money, we see so much out there now encouraging people to just list, you've got a property, just list it on Airbnb, just list it on Vrbo, and we'll take care of it. And then, of course, they don't, they're not taking care of it. I sometimes think that the messaging that's coming across from the OTAs is, well, of course it's incorrect, but to some degree I think it's unethical because it does come across as though all you have to do is list something and they will do the rest. And I think for some people that is, oh, well, I don't have to do much more than just post a few pictures in a description.

Andy Medick

Exactly. And you know, if I'm allowed to, a shout out to another podcast here, The Sarah and T Podcast.  They had Tim Rosolio, Vice-President of Vacation Rental Partner Success for Vrbo on a recent episode, and they put out a request for questions. So, fresh off my experience in Italy, my question was – “Do you see a role in OTAs setting and maintaining listing standards for hosts and managers that are using your platform?” And the response was – “Our role is not to tell you how to run your business, we're a booking platform.” And I think that ‘a booking platform' is an accurate statement. But my take on this is that, well, isn't Uber a similar model? Uber doesn't own the cars that the drivers who list on their services use. I may own my car and I'm an Uber driver, but if you go on to the Uber website, there's a list, a 19-point listing requirement that drivers and their cars have to comply with in order to list on Uber. So my take on this, as a guest booking on an OTA, I don't perceive the fact that somebody else owns that property.  I'm booking my vacation, and I'm using your booking platform to do it. And I just think if you're taking my money as a guest or part of my money and charging me a booking/service fee or whatever they package it as, I think it obligates you to do something to control the quality of the product that's on your platform. You could argue that's a philosophical viewpoint. It's my viewpoint as a guest, not as a professional manager. I'm booking through you as an OTA. You give me a number that I'm to call if I have a problem, then what happens after that? It's interesting because Tim also made a couple of points. He said that their data, when they looked at their reviews, they said, 25% of travelers want a waffle-iron in kitchens. And I thought, that's great that you're doing that kind of research, but if you know that 25% of travelers want a waffle-iron, why don't you put together a kitchen guide as a listing requirement for me as a property owner listing on your platform, help me out, and in return, help your brand.

Andy Medick

And then the other thing he said was, his plan was to relentlessly market our brand.  Our brand being Vrbo. In this case, showing my age here. I keep flipping back an forth for VRBO/vrbo.  And again, I am not anti-OTA. I think they provide a valuable service. I just think if we have a shared goal in terms of removing bad actors from this industry, bad guests in terms of screening badly behaved guests, or hosts that are not so good at what they're doing, if we have a joint role in that, we share the same goal. And I think the OTAs do have a role in setting listing standards on their sites.

Heather Bayer

Yes, preaching the converted. And I know with Sea Change Vacation Rentals, you had your lists of what you should have in your kitchen and before you were supplying linens, what the linens had to be like. It was very clear that you weren't taking anyone onto your management program unless they were delivering the standards that you required. So I see exactly where you're coming from. What is the problem with saying, this is what you should have in your kitchen? I mean, for me, well, you know, frying pans. Frying pans, kettles. I did notice in a recent blog post of yours, you actually referred back to my experience of finding the 13 frypans in a vacation rental.

Andy Medick

That kind of covers your point. Right at the beginning, we were chatting about your experience in Miami at the Book Direct Show. Know your guest! Not in terms of guest screen, of course we have the guest screening component. When I trained my staff, when we had a set conversational, scripted approach to screening guests, we were taking bookings anonymously online, 24/7, through our website, through the OTAs, we still screen, physically called every guest because we were looking obviously to filter out the guests that we did not want. We had a strict age requirement. The registered guest had to be 25 or older. We had inventory in an area that attracted a college crowd, so we had to be very careful in that town that we were screening for that. But essentially, I wanted to screen to make sure that the guest was booking the right property for their needs, because it is a disaster for a guest on a vacation if they're unhappy, but it is a PR nightmare for a company if they're dealing with an unhappy guest. It's better to say – “You know what? You booked this overnight. Thank you for booking…”, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Andy Medick

You have a conversation with me, what's the purpose of your trip? Blah, blah, blah. You go through all this nice conversational, kind of investigative questions, and you say, do you have any questions for me? And they may disclose, like I did with my Italy booking, I have two parents that are 85 years old. That's your opportunity, if the guest has inadvertently booked property with 48 steps up to the front door, to say – “You know, Andy, this might not be the best property for you. I have another property that's available for your dates. I'll send you the listing, maybe we should move you.” PR disaster avoided, vacation preserved. So yeah, communication is part of it, but also knowing your guest and if you know that you have somebody coming into town for a vacation rental conference that's attracting a lot of similar industry professionals; number one, you know where your property is located, you know you're located in a conference town, and if you're attracting a vacation rental conference, that's your opportunity to bring your A-game to show that you really are very good at what you do.  And from a normal operational standpoint, if you know you have a VIP guest arriving, you really need to “dot your i's and cross your t's”. And if something goes wrong, you need to handle it quickly and appropriately and not let it drag on. Own it, say, I'm sorry, we're human, we messed up, somebody called-in sick that day -whatever the problem was that we got hit with, just handle it.

