Friday, March 29, 2013

3 Ways to Get More Online Reviews Faster

Set the table with great customer service
and glowing online reviews will be easier to get.

Online reviews will make or break you. If you don't have any reviews on your properties, you will lose bookings to a similar property with reviews. The thing is, you'll never know about those lost bookings. Folks will just go elsewhere.

You should be working to get online reviews on every one of your properties, all the time. Even if you have a dozen favorable reviews on a property, if those reviews are 2 years old, they lose importance to both the customer and the search engines.

What's more, you should constantly be monitoring your online reviews and responding to each and every one. If it's a glowing review, say "Thank you" to the reviewer. That's one easy way you can give your business personality and warmth. If it's a good review with a complaint or two, respond and let everyone know you've fixed the problem. And if it's a review that unfairly cuts you off at the knees, go ahead and defend yourself. If you think it's a competitor trying to make you look bad, go ahead and say so in your response. Just be sure to give plenty of supporting evidence as to why the review is way out of line.

It wouldn't be a stretch to say that a handful of 3 and 4 star reviews with a few complaints that you've addressed and responded to are better than no reviews at all. So here are some tips on how to get more online reviews for your vacation rentals, faster.

3 online reviews for this property. 5 and 4 stars. Read
how the manager responds to each review. Well done.
1. Aggressive Customer Service. When we say "aggressive," we mean customer service that blows the customer away with how fantastic it is. Treat every guest like an honored guest. Go the extra mile versus what your competition is doing. If your customers can walk away feeling like they've been treated like Kings and Queens, and their children like Princes and Princesses, then you've done Job 1 when it comes to getting a great review (this is, of course, assuming your properties are impeccably maintained, which they need to be if you want 5 star reviews).

2. Customer Service that Thinks, "Get the Review." Have systems in place to get reviews. Every interaction should be aimed at building towards the customer leaving a glowing online review. When guests check in, ask them to let you know about any problems they discover. Then, when you fix the dripping faucet, ask them how they would rate your service. When they show up at your front desk looking for beach equipment, pointedly ask them if they're satisfied. The idea is to build up a "yes's" during the course of their stay, much as a sales person builds yes's during the course of a sale.

3. Ask for the Online Review--a Couple of Times. When guests check out, ask them how their stay was. If it's glowing, hand them a card with web addresses where they can leave online reviews. If you have their email address, send a follow up email with the same links. If you don't have their email address, get it. If they prefer Facebook, ask them to leave a comment on your wall saying what a great time they had. Send them online surveys about their stay, and give them a chance to leave reviews at the end of the survey.

Don't be shy, but don't be too pushy either. In all likelihood, you're not asking enough, so amping it up a bit probably won't hurt anything. Be creative -- but don't resort to buying reviews. The search engines and review services are getting very good at sniffing out fake or purchased reviews.

You can be fairly honest with people as you try to build and maintain current reviews for your properties. Most people understand how important they are--they likely use them to decide on a variety of purchases. So if you simply say, "Did you enjoy your stay? Yes?  Great, could you perhaps write a short online review for us--we're trying to build reviews for the property you stayed in," you stand a great chance of succeeding.

Of course, getting great online reviews depends entirely on providing a great property at a fair price that's supported with excellent customer service. If you do all three, then getting more online reviews should be easy.

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Monday, March 25, 2013

50 New Vacation Rentals in Reunion, Florida

We're excited to announce the addition of 50 new Reunion, Florida, vacation rentals from Reunion Vacation Homes, just a short drive down the road from Disney World and Orlando's Universal Studios. These deluxe homes and villas are located in the Reunion Resort.

With Disney World just six miles away, you can easily spend the day at the Magic Kingdom, then head back to the luxurious privacy of your Reunion Resort condo or home. It's privately owned and is in a world all its own. You'll find championship-level golf courses designed by Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson, the Reunion Resort Water Park (yes, it has a lazy river for you and the kids), a tempting spa, tennis courts, bike paths and bike rentals, and plenty of room to spread out and make yourself at home. There are also many restaurants, including Eleven, where you can watch the Disney fireworks from the top floor as you enjoy a delicious meal. The owners of Reunion Vacation Homes built their home in Reunion in 2006--they know the area well, and believe that it's the best place from which to explore and enjoy the Orlando region.

