Mike Thiel, dubbed “Mr. Villa Vacations” by travel guru Arthur Frommer, has been a vacation rental home connoisseur for more than 30 years, having founded Hideaways International as a matchmaking service between vacationers and rental homeowners.
The vacation rental business has been booming in recent years, both on the Web and in the bricks and mortar travel agency business. Still, it’s estimated that only about 10–15 percent of vacationers have ever experienced a villa vacation, so there is lots of room for growth. Estimates of growth in this market range around 10 percent or more per year—faster than overall growth in the leisure travel market.
Here are some tips to help you carve out your place in the growing villa vacation market.
Know and Qualify Your Client
Villa rentals generally are best for:
• Families, including multi-generational get-togethers;
• Couples traveling together;
• Guys’ and girlfriends’ getaways, where each wants his or her own room/privacy; and
• Experienced, independent-minded (and often affluent) travelers.
First, determine if your client is a villa/vacation home rental candidate. If the client is extremely demanding and/or rigid, they may not be the ideal candidate for a do-it-yourself vacation home rental. They may, however, be happy with either a villa resort or a staffed villa, both of which usually provide a higher level of local support and service.
Consider what home amenities are most important to the client: a large kitchen, a kids’ bedroom wing, a swimming pool? I would recommend having a "cheat sheet" of questions to ask clients to help determine their needs and desires.?
Educate Your Client: Villa Rental vs. Hotel or Resort Stay
First, it is best to plan a villa rental at least three months in advance. This gives you time to get all questions asked and answered, and to complete the financial arrangements.
Booking a villa rental is very different from confirming a hotel through the GDS. Usually a reservation deposit is required. It can be as much as 50 percent of the total rental fee, and most often (at least in foreign transactions) is paid for by cash/check only. A security deposit also is required to cover any incidentals. The final payment usually is made a month to several weeks before the travel date, and serious cancellation penalties apply because it is difficult to find a replacement renter on short notice.
Know Your Suppliers
Should you book with a homeowner directly (say, through homeaway.com or VBRO.com)? We recommend working with trusted property managers who have inspected the home and manage the day-to-day responsibilities for the homeowner. There is a certain level of accountability and security knowing the home has been inspected by a professional. They also have access to multiple vacation rentals, helping you compare options.
Make sure your suppliers (especially local managers in foreign destinations):
• Inspect their properties and have them catalogued by a rating system; and
• Understand American tastes and standards. Good foreign suppliers will usually recommend top-of-the-line villas for American travelers, knowing their standards for plumbing, kitchen equipment, beds, etc. are generally higher than those of European clients.
Build a Reliable Supplier Network
Decide whether you want to specialize in one destination or region, or build a network of suppliers so you can offer your clients vacation rentals in varied destinations. You also need to decide whether you will stay with domestic rentals or jump into foreign rentals, the latter often being more complicated to arrange.
If you're researching a destination that is new to you, contact the tourism board. Often, they’ll send out a packet of information to help you (and your client) become more familiar with the destination. They also can point you toward a local property manager to help you narrow down your search.
Agent Financial Considerations
Margins are anywhere from 0-20 percent on average, so make sure you have the correct pricing and add the appropriate mark-up before quoting to your client. When dealing with foreign rentals, rates may be in euros, pounds, or other local currency; since you, the TA, are in the middle of the transaction, you may be subject to exchange-rate risk. Make sure you quote rates in the local currency, and make the conversion to dollars as close to receiving the client’s money and disbursement to the supplier as possible.
Also include your currency-conversion costs and wire fees in the rates. You should probably charge a separate booking fee, at least in the case of foreign rentals, to cover the cost of communications. Make sure you set up an account with an FX agency like Travelex or Reusch.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
Arranging a successful rental takes a lot of communication—figuring out what the client wants/needs, working with the supplier, etc. To be successful at renting villas, you need to be a detail-oriented travel agent. You also must know your clients well and have their best interests in mind, plus build strong relationships with vendors who support the travel agent community.
In this ever-new world for travel agents, it pays to specialize. The villa rental business offers a growing market and above-average margins for the agent who is willing to learn the business and has the right client base.