Heather Bayer

Yes, there's a book, and I can't remember the author. I read it years and years ago when I was working in customer service at Reader's Digest, and it's called A Complaint is a Gift. And basically what it says is that you can have happy customers come and go, come and go, and they may, hopefully,  leave you a good review. But if you are able to fix a problem really, really well, if a problem occurs and you're able to fix it really, really well. You're likely to have a much more loyal guest who's going to give you a much better feedback than you will from the one who didn't have a problem at all. It's about recognizing, when somebody's got an issue, is dealing with it in a way that's going to turn that emotion around.

Heather Bayer

I just want to go back.  You've mentioned luxury on a number of occasions. During this conversation, you specifically looked for properties that were labeled ‘luxury'. Now, clearly some of them were not in. You would not have put them in your luxury category. What were your expectations? Because luxury is a word that's bandied around a lot and you see many, many properties given that label ‘luxury', and I just want to know, what does it actually mean?

Andy Medick

Yes, loaded question. And I think it is up to the service provider to let you know what luxury means to them, so you can see if there's a sync-up with your expectations. For me, what I was looking to achieve with a luxury booking, this was the trip of a lifetime. In essence, my parents are slowing down, their ability to travel long distances, they can't do it so much anymore. And also four of my family members had not stayed in vacation rentals before. And I'd just sold my business. I wanted to give them a good experience. I felt the responsibility for that. So I kind of figured, if you go at the luxury market, you're the people that should be getting it right. So, you know, and for me, luxury means it means a well-stocked kitchen, because I do a lot of cooking. It means comfortable furniture and furniture that's appropriately sized for the space. So if we are a group of six traveling, I want all six of us to be able to sit in the living room and chat over a glass of wine. It also means comfortable beds. It means bathrooms that are appropriate.  When you travel a lot in Europe, in particular with older buildings, they've been retrofitted with modern conveniences.

Andy Medick

You've got to be very careful when you're booking to look at the location of the bathrooms, because otherwise you can end up with a bed and breakfast experience versus a luxury accommodation because somebody has retrofitted a shower stall into a bedroom and called it a bathroom. And that happened on numerous occasions with so called luxury properties. And it gave my parents particular issues because a bathroom stall retrofitted into a bedroom means a very large step up and back down from a wet shower stall.

Andy Medick

And I hark back, particularly to our experience in Florence. That property in the listing and description was marketed as a luxury property. It was up in the hills with a beautiful ‘instagram' view over the rooftops of Florence and the Duomo. The property itself was a good example of a vacation rental listing. When you walk into the property, you feel like the family just left. It really felt like a family home, that they were going to come back any minute. It did not feel like a luxury professional accommodation. Even when I opened the kitchen drawers, I opened one drawer. The drawer was half missing, so the cooking tools that were in it fell out onto my bare feet.

Andy Medick

I opened another cupboard to put some pasta on to boil. So I'm pulling out scratch dented, pans, usual stuff. You see a lot of mismatched, broken things and the family's mugs with the kids names on them. And I pull out a roasting dish, it's dirty and greasy, it's been put back dirty. You open the dishwasher, there's dirty dishes in the dishwasher. So big fail in terms of turnover processes. But really the problem becomes before that, and the house was beautiful. It was a 1970s style house, sunken living room. I don't have a problem with old properties. You're in Italy, you're going to get rustic old properties. But the amenities needed to be functional. And if you're saying it's a luxury experience, it's got to be. There was outdoor furniture in the living room being used as indoor seating because there were two sofas in there. I found the property management company off Airbnb and called them directly and the reply I got was – “The owner knows about the living room furniture. He likes it that way. He's not going to change it!”. Okay, then you need to get rid of this owner because this is not luxury.

Andy Medick

I'm sorry to be that blunt, but that's the issue. There the dining room furniture, beautiful dining table. But there were some rickety plastic Ikea chairs that when you sat on them, they bent under very light weight, and I had to bring the outdoor dining chairs inside because I was afraid my parents were going to fall on them. The one thing they got right, the beds were beautiful, they were comfortable, and the linens were professional. The beds were made for us when we arrived, but overall, not a luxury experience.