In addition to being a hop and skip from Disney World and Universal Studios, you'll also be near Capone's Dinner and Show, Congo River Golf and the Disney Wilderness Preserve--all great attractions located in Kissimmee.

Anytime of the year is a great time to visit Reunion.  You can enjoy all the amenities of a first class resort without spending more than you'd like. There are a variety of vacation rental options on PerfectPlaces. Check them out now, and start planning your Orlando-area vacation today!

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Friday, March 22, 2013

Book a Last Minute St. Barths Regatta Vacation

English: Våsgspel an 8mR yacht from Finland sa...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous -- anybody remember that show from back in the day? It was about how the super rich enjoy their money. While the current economic climate has made emulating the rich and famous lifestyle a bit harder, it's still possible to get a taste of the high life on the Caribbean Island of St.Barths in the French West Indies. 

It's the kind of place where you'll nearly trip over supermodels on the beach (or people who could have been supermodels if they wanted to), indulge in expensive fine dining, and spend a small fortune on bathing suits and beach wear. Or, if you're not ready for those kinds of indulgences, it's the kind of place where you can go and celebrity and people watch and get a glimpse of how the 1% lives. There are lovely seaside vacation villas that look like they were plucked from the French countryside, near local markets where you can buy fresh fish and produce. And while that's simple, it often beats glitz, glamor and high-priced entertainment.

Regattas are a great way to experience the luxurious lifestyle that St. Barths offers, whether you're ready to spend a lot or not. They're big events that include a lot of festivities. Plus, whether you're part of the 1% or the 99%, you can get to know some of the captains and crew, yacht builders, and other vacationers interested in the sport. A regatta is a great way to make new friends and have new experiences.

Here are three upcoming events that you might want to check out, if you're looking for a spring break far from the ordinary.

St. Barths BucketRegatta, March 28 - 31. This annual event, now in its 27th year, attracts the best yachts from around the world. The top sailing yacht builders -- Perini Navi, Royal Huisman, Holland Jachtbouw, Alloy Yachts and Vitters -- have all played a role in ensuring this race keeps its non-commercial atmosphere. You'll be overwhelmed by the beauty of these magnificent yachts speeding across the blue Caribbean waves--not corporate sponsorship banners.

Les Voiles de St. Barth, April 8 - 13.  This regatta features six classes of sailboats and yachts. As with the Bucket Regatta, there are a variety of events, parties and festivities associated with the regatta.

West Indies Regatta, May 3 - 5.  This event features Caribbean boatbuilding. Through the 1970s, the West Indies had sailing boat builders whose skills had been passed down for centuries. As with many things, those traditions faded as islands modernized. But they haven't died off completely, and the West Indies Regatta is a perfect celebration of these ancient and valuable skills. It's well worth attending.

Some tips for watching a regatta:

·        Dress in light layers. You'll be spending a lot of time near the water. While it will get warm, it's the Caribbean; after all, you might encounter cool breezes or chilly air in the morning. You can always shed and add layers, but if you simply go in your swimsuit, you might be in for trouble. Bring a few extra things to wear can also help protect against sunburn.

·        Bring binoculars. The yachts are at sea, and it will be hard to distinguish them or follow them without a pair for each person in your party.

·        Bring a camera with a telephoto lens. Regatta pictures can be some of the most dramatic you'll ever take. Be prepared.

After the regatta, relax in your pool.
Attending a regatta will be an experience you'll never forget. Captains and crew are passionate about their sport and will be more than willing to share their stories of the sea with you. Then, once the sailing is done and the yachts are docked, you can enjoy everything else St. Barths has to offer.

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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Vacation Rentals & the Little Things Guests Will Appreciate

Neat as a pin and looks like home -- even though
it's in Tuscany.

When a guest comes to your vacation rental for the first time, they're stepping into a home they've never been in before. They don't know where everything's at, and they certainly don't know how everything works. This is especially true when it comes to little things. While nearly everyone can figure out how to run the dishwasher or microwave, figuring out how to turn on a ceiling fan or get the TV to play a DVD can sometimes cause unnecessary frustration. Also, there are other "little things" you can do to make your guests stay easier. Here are a few tips and hints:

Labeling. Small labels can help guests quickly and easily know which switch turns on the ceiling fans, porch lights, garbage disposal, etc. Also, labeling can help them find the trash can in the kitchen, as well as various supplies (trash bags, paper towels, etc.). Of course, labeling too much can cheapen the look of your vacation rental, so you don't want to go overboard. Think about what might confuse a guest in your property and label when needed.

