The Outer Banks Vacation Home Rentals Roundtable is in its second year of existence. In addition to our three returning companies, Outer Beaches Realty, Paramount Vacations and Seaside Vacations, Sun Realty has joined the roundtable. The Outer Banks rental home for your dream vacation is out there, no question, given the variety of homes you will find. The question is whether you waited too long to book. Typically, if you had not booked the Outer Banks rental property you had your heart set on by the end of January at the latest, it probably meant you missed it.
That was certainly the case until the 2009 season. As we all remember, after the economic crash in October, January and February were a time of corporate retrenchment. Everyone feared for their jobs. As a result, the typical January and February Outer Banks house rentals booking season was pushed to the right. Until the dust settled, about April, no one was planning a vacation. 2010 was a bounce back year, where "normality" returned at some level, but usually with some enticements. But what should we expect for 2011?
With March fast approaching, and the heavy booking months of January and February almost complete, Outer Banks Revealed was fortunate to get a perspective of the coming Outer Banks vacation home rentals season from a few of the experts – representatives from a couple of Outer Banks Rental Companies. Here are their thoughts on Outer Banks vacation rentals and the 2011 season.
Outer Banks Revealed: Tell us a little about you and your company. What towns on the Outer Banks do you cover, years in business, number of houses in your program?
Scott Leggat: Scott Leggat, Vice President of Marketing & Administration at Outer Beaches Realty. Outer Beaches is a premier property management company located on Hatteras Island. We’ve been in business for 35 years and have approximately 500 rental properties.
Sara Kristof: Paramount Destinations Paramount Destinations was established in 2007 and provides property management services to 50 premier homes from Corolla to Southern Shores.
Adam Norko: Seaside Vacations has been family owned and operated since 1990. We celebrated our 20th anniversary in 2010. Seaside Vacations is a full-service property management and vacation rental home company committed to providing excellence in vacation rental management to each of our guests and owners. Seaside Vacations offers guests a wide variety of Outer Banks house rentals in Corolla, Duck, Southern Shores, Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills and Nags Head. From cozy condominiums to large private homes, guests can choose from nearly 300 Outer Banks vacation rentals – each with their own special features; luxurious living to simple seaside comfort.
Ali Breaux: Sun Realty is a family owned and operated company that was started in 1980. We’re proud to represent the widest variety and largest selection of Outer Banks vacation homes, with well over 1000 homes to choose from. Sun is the only real estate company that covers the entire Outer Banks, with 6 rental offices from Corolla to Hatteras Island and vacation homes in every town. Our Harbinger building houses our linens, maintenance and HVAC operations. Each of our location also has a full service sales team. We have 36 fantastic agents. Many of our guests eventually realize their dream of becoming OBX homeowners!
Outer Banks Revealed: For most rental companies and homeowners, the 2010 Outer Banks Vacation Home Rentals year was a challenge but better than 2009. What was your experience? What were the contributing factors that allowed your rental company to pull out of 2009 with a successful 2010?
Ali Breaux: Sun is fortunate to have experienced leadership. As a company, we have a solid reputation and history of success, stability and longevity, and of course an amazing staff that pulled together to meet all of the new challenges that 2010 brought. Our marketing and reservations teams rolled out several new seasonal and events-based promotions to attract new guests and encourage existing guests to come for an additional week or long weekend. Clear communication with our owners set the tone for a successful partnership and a terrific season. It was an interesting year though. Our biggest challenge was simple—we were flat out busy with guests and 100% occupancy. This past summer, we didn’t have enough homes to meet vacationers’ demands. It was a good problem to have!
Scott Leggat: Our experience in 2010 was exceptional in terms of number of bookings, not quite as good in revenue due to discounting. What pulled us out was an aggressive marketing plan with specific focus on how to increase advance year bookings.
Sara Kristof: 2009 was a challenging year but 2010 was benchmark year for us as we continue to grow and increase rental revenue for our Owners. One of the key factors to our success is a our high level of repeat guests who enjoy the quality of homes we represent as well as the high level of customer services we provide to insure exceptional vacation experiences.
Adam Norko: That is a pretty accurate assessment. 2010 was improved over 2009, but there were challenges. The economy and consumer trends continue to be the limiting factors. The 2010 trends seem to demonstrate that if consumers believe the economy is relatively stable, than they will focus a portion of their disposable income towards leisure activities, especially vacations. As a result of the relatively stable economic environment in 2010, reservations were made earlier than 2009 and steep discounts were not an expectation. Judging by the early results of 2011, it seems these trends are continuing, and we are getting closer to “business as usual.”
