For businesses and individuals who need
top-notch copy and content marketing . . .
SANDY WALKER WRITES . . . a blog
top-notch copy and content marketing . . .
SANDY WALKER WRITES . . . a blog
Booking an excellent vacation rental can be tricky. This is especially the case if you’ve previously had a bad experience with an online vacation rental from Airbnb, VRBO, Booking.com or any of the vacation rental possible sites. It can also be daunting for first-time users wary of unwanted surprises. Following these tips will help you navigate wisely through the listings and make choosing a fabulous vacation rental easier.
Key Areas to Consider before You Book
Start your search broadly, and gradually narrow until you have the location(s) that meet your basic criteria.
Book your place as far in advance as possible, especially if you have limitations, you like lots of amenities, or you need a very specific location. You’ll have more options early since fewer places will already be booked. You’re also likely to find the places that offer easy access without the need to climb steps, or provide special amenities like complimentary breakfasts, or have a laundry facility.
Assume that the hosts mean what they say regarding their house rules. Despite our clearly-stated no-pet policy, we occasionally have someone ask us to make an exception. Our answer is always the same, but we hate to have to say what we’ve already said.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions before you book. Good hosts understand that you may need to know some details that their listing description or pictures didn’t capture. We’ve answered dozens of questions about how far our location is from a factory, night spot, or sporting venue. We’ve fielded questions about extra amenities we might provide. We would much rather field those questions before guests book with us than have them cancel their reservation.
Today's Call to Action
You Accept the CHallenge, Too!
If you've used vacation rental sites before, let me know if I missed anything. Would following these tips have helped you as a newbie?
If you're contemplating your first reservation on Airbnb or another vacation rental site, take the plunge! As you do, follow these tips and see if they help you book an excellent vacation rental your first time.
Out of Money and short on TIME. Wow! If that's not bad enough, yesterday we discovered that we will shortly say goodbye to Health, People en Español, and Parents. We soon won't be InStyle, EatingWell, or enjoying any Entertainment Weekly, either. Today's Content Marketing Challenge looks at a struggling industry.
An Industry in Decline
I hope it's evident that I'm talking about print magazines, not predicting apocalyptic changes. Yesterday's announcement by Dotdash Meredith CEO Neil Vogel was the latest in an industry that's declined significantly in only a few years. Several magazines, including Redbook, Money Magazine, Marie Claire, CookingLight, and O: The Oprah Magazine, have all recently ceased printing. Others, like TIME (which went from weekly to bi-weekly), Reader's Digest, Vogue, and Sunset, have reduced the number of issues per year rather than stop printing altogether. When the pandemic hit, Airbnb "temporarily" stopped printing its magazine and hasn't yet announced if it will resume publication.
I noticed when Money magazine went out of print. My husband and I had recently subscribed to Money and several other magazines in order to place them in our short-term rentals; we thought our Airbnb guests might appreciate them. Before the last issue went to print, the publisher notified us that, henceforth, Money would be available only in digital format. Our subscription was transferred to Kiplinger's Personal Finance.
The June/July 2019 issue of Money pictured at the top of this article was their final print issue. I kept it for nostalgia's sake. I stashed away the April 2019 issue of EatingWell because of its cover and its recipes with cauliflower--one of my favorite veggies. In light of yesterday's announcement, I'll continue to hang on to it.
If the print magazine industry continues its steady decline, I may frame both issues and hang them on the wall to remind myself--and future visitors--what a printed magazine looked like. Perhaps I should gather a few more and display them in the Airbnb units as a unique feature for our guests to enjoy.
More about this tomorrow.
Today's YACHT Call to Action
You Accept the CHallenge, Too!
If you're nostalgic and subscribe to any print magazines, I suggest keeping the current issues until you know that they aren't the end of an era.
My husband and I listed our first short-term rental (STR) unit--a tiny studio apartment--on Airbnb almost six years ago. Two years later, we added a second unit--a 2018 Gulf Stream Vintage Cruiser. Two years after that, we added another studio apartment. All three have been well received on the Airbnb platform.
