Getting new guests with VRBO, and increasing their longer-term value to you with Second Porch

It’s Sylvia posting here once again, and none too thrilled with the state of the economy, the status of the real estate market and the lethargy in the vacation rental environment. And that has me looking hard at the value of vacation rental marketing opportunities.

There are many ways a vacation rental promotional effort can be evaluated, but I think the analysis has to be both short and long term.  One must consider the lifetime value of each guest, as opposed to the simple analysis of whether or not the new bookings generated covered the expense of the listing fee, which is so often the way owners and managers analyze the effectiveness. It’s not uncommon to spend $300-600 a listing now with many of the vacation rentals portals.  For purposes of this discussion, let’s focus on VRBO where I am paying at the highest amount which is over $600 per annum.

So why do I renew when there are so many free sites out there?  Well, it often comes down to considering the full picture, factoring in lifetime value of each guest. I can’t evaluate VRBO without considering the value a rental guest can bring over that rental guest’s lifetime in rental income for my properties. If I gain 5 new customers in a year from VRBO, I will consider that moderately worthwhile and renew my ad. But if out of those 5 customers, 3 of them become repeat customers and rebook every year for another week for 5 more years. Then that VRBO ad actually had much more value to me that if I just consider a single year’s income.

Taking this perspective over a 10-year cycle of renting my properties, the value grows. And considering referral potential, there is an even more exciting new calculation to factor in. If all 5 of those original rental guests each became word-of-mouth advocates my properties and were able to reach out and influence 2 bookings each through their friends, and friends of friends…. so 10 more bookings came in as a result. Well, then now the VRBO ad was that much more valuable. So how can an owner/manager increase the value of each guest, and each booking generated through sites like this?

Well, it would be great of there was a site or system for that!

Now there is.  It’s why I look at the exciting long-term potential of Second Porch with even more enthusiasm.  Second Porch recently  launched the industry’s first “Search for homes within your social circle”. A traveler can now see all of the homes they are connected to socially through friends, and friends of friends with a single click. Second Porch also lets my past guests keep tabs on my properties too, since many of them can’t seem to remember where they stayed just a year later.   This means I can now have a system to automate the referral power that word-of-mouth marketing has always offered, as well as a system to keep my past guests attached to my home, so they consider coming back. So as I start thinking ahead for 2011 marketing investments to reach my bookings targets, I will use VRBO, Flipkey, and a couple of other portals to drive some first time vacation rental guests. And, I will use Second Porch and it’s new Social Guestbook to make it easy for these guests to refer their friends who would love to find a trusted vacation home that easily. It makes so much sense for the traveler and is certain to really catch on as a smarter way to find a vacation rental since it removes the risk, the unpleasant surprises and the search effort.

I love when an industry gets a little smarter, easier and more logical.  The vacation rental space continues to move forward, and offer owners and managers smart new ways to gain lodging market share.

Second Porch Social Guestbook

The Second Porch Social Guestbook is the solution for driving repeat and referral bookings for the vacation rental space.

_____________________________

VRBO is a trademark of HomeAway, Inc.

FlipKey is a copyright of FlipKey Inc.

A global award for Second Porch, aw shucks…thanks!

Second Porch is the social vacation rentals marketplace

Second Porch bring social media to the vacation rentals industry

We are always so happy when people see how hard we are working to open up a new social channel for vacation home owners, and their guests, and this award, where the judges actually spent a long time with us discussing our plans, really means a lot to us.

Hmmm….”Second Porch, an award-winning vacation rental site”…has a nice ring to it.  THANKS AlwaysOn!

Here is the press release we just issued:

Second Porch Selected by AlwaysOn as an AlwaysOn Global 250 Winner

Recognized for creating technology innovations for the Global Silicon Valley.

Portland, OR, July 27, 2010Second Porch, the social vacation rental marketplace, today announced that it has been chosen by AlwaysOn as one of the AlwaysOn Global 250 winners.  Inclusion in the AlwaysOn Global 250 signifies leadership amongst its peers and game-changing approaches and technologies that are likely to disrupt existing markets and entrenched players in the Global Silicon Valley. Second Porch was specially selected by the AlwaysOn editorial team and industry experts spanning the globe based on a set of five criteria: innovation, market potential, commercialization, stakeholder value, and media buzz.

