As summer vacation season winds down, the 2010-2011 ski/snowboard season may seem far away but don't blink— it's approaching much faster than you think. Dan Sherman, director of marketing communications for Ski.com tells us that August tends to be the month where travelers begin planning their powdery getaways.
With that in mind, Travel Agent took a close look at a potential earning opportunity for travel professionals selling vacations to the Lake Tahoe region (whether it's the Nevada or California side). We spoke with Jeff Schnaubelt, marketing administrator for Lake Tahoe Accommodations, about his company— which serves as an online booking channel for commissionable vacation rental packages— and its relationship with travel agents. Here's what we learned.
Like any company selling a travel product, Lake Tahoe Accommodations leverages the Internet as much as it can, through Google and through vacation rental directory sites. However, the company definitely sees the value of forming a relationship with the travel agent community. "We like to partner with the travel agent community because it allows us to tap into a population of vacationers that normally wouldn't be available to us," Schnaubelt told us. "Some people prefer the personalized service that a professional travel agent provides. Our sales agents have great relationships with travel agents, and they answer calls ever day from travel agents that have a client with special needs."
Agents can earn up to 20 percent commissions on these vacation rentals, depending on how far they are willing to go with the program. "If a travel agent collects the money, and handles the communication all the way to when the guest checks in, then we pay a 15-20 percent commission," Schnaubelt said. "If the guest is handed over to us right after the booking is made, and we collect the money and handle all the communication, then the commission is more in the range of 10-15 percent."
When signing up with Lake Tahoe Accommodations' affiliate program, agents receive a free vacation rental website (with the option of branding it with a custom logo) that is optimized for online booking and comes with zero expenses: no hosting fees, no setup fees, and no hidden costs. It includes more than 250 vacation rentals that cover all of Lake Tahoe. There is no long-term contract or commitment and agents can try this for free, and drop out at anytime without any penalties or fees.
Agents earn a commission whenever a reservation occurs on their affiliate website, or as a result of a phone call or e-mail inquiry that originates from their website. The company's tracking system keeps the bookings all sorted out so that, at the end of each month, agents will receive a detailed account summary along with their commission check.
When an agent's website is complete, it will be identified by a unique code in the TahoeDeluxe.com URL. The company's technology assures that the code stays with an agent's website no matter how their visitors return after each visit. "We do this to guarantee that our travel agents and affiliates that use their TahoeDeluxe website can market it with confidence, knowing that it is truly their site, and we or nobody else will steal their visitors or leads," Schnaubelt said.
As agents get ready to set up their own affiliate site, we asked Schnaubelt which properties where the biggest sellers. In short, he said big homes and luxury are the best. "The most sought after homes are just big," he said. "This is because people rent homes to get a better vacation experience than they would get in a cooped up hotel room. It's the togetherness factor people love, and the fact that vacation rentals provide individual privacy to boot... especially in the big homes where people can spread out when they want it."
With the 2010-2011 ski/snowboard season on the horizon, there's a windo of opportunity for agents to begin taking advantage of this program. Of course, Lake Tahoe is not confined to one season when it comes to travel. Either way, we hope agents are able to leverage this chance to build sales.
Lake Tahoe Accommodations has been serving Lake Tahoe for more than 30 years, and was a founding member of the Vacation Rental Managers Association (VRMA).
What's Your Opinion?
While covering the business opportunities agents can find in vacation rentals this year, Travel Agent has learned some valuable information for travel professionals. We know the niche market remains strong during the current recession and will continue to grow over the years. In addition, as aware as we are that selling vacation rentals comes with risk, we're well aware of how agents can take advantage by staking their claim in the market.
So, what's your opinion? Whether it's in Lake Tahoe for ski season or elsewhere in the summer, or whether it's through Lake Tahoe Accommodations or another supplier, are vacation rentals truly a unique market for agents to leverage during the economic dowturn or is it just another market that faces the same challenges as others? We want to hear from you about your experience selling vacation rentals— the pros and cons, the highs and lows. Post a comment below. Write us at our Facebook page. Send a tweet to our Twitter page. Join the discussion in real time at the conversation thread at AgentNation. We'll share youre feedback with our readers and users in future features and stories.