As you'd expect from the fact that we've increased our number of listings, we have enjoyed our experience as hosts. The benefits have outweighed the difficulties, and we've learned a lot. If you're considering hosting on the Airbnb platform, this fifth content challenge post gives you an idea of the pros and cons you can expect.
Note: From what I have learned, these pros and cons are similar regardless of which STR or vacation-rental platform you choose. They vary in degree but exist for hosts on VRBO, HomeAway, Booking.com, or another platform.
Good News First -- The Pros of Airbnb Hosting
Here are the most significant benefits we've reaped while hosting on Airbnb:
Bad News Next--The Cons of Airbnb Hosting
Did you just hear a gentle "THUD?" That was the other shoe dropping. Here are the cons of hosting:
Dealing with a few stinkers. Some people are DIFFICULT to host. They look for something to complain about. They don't treat your things well. They do try to take a mile if you give them an inch. Cleaning up after these folks and repairing what they damaged is time-consuming, expensive, and discouraging. Thankfully, we've had to block only a few people like this from being able to book with us again.
Constantly needing to be available (or make arrangements for someone to cover.) Hosting on Airbnb, or any other vacation-rental site, means we are in the hospitality business. As such, we need to be available. Our places must always be clean and ready when the next guest arrives.
Things get tricky when:
Responding to the changing focus of the Airbnb platform. When we started hosting, Airbnb had the reputation of supporting its hosts. When issues arose, company representatives listened and followed through on the promises of support and financial backing it made to hosts when they listed their properties. That's changed significantly, thanks largely to COVID, which sent Airbnb stock plummeting and cost the company millions just in the first few weeks of the pandemic. Variants and uncertainty continue to plague Airbnb
To attract and reassure skittish travelers, Airbnb switched its focus. Now, company reps are hard to reach, and claims that appear to fit neatly into the coverage program are sometimes denied. Additionally, Airbnb has added an onerous cleaning protocol, even for hosts with excellent reviews for cleanliness. Hosts don't have to comply; if they don't, however, they risk having their listings removed from the site.
Airbnb uses the slogan, " You have full control of when and how you host," to attract potential hosts. Lately, that hasn't rung true.
We've benefitted from being Airbnb hosts, and plan to continue. For us, the pros outweigh the cons. As long as that is true, we will stay with the platform.
YACHT CTA for a Saturday
For today's content challenge, I struggled to come up with a YACHT that applies to everyone. Here are my thoughts:
You Accept the CHallenge, Too!
How would you answer these questions?
If you already have listings on Airbnb or another vacation rental platform:
So long until tomorrow.
In addition to an old dog, we keep a small flock of backyard chickens. Actually, we keep only hens. Roosters are too noisy for our 3/4-acre lot with homes around it; most real roosters aren't like Foghorn Leghorn. They don't wait patiently until dawn to crow. Instead, they are apt to sound off before dawn, after dawn, and several times throughout the day. That's hard on neighbors.
Our little flock of backyard chickens is the focus for Content Challenge #3 Since this is a content challenge--and content marketing stresses creating and sharing valuable information--this content challenge shares 3 advantages of raising chickens. As usual, I'll close with a YACHT--a CTA designed to help us all.
Advantages of Raising Backyard Chickens
Before I list the advantages of raising chickens in your backyard, let me admit something obvious--not everyone will be able to do so. City and county zoning ordinances, HOA bylaws, and other government edicts often forbid the raising of any domestic livestock. Our county used to. Additionally, even if you could do so legally, you may not have the space for even the smallest coop. If you're in that category, please read on anyway. Much of the content will apply to you even if you don't have your own flock.
With that caveat out of the way, let's talk chicken.
Delicious Fresh Eggs
Fresh eggs taste better.
Remember last summer when you sliced a homegrown tomato and added a piece to your sandwich? If it was fresh-picked, you probably noted how much better it tasted than the one you purchased in the grocery store. The contrast between a fresh egg and a store-bought egg isn't as stark, but it's there. Fresh eggs taste better.
