Over the past 15 years, the change in the way that Gatlinburg vacation homes are marketed to guests is truly remarkable. If you were planning a Gatlinburg vacation 15 years ago, your search probably began with your your hometown newspaper classifieds. In a section titled Vacation Rentals (that no longer exists in many/most local newspapers), Gatlinburg cabin rental companies ran ads that went something like this:
1-10 bedroom luxury log cabin and chalet rentals in Gatlinburg! Call 1-800-NIGHTLY
for more info and a free catalog describing all of our beautiful properties.
When the requested catalog came in the mail, it was a rather simple booklet with descriptions and pen & ink artist’s renditions of the exteriors of cabins that the rental company managed. Potential guests then called a second time to see if the cabin they liked in the catalog was available on the dates that they wished to visit. If it was in fact available, the rental company would make a reservation by taking a credit card number over the phone or by getting a promise that the guest would send a check to cover the required deposit ASAP. To record reservations, the rental companies used giant ledger books in which the rows were the cabin and chalet units and the columns were the dates. If the reservation had a verified credit cardï»¿ attached, the rental company would put the reservation notes in ink, but if it was just the promise of a check in the mail, the reservation would be entered in pencil only until the promised check arrived.
The rental company would then send a confirmation receipt in the mail to the future guests providing directions to the office and a copy of the company’s rental and refund policies. Upon the guests arrival at the office, the rental company employees would accept the remaining balance due and provide keys to the cabin or chalet along with a road map which provided directions to the unit. Guests would go from the office to the cabin or chalet and enjoy a welcome escape from the world’s pressures. If any problems came up during their stay, they could call the office to get assistance from housekeeping or possibly a repair person if something in the home needed repair. At the end of their stay, the guests would return to the rental office, drop off their keys, and be on their way home. The rental office would dispatch the cleaning crew and the entire cycle would repeat.
Consider how things have changed! Almost all vacation planning now begins online and the wealth of information provided via the Internet is truly stunning. As the years have come and gone, rental companies have dramatically raised the service bar to see who can provide the most complete and helpful information and potential guests are therefore served SO much better than in the past. From a snail-mailed catalog with simple pen and ink artist’s renditions of cabin exteriors only, many rental management companies now have available online multiple high quality exterior and interior photographs, floor plans, video tours, rates, and even owner as well as guest’s comments regarding the properties. Reservations can be made online on some sites, payment is accepted and a receipt is issued – All of this is offered 24-7 at the customer’s convenience via the Internet.
With all of this information and service being provided online, traditional rental agencies may themselves someday become obsolete. Over the past 15 years that we have been in the Gatlinburg real estate sales business, I have had multiple opportunities to enter the vacation rental management business but have never done so. Although that industry has been profitable for many larger operators, the times they are a changing. As always happens, the Internet serves to eliminate middlemen and improve communications between providers and consumers and the same is true in our Smoky Mountain vacation rental industry. In the past few years, sites such as VRBO.com and similar companies have made great strides versus traditional rental management agencies. For MUCH less money, online agencies can market your property and provide availability information, doing the quite well. l suspect that in the not too distant future, these “virtual offices only” companies will be able to accept credit cards and actually make the reservation for cabin and chalet owners. With easily affordable electronic programmable locks, door keys are no longer an issue either.
There are, however some things that no website, regardless of how intelligently engineered or how elegantly designed, can deliver. If you aren’t willing to take an active role in the rental management of your Gatlinburg area vacation rental property, online rental management isn’t for you. A human interface that can answer unique questions, provide meaningful information, and take care of issues that are bound to occasionally arise still has advantages. Also, there will always be a need for housecleaning and maintenance personnel. Still, it is only a matter of time until the Internet makes an even larger impact into our Gatlinburg vacation rental management industry. Consider this availability calendar from a current customer’s VRBO.com website:
If you look closely, you can see all of the struck through dates for the next several months. These are all nights that are already booked and represent quite a strong performance. In fact, by my count, this cabin already has over 100 nights booked just between now and the end of July and the final number will likely be considerably higher. To see the full VRBO.com description online, click here. By the way, this cabin is available for sale should you want to learn more about owning it – Click here for details!