Dawn Buckler is the owner and managing director of Catalunya Casas (Barcelona/Catalonia) and sister company Caribbean Casas (Havana, Cuba) - market leaders in vacation rental property management.
We recently asked Dawn what travelers are looking for and how vacation rental managers can deliver a great guest experience. Here's what she shared:
Tell us about Catalunya Casas and Caribbean Casas. What is the mission behind the sites?
Catalunya Casas has been in operation for nine years. Caribbean Casas is two years old and was created out of a need for a winter sun market for our clients. Both offer full-service vacation rental property management. I truly believe that guests feel more confident knowing that there is an agency behind the product - ensuring that service standards will be guaranteed. Privately managed properties with great reviews and testimonials help a lot with guest trust, but this takes years to build up a healthy reputation. As a respected agency, when we contract a new and unproven villa, our clients trust our brand.
What makes Barcelona/Catalonia such a desirable vacation destination? What sets it apart?
Barcelona is now an internationally known vacation destination. It's very metropolitan, but the surrounding areas still have the laid back Spanish feel. It offers incredible history, architecture, art, sunshine, gastronomic delicacies and, of course, beaches.
What have you found visitors to this region are looking for when it comes to vacation rentals? What are their must-have amenities and features?
What sells in Spain: private pools, large gardens with grass, exterior dining areas, walking distance to amenities and beaches. Match these aspects with a nicely decorated/well-maintained property and competitive prices and you have a winning formula for excellent occupation.
What have you found travelers tend to steer clear of when it comes to vacation rentals? What causes them to pass over a particular property?
Shared pools. We will only contract a property with a shared pool if it is within 1 km of the beach. For Northern European tourists, private swimming pools are rare and a luxury.
How can property owners/managers make their vacation rentals more appealing to travelers? What should they be doing to not only attract new guests but also keep previous ones coming back?
Without a doubt, owners and managers should be looking for direct ways to market their vacation rental websites. With all major listing sites now adding a "booking fee," guests are looking for the lowest price. If they can find you directly and avoid paying the booking fee, they will do so.
With all of the recent negative hoopla over listing sites adding guest booking fees, I find this a positive and direct advantage to any villa company. Conveniently, for this very reason, listing sites are trying to encourage advertisers to remove their property name from their listings. Do hotels do this? No. And vacation rentals shouldn't either!
Also, as we are the ones who have the direct contracts with the property, we have an advantage over booking sites. If you look at it in terms of "direct from the manufacturer (villa owner)," we have the lowest prices.
How should property owners approach creating listings for their vacation rentals? What are best practices for making a listing that will increase bookings?
I think it's a given that great professional photos and descriptions are the number one draw for vacation rentals, but in the end it all comes down to price. Many Spanish property owners overvalue their properties (it's the same with the property sales market here in Spain). They demand a ridiculously expensive rental price and then complain that they don't have any bookings.
Yes, the first two weeks of August will always sell regardless of the price but outside of these dates, it's a competitive market and no matter how wonderful the property is, there are plenty of others just as wonderful with lower rates. A lot of owners do not understand that rates absolutely need to be on a sliding scale depending on the month of the year - and that includes lowering rates in June, July, and September. We are constantly educating our property owners on the concept of "supply and demand."
What doesn't seem to work as well in property listings? What are the "don'ts"?
Don't take a "do it yourself" attitude just to avoid management commissions. It's a lot of work and investment in managing and marketing a property and professional services exist for a reason. We are not here to "take your money." As an agency, we have no problem sharing calendars and working together in unison to make your property the best it can be. The bottom line is to increase bookings and increase revenue for the owner's "business." We are not the competition, rather a collaborator. Doing it together is a win-win situation.
Can you talk about a property or properties that you think have done an exceptional job of attracting vacationers and delivering a "wow" experience? What can we learn from these property owners?
I think client attention is the number one formula for delivering a great experience. Spain has always been a bit behind in areas of customer service. Born and raised in Canada, a country very focused on excellent customer service, I find it difficult to educate many owners on maintenance and cleaning standards. We lose many a property because our requirements are too "demanding." However, what owners fail to realize is that it's not us that is demanding - it's the guests, and rightly so! No, it's not ok if the electricity trips when it rains, if there is a daily limit on WiFi use, if there is a window handle that does not shut properly, or if there is a "trick" to getting the coffee machine to work. We find that our owners from other countries are much more accepting and understanding of our requirements because they have a longer history of customer service standards.
What trends or innovations are you following in the world of vacation rentals today? Why do they interest you?
Programming rates are the bane of our existence so rate management systems continue to interest me. Unfortunately, I think that many of these programs need a lot more work. They are useful for capital city center apartments but for villas, they need to take into consideration a lot of other aspects including location, seasonal occupation, distances to amenities and transport, individual property features, etc.
Also customizable maintenance and cleaning technology for full-service management agencies. We have a large staff covering property care. It's very labor intensive to provide an excellent service while maintaining client satisfaction from two sides (owners and guests). We have tried various programs, but keep returning to manual control due to each property having its own very specific set of requirements.
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