Fresh eggs are much . . . fresher. Duh, but hear me out. By law, farmers have up to 30 days to get an egg from the hen that laid it to the egg carton. Once in the carton, the egg can be sold for up to 30 days. So, if you pick up a dozen eggs with a "Use By" date just a few days away, you could be buying eggs that are almost 2 months old! That's part of the reason that fresh eggs taste better.
Laying hens are treated better in backyard flocks. I'm not trying to bash commercial egg producers. However, the industry has a reputation for keeping hens in tiny, barren cages that barely allow them to stretch their legs or wings. Most backyard flocks have at least a sizeable coop in which the birds can move around. Many--including ours--also have fenced areas outside. As a result, backyard hens live better lives.
Sustainability is a buzzword that's applied to situations both globally and individually. What's the word mean on both levels? How does keeping a small flock of hens in your backyard help you live more sustainably?
According to a United Nations committee report, global sustainability is “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." Global sustainability focuses on how nations enact laws that protect or destroy Earth's resources and how responsibly they use those resources.
In contrast, individual sustainability has a down-home flavor focused on what on individuals or families can do to minimize their effect on the environment. Raising chickens is one aspect of down-home sustainability. Other popular activities include gardening, composting and beekeeping.
Here are specific ways in which raising backyard chickens helps families live more sustainably:
Raising chickens teaches children--and adults--valuable life lessons. Here are a few of them:
If you'd like to learn more about chickens and backyard flocks, I recommend you go to the website for the Murray McMurray Hatchery and request a free catalog. (The link is at the top right of their homepage.) The catalog contains a wealth of details about chickens and backyard flocks. It is well-written and full of fun photos, too. I read ours from cover to cover every year.
Today's YACHT CTA
Here's today's content marketing, no-strings-attached CTA geared to benefit every reader:
You Accept the CHallenge, Too! If you could start your own little flock, I encourage you to at least consider doing so. Read the sources I've linked. Talk to someone who raises chickens.
If that's not a possibility, consider buying fresh eggs from a local market or someone you know. You'll pay a little more, but you'll be eating fresh eggs that taste better and are laid by a hen that isn't confined to a cage.
Watch for tomorrow's Content Challenge. Drop me a comment if you have questions.
Today is February 1. According to an article in the New York Post in 2020, most Americans abandon their New Year's resolutions by February 1. The Post article goes on to say that 68% of those polled admitted to quitting well before February 1st, and 1 in 7 admit that they "never actually believe they'll see their resolution through in the first place."
I wish I could say that I don't understand someone whose resolutions vanish into thin air by February 1, but I do. My single, long-term resolution for 2022 isn't dead and buried, but it's inching closer to the grave day by day. I empathize.
New Year's Resolutions and Content Marketing?
How does this relate to content marketing and a content challenge?
I didn't start the year with an official resolve to improve my content writing skills. I should have. As a freelance content marketer and copywriter, I need to improve my skills consistently. I realized my error while taking my morning walk two days ago and decided it was time to remedy that mistake.
I knew I needed a specific content marketing goal. However, in light of my shaky start with my only New Year's resolution, I hesitated. When I thought of Julie Powell, of Julie and Julia fame, I began brainstorming about year-long writing projects. Then reason kicked in, and I remembered responsibilities with clients, Airbnb guests, and our real estate company. I couldn't realistically expect to tackle anything nearly as ambitious as cooking my way through the 524 recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking in 365 days and writing daily blog posts about the experience. I needed to start with baby steps.
That's where this post comes in. Starting today, I am committing to writing and posting meaningful content each day through March 2. That's 30 posts in 30 days. For me, that's a lofty goal. Throughout the 30 days, I intend to improve my skills, increase my fluency, and cultivate a sense of appreciation. Post topics will vary significantly and may address professional development, personal enrichment, family fun, or community involvement.
Posts will not include:
To complete this task, I'll need accountability. That's where you come in, dear reader. You'll help me complete this "Content Challenge" if you 1) follow the CTA at the end of each post, 2) let me know you've done so, and 3) explain what happened when you did.
That's the gist of the Content Challenge.