From a company perspective, we continue to improve our processes and our customer service practices to ensure that we develop long-lasting relationships with our guests. One of our largest differentiators is our complimentary Club Seaside program that is one-of-a-kind on the Outer Banks. All Seaside Vacations guests have access to Club Seaside: A full calendar of complimentary events that give guests the opportunity to experience the local culture. Club Seaside is in its third year, and it has gotten bigger and better each year. In 2011 we are offering up to 18 complimentary activities with some of the best local businesses on the Outer Banks. We believe that a vacation should be more than just a house at the beach, and our goal is to provide all Seaside Vacations guests with a true vacation experience.
Outer Banks Revealed: What did you do and what did you advise homeowners in order to reestablish themselves in 2010?
Adam Norko: Pricing is always key. Homes need to be competitively priced from the beginning so discounts do not become an ingrained habit. But more than just price, homes need to offer great value to guests. Guests need to feel “at home” as soon as they walk in the door. The home needs to be maintained inside and out; it needs to be clean, and clutter free, and the amenities need to operate as expected. Guests need to know what they can expect prior to arriving, and their expectations need to be met when they arrive at the home. We have minimum standards that we expect from all of our homes, and this gives our homeowners the proper guidelines for keeping their home “rent ready.” In addition, we utilize FlipKey.com/TripAdvisor.com to publish guest reviews to enable future guests to get a full, unbiased understanding of the homes they are interested in.
Ali Breaux: Keep up with the changing expectations and wants of guests with upgrades to their home. Our marketing team created unique offers and promotions and provided owners with additional marketing opportunities for increased exposure and reservations. Our Rental Managers provided strategic rental pricing to remain competitive. As part of our service to our homeowners, we provide professional, quality photos of their homes, descriptive copy on their web page and virtual tour. It’s important to provide info guests want and have come to expect when making travel decisions.
Scott Leggat: Again what we did was more aggressive marketing through direct contact to past guests and past visitors to the OBX. What we advised owners to do was both be conservative in their pricing and be competitive in the amenities and furnishing they offered.
Sara Kristof: One of the key factors our Owners agreed with was to price competitively and to continue efforts to upgrade homes with the amenities that guests most request.
Outer Banks Revealed: What do you foresee for the 2011 Outer Banks Vacation Home Rentals season? Are there lingering effects from 2009? Are things back to "normal" or is 2009 the new normal? What do you look for to determine if you will have a strong or weak vacation season?
Sara Kristof: Our current booking trends indicate that 2011 will be even more successful than in years past! We study the level of interest from a variety of marketing avenues and that coupled with the already high level of bookings to date points to a great season in 2011.
Adam Norko: I believe the economy is the limiting factor. Judging from the early results of 2011, we are getting closer to "business as usual," but as we saw in 2008/2009 things can change quickly. However, it is our belief that we if continue to focus on outstanding custom service and creating great vacation experiences with added value, we can carve out our niche in any market conditions.
Ali Breaux: We forecast and compare reservation trends. 2011 is expected to be another fantastic year for us! The Outer Banks remains an affordable family vacation destination and our beaches are free. That’s hard to beat. Locally, the Outer Banks Visitors’ Bureau and other fantastic organizations are promoting off season visitation with lots of great events, making the OBX a year round vacation destination. Rental rates are low so guests get a great deal, owners are happy because it’s extra income, so everyone wins.
Scott Leggat: The big "unforeseen" in 2011 is the potential rise in gas prices due to the middle east turmoil and how this will effect or slow economic recovery. 2010 is the new “normal” … improved over 2009 but still a necessity to be vigilant in pricing. One of the best barometers is advance year bookings and year over year comparison from previous year booking patterns.
Outer Banks Revealed: What programs or advice have you provided homeowners to create a better 2011 Outer Banks Vacation Home Rentals Season and continue the road to stronger rentals?
