Rentini provides useful and exciting travel insights. From adventures to marketing tips for vacation rental owners, we want to help you travel as it's meant to be – easy, refreshing, & fun!

Archive for October, 2012

A travelers guide to Barcelona

Barcelona’s skyline, dotted by beautiful Gaudi architecture. (Photo by MorBCN)

WHAT TO EXPECT:

This is a young people friendly city. It’s energetic and busy, a bit like a North Italian city. It’s walkable; the Paseo runs much of the length of the center of town. It has two amazingly good museums, cheap (for Europe) shopping, is home to the masterpieces of one of the most famous architects in history and a very active nightlife.

Barcelona is a laid back London. The street near our hotel was filled with piercing/tatoo studios and smoke shops, it almost reminded me of Haight Street in San Francisco—except cooler because it was in Spain.

Stella knows cool when she sees it.

WHERE YOU SHOULD GO:

The art pours out into the streetsMUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART

A spectacular venue to see modern art! The building, designed by Richard Meier brings light from the south through a solid wall of windows into three floors of packed with art you never get to see in the States. Outside, on two sides of the museum are large empty squares which slowly fill up as the day moves on. By afternoon they are buzzing with music and people spilling out from the cafés. Also a good place to start looking for some of the spectacular street art that covers the city.

THE PICASSO MUSEUM

Picasso a go go. This is Picasso as a teenager, as an art student, as a copy cat, as Toulouse-Lautrec, as a Matisse, as warmed over Corot, and finally as a frustrated old man. It’s everything you don’t see at the Picasso Museum in Paris which features some of his most popular work. A must see to fill out your understanding of this most influential 20th Century artist.

I was really surprised when I saw some of Picasso’s earlier work. It wasn’t like his later work at all. Not crazy, just sort of normal.

Aki Laflin

TAPIES CENTER

A big surprise, a beautiful space, a great homage to a modern Spanish artist and on top of all that it has a garden on the roof where you can swing in the hammocks and draw and paint at your leisure. The building is small and uncrowded and beautifully arranged; perfect for a relaxing and edifying trip after, say, lunch.

WHERE YOU SHOULD EAT:

Most is tourist fare. View it as a chance to get good at finding the places where all the local young hip sophisticates eat. Take a walk down LAS RAMBLAS. The best places will probably be off the main drag. And remember: you’re in Spain. People aren’t having dinner here until 9:30 at night (ahem. 21:30).

MAMA CAFÉ (Carrer Doctor Dou 10, ph 93.301.29.40)

Down a little side street near the Museum of Modern Art. Microwaves and processed foods are strictly prohibited and it has all the style you need for lunch or dinner. You’ll be happy you went.

ES (Carrer Doctor Dou 14, ph: 93.301.00.68)

Mama Café spawned an upscale daughter next door. The quality of french cuisine with a Spanish focus and (best of all) Barcelona prices.

There’s also a great little square past the Picasso Museum. Keep following the street the Picasso is on, and don’t give up—you’ll find a square with trees, a great little cafe, and lots of locals. You might get lost, sure… but that’s how we found it in the first place.

WHERE YOU WANT TO GO:

A magical journey through Gaudi ParkLA SAGRADA FAMILIA

Ever see a cathedral being built? No!? Here’s you’re chance. There’s lots of oooing and aaaaing at Gaudi’s masterpiece—even though it isn’t yet finished. It is certainly the most unusual of all public monuments.Walk up one of the spires for a terrific view of the city. Try pictures at sunset.

PARK GÜELL

Read The Lord of the Rings? Think “The Shire” but designed by Antoni Gaudi and made with cement, stones and tiles.

EL PASEO

Just wander, walk, move about, and join the throngs. Well, maybe not join them. But the spectacle of it all can be very nice.

THE BEACH

Need we explain?

Barcelona seems to have this free spirit that manifests itself perfectly in the Gaudi architecture spread through out the city. His stuff is crazy. It looks like it could be straight out of a Disney movie on LSD.

Stella has never used LSD. We swear.

WHERE YOU WANT TO STAY:

For the adventurous and seafaring, you can’t go wrong with this boat…it’s the perfect base to go to Barcelona’s famous beach and to explore the city.

This story was brought up to us by the San Francisco Art and Film for teenagers

(Mis)handling Your Rental Inquiries: Tips To Convert Inquiries Into Bookings

Photo by Jeda Villa Bali

Ever feel like you had an inquiry that could’ve paid off, but maybe you mishandled it? Or think that your revenue could be greater if only your dad was a car salesman and some of his skills rubbed off on you?

