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How To Keep Vacation Rental Policies Consistent (And When to Break the Rules)

Every Wednesday, our Director of Business Development Talia Lockard spends 30 minutes chatting with a rotating panel of industry leaders about vacation rental revenue management in our Art of Pricing conversation series. Recently, Talia was joined by Kerstin Weinsten of Home Sweet City in Washington, DC; Jennifer Frankenstein-Harris of Great Ocean Condos and Homes in New Smyrna Beach, Florida; and Kristin Goulet, our own Director of Partner Success to discuss everyone’s favorite topic: policies! 

Watch the full video here, and read on for a few key Q&As from their lively discussion. (Some answers have been edited for length and clarity.)

Should your vacation rental policies be consistent across every booking channel?

Usually—but it depends!

In most cases, you want to present a consistent experience for your guests across every channel, avoiding confusion and surprises as much as possible. But, there are situations when it may make sense for managers to honor different policies on different channels.

Jennifer shared a recent example from her business: when the pandemic struck, having flexible cancellation policies became more important to channels like Airbnb and Vrbo. Account managers encouraged her company to reduce their 60-day cancellation policy to 30 days to “move up on search”. She did so—and “it did help our bookings, it really did”—but kept the original policy in place for direct bookings, and updated their reservation terms to reflect those differences. 

“Why we did that is it’s less expensive to have a stricter cancellation policy,” Jennifer explains. “If you book through us directly, it’s going to be 60 days cancellation, but you’re going to pay less. So the traveler gets to choose—‘I can book through Vrbo and have a little bit more flexibility on my cancellation, but I’m going to end up paying that ever-loving service fee.’”

As Jennifer notes, the factors that impact search rankings in channels seem to change frequently—as does the broader landscape of travel. “We’re constantly bobbing and weaving and trying to make it consistent, but the bottom line is we have to play to our traveler and our booker, and what their needs are. Their needs last year at this time—remember, it was going to be two weeks to flatten the curve, which turned into 30 days, which turned into six months, which turned into a year—their needs change all the time. So our policies might change all the time. And that’s OK.” 

How can management companies stay consistent when answering questions about policies?

There’s a clear answer here: automation! 

Both Jennifer and Kerstin point to automated guest responses as an important tool in sticking to consistent talking points about policies—because, as both attest, guests will email with questions, even if the answers are easy to find in the property listing! 

Jennifer and her team organize the company within Microsoft Outlook (but you can do this if you use Gmail too!), and take advantage of the ability to set up automatic signatures. “We probably developed around 80 auto-signatures to answer the top 80 questions, like, “Where do I put my trash?” for that certain property where we manage 70 rentals and we keep getting asked the question. With seven reservationists, they aren’t reinventing the wheel every time. It makes us faster. It’s a way to keep consistent. Technology and processes are really important.”

Kerstin agrees, sharing that her team uses their CRM to send automated messages. “We check in with guests, send them lovely little reminders, maybe offer a VIP pass to a trolley tour or what have you — those little personal touches will get you the farthest. But just overfeed them the information, especially when it comes to fees and policies.”

Is it OK to make exceptions to policies like “no pets allowed”? 

As long as your owners agree, yes—but you may be missing out on revenue by not marketing your properties to pet owners. 

“On most of our listings we have a no-pet policy in our house rules, but questions are guests’ favorite activity, especially when they’re coming for month-long stays,” says Kersten. “If they ask about bringing a furry friend, we’re happy to continue that conversation and check with our owners. And it does provide the opportunity to collect some revenue as far as a pet fee is concerned. And honestly, we feel that it really goes a long way with the guest if they’re told no at first, and then we make that exception for them.” 

Jennifer uses a different approach. “We have 300 properties, and 85 of them are pet-friendly. With the 215 that are not pet-friendly, I may ask an owner—but it’s such a money generator. It’s $200 a week for a pet fee, plus, those pet-friendly properties have rates that are 10 percent higher than anyone else in the building, and they’re going to get booked first.” So if an owner is willing to host pets, Jennifer wants to advertise it. “If it says ‘no pets’ on the listing, and I’m traveling with my pet, I’m going to pass your property by.”

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