Tag Archives: vacation rental


15 Hacks for the HomeAway Hospitality AppBy not making their newest tool optional, HomeAway’s release of the Hospitality app has been met with quite a bit of backlash from vacation rental owners.

I’ve read the comments of disgust from my fellow owners, including conspiracy theories about HomeAway taking over the world (okay, so not the entire world, but taking a bite of every piece of the proverbial pie).

Although an owner cannot opt out of the Hospitality app, there are a few hacks that owners can use to make this tool work for their property.

Note that no one is forcing you to fill in property information or to give explicit directions to your property through this app. And certainly no one is holding you down until you cry “uncle” and give in to using it.

However, as time passes, travelers will continue to become more tech savvy and begin to expect a custom app for nearly everything they interact with. Look at your own smartphone, and you might notice that there is an app for nearly everything around you:

  • bank
  • grocery store
  • pizza
  • coffee
  • radio station
  • pharmacy
  • gym
  • doctor
  • newspaper
  • movie theatre
  • photographer
  • police department
  • accountant
  • as well as many others, especially in the service industry.

As a vacation rental owner, you are in the service industry, whether you like it or not. So why shouldn’t you have your own custom app for your property, one that enhances your guests' experiences?

Better Experience = Warm and Fuzzy Feelings = Happier Guest

Following are fifteen hacks to make the Hospitality app work for you:

1. If you want the app to disintegrate.

If you don’t want to utilize the app for your guests, then don’t.

There are two ways not to use the app:

First, if you don’t use Reservation Manager or input your guests' emails into the calendar on HomeAway/VRBO, then your guests will never receive an invite to the Hospitality app.

Second, if you do use Reservation Manager, then simply let your guests know that you are not using the app for your property.

The original invite email that HomeAway sends out is not editable at this time. However, that doesn’t stop you from telling your guests that an automatic email will arrive shortly, and that they will be receiving your property’s sensitive information by another method.

Then, don’t forget to drop a quick note in each required info block instead of leaving it blank. A simple sentence will suffice: “Please refer to our welcome packet for this information.”

2. Change the font formatting outside the app editor.

You can create your text in a Word doc, changing the font and size to what you want, as well as the color of the font, and then copy and paste the text into the area you want it in the app.

Hospitality Hack - Use your Word doc to control font, size, and color.
Hospitality app Hack - use your Word doc to control font, size, and color.

3. Edit the Welcome message.

Use the Welcome message to remind your guests where they will find property information, whether you are using the app, you have already emailed the info to them, or the info is in a welcome book at the property.

Hospitality app Hack - Edit the Welcome message.
Hospitality app Hack - edit the Welcome message.

4. Give the guest secure information when you decide, not when the app says so.

The Hospitality app will never reveal the top secret info more than 14 days from the arrival date, even if you unlocked it as soon as the balance was paid in full a month earlier.

If you are more comfortable granting access 3 days before arrival, then set a reminder on your calendar and click the red unlock icon on your scheduled day.

Hospitality app Hack - Unlock security info when and if you want.
Hospitality app Hack - unlock security info when and if you want.

5. Deny access to the map and door code.

The app can still be used even without the door code and map unlocked. Fill in only the blocks you want your guests to have information about and relax.

6. Use the portions you want to use.

If you want to utilize some of the app, like recommending grocery stores or restaurants, but there is info that you don’t want to give in the app, then don’t give it.

A simple note stating where the guest will find the information is all that you need. Here is a sample one for the wi-fi:

“The wi-fi access information will be at the property. You will find it posted on the refrigerator as well as in the information book on the kitchen counter.

7. Build your guest email list.

Save the names and emails of additional guests that are invited to the app. Simply add them to your MailChimp list or other email list manager or place in a spreadsheet document for later use.

8. Directions when the guest gets lost.

Be hospitable and remind your guests that the app will work with their smartphone’s map app to give them directions to the property no matter where they currently are, even during their stay.

So if your guests get a little lost after dinner one evening, they can simply access the app, tap the map icon, click the “open in maps” button on the bottom, and let their device take over the navigation.

