Bill's Bountiful Blog
May I keep you posted on my thoughts, ideas, observations, and silliness?. Am I serious? Is it relevant?. Does anyone care? Probably not much.
But in today's age of everyone has something to say, why not me? And who can blame me for jumping into to the pool? For speaking up For laying it out?
"Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one." - Thomas Wiley, Journalist
Government Officials Driving Tourism Economy Away
By Ron Lee
Published: 06/01/12 Topics: Government Comments: 0
Businesses, Chambers and tourism groups in every destination throughout the United States are spending money to grow their tourism segment of their economies.
That is a wise move.
Tourism is a clean, responsible industry that brings in visitors anxious to shop, attend events, tour attractions, rent lodging, and pay the taxes that go with them.
Manufacturing, distribution and other market segments sometimes seem more attractive to civic leaders, but those businesses are hard to attract, require years of courting and subject towns to intense review and - for many - rejection. Plus, big industries can leave town far quicker than they arrive, dumping lots of people out of work. Like it or not, Vacation Rentals are here to stay.
All destinations will have some luck and attract some visitors with good advertising, promotions, public relations and business participation.
Trouble is, however, many will fall short of their potential. Sometimes what the area offers just doesn't compare well with other desirable destinations. But another big mistake is when local government officials fail to offer what consumers want. Today, that one big thing is tourists who ask for, and even demand, access to good, clean, upscale vacation rental homes.
For at least a decade, the vacation rental industry has been exploding. Even during the recession the number of visitors who demand to stay in a house or condo instead of a hotel room has continued to climb.
So it is surprising to find small communities, who beg for tourists, then kill the industry by disallowing vacation rentals, making it ridiculously expensive to get permitted, or making them impossibly difficult to get approved.
They implement overzealous regulations and requirements that they would never impose on long-term rentals or full-time residents. What is good for the goose is good for the gander - as the old saying goes. So, if leaders believe that vacation homes must have new standards for health and safety, then why do they not require them for everyone? Failure to do so is just old fashioned hypocrisy.
On a recent trip to a beautiful Washington State Destination, a review of city and county rental regulations revealed a lack of insight by elected officials.
A clerk at the county office said, "We don't have any rentals in many areas of the county and it's surprising because some of the areas are so beautiful." she then paused and added, "Or maybe that's because vacation rentals aren't allowed there." Duh.
The geography of the area is gorgeous. The land is pristine and beautiful, with cute villages, attractive shops and periodic festivals and events. Agriculture is big business with products esteemed worldwide.
There are a number of conventional well-kept motels and cottages. But there are also properties that have seen better days and detract from the scenery. Many appear abandoned. They are not shabby chic, they are just plain shabby.
New home developments have been stymied by the economy, although some recent additions bode well for demand. Peeking out among nicely kept homes, are houses and cottages that have seen better days. Many of those, as well as some of the nicer second homes, sit empty year round, even during the busy summer season.
City and county officials have made short-term vacation type rentals illegal, or permits difficult to get. The up to $750 annual special use permit is one of the highest known in the country and requires begging neighbors for permission, and having the kind of inspections that would cause long-term rental home owners to go ballistic. With the inspections and other nonsense they require, costs can exceed many thousands of dollars.
And for what reason?
Like most areas, the reasons cited are that vacation rental homes "could" get used as party houses. Or that "Tourists drive cars through the neighborhoods and sometimes the trash isn't taken out to the street on time." complained one person at a county "scoping session."
No one wants trouble in their neighborhoods, but these possible issues never materialize. Some neighbors even say they "do not want people in the area that I don't know personally." Supposedly, "It destroys the character of the neighborhood", whatever that means.
There is no right in the Constitution that you must know and like your neighbors. But it is a foundation of American liberty that owners have a bundle or rights related to their real estate, including the right to right them out. So much for freedom.
In jurisdictions where rental permission is more easily obtained, but just as rigorously policed, and where owners must engage a competent local manager or management firm, problems do not happen.
The County even caved into neighbors in one desirable neighborhood who don't want "to have different neighbors each week," as the County clerk explained. Fear of problems is valid, but refusing entry to visitors feels a lot like simple xenophobia, the "fear of others."
A local real estate leader, who wished to remain anonymous, said, "You know the reasons for the lack of vacation rentals is regulations, don't you? Most people just won't spend the money to see if their neighbors will allow them to rent." How come the expensive applications fees are non-refundable, if the permit is denied? Looks like just another shake-down by officials.