Scott Leggat: We introduced two new payment programs to help guests … Layaway Vacations where a guest can book an advance year reservation at a guaranteed discounted rate and pay for it in up to 10 monthly payments. Current year reservations can pay in up to 6 monthly installments. For guests who are willing to spend a little more … we have a collection of high-end properties called “Signature Elite”. Homes in this program have upscale furnishing and decor, state of the art electronics, high thread count bed linen and towels. Outer Beaches also adds value by providing starter amenities with every reservation.
Sara Kristof: We suggest providing a quality well maintained home at competitive rates backed by superior service to continue the trend toward stronger rentals. We also have creative ways to increase overall revenue by increasing the number of off season / shoulder season bookings.
Adam Norko: Club Seaside is our main focus for added “programs.” We feel that this is the best value guests can find on the Outer Banks. However, in addition to that, focusing on the strengths of the house is key; every home needs to meet our minimum standards, and beyond that, the focal points of the house must be impeccable. In addition, we recommend that all homes incorporate amenities that are quickly becoming expectations of the guests. WiFi is probably the best example. We are all so “connected” these days, and going a week without a reliable internet connection is not acceptable for most vacationers. Our goal is to have 100% of our homes with WiFi in the near future; we’re not there yet, but we’re getting close.
Ali Breaux: Sun has implemented several new programs to attract new guests and entice existing guests to visit again. Travel trends talk, we listen and take action to meet the needs of the market.
My advice to homeowners: Keep up with the competition, surpass them when possible! It's not necessary to be the fanciest but the vacation home does need to be attractive and comfortable with desirable amenities that meet the needs of your market niche. Plan on reinvesting in your home each year. Also, take advantage of opportunities to participate in promotions. Sun does many as a company. Some are optional, off season events; owners can provide tickets to special events like Taste of the Beach to encourage guests to come to the OBX and choose their home for their stay.
Outer Banks Revealed: Why should the Outer Banks vacationer work with you to find the perfect rental house? What new programs have you put in place to entice the Outer Banks vacationer to choose your program? What makes the client experience different from the other rental companies on OBX and make you stand out?
Ali Breaux: In this competitive market, the top companies push each other to excel each year. Of course, we do think we’re the best on the beach! Sun Realty represents the best of the Outer Banks: best selection, best homes, best owners and best staff! Our team is dedicated to ensuring guests have a great vacation. It’s our responsibility to our homeowners to ensure their guests enjoy their time on the Outer Banks and their time in their rental home. We offer service, selection and savings; fun and affordable family vacations. As company, we pride ourselves on flexibility, with homes that offer short stays, any time of year, and payment plans that make vacations possible. We have so many homes to choose from-Beach Classic, Southern Comfort, Sun Select Luxury plus condos and townhomes, can accommodate any group, any need, any budget and any time of year.
With over 1000 homes it may seem like our selection is overwhelming but our website allows vacationers to whittle down the options according to a variety of criteria so the choices are narrowed down to just those that meet specific needs. Sun Realty Vacation Specialists are ready to assist with questions, information on areas, any questions to help guests make their selection. A prospective guest is happiest when they complete their call with a terrific Outer Banks rental house and vacation to look forward to. Our Vacation Specialists help to make that happen.
Sun is big in 7 small ways. We have the support and resources of a large company with the character and style of the area represented by each of our rental offices. You can stay with Sun and still have a different vacation experience each time, as your needs and wants change. The only constant is our dedication to ensuring that you have a great vacation in a terrific rental house!
Scott Leggat: Guests return to Outer Beaches because they like our flexible payment options, signature products, competitive pricing, consistent products and friendly customer service.
Sara Kristof: Vacations are precious to our guests and we strive in every aspect of our business to make the entire process simple and service oriented. Some of the services we provide to achieve this goal include our Signature Concierge Program, Guest Ambassador Program and Seamless Checkins and Checkouts.
Adam Norko: I don’t want to bore you with the same points I made above, but I’ll recap quickly. Seaside Vacations’ focus is on outstanding customer service and creating a full vacation experience, not just a house at the beach. We aim to create lasting relationships with our guests and help them build memories that can last a lifetime. Impeccable homes and outstanding customer service are expectations, but beyond that, Club Seaside offers guests a full vacation experience with events and businesses they may not have been aware existed on the Outer Banks.
Outer Banks Revealed would like to thank all of the participants for taking the time to respond to our roundtable on the Outer Banks Vacation Home Rentals Market. Hopefully this information will help vacationers and homeowners alike when they make their summer 2011 Outer Banks rental home plans.