9. Use the Hospitality app offline.

Tell your guest to access the app while they have wi-fi access or cell phone service, and their phone will automatically download the information when they first open it, making most of the app accessible, even in remote areas.

The offline info does not include the map or any other portion that must access the internet, but your guest can still browse through the app for the door code, the heat and AC controls, the wi-fi code, the check out instructions, and more.

10. Save the map for use offline.

To save the map, buy viagra tell the guest to grab a screenshot from their computer, tablet, or smartphone. Instructions on how to take a screenshot for different devices are here.

11. Top secret info for just one guest.

Add any sensitive guest-specific information under the “access my rental” area.

For example, if they paid an additional fee for use of the golf cart, note the access information in the notes section under the door code area. This information is shown only to the guests on the particular reservation.

Hospitality app Hack - Special instructions for just one guest can go in the Notes section below the Door code.
Hospitality app Hack - special instructions for just one guest can go in the Notes section below the Door code.

12. Edit the Thank You message.

This email is usually sent 12:00 pm local time the day your guests depart. You can take advantage of this email to thank them for choosing your property, to ask them if there is anything that would have made their stay better, and to even request a review if you are comfortable doing so at this stage.

Note that the Hospitality app will soon send a push notification requesting the guest rate your property and leave a review. The notification will be unobtrusive and pop up the evening before the guest is scheduled to depart.

Owners that were in the first release of the Hospitality app should note that the app no longer sends a review request email with the owner’s name in the sender field.

13. Tweak the app.

If you think the app needs a tweak, or you want an information widget added (i.e. hot tub, zip lines, guided tours, farmer’s market, local shortcuts), simply tell HomeAway by using the feedback button on your Hospitality dashboard.

The app team reads every single email and notes each enhancement request. If enough owners request the same enhancement, the app team will eventually make it happen and then email the group that requested the tweak that it is available.

Keep in mind that the app team is unable to respond to every single email, but they do read all of them. I have been promised this.

Hospitality app Hack - send requests to the product team through the feedback tab.
Hospitality app Hack - send requests to the product team through the feedback tab.

14. Deny a guest access to the app.

Delete a reservation from your Hospitality dashboard if you no longer want a guest to have access to the app.

15. Use your email instead of a guest email.

I know owners who do this so they can filter the emails that the app sends before forwarding the emails to their guests.

Personally, I would not use this hack. My primary reason is that I really don’t want the extra work of forwarding emails to my guests.

I first started using the app (when it was Glad to Have You – read my original review of it here and then follow up review here) to speed up my workflow, to cut down on manually sending emails that could be automated, and to give my guests warm fuzzies.

But the primary reason for not using this hack is that if you do it, you will end up with an app that doesn’t work correctly. Then, you have the pleasure of spending time on the phone with HomeAway Customer Service, trying to figure out what went wrong.

The Hospitality app dashboard is a sleek machine that will deliver warm fuzzies to your guests daily, but you have to use it properly.

Your guests should receive only five emails from the Hospitality app:
- the Invite (a few hours after you accept the reservation or manually enter your guest’s information)
- the Reminder (6:00 pm local time, 2 days before arrival)
- the Welcome (4:00 pm local time on the day of arrival)
- the Check Out (4:00 pm local time the day before departure)
- the Thank You (12:00 pm local time the day of departure)

HomeAway knows that many owners have been using this hack to circumvent the few app emails being sent to guests. So I asked Ryan Turner, Senior Product Manager at HomeAway, if there are any consequences from owners tricking the system.

Ryan told me that using the same email address for every reservation will hinder an owner from using new features that the team plans to roll out soon.

So my advice? Don't use the same email address for every single reservation.

Should you create a reservation with your own email address to test the app and see what a guest sees? Yes, absolutely!

Which, brings me to two little features you may not have noticed...the reinvite button and the preview button. You can easily send another invite to a guest in case they mistakenly deleted the original one.

And then you can click on the preview button to see exactly what your guest will see in the Hospitality app at different stages of their stay at your property.

Hospitality app Hack - see what your guests will see in the preview and resend an invite.
Hospitality app Hack - see what your guests will see in the preview and resend an invite.

Share these hacks with your vacation rental owner friends. I’ve got the handy shortcut widgets to your favorite social media sites on the left and below this post.