Communities who enacted vacation rental prohibitions years ago, are seeing the light and revising laws to allow vacation rentals in all residential areas with proper permitting; and the requirement that properties be occupied within reasonable rules.
Doing otherwise scares away visitors. Consumers have decided they want to stay in vacation rentals and no amount of meddling in the free market by officials will dissuade them. Take away vacation rentals and they are sending visitors elsewhere, while local shops, restaurants and attractions lose out. It is not just home owners who lose.
The cities and counties where vacation rentals are allowed gain fee income; shops, events and attractions do more business; additional jobs are created; and tourism taxes flow.
Let's hope that officials in counties and communities, all over the country, wake up and stop killing the tourism business they so desperately need - by giving consumers what they want - many more vacation rentals.
Author: Ron Lee – Volunteer, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0212 – 06/01/12
Sponsor: VRAI – As a fast growing industry we need your help and support. Join today to learn, share and promote your properties. – VRIA.org
Fighting Over Vacation Rental Scraps
By William May
Published: 05/01/12 Topics: Comments: 0
Although vacation rentals have been around for a very long time, it is only in recent years that they have exploded. Sometimes called cabin rentals, cottages, holiday-lets or other terms in other parts of the world, this private vacation lodging alternatives have gone main stream.
That has led to conflicts between home owners, management companies, and even website operators as they fight over the spoils. Even trade associations are in the act, attempting to stack the deck in ways that some attorney's think borders on violation of the Sherman Act, the federal law that prohibits price fixing, market limits and membership exclusions.
Hotels, motels and other lodging providers must be agog. At one time, The Association of Realtors reported there were six million second homes in the United States alone, with at least one million in short-term rental. A more recent examination might put that total up as high as two million properties.
The majority of rents now grabbed by vacation rentals come from nowhere else, but form conventional lodging operators. That is what causes the griping. Worse yet, direct participants in the industry are themselves squabbling and fighting over the dinner table. Everyone wants a piece of the piece, the entry and maybe even the table cloth.
The advent of the Internet is what flipped the switch on Vacation Rental Growth. Prior to the Web, how did a consumer in, let's say New Jersey, know which condo to rent in Florida? They looked at magazines, maybe checked newspaper classifieds. Some travel agents knew the inside scoop and perhaps the guest had been there before.
With technology, guests can see more information about homes than they customarily can see about houses for sale. Real Estate sales agents provide good data, but in every case the buyer gets to view the home before buying. Renters, on the other hand, buy from just what they see online. Gone are the days of the property manager mailing a brochure which, by the way, seldom showed photos specific to the property being rented.
Growth in the market has also widened the variety of properties offered. Condominium rentals have been common but cabins and houses are preferable in many locations because guests usually get more space, easier parking and better privacy.
Newly built and growing advertising website companies like HomeAway.com, have craftily inserted themselves between consumers and rental providers because they have greater search engine skills, bigger budgets and even an investment from Google.
A recent fast growing start-up AirBnB.com (stands for air-mattress bed and breakfast) convinced home owners it was a good idea to rent individual rooms and even couches or air-mattresses to complete strangers.
Unlike Homeaway, AirBnb collects money from the guests and distributes it to property owners. Recent News Reports show the websites vulnerability to problems than can arise during occupancy.
In one state, a small group of vacation rental managers had been meeting informally for years, when a small group broke off in order to exclude others from their organization. Even if restricting membership could fit within the narrow guidelines required of trade associations, the methods of back-stabbing and attempts to limit competition were unethical at best. And a violation of the Sherman Anti-trust act at the worst.
Home Owner Association meetings can turn into screaming matches when a few owners want to prohibition guests while others proclaim their property rights of rental without unreasonable restrictions.
Cities and Counties too have been getting into the act for a decade by regulating and even prohibiting home owners from renting their properties. The same property rights come into play and, in the long run, courts have been siding with a home owners right to rent. But at hearings and meetings, the arguing can reach the point of high emotions and out right screams.
Its been 20 years since, notorious Los Angeles celebrity Rodney King begged the camera, "Can't we all just get along" but it seems like even in the world of vacation rentals there are those who want to push and poke and play unfairly with others
Whether one favors rentals or not, is it time to just ask all parties to get along, to work out good solutions and to treat one another with kindness and respect?
