Over the years, a common theme of virtually all of my training articles and presentations has been that we are in the vacation experience business and not “renting units.” Yet in my travels, I still find that too many rental agents and guest services staff actually know very little about the activities and points of interest that attract guests to their destination. I suppose it is human nature to take for granted what we see every day. Take myself, for example. I live in the Miami area only 20 minutes from some of the world’s most beautiful beaches, yet only visited a local beach one single time all of last year, which of course was when we had out of town friends visiting. The largest reef in North America, in Key Largo, is only 45 minutes away yet I have never gone diving and last snorkeled there about 20 years ago. I grew up in Lexington, Kentucky, also known as “horse country,” yet in the 22 years I lived there the only hoofed animal I ever rode was a pony at a carnival as a child.
Now as I travel the world conducting hospitality training, I find that like me, most of those who work in spectacular vacation destinations rarely do what tourists do. Most seem to have no “sense of place” for where they live. Chances are pretty good that the last time you climbed the local lighthouse, hiked the mountain trail in the national park or visited the local historic landmark was on a middle school field trip.
On the other hand, guests are reaching out with questions about local activities and attractions by phone, email, chat and also in person to each and every member of the vacation rental team. They are seeking help and recommendations for planning the most important event of their calendar year, their annual family vacation.
Vacation rental marketing leaders tend to think of the competition as being the VR company down the road or online websites offering local area “by owner” rentals. However, oftentimes the real competitor is another destination or an entirely different vacation experience such as a cruise or theme park trip.
These days, our guests can find plenty of information online, but it’s to the point where there’s so many conflicting online opinions and options that guests become overwhelmed. Yes, TripAdvisor reviews, tourism bureau websites and Yelp are helpful, but there’s still nothing like a personal recommendation, suggestion or endorsement from a well-informed local.
For evidence, just ask your frontline staff from any department, including maintenance techs and housekeeping runners, how many times they get questions such as, “Where do you (locals) like to eat?” or “Is this (attraction name) worth a visit?” For every guest that asks these questions, there are countless others who would love someone who pro-actively volunteered recommendations and suggestions.
Therefore, VR leaders should do all they can to help their team develop a “sense of place” for their own destination. Here are some suggestions:
- Conduct hosted small group “familiarization” tours. It’s a good start to send colleagues out on their own to experience local area attractions and entertainment, but it’s way better to schedule FAM tours as a collective experience, followed by a fun trivia contest and de-briefing of “what did you learn?”
- Invite speakers from attractions to attend staff meetings.
- Share selected online reviews from guests who mention what they loved about specific points of interest in the area.
- Share videos posted by guests on sites like YouTube and Instagram.
- Read destination reviews written by professional travel writers.