Do you have another hack that you like to use to make the Hospitality app work for you? Or maybe one of the above hacks made you feel as giddy as a schoolgirl.

Please tell me about it in the comments below.

#vacationrentalmarketing #marketingtips #hacks #creativesolutions #homeaway #hospitalityapp

By the way, the best way to stay on top of all the good stuff is to get on my vacation rental marketing email list.

You can sign up right here:

Tyann Marcink
Marcink Designs
Create Killer Vacation Rental Property Photos - eBook now available
The Ultimate Guide to Vacation Rental Photography - coming soon


Which Website Hosting Route is the Best - a Comparison by Marcink Designs, Villa Marketers, and Web ChaletIt’s time.
You’ve resisted for as long as possible.
Sage advice from the experts reminds you over and over again that you need it.

Heather, Matt, Antonio, Alan, Steve…every other blog post, video, and podcast mentions the importance of having your very own piece of internet dedicated to your vacation rental property.

And now, you are ready to take the big step…you have decided to create your own website for your vacation rental.

Congrats! The great decision has been made. Your happy dance winds down, and you are ready to upload your photos and text and pimp out your website…

Then, you hesitate…creating your own website isn’t as simple as snapping your fingers or swallowing a spoonful of sugar to make it easier.

“How do you do it?” you ask.

Ah, more choices. Hey, suck that big sigh back in. I’m just the messenger – I didn’t write the rules!

Step 1: Choose a domain name.

Not sure what to choose? MyVR.com has a great post that will help you out.

Step 2: Choose a website host.

This step is where it can get a little stressful, and this is what we are going to dissect for you…right now.

You have two main choices for website hosting:

Route A – you use a service that includes website building, management tools, and hosting in a bundle
Route B – you set up the site yourself and install the tools you want

There are definite pros and cons for each route. Good news, though…either route will work. You just need to decide which route works best for you.

Route A – service with bundled tools and hosting

Sarah Brubaker from WebChalet laid out the top 5 reasons why a vacation rental owner would choose a website builder service that includes hosting, templates, tools, and more:

1. Ability to change and upgrade your content at any time

New and fresh content has become more and more important in the digital age. You need to be able to edit and change your own website at any time, from anywhere.

A vacation rental website builder will give you this control through a full-featured content management system, without having to call up a designer or developer to make a change. You don’t need to have any technical knowledge.

Plus, search engines like Google are always looking for the most current content. If you want your website to stay relevant, you need to have new content frequently.

2. Awesome, ready-to-go, professional website design

Your vacation rental website needs to inspire trust and credibility. The first way to do so is with a professional, welcoming website designed to convert website visitors to bookings.

If you choose to work with a vacation rental website builder like WebChalet, this is our specialty. Vacation rental websites are ALL we do and think about, all day, every day.

You can choose from a set of beautiful templates designed for vacation rentals that are ready-to-go today. Save time and headaches by partnering with a company who specializes in vacation rental website design.

Using a website builder doesn’t mean that you can’t work with your favorite designers and incorporate the very specific look and feel that you want.

Most web builders, including WebChalet, now allow you to take your own design and skin the builder to look exactly as you please, while maintaining all the benefits of the website builder’s tools.

This brings us to the next point…

3. All-in-one solution with management and booking tools

One of the biggest benefits in choosing a vacation rental website builder is that you get everything you need to run your vacation rental business – a website plus the software to manage bookings.

You can easily set up a merchant account and start accepting credit cards directly through your website. Plus, you can manage all your reservations and set up automated emails to go out to your guests.

Many vacation rental software companies also offer a channel manager, allowing you to easily manage multiple reservation calendars by synchronizing your website with calendars across HomeAway, Airbnb, VRBO, FlipKey, and other listing websites.

All of these tools are designed to save you time and grow your business. You don’t get all these tools packaged together if you do it on your own.

4. Mobile friendly and search engine friendly

Websites and website jargon can quickly become overwhelming. Let us help you out.

It is imperative that your vacation rental website looks good not only on a computer, but also a mobile device.

Most, if not all, vacation rental website builders take care of this for you by automatically making all the website templates mobile friendly through a mobile version of your website or using responsive design.