While the view would be enough, the potted cacti
and lovely patio set give this stunning balcony
a touch that makes it feel warm and inviting.
Instruction Sheets. Think about the instructions you leave for the house sitter when you go on vacation. The instruction sheets you leave for your guests should be similar. First, keep them short--the front of one page at the most. Second, write them in bulleted lists--short sentences--and categorize them area or function of the house (for example, "kitchen," "garage," "beach supplies,"). It’s the type of thing a guest may never read, but having it on hand will give them a reassurance that they have a place to turn if they have a question (and may save you some middle of the night phone calls),

Be sure to leave detailed instructions on how to operate the remote controls for the TV, as well as other entertainment systems. While you may be familiar with them, others won't be, and each one is different.

Frequently Asked Questions. Along the lines of instructions sheets, prepare another 1 page sheet of Frequently Asked Questions about the unit or the area.

Cigarette Butt Containers Outside. Even if your property is non-smoking, people may still step outside to smoke. Give them a discreet and safe place to dispose of their butts. The location of these containers are the type of thing that can go into the instruction sheets. You'll find that most smokers will be glad to use the containers you provide.

Provide Quality, Working Clock Radios. In every bedroom, be sure to keep a clock radio. Even with all the smartphones and cell phones, people still like to have a clock radio on hand. Your main competition, hotels, motels and resorts, offer them, and so should you.

It almost goes without saying. If you have a pool,
it should look this pristine and clean.
Stock the Kitchen with Basics. Have spices on hand for cooking, including local spices your guests might enjoy. Salt, pepper and sugar are essential. Have a couple of regional cookbooks on hand--bookmark your favorite recipes so your guests see them. Make sure there's coffee and filters (coffee drinkers will love you for this, especially if they get in late and don't have time to get their own at the store). Keep fresh dishwasher detergent on hand (sometimes, it can get wet, which causes it to harden and become unsightly). Again, think about the basics needed for a kitchen to function. You don't have to go overboard, but if you go the extra step, guests will appreciate it.

Make sure you have enough silverware, plates, glasses and coffee cups for the number of guests your vacation rental can accommodate. All other utensils should be checked and replaced if necessary before each new arrival. Besides a coffee maker and a microwave, consider offering other appliances such as an espresso maker, blender, automatic can openers, mixers, etc.

Have Bathroom Essentials on Hand. Travel size tubes of toothpaste and a new, unopened toothbrush is another small touch that can pay big dividends in terms of guest loyalty. Many hotels offer free toothbrushes and toothpaste for travelers who forget theirs. Soap and small bottles of shampoo, air freshener and plenty of toilet paper also give guests the feeling that they're welcome in your vacation rental.

Of course, there are other things you may want to do to make your guest feel special--gift baskets, bottles of wine upon arrival, that sort of thing. Those are great too. But you'll likely make the biggest impression by ensuring that a guest feels at home in your rental immediately. Making them comfortable by paying attention to the little details will do just that.

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Friday, March 15, 2013

21 Ways to Save Money in Florida--with More to Come

This is always Free in Florida.

Florida's one of the most popular travel destinations in the world, with good reason. There are lots of world-class beaches, theme parks and plenty of sunshine year-round.

Even in the troubled economy we've had the past few years, Florida remains a favorite spot to visit, and that's not likely to change anytime soon. In order to help you get the most out of your trips to the Sunshine State, we're compiling ways for you to save money on our the Florida pages on our website. We'll be updating these for the entire state and specific regions. You can see 14 money saving tips on our main Florida vacation rentals page, and another 7 tips on our Florida Panhandle vacation rentals page. Here are some examples:

14 Free -- or Nearly Free -- Things to Do in Florida and the Florida Panhandle

Skimp on souvenirs, spend on this. Perfect for group travel.
Stroll Disney's downtown. While you won't be in the actual theme park, it's a great way to touch on the Disney experience. You can even catch the Epcot fireworks at night over the treetops.

National Naval Aviation Museum. With over 300,000 square feet of exhibit space on 37 acres, there’s lots to see at this one-of-a-kind museum. And it's all free, all the time. You can even catch a Blue Angles practice flight.

