By: Tim Blackwell
Getting back to the basics of vacation rental management are words close to the heart of BranchVR. The property management company keeps it simple and doesn't overpromise when working with owners and guests at rental homes in South Lake Tahoe.
At a time when vacation rental dollars are more difficult to come by because of COVID-19, the no-nonsense approach is a good lesson in marketing. BranchVR has significantly grown its small portfolio of high-end homes by spending more time getting personally acquainted with prospective owners and practicing basic business tactics, like being responsive and capitalizing on opportunities.
It's a strategy that has sometimes gotten lost in an age when vacation rental property management has tried to shed its past reputation by focusing on a top-shelf amenity experience. But Branch VR's emphasis on taking care of the simple things paid off as the pandemic socked in the Tahoe region's tourist industry in March.
BranchVR simplified its business plan to accommodate the changing needs of vacation travelers and carefully managed expenses in the face of declining revenues. Along the way, the company has built its brand through local real estate agents and word of mouth. A strong working relationship with a high-profile local realtor has added credibility and name recognition to BranchVR's brand.
More than a dozen new properties have been acquired by reaching out to prospective owners through a consultative approach, positioning BranchVR to emerge from the pandemic in even better shape than it was in before.
BranchVR’s marketing strategy has always revolved around a hassle-free, owner-friendly, and guest-centric approach, says operating partner Michael Fanini.
Like many businesses in the region, the company has had to fight for every dollar. For example, as with many other vacation rental operators, BranchVR has found cleaning is scrutinized more closely than before, and guests are hypercritical about things they weren't eight months ago. Travelers are more intensely focused on every move within the vacation home industry, which has forced BranchVR to up its game.
The disruption of COVID has been a distraction, but Fanini says the company has taken calculated approaches to growing its available nights by understanding the Tahoe market.
The results have been more than favorable.
“We are outperforming the market in just about every single metric,” Fanini says, noting that BranchVR properties are leading Lake Tahoe properties in several key performance metrics such as occupancy, the total length of stay, and average spend.
Closely managing booking nights based on demand has been a big force in BranchVR's ability to achieve market visibility. Finding the right balance in rate through the length of stay rules and promotional pricing has driven more value for owners and guests, Fanini says.
Based on its expertise in the Lake Tahoe market, BranchVR has blended shorter and longer stays to maximize revenue. Kigo has provided the backbone for this flexibility, with an optional length of stay rules on different channels and incentives to help target the right guest at the right time for the best price.
When COVID-19 arrived, BranchVR followed an industry trend and shifted booking strategy from traditional five-night stays to seven nights. The model better fits the company's inventory of spacious homes - one property sprawls to 7,200 square feet - which are appealing to families and guests who are more invested in their stays. Longer bookings typically don't generate as much rent per night compared to shorter stays, but they reduce make-ready costs and often are not as risky.
"It's much easier on the grounds crew to have fewer turns," Fanini says. "And, there is less opportunity for damage, parties or rough crowds on longer stays. Typically, guests are more affluent, not your quick Airbnb bookings."
To accommodate shorter stays, BranchVR can quickly pivot and offer a minimum of three nights at a higher per-night rate.
“It’s really about understanding the booking windows,” Fanini adds.
Educating vacation rental management owners
A nice big house with lots of bedrooms isn’t enough to stand out in Lake Tahoe, a city that generates a significant portion of tourism dollars in Nevada and California.
BranchVR has found opportunities to coach owners about differentiating factors for their homes, from fully stocked kitchens to game rooms outfitted with authentic classic arcade games or makeshift rock climbing walls in the backyard. Attention to details (like a kitchen with sharp knives) helps drive repeat business; while families are ready to vacation, they are more likely to stay at home and cook these days.
These fine touches have a tangible impact on how much revenue a home produces, Fanini says. It's important to convey this to owners before taking on the management of a home.
"Owners need a little education and they don't always know what questions to ask. You need to get a really good feel for what type of owner you have," Fanini explains.
Finding the sweet spot that drives occupancy
Fanini says effective marketing starts with online visibility. Empowering a high-quality website with direct reservation features enables an easy end-to-end booking experience.
Fanini says amenities should be featured at the top of website descriptions using quality photos and interior videos. If prospective guests see what they are looking for, whether it be a big kitchen or a large hot tub, the property has a greater chance of getting booked.
Finding the sweet spot between product and rental rate, one that pleases both owners and renters, drives occupancy. The rest falls into place.
"If your owners are happy, your guests are happy and your staff is happy," Fanini concludes. "What else is there?"
Learn more about managing, marketing, and delivering a complete vacation rental management experience with Kigo.