This means that your website is automatically optimized for a smaller screen, enabling guests to easily browse photos and info and ultimately book.

A good website builder will also support SEO best practices, like title and meta tags, to help potential guests find your vacation rental website.

5. Clear and affordable pricing with no surprises

If you choose to work with a local graphic designer or developer, you will likely get a great looking design but at what cost? You would be hard-pressed to find a website design firm that is going to charge you less than a website builder.

And if you want to make a change on your website a month from now? Your designer is going to charge you to make any updates.

With a vacation rental website builder, everything is included in the monthly or annual fee – everything from hosting to tech support and product upgrades.

It’s a no brainer to start out with a low monthly plan from a website builder.

I am going to add a number 6 to Sarah’s list. One that she mentions at the end of the previous point, but I think needs its own line:

6. New software features and updates are done automatically

Any new features that the service’s creative and technical teams devise will be magically available to you without you having to do any installations to your website.

Granted, there may be services that you will need to enter info and the like for the feature to work like it is designed, but you won’t have to worry about updating a program and messing something up in the process.

Other services that specialize in hosting vacation rental websites include MyVR.com, Lodgify.com, LiveRez.com, VacationRentalDesk.com, and BookingSync.com.

Do you know another one? Please leave a link to it in the comments.

Route B – self set up

This route is not for everyone. From the comparison chart, you may think, “Oh, gosh, Route B is what I need to do.”

And you are right…yet, your situation may not be ideal, and Route A may be more suitable for you.

And that is okay!

The thing with Route B is that you are in control of E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G. And if you are a control freak like me, it works out well.

What does everything mean? Just that. You are in charge of the name, the host, the design, the navigation, the tools, the broken links…it’s all yours, buddy.

“It can be totally unique and only limited by your imagination and budget,” reminds Steve Sasman of VR Owner’s Guide.

So on to the sticking points of Route B…

Jay William with Villa Marketers breaks down the points for us:

1. You own it

When you host your website independently from a vacation rental software company, you own the files. If you own the files, you own your website…and if you own your website, you own your vacation rental business.

When you host your website with a vacation rental software company, you don’t own “your website” – the software company does. The website is actually their intellectual property, not yours.

That means you are building your business on someone else’s land in the internet world.

Building and hosting your website yourself is like claiming your plot of land on the world wide web.

2. Freedom to control and customize

Do what you want with your vacation rental website. Take your VR business anywhere you want it to go, without the shackles.

These days owners are “waking up,” understanding they need to be freed from their listing site dependency, mainly because they feel a lack of control in their business.

At any time, a listing site like HomeAway or FlipKey can raise their rates and owners have to pay those rates or lose everything if the owner doesn’t have another piece of internet real estate.

Companies offering an online template builder can also raise their rates, refuse service, get bought out, change everything, shut you down for violating terms, or even go out of business…then what?

It is their business, not yours. It is out of your control.

With your own VR website, no one has that control over your business…except you, of course.

All the way down to the deep, dark recesses of the server. You have direct access to your website server files, the top secret, classified level. Pretty cool, huh?

When you need to make a quick change or a modification to your own website, there are no third party restrictions to block you from doing anything you want to do, either now or in the future.

You can even learn how to do some easy changes to your website to better your website and overall marketing for free. (check out the tips from Villa Marketers here)

When your vacation rental website is hosted with a VR software company, you’re not allowed to access the website files at the server level. This will inevitably become a problem at some point for every owner as you want to grow.

Vacation rental website builders use a very buy cialis structured template system, resulting in various restrictions imposed on you as the user.

If you want to make a customization, you may not be able to because it conflicts with their rigid website builder platform or policy.

Sure, you can make some changes through the software company system with some kind of user interface, but you can only make the basic changes that they allow you to do.

If you want to add something to your site that’ll give you an edge over your competition, maybe a new widget or a cool feature you want to use, you won't be able to do it.

Unless, the software company decides to add that feature…for everyone. Or, you first ask the software company for permission, and if they agree to what you want, you have to pay the price they tell you in order to get it implemented.

Not having full control hinders the ability for owners and managers to move their business forward.

