The concept of vacation rental property operations has evolved tremendously over the past few decades, developing from a collection of loosely defined tasks into a complex system of programs used to coordinate, communicate, and verify detailed work. When orchestrating these operations correctly, vacation rental managers can positively influence many aspects of short-term rental management, thereby enhancing their brand’s reputation.
DEFINING PROPERTY OPERATIONS IN 2022
So, what exactly does the term “property operations” mean?
Let’s examine the events that generally occur when a guest checks out of a property at 10 a.m. and a new traveler checks in at 3 p.m. the same day. There are many operational tasks that need to be performed:
- ensuring that the guest checks out of the property with contentment
- scheduling internal housekeepers and possibly inspectors (or outsourced teams) to perform work at the property
- giving instructions to staff, so they perform work that complies with internal service standards
- triaging any issues that arise during the cleaning and inspection and alerting the appropriate department
- getting notified by your teams that work has been successfully completed
- and announcing the property’s readiness and communicating check-in instructions to the incoming guest.
Of course, the work doesn’t stop when the next guest checks in because the sequence of operational tasks also include the following:
- communicating to ensure the guest has everything they need for a great stay
- coordinating the delivery of in-stay offerings and concierge services, and
- consistently showcasing value to homeowners.
Furthermore, managers must perform all of these tasks across multiple locations with a portfolio of unique properties.
These challenges put a lot of pressure on vacation rental managers, and the ability to automate property care at scale is a distinguishing feature of successful hospitality operators.
According to Ben Edwards, president of Weatherby Consulting, “The organization of property operations and workflows is critical. Tracking how your team spends their time and how your resources are allocated ensures you work efficiently and purposefully, and helps minimize the complexities of property management.”
OPERATIONS WAS ONCE FAR REMOVED FROM THE FRONT OF HOUSE
Decades ago, a traveler’s experience was disconnected from property operations. Whether staying in a property rented directly from the homeowner or through a professional manager, guests weren’t aware of what went on behind the scenes to prepare the property for their arrival.
At the time, the vacation rental “experience” amounted to a simple transaction between the property manager and the renter. Guests did not expect a true home-away-from-home feel, and their accommodations didn’t come with amenities, personalization, or concierge services. Beyond the obvious expectation that the property would be clean(ish) upon arrival and supplied with beds and a roof, the consumer was largely on their own after booking.
With such low guest expectations, it’s no surprise that property preparation wasn’t nearly as comprehensive as it is today. Properties were simple, and the norm was a quick clean between reservations, as guests did much of the cleaning before checking out. Independent inspections to verify the property’s readiness were unheard of. Personalization was also out of the question for clients, and in-stay experiences were considered the business of the traveler. Believe it or not, in many markets, guests actually brought their own sheets, blankets, towels, and toilet paper.
Exchanges between vacation rental providers and guests were minimal and old-fashioned. Communication channels traditionally were limited to mail and phone calls (and later email), used almost exclusively prior to check-in. Guests only brought up issues to the manager when urgent. For example, managers would have never gotten a phone call asking for more toilet paper or towels.
A similarly hands-off approach was taken with homeowners. With far fewer companies for owners to choose from (as well as a void of technologies or marketing channels to pursue the self-management route), property managers had a lot of power in the manager–owner relationship. As long as the homeowner’s property was generating adequate rental income, owners were rarely inclined to question the value that managers were driving. The frequency and depth of communication between owners and managers was minimal, and the idea of capturing data to share with owners in asset management reports was not an expectation.
THE NEXUS OF PROPERTY CARE AND GUEST INTERACTIONS
Today, purposeful guest communication is one of the hottest trends in vacation rental management. Building and maintaining a strong brand is a top priority for professional vacation rental managers, and consistently delivering and communicating about service is key to the guest experience. What leading managers have realized is that the most effective way to accomplish these goals is by integrating operations data and notifications into their communication programs.
The possibility of leveraging operational data for proactive communication is shaping how managers communicate with guests, a process that now lasts from the time they book their stay to the time they arrive at the home.
Let’s look at a few examples:
- attending to signals from completed tasks to programmatically send property-readiness messages
- using property-specific details to send instructions with check-in codes and information about amenity access
- receiving maintenance and concierge requests & updating guests on the status of each job
Guest texting represents one of the biggest opportunities for short-term rental businesses, and it’s no surprise that our survey found that two out of every three managers are actively improving their guest texting services. Bradley Grove, CMO of House133 Vacation Rentals, is one such example. “We use guest texting to drive higher satisfaction, and it’s made a huge difference,” Carpenter said. “We used to do in-person meet-and-greets, but we’ve found that our guests prefer to text us on a whim if they need something. They really value the texting, and we try to use it to drive a five-star hospitality service throughout the rental experience.”
In addition to guest texting, contactless check-in has increased the likelihood that your field staff will be interacting with guests. “Especially now, your housekeepers might be the only people whom the guests encounter face to face, and you can’t expect your housekeeping staff to know what to do when a guest wants to check in early before they’re done with the clean,” said Cliff Johnson,“Preparing your staff for customer service interactions is very important, and managers should eliminate stress by helping them understand the resources available to them when a guest asks them a direct question.”
THE ROLE OF PROPERTY OPERATIONS IN MARKETING AND REVENUE
Ten years ago, you would have been hard-pressed to argue that vacation rental operations could be a profit center. Now, it’s hard to argue that it can’t be. For starters, leading managers are using operations-led texting to upsell offerings to guests. This takes the form of:
- monetizing early check-in when properties are prepared well in advance
- coordinating grocery delivery and other concierge services
- offering stay extensions when there are vacancies between reservations
- soliciting reviews to boost search visibility
- capturing repeat stays.
“It’s much easier to get people to rebook when they’re currently in the vacation home,” Carpenter said. “We use guest texting tools to capture these repeat stays well in advance.”
Furthermore, it’s becoming more common to showcase cleaning and safety operations (and the value they provide guests) within property listings. According to ICND, managers are highlighting the rigorous preparation procedures they conduct by detailing areas of the property that were inspected and the date of the most recent inspection. Marketing such dedication to property care boosts search engine optimization, attracts eyeballs from prospective guests who prioritize quality experiences, builds trust between the brand and the consumer, and drives more reservations.
High-quality experiences are central to the growth of vacation rentals. The industry has shifted from a transactional give-and-take to a service-based and experience-oriented relationship. The push for more customization and personalization has forced managers to adopt a smarter approach to maintaining properties and delivering service.
And for many, that smarter approach means leaning on technology to do the heavy lifting. “In the wake of the pandemic, there are clear winners in each market,” said VRMB founder Matt Landau. “The ones who are winning are those who are embracing technology to thrive.”