Heather Bayer

Yeah, that's really interesting. We're sort of running out of time now and I want to give you some opportunity to perhaps distill down some of the lessons that perhaps you'd like to share with the audience. If you can come down fairly simply and say, okay, if you've been listening to this, this is what I need you to take away from it.

Andy Medick

Two words, cognitive empathy. Basically, we need to think about our businesses from a guest perspective, whether we are a business of one. We have one property that we bought with our brother-in-law and we've thrown it up onto Airbnb – nothing wrong with that. Still, provide a good product and a good experience, and the way you do it is by thinking like a guest, because we are providing an accommodation product, it's a hospitality product to the guest, not a real estate asset. If we can do that, if we can put ourselves into the mind of the behavior of a guest, navigate in the space, then we will see issues, even safety issues, rugs that are trip hazards, lack of fire extinguishers. Put it from the perspective of the guest and it will resolve and it will raise an entire industry. The big guys that are in the industry, if they get it wrong, they have the potential of bringing down an entire industry. But don't overlook the small to medium guys too. There's thousands of us out there that are managing one to 50 properties. The incremental effect on the industry of thousands of people getting it wrong in micro-ways is just as damaging.  So let's get our professional houses in order, literally.

Heather Bayer

Yes. And I think I was going to ask you the question about – is there a difference in professionalism between owner hosts independently managing their properties and managers? But from what you're saying is that everybody, regardless of whether it's the one property, single property owner or the bigger property manager, has that same responsibility to standards, to meeting guest expectations in full.

Andy Medick

Exactly. And I have one personal driving motto/slogan/driving force, if you will, and it's value-added. If I'm not adding value in something, I don't want to be involved in it. And if you're going to do it, do a good job of it. And how do you know if you're doing a good job? Ask the people who are using your product and your service.

Heather Bayer

I think that's a great point to end this on. Andy, it's always fantastic to sit down with you. I think we shall do this maybe again in the new year. We'll talk about your experience of selling Sea Change.

Andy Medick

I have a little sign on my wall, no whining ever. We're not whining. We are talking solutions, not problems.

Heather Bayer

Yes, exactly. There's always a solution. There's always a different way of looking at something and coming up with something that people will enjoy. So what are you doing with the rest of your time in Palm Springs?

Andy Medick

We are coming down towards the end of our stay. We have some family coming for the holidays. We are meeting some other professionals in the vacation rental industry, some contacts I've made locally that I get an opportunity to meet them in person and then we will be back in Miami Beach in early January.

Heather Bayer

Well, I'm still hoping to go to this forum at the end of January but I haven't heard anything about it, so I don't even know if it's still going on. But if so I will see you in Miami at the end of January.

Andy Medick

Yeah, let's plan on it.

Heather Bayer

Okay. Thank you so much for joining me, for sharing your experiences. I'm sure people have found this really insightful.

Andy Medick

Thanks Heather.

Heather Bayer

Well that was great. Always great talking to Andy. He has such a pulse on this industry, has been in it for a long time. And his insights, I mean his insights as a guest, I think, are something that we all need to think about. Take into account what those experiences were not only from his perspective as a manager, but also just from a perspective of a guest, as a son taking family, taking his parents, his elderly parents away on vacation and having to go through, as he called it, the embarrassment of our industry. Not coming up to par, not coming up to the standard that was expected. So I hope to catch up with Andy if I go back to Miami towards the end of January. That would be fantastic. And I will put his information on the Show Notes. So if you are a small to medium-sized company, you are looking for some help, then he is definitely somebody that you should connect with, at least just to have an initial conversation with to see if you're a good fit. I think his consultancy services……..I know if I was starting out right now, then he would be the person that I would probably gravitate to.  So check out his website, which will be on the Show Notes.

Heather Bayer

So that's it for this week, and next week I am talking to David Jacoby from Hostfully. You've been hearing from David every week for the past ten weeks as Hostfully have been our sponsors. Next week I am talking to him and Fred Basili from Hostfully. And we're talking about the 2022 Hostfully Survey, the Hospitality Survey, and there's some really interesting results from that and I'm sure you're going to want to hear about it. So make sure you tune in then.  For now, thanks for listening and I'll see you again next week.

Mike Bayer

Thanks for listening and don't forget to check out Hostfully, our podcast sponsor. Head on over to the Virtual Vendor showcase where you can find out more about this incredible company. And don't forget to use the promo code VRF100 to save $100. We look forward to you joining us on our next episode.

Heather Bayer

It's been a pleasure as ever being with you. If there's anything you'd like to comment on, then join the conversation on the Show Notes for the episode at vacationrentalformula.com. We'd love to hear from you and I look forward to being with you again next week.