Install a database, free tools, widgets, plugins, modules and marketing applications that result in your ability to crush your competitors in the vacation rental marketplace.

When you have a site of your own, the sky is the limit when it comes to improvements and increasing results.

3. Save money

When you create your own website, you also control your costs. You have the option to either do it all yourself or to outsource tasks.

You’re the boss. Hire whomever you want for whatever task you want, for as much or as little as you want to pay. Your development team should be the best you can get, not the one you're stuck with.

You don’t need to worry if you will have a mediocre designer or held back by the limitations of a certain development or search engine optimization team.

If you have a website conversion expert you'd like to work with (like yours truly Jay William), you can use them.

If you have a website developer you want to work with, or killer marketing team (like Villa Marketers), you can utilize all of their talents to work for you.

When your website is hosted through a third party VR software company, you’re forced to use their staff to make any internal changes.

You can host your website for less by unbundling your hosting from other services you may not need or can even get for free online.

Website hosting alone is cheap, as you only pay for what you really need and use.

When you design a website of your own, you pay for it once, and then you own it forever.

You can save money on updates, maintenance, and upgrades through your ability to control those costs.

Eliminate the fees for certain software features that vacation rental website companies charge for by installing modules and widgets.

For example, when property managers add more properties to a website built with a service, there is a fee for each property every month, which really adds up. You can't eliminate these fees if you can’t access the server.

Instead, property managers can add a property management listing module to their own website and never pay to add a property on their site again…this is a big savings for owners with many properties.

When you use a vacation rental website builder or similar type of software, it's a “rent to never own” option. Paying forever will end up costing more than paying a one-time development payment for your own website.

4. A/B website testing

For those owners who want to squeeze more visitors into bookings, proper A/B testing is required.

Without the ability to freely make improvements to your website, using the data you get from your A/B testing results, your site will be at a huge disadvantage.

Having your own VR website allows you to test different versions of your website layout, positioning, and a ton of other things that you just can’t do with a website builder.

The purpose of A/B testing is to test these design elements against each other, in order to accurately tell which design elements deliver the most inquiries.

This type of testing helps you perfect the design of your website, boosting conversions and turning more visitors into reservations.

5. Power of the blog

Owners need a blog built within their site to help them market their vacation rentals for free, especially considering many owners have modest marketing budgets.

When you have your own property website, you can access the server and add a WordPress blog, as well as other blogging software, to help you build up your blog and bookings.

A blog is at the center of any successful online marketing campaign. In my opinion, a website is not legit unless it has a blog installed, period. That’s why Villa Marketers implements a custom vacation rental blog in almost every site we develop.

As thus, blogs are a whole other post…Jay explains why every owner/manager needs a blog in this short vacation rental marketing video.

6. Best for search engine optimization (SEO)  

A website needs to be fully optimized to become the booking magnet you want and need it to be.

Search engine optimization is more than just popping in a few keywords in a widget, like some software companies offer.

If you want to truly optimize your website, you will need access to the entire site, not just an administration panel.

When you own your VR property website, you will be able to improve on all of those key elements that will pull up your site rankings, including the speed of your website load time for both your desktop and mobile site versions.

First step down Route B is to get some hosting. I suggest BlueHost (affiliate link), and then it’s a simple click to install WordPress, and you are on your way.

Now what about the cons, the downsides of Route A and Route B?

Route A, the vacation rental website builder service, has the downside of less control and limited choices for the owner. Yet, sometimes you need to just hand over control in one area so you can focus on another area that you excel at.

There is also no blog built into the website with Route A. To work around this, you can link to an outside blog. However, you do miss out on the bonus SEO and ranking that comes with a built in blog.

For Route B, self hosting your website, it’s not all rainbows and unicorns. There are some challenges that may feel like crap when you are working through them.

Route B can be expensive up front, versus paying a small amount over the years with a website builder service.

And your own website also takes time. A lot of time. No matter what the flashing Google ads may tell you, good website development will take time.

Steve with VR Owner’s Guide also notes that you can’t always integrate calendars, booking, and management tools with the big listing sites on your own.

You will need to either go for Route A for that…or even hit up Route C.