Below are a few tips for handling inquiries from prospective guests. While some inquiries may not be serious for whatever reason, many of them represent real opportunities to make a new customer and get a booking for your vacation home.

HELPFUL HINTS ON HOW TO CONVERT AN INQUIRY INTO A BOOKING

Respond ASAP. Whether you know it or not, you’re most likely in competition with your neighbors. So don’t wait to respond to rental inquiries, do it now! And when you do respond, remind the guest of compelling reasons why they’d want to rent your home.

Prepare responses in advance. Many homeowners have an automated email go out when you first inquire, i.e. the ‘auto-responder’ that states that the homeowner will follow-up with the inquiry. This is a good idea, but is often done sloppily. Test it out so that it looks and reads the way you want it to. When you do respond yourself, it’s best if you have many answers already prepared. Canned responses, which you can conveniently use to respond to frequently asked questions, will be useful here. After a while you will click a canned message countless times, and this will save you time and labor (instead of repeatedly writing out the same answers again and again, long-form). You will have to do this even if the information is printed on your website because guests often will not read that and will prefer to ask you directly. Canned messages are useful, but don’t rely on them too much else you may get complacent and not answer the heart of guests questions. More often than not, guests just want to engage you.

Introduce yourself. Your correspondence should be consistent with your website and ads – maintaining a cheerful tone and image. Introduce yourself, include a signature in your emails and always add a link to your website. You’ll want to make reference to the initial inquiry by responding to it directly creating a thread; the prospective guest has probably sent out various inquiries and may not be sure which property is yours. Be personal – guests are looking to connect with you so don’t sound like a disinterested hotel clerk.

Tell stories. How did you enter the vacation rental business? Why this particular house? What do you like about this neighborhood? What do you love about your home? What are your favorite things to do – what activities are nearby? What’s the history of the place? Tell them stories in which the underlying message is: This lovely home is right for you! Guests will appreciate it.

Tell guests a secret. Surprise them with an amenity not mentioned on your site. Let them know something interesting about your home, the area, and the people. Include a discount or some perk that you want to entice them with.

Make them remember you. If you’re already booked, mention a few available weeks and give them the option to book those instead, include a special discount for them and mention how you go the extra mile and cherish your guests. You also want to arrange promotion with your neighbors so that you refer each other to get more bookings. (Rentini’s property management tools make this easier than ever to do.)

Talk about your property. Guest questions are good opportunities to segue into the benefits of your property. If the guest asks about the garden, mention how pleasant it is to have a barbeque there while the kids play chase or badminton on the lawn under the sun. If they ask about the jacuzzi mention how nice it is at sunset with the jets on and an open bottle of wine.

Give a clear call to action. At Rentini we have a rule about always having a call to action in our communications with clients if we want something to happen. Messages must have calls to action so that the recipient is clear on what is expected from them and business can move forward. It is no different from your business. At the end of your emails, state what it is you’d like to see happen. For example, “If you’d like to book the available week, you can do so directly from my website: http://www.rentini.com.”

Speak with guests by phone. Many people, and perhaps you’re one of them, are better speakers than they are writers. That is, they’re better over the phone than they are via email. In any case, anecdotal evidence suggests that when you get a guest in a phone conversation they’re more likely to book your place. Things are just simpler if there’s been a conversation to back it up. Emails provide more room for miscommunication. Remember to keep the friendly charm in your tone as well.

What tips do you have to share? Handling guest inquiries is an art. There are many tricks to the trade. Share them and discuss.

Photo by SunlandGroup

Crime Online and Off in the Vacation Rental Industry

Keep them there criminals out of your home! (Photo by Johnny Grim)

As the vacation rental industry has swelled recently, so too have those seeking to exploit the surge in commerce. This has occurred in many forms – the proliferation of scams, theft or abuse of property, streaks in burglaries, etc.

THEFT, ABUSE, and BULGLARIES

Just this past week a string of burglaries targeted vacation rentals in Jo Daviess County, Illinois, and in Leisure Lakes in Highlands County, Florida. The burglars made off with electronics, jewelry, and even ate food meant for guests in an apparent effort to energize for their next “job”. These are only a couple of recent examples. The fact is that vacation rentals are vulnerable to crime because they are not regularly occupied. Criminals, often locals, scope out vacation homes as prime opportunities to “hit” up.

Vacation homes offer opportunities for criminals. Vacationers can sometimes be careless about security, and particularly in warm climates and seasons, can leave windows and doors open, providing easy access for criminals. Guests may spend most of their time away from the home and forget to lock up. Perpetrators that have been convicted of burglarizing vacation homes sometimes turn out to be those with privileges and special access, anyone from maintenance or housekeeping to groundskeepers and pool guys to rental agents. While the majority of these professionals are trustworthy, you’ll want to have checks in place (background checks, personal references, familiarity) and otherwise establish trust that they won’t betray you by stealing from you and your guests. This applies to individual homeowners just as it does to property managers.

