The vacation home rental game has changed.
From food to fuel; eats to energy and credit to cribs, few costs have escaped inflation's wrath and that's put a damper on a lot of travel plans.
While savvy travelers often pick privately-owned vacation home accommodations to save a few bucks, many travelers don't even have a few bucks to save.
Vacation homeowners who want to attract these visitors and see vacancies vanish can benefit from "How To Attract Guests To Your Vacation Home -- Yes, Even At $4 A Gallon," a selection of tips from Christine Karpinski, a real estate investor and director of Owner Community for HomeAway.com, a portal for vacation home rentals where keeping vacation homes rented is their business.
Here's what Karpinski advises:
Think positive. Sure money is tight and credit is tighter, but in America, bad times generate a yen for good times as people seek to escape the doom and the gloom. Even with the higher price of gas, it can still cost a lot less to drive to a nearby vacation home than to hop a jet and fly to a resort. Include marketing that makes the "budget travel" case to potential renters.
Play up the benefits of staying in a vacation home. Vacation homes typically cost less per night, per individual than resort hotels; they often have enough room to share both the space and cost with friends and family; they offer kitchen facilities that help save money on eating out and many have private amenities you my not have to share with other guests, including hot tubs, swimming pools and private grounds.
"Spell out what makes your vacation home so great. Say 'Use our spacious kitchen to prepare fresh produce purchased from the local farmer's market.' Or 'Our crickets, owls, and whippoorwills give free concerts every evening.'"
Do the math for your guests. Triple A's Fuel Cost Calculator provides a Point A-to-Point B estimates of gasoline costs based on regional per-gallon averages. Expedia.com, Orbitz.com, Priceline.com and airline Web sites offer airline travel costs and you can even compare room rates. Chart some comparisons and reveal the difference right there on your listing.
"There's just something about seeing the numbers in black and white that makes a trip seem more manageable," Karpinski said.
Play up big cities within driving distance. There's plenty to do in Disneyland East (Orlando, FL), but if your vacation home is located somewhere quieter and less of a tourist trap, say Chattanooga, TN, market with the fact that Atlanta, GA, is only an hour and a half away. Make these points to potential guests.
Play up local attractions. Meteor craters, the local cheese factory, a hike to a thundering waterfall, Route 66 can all be great fun for guests looking for a cheaper vacation with something a little quirky nearby. Some travelers don't want big city shopping, cultural attractions or fine dining, but just want to get away. Include local attractions in your marketing efforts.
Help them gas up. Even after the airline-vs-gasoline savings, filling the SUV up at $100 a pop can still put the brakes on even the best cost-saving road trip. Instead of a mint on their pillow, plop down a $50 gas card and they'll sleep a whole lot better. Offer to subtract from your rate, the amount it costs in gasoline for them to drive to your vacation home.
"Is offering a small price break really that big of a deal in light of the $1,500 or so you'll be pulling in?" Karpinski asked.
Allow pets. Pet owners hate to leave pets at home when they are away, but the cost of kennels and pet sitters could make them turn off vacation plans altogether. Offering to let renters bring their furry friends could change some minds.
"Many vacation homeowners let guests bring pets along, and very few regret it. People who love their pets enough to want to bring them on vacation usually have pets who are accustomed to being inside -- and indoor pets aren't typically destructive," Karpinski said.
Add special touches, including insider information about the destination; a ping pong table (something there may not be room for at home); a soft-serve ice cream maker, espresso machine, or waffle iron (kitchen gadgets they don't have at home); high-speed Internet access; baby gear; great bed linens for sleeping luxury; terry cloth bathrobes, just like those at high-end hotels; a DVD player (or a computer with one) and a good library of recent releases; a selection of popular board games, hand held video games or computer games; a small parting gift, a memento, a souvenir just for the memories.