Second Porch and the AlwaysOn Global 250 companies will be honored tonight at AlwaysOn’s eighth annual Summit at Stanford, at the Frances C. Arrillaga Alumni Center at Stanford University in Palo Alto, CA.

This two-and-a-half-day executive gathering that highlights the significant economic, political and commercial trends affecting the global technology industries. Summit at Stanford’s goal is to identify the most promising entrepreneurial opportunities and investments in the global tech industry.

“After examining the companies that are on the AO Global 250 list, it’s obvious that innovation is not only alive and well in the Global Silicon Valley, it’s accelerating in economic power and scope.” says Tony Perkins, founder and editor of AlwaysOn. “The companies certainly represent some of the highest-growth opportunities in the private company marketplace.”

The AlwaysOn Global 250 winners were selected from among thousands of domestic and international technology companies nominated by investors, bankers, journalists, and industry insiders.  The AlwaysOn editorial team conducted a rigorous three-month selection process to finalize the 2010 list.

Second Porch is changing the way travelers find vacation lodging by helping them find vacation rentals recommended by the members of their extended social circle. Second Porch can be found at both http://www.secondporch.com/ and through its highly-rated Facebook application at http://apps.facebook.com/secondporch.  Thousands of homes in over 100 countries are now becoming socially discoverable, tying together properties with communities of past guests and socially-connected ratings.

A full list of all the AlwaysOn Global 250 winners can be found on the AlwaysOn website:

http://www.aonetwork.com/AOStory/Announcing-2010-AlwaysOn-Global-250

“People have always preferred to pick places to stay based on the experience of their friends and family.  We built Second Porch to make it simple search this way, and for property managers and owners to turn each satisfied guest into a word of mouth marketing channel for reaching future guests.  We’re delighted that our innovation in social commerce has been recognized by AlwaysOn” said Brent Hieggelke, CEO and co-founder of Second Porch.

About Second Porch Inc.

Second Porch is the social vacation home marketplace, where travelers can discover the perfect vacation rental through their trusted social circle, when friends, or friends of friends have stayed in, rated, or own a vacation rental home.  Second Porch enables vacation rental property managers and homeowners to add a powerful word of mouth marketing channel to their marketing mix, offering two new homes for building social awareness with its highly-rated Facebook application at http://apps.facebook.com/secondporch/ as well its standalone social marketplace at http://www.secondporch.com

About AlwaysOn

AlwaysOn is the leading business media brand networking the Global Silicon Valley. AlwaysOn helped ignite the social media revolution in early 2003 when it launched the AlwaysOn network. In 2004, it became the first media brand to socially network its online readers and event attendees. AlwaysOn’s preeminent executive event series includes the Summit at Stanford, OnMedia, OnHollywood, Venture Summit Mid-Atlantic, OnDemand, Venture Summit Silicon Valley, Venture Summit East, GoingGreen Silicon Valley, and GoingGreen East. The AlwaysOn network and live event series continue to lead the industry by empowering its readers, event participants, sponsors, and advertisers like no other media brand.

Big news day for vacation rentals and for social media

Hi all,

Short post here, just had to share three news articles…

First of all, well its happened, Facebook is now the top site on the web:

According to the article, Facebook not only has the most unique visitors in Google’s stats, but also the most page views per month, a whopping 570 billion view.

Facebook biggest site:
http://www.pcworld.com/article/197431/google_names_facebook_most_visited_site.html

check out the third tip:

And we are pretty excited to be once again featured by Smart Money Magazine as one of four tips.  Check out tip number three:
http://www.smartmoney.com/Personal-Finance/Real-Estate/4-tips-for-renting-out-your-vacation-home/


And lastly, Christopher Elliott has a nice write up and features Second Porch in his 3rd tip:

http://www.consumertraveler.com/today/advanced-vacation-rentals-9-things-to-know/

We are really excited to see the momentum on what we are doing here, which is fueled by how people are connecting socially. Stay tuned, we are working on some more exciting things!

Brent

Best or Worst Time to Buy a Second Home?

It’s Sylvia weighing in on a question that I see being bantered about by real estate investors, baby boomers now free to buy a vacation home but reluctant to carry the full burden of ownership as well as vacation rental owners who are seeing great prices and great opportunities to expand their portfolio.

But given the shaky economy, natural disasters and man made ones that can threaten the ecological balance of many areas that are prime locations for second homes, one does pause to think.

But don’t think too long!