Author: William May – Volunteer, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0206 – 05/01/12
Oh No, Mount Rainier Has Disappeared
By William May
Published: 04/15/12 Topics: Mount Rainier WA, Vacation Comments: 0
It is always there on the horizon when I drive to work - jutting majestically into the air. It's white year round, sometimes with a puff of clouds around the top, like a celestial halo.
But, this morning I looked and Mt. Rainier had simply disappeared. Gone.
Slamming on the brakes I pulled over and stared. How could our state's defining symbol of white mountains, green forests and sparkling beauty just vanish?
Thirty years ago the same thing kind of happened. It was a glorious sunny Sunday. We had heard rumors that Mount Saint Helens was rumbling. Some scientists said an eruption was imminent, but many others thought it was just another false alarm because the current inhabitants of the Northwest hadn't seen anything more than a puff of steam from any of our volcanos in living memory.
As I flicked on the radio in the car, the announcer said, "This is it, This is the big one. Mount Saint Helens is blowing its' top." Even from 100 miles away, in downtown Seattle, a massive smoke plume was visible jutting a hundred thousand feet into the air.
A quick drive to the water tower on Seattle's Capital Hill, allowed me to climb up a hundred steps to the highest point in the city, and peak out the slender windows. The view was even more impressive. It looked like a fast flow smoke stack and yet it was a monstrous mountain and, due to scale, it was far bigger than anything a factory could create.
We have since forgotten the ash that covered many states and even blanketed Seattle and Portland, Oregon. We have forgotten the television coverage of massive destruction and loss of life. The heroic stories of volcanologists and local residents have faded.
And now, this very morning, the same thing seemed to be happening with Mount Rainier. Except this time there was no smoke, no steam and no rumbling. As with that day Mount Saint Helens erupted, the weather was clear, the skies were blue and yet - Mount Rainier was simply gone.
I flipped on the car radio, but this time there was no excited announcer with no mention at all. On the television, there was no announcements. And, in the newspaper, there was no story. On the internet, there was nothing. It seems the city, the state and the entire world had forgotten that Mount Rainier was ever there.
Native Americans revered the "Mount Tahoma" as the mountain that was God. To the first white settler's, the mountain was the beacon they first saw when traveling overland to the Northwest or when having arrived by ship. Its' presence was difficult to ignore as it dominated the landscape. They knew there were arriving when they first glimpsed at the monstrous mountain and its' glistening mantle of snow and ice.
So how, after all of these years, could Northwest occupants simply forget about Mount Rainier? Established as a national park in 1899, still 97% of the park remains in its natural state. For a century, traveling to the Mount Rainier area was the highlight of a summer vacation. Families came for extended stays and skiing its' slopes was a highly desirable getaway.
Crowds traveled first by horse and buggy, and later by automobile to see the wonders of nature. They swamped the campgrounds, crowded the roads to Paradise on the mountain's Southwest shoulder and to Sunrise on the Northeast. In early summer, massive fields of wildflowers took away the breath of visitors of all ages and all races. Some feel the hand of God here.
So, how had apathy caused Mount Rainier to disappear? Today, visitors flock to other Northwest destinations where they can run their ski boats, listen to loudly amplified music and stroll the streets of franchised stores. Professional advertising successfully entices families to visit freeway resorts complete with high priced meals, pricey gift shops and many man made waterfalls also known as water parks.
Visitors have somehow been convinced to find other places to have today's version of fun where activity outweighs nature. Or have they?
Although, the number of visitors to Mount Rainier has shrunk over the years, t the count is not altogether insignificant. And, the grandeur of the mountain, forest and rivers remains. Visitors who remember to find Mount Rainier are rewarded with the view of wildlife, flora, glaciers and magnificent old growth forests. In the grove of the patriarchs, massive trees stand mute and unassuming. The silence is deafening and stunning.
Villages and towns like Ashford, Enumclaw, Greenwater, Morton and Packwood have charming accommodations. You may not think that the city air is bad, until you arise early one morning, throw open your door and are overcome with the fresh smell of flowers and evergreen trees.
Unlike man made resorts, Mount Rainier is a bargain. Staying at a hotel, cottage, cabin or bed and breakfast can be a special experience. Dining can be rustic and astoundingly affordable. Park fees are low and you can set your own schedule to visit for a day, a weekend, week or even longer.
The children in your family will giggle in laughter visiting the snowy fields, romping in the meadows and wading in the streams. Everyone will enjoy re-discovering that Mount Rainier is still there, still pristine and still beckoning with beauty, enjoyment and relaxation. You can bring Mount Rainier back to life.
