What We Learned in 2020

Every year in December, I write a predictions piece looking forward to the year to come. As part of that, I certainly look back to what has passed to inform my view of the future. However, given the decade that has been 2020, this year more than any other seemed to justify its own, dedicated “reflections” piece. So here it is.

What I learned about Rented

A company is not a thing. Despite Supreme Court rulings to the contrary, a company is a theoretical concept, not a person. A company is comprised of and defined by a group of individuals. I always thought we had an incredible team at Rented (but then again, I’m biased). In 2020, however, my personal opinion has proven beyond a doubt to be an absolute fact. 

When COVID first hit, team members’ first reaction was, “What can we do for our clients and the industry as a whole?” Rather than sit back and hope someone would tell them the answer, our individual team members started acting. From proactively cutting prices in half until the summer; to launching entirely new services to support managers in need like Emergency Planning in a Box, Long-Term Rental Placements, Staffing (to aid companies and those looking for work), Marketing Support, and PMS Integration; to creating the Housekeeper Relief Fund, our team members tried anything and everything, inside Rented and outside of it, to support local managers and local communities. 

Our team members’ second reaction was for one another. When we cut our prices in half, knowing our clients were in tight financial positions and yet needed our Revenue Management Services more than ever, the one thing we knew for sure was that our financial best case would have us bringing in half as much money each month. How would we pay our own bills? 

With no prodding from me, our team spoke up, saying they would rather share the burden as a group than lose anyone on our team. To be clear, this was NOT the norm at the time. Companies across the country were laying off staff by the thousands. Months later, these same companies bragged about their record profits as travel picked back up and their costs were down—while complaining about understaffing. Go figure.

What I learned about our clients

Like our team at Rented, I always thought we worked with amazing individuals building and running incredible businesses. The resilience our clients demonstrated, and continue to demonstrate to this day, has been a picture-perfect model of grace under pressure. While the world seemed to be crumbling before our very eyes, our clients said things like: “We have been through hurricanes and oil spills. We have been through 9/11 and the financial crisis. We will get through this, too.” 

While this time was indeed different in the details, the wisdom and equanimity shown by our clients have been an inspiration to me. How vacation rental managers in general, and our clients in particular, are able to successfully balance their focus on service delivery on a daily basis while never losing sight of their long-term vision is a model I believe everyone should aspire to. 

And you know what? For so many, it worked out. Back in September, a few clients began telling me 2020 was actually their record year in terms of revenue and profit—and that trend has continued as the year has progressed. For many, this calm and confidence has paid off with interest.

What I learned about our industry

A common refrain heard throughout the year has been that “we are all in this together.” There have been many memorable and notable illustrations of this within our industry. 

One was when Koryn Okey of Breezeway and others stepped in to run the beginning of the VRM Intel Data & Revenue Management Conference because Amy Hinote and the rest of the VRM Intel were knocked offline by a hurricane (hey, this was 2020, after all). Another was how many competitors worked together to get vacation rental markets open in time for the summer. Most notably, I recall what Jennifer Frankenstein and the VRMA Government Relations Committee, led by Rented’s own Cliff Johnson, accomplished in working with Florida’s Governor to get markets open 72 hours before Memorial Day—saving the year for many.

But I also learned you cannot take this for granted. As Rented client Andrew Jacoby of Jacoby Properties LLC told me: “Everyone reached out saying ‘we are in this together,’ but you were the only one who actually showed it with actions. It showed me how much you guys were really there for me. You hooked me after that.”

It is far easier to say or write “you are in it together” than to show it with your actions, especially when it comes at a personal cost. 

Unilateral actions by some companies, including third-party listing sites, surprised and appalled many. I have not always been the biggest proponent of the #BookDirect movement. I still believe that tapping into the marketing prowess of massive companies that focus solely on driving bookings is often the most effective way to attract new guests. At the same time, the actions and subsequent comments of some, combined with a massive reduction in their marketing spend and thus the traffic they are driving, has made it clear that managers need to diversify their lead sources and exert more control over their own destiny. 

2020 has shown more than ever that you need a #BookDirect strategy and plan. It is not necessary or even possible to flip this switch overnight. There are still many instances where third-party booking sites are the efficient answer. However, we now know without a shadow of a doubt that you can’t just blindly trust that they will do right by you. Only you can do that.

What I learned about guests

Guests want what we offer more than ever. In my conversations over the years with people outside of vacation rentals, I often cited the 2008 financial crisis as proof that even in the worst of times, our industry would grow. Even in dire financial situations, people did not stop traveling—they just changed how they did so, in ways that benefited vacation rentals. 

Of course, when travel becomes physically unsafe, and in some cases illegal, all bets are off. And yet, as soon as people could travel again, bookings surged at a rate never before seen. People were desperate to travel, and they wanted to do so in places they could drive to. They wanted to sleep in places removed from strangers. They wanted space. They wanted vacation rentals. 

Just as with 2008, this surge has attracted new guests to the vacation rental “product,” and they are loving it. As they see the benefits of vacation rentals, and especially professionally managed ones, they will continue to come back for years—perhaps even generations. This is all to the good.

Conclusion

For so many, 2020 has been a difficult and dark time. As this year now comes to a close, I can look back and thank the right mindset and actions for helping us at Rented, and so many others, get through it successfully. Having done so, I say with confidence that our brightest days are ahead of us. Together.