Security systems including cameras at entrances and subdivisions are useful deterrents that may help build a case later. Leasing agents should also be more accountable to controlling information. Really, though, the whole community needs to be watchful and help each other out. Remember, you have power in numbers!

Sometimes crimes can be more ridiculous and petty. A friend of mine running a vacation rental in Maui had guests break into his locked cabinet and steal some (some, mind you, not all) of the soap bars stored there. They also cracked his granite counter top (cha-ching!).

There is the now infamous case of a guest ransacking a woman’s home in SF. It wasn’t a vacation rental, mind you, but still. Property damage is a crime, as is petty theft. So, if this occurs, document the damages or loss of property with photo evidence and…do what you must!

SCAMS and CYBER-CRIME

The vacation rental industry has been rocked by criminals doing anything to get between you and your money, often by purporting to be the homeowner and arranging a deal with unsuspecting guests. Usually this occurs through a tactic called “phishing”.

According to Wikipedia, phishing is:

“the act of attempting to acquire information such as usernames, passwords, and credit card details (and sometimes, indirectly, money) by masquerading as a trustworthy entity in an electronic communication. Communications purporting to be from popular social web sites, auction sites, online payment processors or IT administrators are commonly used to lure the unsuspecting public. Phishing emails may contain links to websites that are infected with malware. Phishing is typically carried out by e-mail spoofing or instant messaging, and it often directs users to enter details at a fake website whose look and feel are almost identical to the legitimate one. Phishing is an example of social engineering techniques used to deceive users,[4] and exploits the poor usability of current web security technologies. Attempts to deal with the growing number of reported phishing incidents include legislation, user training, public awareness, and technical security measures.”

A phishing scam spoof. Some cyber-criminal cannot wait to claim your dollars as his own.

Perhaps more than any other rental service, VRBO has been targeted by phishing scams. Its classified listing style lends itself to fraudulent activity by those purporting to be the homeowners. Typically the criminals will come up with a pretext as to why they need to be wired money ASAP, such as it being a last minute deal or because they’re going out of town and it’d be more convenient.

(For more information, please see the following article: https://blog.rentini.com/2012/07/30/the-truth-about-vacation-rental-scams-and-how-to-avoid-them/)

What have we missed?

There are countless scams out there targeting vacation rentals – the industry is being watched not just by those interested in their stocks but by criminals looking for an easy dollar. Tell us about your experience so that the community shares their stories and bands together to combat this from happening to others!

(For more information on how to protect yourself online, please explore the following sources:

Wired Safety
http://wiredsafety.org/

Get Safe Online
http://www.getsafeonline.org/)

Tips for Homeowners Writing a Description for Travelers

Starting with the heading, the first lines someone reads about your vacation rental are crucial. They decide whether people keep reading or look away. They mean more or less clicks, and ultimately more or less guests.

If the reader is really interested in your property they’ll force themselves to continue even if those lines are a boring string of words chosen without care.  But, in this business, experience counts. It may make the difference between someone interacting with your listing and someone passing it over; or an A review versus a B review. So give it your all.

Check out this stunning lodge home near water and golf courses

Keep your reader engaged; gauge the cadence of your writing.

Below are a few recommendations that can’t hurt when it comes to getting your viewers excited about your place. Remember, it’s not just the reader that will reward you for writing a killer description, search engines will too.

1.            As mentioned above, the very first consideration is your heading. Our own Tommy Taylor said it best, “Property headlines are the most valuable real estate you have on any listing site.  If your listing’s heading is not compelling enough to draw someone in to click on it, your headline is your weakest link.  It won’t matter if you have great photos, copy and fantastic rates if no one clicks through.”

2.            Location, location, location! Yes, location means a great deal for where your kids go to school, but also where you go for vacation. So mention where your property is in your first paragraph. The accommodation comes a close second in importance.

3.            Limit your paragraphs to one idea. I know, we have so many good ideas that just flow one after the other. Make an effort to separate them out instead of just listing them in a bunch. It will be easier to digest that way.

4.            Write catchy photo captions. Be descriptive and colorful instead of dead and clinical. That means the caption should make you feel good, eg, “The grass under the tree is perfect for summer picnics and badminton”.