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To rediscover Mount Rainier visit www.VisitRainier.com and finding handy lodging at www.MountRainierVacationRentals.com sponsored by the Vacation Rental Association.
Author: William May, Plumbob Publishing
Blog #: 0209 – 04/15/12
Sponsor: MountRainier.com – Every shop, restaurant, lodge and vacation rental around the entire mountain. Ashford, Packwood, Greenwater, Morton, Eatonville, Carbonado & Enumclaw. Book a stay instantly online.
Professor John Edwards: Insects & Music
By William May
Published: 04/01/12 Topics: Comments: 0
Professor John Edwards
Did you know that insects live in very cold places? John Edwards knew.
In fact, Professor John S. Edwards was known around the world as one of the pioneers of insect developmental neurobiology. And I was fortunate to be able to call him a friend. He died this week and I find his passing more unfortunate than any public leader or celebrity.
Some years ago, a friend invited me to help out with an organization called Gallery Concerts; a group dedicated to having period music instruments perform chamber music in the small spaces there were designed for. The concerts are sheer delight.
At one of the first meetings I sat next to a gentle white haired man with a goatee who glowed with his enthusiasm for the music. Later I was to learn he glowed about just about everything. If the term "twinkle in his eye" was created for anyone it was John.
He was a leading scholar in the ecology of high-altitude insects, cold tolerance of Antarctic insects, the role of insects in ecosystem regeneration following volcanic eruptions, and the evolution of insect flight. A New Zealander, John earned his Ph.D. at Cambridge. At the University of Washington John taught entomology, human ecology, served as the Director of the Undergraduate Biology Program, Director of the UW Honors Program, and was appointed Emeritus Professor of Zoology in 2000.
Although a humble man, others noticed his exploits. He earned a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Senior Humboldt Research Award, and a Jacob Javits Neuroscience Investigator Award. He was a University Liberal Arts Professor, named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and of the Royal Entomological Society of London. He served as Program Director for Developmental Neuroscience at the National Science Foundation.
Art Davidson says, in his account of the first winter ascent of Denali (Minus 148°), "My first meeting with John reaffirmed the legend. I had traced the sounds of a concert through several corridors at the Institute to a short figure hopping about from leg to leg while vocalizing the entire woodwind section of an orchestra. "
Other than the fact he was a professor in biology, I knew none of this even after years of attending meetings and concerts with him.
I made a particular mistake once - by mentioning to John that my son had applied to attend the University of Washington. He prodded relentlessly and learned that Taylor was interested in Biology, specifically astrobiology. I could see John's temperature rising. He wasn't "Hoping from leg to leg" but almost.
He asked in that pleasant way that borders on professorial curiosity, that Taylor simply must telephone him for a tour of the department.
After reading about the Professor on line, it took Taylor several weeks to summon enough courage to call. But when he did - John needed no prompting to remember his name or why he was calling. A whirlwind tour took place a few days later where Taylor was introduced to everyone with such lavish praise that my 6'6" son stood even taller than usual when retelling the tale.
Some years before John had patiently suffered through my telling of how our family had driven to all the way to Mt. Denali (Mt. McKinley) that summer and Taylor, then age 12, had found and photographed a rare Pika; which sent the visitor center biologists into a tizzy.
Who could know an important professor would remember such a small thing from years earlier; but during the UW tour John quizzed Taylor relentlessly about the Pika, where it was found, what time of day, what type of terrain.
Taylor was impressed at John's curiosity. He was proud to be considered important but then somewhat astonished when John casually mentioned, "You may find it hard to believe but I was on the expedition that did the first winter ascent of Denali."
When Tay recited this story at home hours later I saw in his eyes the look of admiration that a young boy can have someone suddenly explodes his idea of what is possible in life. You can be a scientist, you can climb mountains, you can write eloquently, you can win awards, you can be a gracious considerate person, you can be an impressive senior citizen who still cares about what a 12 year old boy cares about. Astonishing.
Today when we learned that John has passed away, things stopped for a few hours for Taylor and I. We went about our work but cared about this man we spent little time with. We admired his work. We admired his attitude. We admired him.
Although I did not have the chance to see John much in the last few years, Taylor and I did think of him occasionally. When watching a science TV show, when the subject is insects, biology or science in general, when daring people climb tall mountains, when university life is depicted - the Pika story is retold and then someone inevitably says, "you might find it hard to believe. . . ". And we smile.