Of course there is a Route C. A beautiful blend of the professional help of Route A and the ultimate control of Route B.

Route C – self hosting your website with professional help

Website Hosting Comparison Table
Which route will you choose? This website hosting comparison table is specifically for vacation rental owners. Click here to see it larger. Graphic by Villa Marketers.

There is no army of sword wielding knights to stop you from outsourcing what you can’t do on your own.

If you have the budget, get professional help for your website design and SEO. Add in tools like an online booking widget (see some of the best ones in this post), custom pages for area information, and links to your social media so guests can build a relationship with you.

Now, Route C may be a luxury lane that smells like roses, but the roses have thorns.

Jay notes that the big challenge of Route C is the difficulty in finding good help.

What happens when an owner does not outsource wisely? You may get ripped off, pay too much for poor quality work, find a lack of industry/marketing knowledge, have no real business support, and end up with crappy customer service.

Route C has the possibility to eliminate the problems owners encounter with Routes A and B, while helping them secure more bookings.

So a good choice for help with Route C? Jay has heard all the horror stories, and that’s why he developed Villa Marketers – so that owners can have a trusted, top-notch, talented team that gives full flexibility to the owner.

Steve works with owners on SEO over at VR Owner's Guide, and I do take a few clients each year for website design and mentoring (see more info on mentoring here).

After nearly 3,000 words, you have 3 clear paths before you. Or maybe you see a little dirt trail veering off up ahead.

Whichever route you decide to take with your vacation rental property website, know that the breeze will feel wonderful in your face.

Read through the above comparison chart to help you decide which way is best for you. (Click here for a larger version.)

Share, like, tweet, and comment below.

Which route have you taken, or will you take, with your vacation rental property website?

Tell me what you think!

Tyann Marcink
Marcink Designs
Create Killer Vacation Rental Property Photos - eBook now available
Coming soon: The Ultimate Guide to Vacation Rental Photography

P.S. Get my cool email newsletter with exclusive vacation rental marketing tips by signing up right here:


Hints of a project infused with graffiti, a Corvette, Jimmy Fallon inspiration, and photography...

...and now I can reveal it to you. Yeah!

It's big.
My head is still spinning.
I am simply amazed at how God moves little puzzle pieces, and when you finally have the opportunity to see more of the picture, it can be overwhelming.

So here it is:

Vacation Rental World Summit 2014

I am one of 12 speakers for the Vacation Rental World Summit 2014.

A few questions you might have:

What is the Vacation Rental World Summit?
It's awesome, really. An online conference you can participate in while lounging on your comfy couch  in your favorite jammies. But more than that, it is leading experts, masters of vacation rentals, sharing their valuable knowledge and secrets of the vacation rental business.

What in the world will you teach?
Photography - the tools, settings, post processing, and more.

What part is Jimmy Fallon inspired?

Do you really have graffiti and a Corvette in your photography training video?

Are you giving away anything in conjunction with this major event?

What are you giving away???
Everyone who signs up for my Vacation Rental Photography Tips love notes will receive Chapter 8 in my eBook Create Killer Vacation Rental Property Photos, show notes on equipment, software, and techniques, a BONUS eBook, and be entered into a drawing to win a one hour buy provigil mentoring session with me,

Yes. More info on mentoring is here.

When can I sign up for the free stuff and enter to win the mentoring session?
Hang tight. Not yet. I'll let you know when.

Is the summit something that would benefit me even if I am not a vacation rental owner?
Actually...yes. There will also be training from other speakers on marketing and other business aspects that you can apply to whatever field you are in.

How do I sign up for the FREE event?
Click here.

I can't make the event! Can I get access to the video for when I have time?
Yes! You will have the opportunity to purchase the entire set of training from the World Summit. (And I would love for you to use my link when you purchase - I'll let you know when it is available.)

Who are the other 11 presenters?
Awesome people. I'll update you when the list has been officially released.

The best way to stay on top of all the good stuff is to get on my vacation rental marketing email list.

You can sign up right here:

Feel free to comment below with any questions. This event will be beyond fantastic!

Tyann Marcink
Marcink Designs
Create Killer Vacation Rental Property Photos - eBook now available