Florida State Parks. One of the absolute best bargains in Florida. You'll pay less than $10 per vehicle (sometimes closer to $5) to gain entry, but you'll have literally some of the world's best beaches at your disposal, not to mention a host of great activities. A trip to Florida must include a trip to a Florida State Park.

See more here and here.

Easy Ways to Save Money in Florida

Disney during the day, a town home villa
in this resort in Davenport at night.
Starting at $79/night.
Live Like a Local. Staying in a vacation rental gives you a natural advantage when it comes to saving money. You can cook your own meals and pack your own snacks. While that's great, take it a step further. Ask locals about the cheapest and best places to shop. They'll steer you away from the trendy, over-priced mega-grocery stores and towards the neighborhood markets or discount stores. 

Ask them about restaurants, cafes and diners too. Then, when you're ready to eat out, you'll have affordable options that you know are good.

Grab Every Coupon Book You Can Find. You should have a stack of coupon books sitting on your vacation rental's kitchen table. Even if you just use one or two coupons out of each book, the savings will be well worth the five or ten minutes you spend perusing them.

Stay Out of Touristy Souvenir Shops. Wal Marts, Targets, K-Marts, Walgreens and other chains all carry perfectly great souvenirs. The folks back home won't know whether or not you bought Mickey at a CVS or in the Disney Store.

See more money saving tips here.

In Florida, the sun is never gone for long. It rains, and then sunshine returns quickly.  And even if your pocketbook has taken a hit in this economy, you can brighten up your vacations with some money-saving advice from Perfect Places.

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Monday, March 11, 2013

Vacation Rentals Let You Fully Enjoy Sicily's Beauty, Warmth & History

Get ready to relax, a lot, in Sicily.

You go to Sicily to relax and bask in the warm Mediterranean sun, under a sky clear of any smog or haze, surrounded by bucolic pastures, clean beaches, stunningly blue water, and charming locals. You go to enjoy unrushed meals of some of the most delicious and healthy food you'll ever eat. The wine flows, and if you should wake up and decided to do something touristy that day, there's plenty of places where you can while away the day until it's time to relax again in your Sicilian vacation rental.

Does all that sound like a great vacation? Of course it does. Sicily has a mild climate all year round. Even during the summer, when temperatures do get hot, sea breezes along the coast cool you down. Spring and autumn are the best, and most popular, times to go. The flowers start blooming in late February and early March, and you can sunbath into November some years.

There are plenty of vacation villas in Sicily to choose from at Perfect Places, and we’re excited to announce the addition of 21 new rentals from Giovanni Villone. They’re located in a variety of desirable areas and feature great amenities and views. You’ll have pools, hot tubs, locations right on the beach, tennis courts and much, much more. These vacation rental villas are the ideal place to spend a week or two as you explore Sicily.

Archeological Sites
Mamma Sicily villas are near ancient sites.
In ancient times, Italy was a prosperous Greek colony and an important part of the Roman Empire. Doric temples and theatres dot the island. They're isolation from Greece and the rest of Europe means that they're some of the best surviving examples of ancient architecture anywhere in the world. You'll find three major Doric temples in Agrigento. The Temple of Concord was used as a church starting in the sixth century AD, which helped keep in in better shape that most ancient ruins. While in Agrigento, don't miss the Valley of the Temples. It includes a beautiful, green archeological park. In Segesta, spend a day at the Doric Temple and Theatre of Segesta--one of the world's most impressive archeological sites. Syracuse has several sites--The Fountain of Arethusa, the Greek Theatre, the Temple of Athena.

Choose from villas near Mt. Etna (but not too near!)
Mt. Etna isn't exactly an ancient site, even though it is ancient. It's the highest volcano in Europe, and it's active. Located on the east side of the island, its last eruptions were as recent as October 2012, when it spewed ash and lava could be seen flowing down the mountain. Etna hasn't seen what could be considered a catastrophic eruption since 1669, though many since then have caused some property damage.

This beach is just outside your door in one of our
new Mamma Sicily villas!