5.            “Kill all your little darlings”. Before you jump from your seat let me clarify what William Faulkner meant by this. In short, he meant that less is more, avoid fluff and filler. Faulkner, in other words, was talking about crafting a killer sentence, one so mind-bogglingly good it dominates a paragraph. If that’s got your creative juices over-flowing, follow the advice of the Strunk and White classic, The Elements of Style: “Use definite, specific, concrete language.” To accomplish this you must diligently delete meaningless words and phrases.

6.            Use bullet points or numbering to make things easier. Think how this article would read if it were just one big paragraph jumbled together. (Not good! I should know since that’s how it was before I followed my own advice.)

7.            Personalize your writing. Imagine an audience of one – and do not be afraid to use the magic words ‘you’ and ‘your’. Eg, “You will love the Jacuzzi at 76 degrees with the water jets rushing”.

8.            Write like a human. Since the dawn of search engines “keywords” have been all the rage. While they’re still relevant, keywords usually target search engines such as Google, and search engines are made by people, and people do not like to read something that was written for a robot. The brilliant engineers have decided a more sophisticated ranking system is in order, one that rewards unique and real content over a littering of keywords. So give your property description a human voice. Remember, too, that some people still distrust the Internet, and are wary websites such as your own. Writing in a friendly and personal way, in your own voice, will help bring them around.

9.            Share some humor. Humor goes a long way, especially when one is planning their vacation and looking forward to enjoying life to the fullest. Humor is often the easiest way to connect with your reader emotionally and to make your listing stand out. It goes a long way toward establishing trust.

10.          Add a particularly flattering compliment or comment made by a guest. Prospective renters love to hear that a previous guest enjoyed their stay at your place. It does wonders in persuading them to book. It is that social proof they’re looking for.

11.          Write a few lines in a foreign language. Choose the language of the tourists that often visit the area where your property is located, or the language of the local population. So if you have German tourists visiting your area, write a few lines in German that targets them. If your property resides in Costa Rica, include a few sentences in Spanish.

Stay Tuned for More Last Minute Deals

Looking to get away right away? Try Rentini’s mega deals!

The clock is always ticking

You know you’re doing something right when you fall asleep like a baby and bounce out of bed like a kid on Christmas morning (or the first day of Hanukkah).

Day-in/day-out, at Rentini we love fresh ideas, creative solutions, and making a difference. The energy we get comes directly from our clients. They are full of worlds of wisdom.  If we listen to them, good things will happen. Last week, we concluded the first period of our last minute deals program. The interest in this feature was very positive – homeowners love the idea, travelers love the deals. We are giving the green light to expand it.

Stayed tuned as we announce the next opening for our last minute deals registration period. Remember the deal is good for two weeks. So get your calendars ready!

Rentini’s Mega Deals are here!

Last minute “MEGA” deals!

Sonoma’s Premiere Vacation Destination in California Wine Country

The Valley of the Moon

California is home to Wine Country USA, where carefully cultivated grapes distilled into fine wine garner awards year after year, including the vineyard of film director Francis Ford Coppola.

Greystone Estate, tucked among the flora and fauna in Kenwood

One of the most gorgeous vacation rental destinations in wine country is none other than Greystone Estate, a luxurious retreat nestled between vineyards, lush greenery and vegetation. The estate features a pool, tennis court, and plenty of space to hold an event such as private on-site tastings, wine pairing classes with our Sommelier, or winemaker’s dinners. Whatever it is, Greystone is the perfect base from which to explore the nature, music, and cultural events that “The Valley of the Moon”, as Sonoma is affectionately known, has to offer.

Clive vineyards of Sonoma

Greystone estate is just a short drive to California’s famous redwood forests and beaches along the pacific coast, and is only an hour from the rolling hills and colors of San Francisco.

The stretch of valley and hills between the Mayacamas Range to the east and the Sonoma Mountains to the west encompasses Wine Country in its idyllic splendor. Riding with the top-down or cruising by bike, one can wind their way through the gentle curving roads into the historic hamlet of Kenwood, where Greystone Estate is located.

Sonoma is famous for its one-of-a-kind wine tastings

Founded in 1895, Kenwood’s charming homes and landmarks, such as the old train depot, ring around Plaza Park, where locals come together. Known as the “Heart of Sonoma Valley,” Kenwood is desired by couples looking for romance, and people wishing to visit rustic, family-run wineries like VJB Vineyards and Cellars. At preeminent wine estates such as Chateau St. Jean, one can stroll along the sprawling lawns, visit the heirloom gardens, and rest on the stone patios as they snack on a delicacy from the vineyards’ own charcuterie.

Walk along the gardens

You can sample the best of Sonoma-style cuisine in Kenwood, too. Local chefs use the freshest seasonal produce, line-caught fish, and meat from organic free-range farms and ranches. It is here where California’s cuisine gained international attention, and is now studied in culinary institutes the world over. Notable chefs and restaurateurs include Thomas Keller, John Ash, and Sondra Bernstein. The region boasts extensive culinary choices known for being healthy.