According to a newly released report from Homeaway, these startling stats should have you looking real hard at second home purchases easily converted in vacation rental properties:

- Nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of second home owners are able to cover at least half of their mortgage by renting out their vacation home to travelers

- The average second home owner who rents their home to travelers is generating more than $35,000 in rental income

- Approximately two-thirds of second home owners report their vacation rental bookings are about the same as or higher than last summer

So, if the time is right, and it certainly seems to be, what possibly could be wrong?

In the case of second homes, and purchasing with the thought or hope of defraying costs by using them as vacation rentals, it’s more the perception than the actuality of  damage and misuse.    The truth is, vacation rental guests—-for the most part—will be respectful of your property and the more communication you have with them before they are booked in, the better chance you have of their taking good care of your investment.

Rules of engagement should always be part of the conversation as well as your rental contract.  Your expectations of what they need to do during their stay should be spelled out in writing and in your phone contacts.

But, just as guests don’t always know all the questions to ask, you as an owner don’t always have all the answers about useage right  at your fingertips.

That’s where Second Porch comes in.  You can tiptoe into the market, starting out renting to people you know, and people they know, and expanding beyond that.  And when you consider renting beyond that social circle, Second Porch gives you that rare opportunity to see into the lives of guests inquiring, and vice versa.  It’s not Big Brother, but like all social media, it does provide a level of transparency most vacation rental portals lack.  If your guest’s Facebook profile shows them to be a family of 8 and they are telling you there will be 2 in their vacation stay, it certainly opens up the conversation and may reveal something that will make or break the deal.

Even more helpful in determining the status and behavior of a future guest is seeing if their network of  “friends” overlaps your own.   Its always nice to turn social pressure into a positive behavior motivator.  Social pressure is as effective as anything else.  People realize that digital reputation matters in a growing way.

So the answers  to the questions about timing….could there be a better time to buy a second home, use it as a vacation rental and get your own second porch to enjoy and share with friends and beyond?

Raising money for our idea of a social vacation rental marketplace

Well, it has been about a month since we closed on our recent financing. We really got some amazing press. I think it was the combination of factors: the difficulty in raising money in the current economic times, the fact that Portland, Oregon is on a funding roll lately, and the fact that our idea for Second Porch is just plain common sense.

It’s funny–we had an article call us out as a competitor to HomeAway®, Inc. the $410 million gorilla in our industry.  They raised $410 million and we raised $1 million.   I have said this since day one:  we are not a competitor to HomeAway, Inc, who owns VRBO®.com and a dozen other sites.  Those sites have provided a portal for vacationers looking for a large selection of homes all over the world, and who are more concerned with that broad selection over anything else, and they have proven that there is a big business in that.  We respect them very much for their execution. In fact, my wife and I use VRBO for our vacation home, and it performs well for us.

But as a marketing guy, I know that every smart marketing effort requires a mix of marketing channels and various tactics to reach different audiences.  We looked at the market and saw a huge void in finding a site which allows people to market to only those they wish to market to.  We also saw that most people have no idea who they know with vacation homes for rent.  So we want to allow renters to discover the vacation home network that lives inside their friends and family today already.

It’s another channel, different from all the other sites, yet it’s a highly valuable channel: people you know and trust.  So we are working really hard to turn that channel into bookings for homeowners. And this simple idea has our investors behind what we are building, and we very much appreciate the fact that they share our vision.

So when I have said we are complementary to HomeAway, I mean it.  We are in the same vacation rental industry, but what they are doing and what we are doing are very different.  A smart second home owner who wants to maximize revenue will use us both, but in a different way.  And I will tell you, between their annual costs, and our Porchlight premium listing, a homeowner has a nice marketing mix, and for a very reasonable annual expense.

And why will both owners and renters find value in Second Porch?    In a nutshell it’s about open and transparent communication: no veiled emails, no anonymous reviews, we are working hard so you see the “face behind the place” even if you don’t know the owner.

Some of our members tell us that those aspects are not at all expensive, but that they are, indeed,  priceless!  Thanks for the support and keep telling your friends with vacation homes to list with us.…still free and fast to do so.

Owners: 5 to 7 simple new marketing tools to promote your vacation home using Second Porch

OWNERS IN CHARGE: our goal at Second Porch is to give you the control of how you market your home to a very desirable channel of potential guests you can trust.  We are not a “set it and forget it” site and that is intentional.  Our view is that you are smart homeowners and you would prefer to be in charge and have the tools at your disposal to market your own homes, but with a set of tools that are extremely easy to use, and result in tasteful and effective marketing messages being created.