A CTA with an Unusual Name
Here is today's Call-to-Action, which I'm calling a YACHT: "You Accept the CHallenge, Too."
YACHT # 1: Find your 30-day challenge to tackle.
I'll see you tomorrow. I welcome your comments.
We are continuing to accept guests.
The obvious question is whether or not we (or other hosts) who are continuing to host are doing so because we MUST keep hosting in order to survive financially. Airbnb income isn’t our only income, but it’s a substantial portion at this point. Staying “open” helps us financially. Several other factors influence our decision.
Our 3 units are all separated from our home.
Two of them are 1st-floor and 2nd-floor efficiency units in a 2-story detached garage. The 3rd is a camper. They are separate units with entrances separated from each other and from our home. The only shared space is the laundry room, which guests can simply avoid.
Our units are close to our home.
We don’t feel that they are SO close that they present a danger to us or to our guests; we can maintain social distancing. However, since they are close, we have easy access to our units if we need it. If something comes up, we are close by.
Having the units close allows us to handle the cleaning ourselves. We know that everything is cleaned and disinfected according to our standards and in accordance with Airbnb suggestions.
Our location is attractive to people who need to travel or to self-quarantine.
We are located 3 miles from an airport and within walking distance of a hospital and medical complex. People who must fly into Greenville-Spartanburg Airport can easily access our rental units. Medical personnel who want to separate from their family in order to protect them could do so.
We understand why other hosts aren’t.
Even if your location and rental situation mirror ours, you may have already voluntarily blocked your calendars for several months. You may have health issues that put you at risk. You may vehemently disagree with our reasoning. You may think we’re reckless. We accept that.
Each of us has to evaluate the situation and do what he or she thinks is best. Only hindsight is 20/20 vision. This is uncharted ground for all of us.
We are taking special precautions.
We have increased our cleaning regimen.
We are VERY careful with linens and pillows. We always wash the sheets, comforter and mattress pad. Now we wash throw pillows and replace bed pillows. Guests find 2 new pillows --still in the wrappers--on the bed when they arrive. They can bring their own pillow cases or use ours. When they leave, they take the pillows with them.
We run an ozone generator in each apartment after the guests leave. This isn’t the norm for us. We know these machines can be dangerous if used excessively or in unventilated areas. In this case, we think the generator is warranted. We run the ozone machine after the guests leave, and allow the unit to thoroughly ventilate before we clean.
We place the remote control for the TV and the heat/AC unit in plastic zip-top bags. When guests leave we replace the bags with new ones.
We clean and disinfect thoroughly. This was normal for us before COVID-19 arrived. Now we are especially careful. We use a mild bleach-water spray to disinfect knobs, handles, switch plates, etc. Guests also have access to disinfectant wipes (as long as we can get them.)
We limit face-to-face interaction with our guests.
We don’t chat with our guests like we used to. When we do, we maintain 6 feet or more of distance between us and them. It feels a bit unorthodox, but we’re adjusting.
For now, our plan is to continue hosting. Those plans might have to change. We’ll see.
Pricing is tricky, whether you're marketing hair dryers, deep fryers, robes for choirs, strings for lyres . . .or vacation properties for rent. A critical factor to remember when you're pricing your vacation rental units is that the "right" price for you is the price that lines up with your other goals.
You'll be able to determine the best price for your units when you can also answer questions like the ones below. The bullet points suggest areas to consider. They aren't meant to be exhaustive.
What's my compelling motivation for listing my property on Airbnb or another vacation rental site?
What's my occupancy goal?
If increased competition drives price down, will I:
These questions don't cover all the ramifications of price. Nor can they be entirely isolated from each other. But formulating answers for each of them will drive intentional Airbnb pricing decisions, and allow you to be proactive rather than reactive.
I'm Sandy . . .
I write crisp, accurate, engaging copy and content marketing for B2B and B2C clients. Calling on degrees in marketing and accounting combined with over 20 years of teaching experience, I write for clients that represent industries as diverse as SaaS, woodcarving tools, private education, life transitions, accounting advisory services, and residential and commercial real estate.