Tour Sonoma by hot air balloon

For fine Italian dining try Cafe Citti; or dine alfresco at the Kenwood Restaurant (sit by a roaring fireplace in the winter); melt with delight at the tastes at Dolce Luna; or stop by the Vineyard Inn for Spanish tapas.

Just a few minutes south of Kenwood is Sonoma’s center, with its own beautiful plaza, encircled by boutiques, wineries, restaurants, and landmarks. The region offers a glimpse of the old with a taste of the new.

A pleasant ride to the city of Santa Rosa takes you to a more urban setting, with upscale shops, restaurants and attractions like the Charles Schulz “Peanuts” museum and Safari West Wildlife Preserve.In addition to wine-tasting, visitors to Wine Country enjoy hiking, bicycling, and hot air ballooning. Hot springs and petrified forests are also popular.

WHERE YOU WANT TO STAY:

Greystone Estate is the perfect place to stay for a group to enjoy Wine Country.

Aerial view of Greystone Estate

How I long to go to Bob and Bab’s Waterfall House

Bob & Bab’s living room window looks out to the creek

I, like everything else in New York City, am a transplant. I arrived in March of 2011, from Mexico via California where I was born and raised. I have called Brooklyn my home for over a year and a half now. It still feels exciting being here, still vibrant. In many ways I feel more at home here than anywhere in the world.

The waterfall in Autumn

But living in the Big Apple, it’s apparent that many people want to leave. I tell a local I’m from California and a gleam of light flashes across their eyes, followed by the question, “Why New York?” The more fortunate city-folk enjoy regular getaways where they escape the bright lights, go somewhere they can spot a star or two in the night sky, where the air is less tinged by exhaust. It is not enough that I listen to music while zigzagging through city traffic on my bicycle or wear earplugs when sleeping at night. The city noise will cut through.

That’s why when I want to get away, somewhere more exotic, I’ll look at travel photos, paintings, motion pictures, or allow myself to be transported through literature. While I enjoy looking at all kinds of images, I especially like looking at calm scenes of nature. To borrow the words of New York Times columnist David Brooks, I enjoy “lush open grasses, with thickets of trees and bushes, a water source, diversity of vegetation including flowering and fruiting plants and an unimpeded view of the horizon in at least one direction.” I guess we all do.

Waterfall house in Autumn

Working at Rentini, I view photos of vacation properties and their environments on a daily basis. I am often filled with awe at what I imagine life is like where these homes reside. That was how I felt when I saw Bob and Bab’s Waterfall House.

Located in the Catskill Mountains, tucked next to Woodstock in the town of Palentine NY, the Waterfall House is beautiful on the inside while surrounded by majestic nature on the outside. There is a waterfall, of course, but also a swimming hole and lush greenery and flowers at every turn. The environs have been the source of poetry, paintings, and pilgrimages by well-to-do seeking out it’s beauty.

Bob & Babs together outside their Woodstock home.

The owners of Waterfall House, Bob Malkan and Barbara (“Babs”) Kostas, have decorated their home in the charming style of a Dutch cottage – with fine art, antiques, and cool light painted walls. For them, as important as aesthetic earthiness and charm is comfort. Since they spend time there on occasion, they have cultivated a home that –if their guest book is any indication– has been the context of so many beautiful memories not only for each other, but for families, couples, and groups of friends.

Bob entered the vacation rental space to justify purchasing a charming second home on a whim. As a businessman, he wanted it not just because he liked it, but because it would be a good investment, for the pocket book but also for the life of the home.

Regular household items – jumbo sized!

Before entering into vacation rentals, Bob co-founded Think Big! stores, which specialized in “whimsical giant objects taken from everyday life”. Think BIG crayons, BIG toothbrushes, BIG pacifiers…BIG everything. To the surprise of many, Bob’s quirky vision was a success. One of his products was even featured in the blockbuster film Forrest Gump, starring Tom Hanks.

Bob and Bab’s penned a poem one day, inspired by their comfort of their waterfall home:

“Perched on the Edge of Time.

The Beauty and Serenity of a

Legendary Waterfall.

Breathe Deeply, Freely.

Immerse Yourself in the Cool

Waters of Swimming Holes Etched

in Ancient Rock.

 Relax, Refresh and Renew in this

Sunny and Bright, Charming

Victorian Home at the End of a

Quiet Country Road.”

What better way to get away than to visit Waterfall House?

Waterfall house, behind a picket fence.

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