With that spirit, we recently released a completely new way for owners to publish updates almost effortlessly to their best potential renters—friends, family members, friends of friends, and past guests, which according to the industry experts at Phocus Wright travel research, collectively make up 73% of vacation rental home inquiries from owners in the rent by owner category.

Second Porch now gives you a rich set from 5 to 7 different marketing tools to tastefully create meaningful updates about your second homes to share with your connections, whether you want to load new photos, share recommendations, and promote upcoming vacancies, events, or simply highlight the new season and its opportunities for relaxing or exploring.

Today, our owners with a home listed in Second Porch has the new, redesigned MANAGE HOME page at their command:

The new Marketing Toolkit for Second Porch has multiple ways to build a community and to promote your home now.

At the top of the marketing toolkit you will see the button to WRITE NEW UPDATE, which give you a simple way to write a news update about your home, and we will automatically attach your primary second home photo, but also allow for other photos to display when people click the SEE MORE link in the message that results.  See below for a message I just wrote for my second home on Mount Hood:

This  new update took me about 30 seconds to create, and what’s  great is that it links to my Second Porch property detail page when its clicked at any point.  Note on the top of the photo the new orange highlight stripe with the text “news update”.  Each item results in a different highlight stripe to accompany your posting so your posting gets a little bit more attention when displayed on your friend’s walls.

Also new in the Second Porch marketing toolkit, is the ability to easily share new photos, which are now also loaded into a photo album for you automatically as well.

Another great new promotional tool is the SHARE FEEDBACK button, which allows you to share comments or recommendations made about your home.  Just simply click the share button in your community section and we take it from there:

Second Porch lets you share comments and recommendations easily

Simply clicking the SHARE link and you can now get these comments onto your Facebook wall

The result of sharing a recommendation today looks like this:

A nice message on your Facebook wall with links to your listing

Again, notice the orange bar with the text “recommended” in this one.  This helps give additional visibility to your message and helps it stand out a bit in a cluttered Facebook world.

Well that is it for now, we will cover a few more ways to use the new marketing toolkit in the next post, but please just click and experiment by visiting your property in Second Porch. The beauty is that you can undo virtually anything very easily, so have fun and try some new things taking advantage of the new toolkit now at your fingertips.

Now Boomers Can Leverage Their Assets Into A More Comfortable Retirement

It’s Sylvia here with some thoughts on the boomer generation and the whole concept of retirement.

There was a day when my husband and I thought that Social Security would just be the icing on our retirement cake. We had saved, we had invested, we had spent both wisely and well. Thus, we concluded that our retirement would be pretty comfortable and that what we received in Social Security benefits would be the “mad money” we would utilize for some real luxuries.

Entered the economy circa 2008 and all that changed. The SS benefits we receive will amount to nearly 40 percent of the retirement cake. The icing will have to come from some other stream.

Given that upside down equation, we are real happy we have our vacation rental properties as eventually we will sell them and finally have the semi-cushy retirement we envisioned.

We have been speaking with friends and colleagues in the same situation. They, too, witnessed diminished revenues as well as collapsed stock values and are looking anew at retirement. They are even considering selling their second homes now to ward off future financial challenges. But we are talking to them about this unadvised action, given that the real estate market is still soft, if not unstable, and that once they sell, regardless of current price received, they may never again be able to afford to buy their dream homes as real estate values rise once again and regain past levels of worth.

Rather than sell them, we suggested that they rent them as vacation properties. And, like many people, they initially balked at the idea of having “strangers” in their homes, sleeping on their beds, using their bathrooms. The territorial imperative was paramount. Of course, we were quickly able to logic this out with them as they do use hotels and vacation rentals themselves so they are sharing all those things, even if not their own. Besides, isn’t that a great incentive to renovate and redecorate when the properties are once again turned into purely personalized vacation escapes in the future?

So right now, their biggest obstacle is how do you know you can trust the people you rent to? When we told them about Second Porch, light bulbs went off, and we are hoping that they will act on our advice. Why let an expensive and valuable asset sit fallow when using it means more money in your pocket, more freedom to spend this money as you please, and more life options as we all move (slowly) into retirement mode?

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