“My Vacation Rental Pulls Off 85% Occupancy and I Keep the Profits”

It’s a rare child that says, “I want to be a vacation rental owner when I grow up.”

I’m writing this from the hanging bed of my home in Fiji—Starfish Blue. The breeze is delicious, the view world-class, and the scent of frangipani—my favorite flower on the planet—perfumes the air. I am a delighted vacation rental owner. But I did not start out that way.

When I fell in love with a plot of land in Fiji in 1999, I didn’t really know the vacation rental (VR) industry existed. I had only stayed in a few VRs—all on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. After a ridiculously hard time finding one in the late 1980’s, the company put me on their mailing list. The day I received the yearly “Sears Roebuck” catalogue equivalent of vacation rentals was a happy one. Each grainy black and white photograph and cryptic description held delightful possibilities for the perfect vacation.

So when I visited Fiji in 1999, I had no intentions of house hunting. However, matters of the heart intervened, and I fell in love with a view right on a coral reef. The resort adjacent to the tiny development would run things for me—all I had to do was build and furnish the house. Easy, right?

Of course, there were many roadblocks and obstacles, but the most shocking moment came when the resort was sold during construction of my home, and the new owners did not agree to manage my VR. I was on my own without a clue.

I live on the East Coast of the U.S., and it’s a 24-hour journey straight through to Fiji. How in the world was I going to be able to manage staff and market a home that wasn’t in the same hemisphere?

After panicking and putting my then unfinished property on the market, I began to wade through the fog and try to manage things on my own. I hired a couple to run the house and pool, and started researching dive magazines in Australia and New Zealand to attract some guests.

Then, a funny thing happened. The resort had only promised me 25% occupancy, and they would take half the profits. Against all odds, and while homeschooling and working from home, I was able to achieve 85% occupancy…and keep all the profits.

There is a well-oiled machine for connecting guests with homeowners. But, there are things you have to get right, or you’ll be at the bottom of the heap and won’t get any bookings. My learning curve has been steep. I’ve spent thousands of hours researching, testing, reading marketing trends, listening to podcasts, going to conferences, speaking at conferences, and consulting for other owners.

I have learned what works, and while each market is slightly different, the principles are the same.

Here are three tips:

1. Run your business with your guests at the top of your mind.

I’m always asking myself, “Would my guests love to sleep in these linens? Would they enjoy a glass of bubbly from this glass? What color in the master bedroom would make them feel like they have truly achieved their escape to a tropical paradise?”

2. Market with your guests in mind.

It’s not enough to tell them there is a blender—you want to paint the picture of creating their own cocktails from local fruits and rums. You are a movie director, designing the set—let them know how they will enjoy all the amenities and local attractions.

3. Treat your staff as well as you treat your guests.

Your staff is an extension of you, especially when you are in a different area of the world. Treat them well, and they will move heaven and earth to make things right for your guests—even when things go wrong (and they will). It’s important to make as many back-up plans as you can. For example, I keep a spare of all small appliances. If the coffee maker breaks, the maids simply have to go in the back room and get the back-up.

Putting your guests first is the key to success. All the other things you need to do in order to achieve a well booked calendar can be taught, but with a “guest-first” mindset, your vacationers will love your place as much as you do.

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