"The community, Amy...It's the community"
On Friday, I had the opportunity to catch up with John Dalton, a 50-year veteran of the travel industry and a true industry philosopher. John has worked with AAA, cruise lines, rental car companies, travel agents, associations and more. He also has ties to the Rat Pack, but those stories are reserved for chats over a glass of Pinot.
In his professor-like tone, John’s first question was, “What is the first priority for a property manager?”
I guessed wrong more than once (I’m a little slow these days).
“The community, Amy . . . It's the community,” he said. “People buy homes in the destination. Guests come for the destination. Without the destination . . . or the community, there’s nothing to sell.”
He is right. With a handful of exceptions, guests are not coming for the home—they are coming for the beach, for the mountain, for the lake, for the theme park.
He continued to share all the actions a PM might take during this time if the destination/community was the primary responsibility, like using this time to interact with city and state officials to balance public heath with economic impact. We would take public health seriously in the community knowing that, if a cluster erupts in the destination, the already-small group of full-time residents — and the health systems that support them — face dire consequences, and the destination will take longer to reopen.
Making the destination the priority—with or without coronavirus—means thinking long term. Some examples:
- Should new building permits be allowed for condo developments when both traveler demand and real estate prices are expected to fall?
- Is there a temporary lodging tax that could help the local tourism industry?
- What help do restaurants and attractions need to keep going?
- Are there additional ways to take care of a furloughed or laid-off workforce so that there are people to work when the destination reopens?
Is it time to throw politics completely in the trash and get to know city officials, DMOs, and competitors as real people on the same life raft?
Until John called, I was only considering what each vacation rental management company is going to look like on the other side of this virus, but now I'm asking, “What will each destination look like on the other side?”
Some destinations will gain market share, while others will lose it. Yes, drive-to markets are expected to be the first to see tourists return, and marketing dollars will need to be redirected into feeder markets within a 3- to 5-hour radius. However, guests are going to want additional feelings of safety and security and will want the destination to still have responsible restaurants and attractions. Homeowners and buyers are going to want to know that the destination is working to preserve property values. And full-time residents are going to want to know that they can still make a living in the communities they love.
John’s right. Strategically prioritizing the destination and its residents, physically and economically, is key to future success. And, in doing so, there might be a bonus perk for vacation rental management companies who had not been as engaged at the local level to establish some great relationships with city officials and gain some community goodwill at the same time.