Meet Chris DeBusk: he's a vacation rental extraordinaire who is passionate about helping other homeowners run successful vacation rental businesses. He and his wife purchased their first vacation home in Hilton Head, South Carolina in 2008, where they dreamed of retiring. After tripling the revenue from rentals within the first year as owners, Chris decided to share his expertise with other owners by writing and developing The Vacation Rental Goldmine, a comprehensive book and toolkit system.
By advertising with two of Tripping.com's top partners, VRBO and HomeAway, and dedicating a significant amount of time creating a superb guest experience, Chris has been able to rent out their Hilton Head property for 47 weeks per year. Since taking the plunge into the vacation rental business, the DeBusk family has also purchased a second vacation home in Smith Mountain Lake, Virginia that receives 50 bookings annually.
Tripping.com is excited to feature Chris as our newest expert contributor. Look out for his future posts, and read on to learn some of his secrets to success, thoughts on the vacation rental industry today and what motivates him most about being a vacation rental business owner.
Q: What inspired you to write the "Vacation Rental Goldmine" book and toolkit?
A number of books on this subject that I read were pretty high level. They have great concepts but little instruction how to actually make it happen. I saw a lot of books were written very much from the owners' perspective first and then
the guests' secondary. So I basically wrote it from the perspective of what the guests' experience is, and then in turn what owners should do to make that a pathway to increasing their vacation rental revenue.
I started having success with the system that I built into the toolkit and book itself, and so I gave it to a couple of friends who were doing the same thing I was doing. They in turn had great success with it, which is what gave me the idea to write the book. I thought, "You know, I should share this with other people."
I think there's something here that really helps you take [your vacation rental business] from some good concepts all the way through implementation. Then it teaches you to always be studying how your VR business is performing.
Q: What do you think travelers renting a vacation home for the first time need to know these days?
With so many folks going the route of Airbnb or HomeAway, it's really put a lot of the power in the hands of the guests. They have choice like they've never had before.
If you rewound the clock to quite a few years ago, rental companies [as opposed to vacation rentals by owner] were the only game in town. I think a lot of the guests became accustomed to putting up with inconveniences because that's what they thought they had to do. Frankly, not a lot had happened in the industry in respect to investing in the guest experience.
Travelers today need to expect more. They should invest the time to do their research to make sure they're really getting the absolute best value for their money. Reading reviews and actually talking to owners are great ways of doing this. What travelers might have expected five years ago from a vacation rental is not what they should expect today because the entire industry has moved in terms of upping the game, and I think that's all to the benefit of the guest.
Q: What do you think the three most important things hosts need to know about having a profitable vacation rental business?
First and foremost, create a great guest experience. When I say that I mean everything: from the moment a guest begins to think about going on vacation and starts shopping to the time they pull their car back into their driveway at home. Spending time creating that experience is at the cornerstone of my book.
Number two, I would say, is looking at the data from the profitability side. I'm not talking about going crazy with all kinds of "difficult-to-do things." Just track some basic data that relates to guest inquiries and hits on your listing. Understand the basics of how guests are coming to know about your property. Track your conversion rates and think about what you can do to actually make them better. Use all of this data to help you maximize what you can do in terms of marketing your vacation rental property. There are tools out there to help owners do this, and I've created one of them. There's actually an algorithm built into the Goldmine Dashboard that looks at the data from your inquiry and booking performance and makes suggestions about whether or not to raise or lower your rates in certain months.
The third one relates to the first. If you do not live near your vacation rental, really invest in finding the right local partner. Your profitability is so reliant on what happens there locally, it's unbelievable. If you've got the wrong partner and profits aren't where they could be the whole thing could fall apart. You have to really put the discipline and rigor into selecting the right partner to put everything together locally because there's only so much a remote owner can do to make it all happen.
Q: What is the most rewarding aspect of being a vacation rental host?
This business gives you the opportunity to have that vacation home that you always hoped you'd have. It's a little bit of living that dream while you're there. Some of my favorite times are certainly when I'm in my vacation homes. I see it as enjoying the fruits of your labor with respect to how the business is going.
The other [rewarding aspect] is when you get feedback from your guests that you're doing it right. They like the value they get, they're returning and they make the vacation rental their own. While they don't own the property like you do, they kind of feel like it's their place. I have some guests who've told me, "This is our place, we come here every year, and we've made memories here for years." I find that really rewarding.
So at the end of the day, vacations are experiences, and experiences create memories. When you get great experiences and memories, that creates loyalty, which helps your business. The whole thing kind of hangs together.