Sicily is known for beautiful beaches. Since it's the Mediterranean's largest island, you should find enough sand to make you happy. Scoglitti is near Agrigento and easy to get to from Catania. Scoglitti has a number of beaches to choose from, and advantage should one be too crowded (or not crowded enough). Balestrate is near Palermo. Its beaches are backed by a forest and can get crowded. If this happens and you want some privacy, try the nearby Castellamare del Golfo, a romantic seaside town, reminiscent of old Sicily.

Authentic Sicilian fresh fish market near your
vacation villa.
Sicilian cooking is perhaps the most unique in Europe, combining Arab and European ingredients and techniques--think of it as time-tested fusion cuisine. You'll find an abundance of cafes and restaurants to satisfy any craving. Since you'll be staying in a Sicilian vacation rental villa, try your hand at Sicilian recipes. Start with the freshest fish you can find that day, pair it with your favorite wine, gather fresh herbs and vegetables from the market or, if you're lucky, from your villa's garden, and have fun experimenting and making delicious new memories. When you go shopping, be sure to get some of the basics: olives, eggplant, hot peppers, capers, anchovies, mint, wild fennel, saffron, bottargo, parsley, pasta, basil, cheeses, garlic, olive oil, and ingredients for a red sauce and a white sauce. You might even want to try your hand at famous Sicilian sweet cakes and cookies.

Plan on staying a while once you get to Sicily. Settle into your villa, stock it with wine and food. Find the best beaches and ancient sites you'd like to see, but leave time for just wandering and absorbing the culture and beauty of Sicily.

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Thursday, March 7, 2013

Be a Local Hero -- Book More Vacation Rental Weeks With Expert Advice

European Jet Ski Championship, Crikvenica, Croatia
European Jet Ski Championship, Crikvenica, Croatia
An example of a definite "must see" for a visitor
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It's one thing to say you know your region, it's another to effectively communicate your knowledge to your prospects and guests. While you or your staff may have your favorite restaurants, beaches you enjoy, or shops you like to frequent, you'll put yourself ahead of your competition if you have reliable, updated information handy at a moment’s notice when a prospect or guests asks.

Sharing expert information about your area will be one of the first ways you build trust and rapport with vacation rental prospects and guests. You'll start off on the right foot and begin to build a relationship. And we all know how important relationships are in the vacation rental business. You're renting a place that will be home for a week or more. Make people feel at home by giving all the knowledge they need to feel comfortable and explore your region.

Visitor guides on your website are a great way to share your knowledge about your area. But don't stop with web pages. Create PDFs your prospects and guests can download and cheat sheets for you and your staff that you can grab at a moment's notice when you're on the phone.

Cover every sight and activity that's important. Don't just give a list of Jet Ski rentals--let your prospects and guests know about the best places to Jet Ski. Give them directions to secret coves and bays. It might be enough to tell a guest where to find the nearest beaches, but they'll surely appreciate it if you go further and tell them about the uncrowded hideaway only the locals--or even you--know about.

Here are some ideas on how to approach touting your knowledge of local activities:

Don't send your guests to just any beach.
Let them know about the secluded, secret hideaways
only the locals know about.
Must see, must do, must eat, must drink: What are top things every guest must experience? Include restaurants, beaches, activities, museums, attractions. Don't worry if this list repeats itself on other lists.

Best bars/happy hours: People are always looking for a good time and a deal. Is there a bar with a particularly good bartender? Who has the best bar food?

Holes in the wall: Share the best places to eat, drink and shop that don't make it on the tour guides. Maybe it's a restaurant you grew up going to. Perhaps it's a boutique with inexpensive accessories perfect for souvenirs.

Transportation:  What's the most reliable cab company? Is there an easy bus route to the beach or mall that will save guests money? What's the nearest bicycle rental company, and what are bike-friendly routes?

Don't be afraid to be bold in your recommendations. Tell people what your favorites are. Then, broker deals with the establishment owner for special offers for your guests. Once they see how much traffic you'll drive to their store, eatery or bar, chances are they'll be happy to offer special coupons.

While general information is good, specific information is better. This can also help you convert more bookings as well. Be sure to ask what activities a prospect is interested in. Then, either include activity ideas in your emails or send along PDFs or links to the visitor guides on your website.

If you have a staff fielding calls, make regional activities part of your training sessions. Encourage your staff to share their knowledge with the entire team.

Don't be shy about turning yourself into an expert. Even repeat visitors are looking for something new to do when they come back to an area for the 5th or 10th time. 

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