Author: William May, MayPartners Advertising
Blog #: 0204 – 04/01/12
Reputation management in the age of online slander
By William May
Published: 06/01/11 Topics: Comments: 0
With the advent of the internet and online (often anonymous) reviews the goal of attaining and maintaining a desirable reputation for a business has changed forever. Previously it was enough to conduct a business honestly and with respect for customers, vendors, competitors and employees. But now, customers and others can post reviews of any business. Some may be legitimate but many are not.
Every American has been taught about Freedom of Speech and Freedom of the Press. Unfortunately, they have never been schooled in the heavy obligations that come with such freedoms. Journalists are drilled with these rules and taught how to behave ethically and responsibly. Consumers are unaware of the standards to which their speech or publications are subjected and the risk they take in speaking or writing badly of others.
For example, the freedom of speech is far greater than that of the Press. The reasons is that the accurate recording or memory of speech can be difficult to ascertain or understand. But even freedom of speech has its limited. speakers are not allowed to incite violence (Such as espousing hate), are not allowed to lie and cheat a non-public person, and are expected to make statements which are heart-felt and fact based.
Freedom of the Press is held to an even higher standard than Freedom of Speech. Because published or broadcast speech (including the Internet) is so widely disseminated and to people who have no other way of judging what is said about a person, journalists are expected to be more cautious about what the print. The art of journalism has been declining over recent decades with the advent of advocacy journalism, the narrowing difference between opinion and reporting and the increasingly competitive nature of television broadcasting.
The advent of online blogs and reporting have also contributed to the decline of journalism. Consumers, who often think of themselves as journalists and who seldom have an training or understand of their obligations, are anxious to become writers, editors and publishers. This is especially true because the internet provides a platform for which their little or even no cost.
Benjamin Franklin once said - freedom of the press is reserved for those who own one. While this egalitarian viewpoint can be criticized we now see that putting immense publishing power into the hands of consumers who lack standards may be just as dangerous.
Folks who voluntarily put themselves in the limelight by becoming politicians, journalists or celebrities automatically lose much of their protection from defamation or slander. By putting themselves up as someone who others are expected to talk about, by in-fact asking people to notice them, they can not then sue people for talking about them in ways that they find offensive.
Non Public People
So it is into the world of the Internet, blogs and online reviews that most business have been become the target of both well-meaning and criminal consumer writers. The act of creating reviews about a business or product is relatively new. And most recently Search Engines like Google have begun to collect and aggregate reviews making it easier for customers to find them.
In a selfish mode, most of us seem to think that reading reviews is a good thing. We can hear what other people think of that new restaurant down the street. Unfortunately this kind of review creates many risks.
- We are reading reviews posted by people we don't know, even if their logon name is visible.
- Usually the reviews are anonymous.
- The review can be written by a competitor or a past employee who was fired.
- They can be written by people with no knowledge of the product or how it compares to competitors.
- Worse, the unfair power of dishonest reviews encourages those who want to extort the company.
Businesses know that treating customers fairly is necessary. When consumers have legitimate problems with products or services, when something is overcharged or under delivered, good operators make amends to the customer. But what are they to do when a customer asks for far more than they deserve? When they steal from or cheat the business? What do you do if they lie and cheat in order to gain more benefits than they pay for?
That is the problem with online anonymous reviews. Businesses who do not give consumers anything and everything they dream of to ask - can be slammed by those same consumers using online websites.
Slander & Libel
The fact of speaking about someone in order to defame their reputation is called Slander. Speaking the truth is one way to avoid slandering others, but even that is not sufficient. The goal of damaging the person can turn any comment into slander. Smart people don't slander others because they can be sued and will lose.
The printing (Or broadcasting) of slander is called Libel. It is held to a higher standard. Publishers of media who print slanderous remarks can be protected so long as the corroborate that the remarks were made, that they are not hate based and that they identify the speaker. On the other hand, the speaker themselves can be found guilty of libel because they issued them.
In short, no intelligent educated person engages in slander and libel. lawyers will tell you a high level of fact finding is necessary to prove either of them in a court of law, but that is not really the case. Court's have regularly protected people from being defamed, slanders or libeled by others.
Forever and Forever
The trouble with online reviews is that they live on forever. How many of you would like to have your skills reviewed when you were 12 or 13 years old. Surely you have improved your skills greatly over the years. But with Online reviews, you will be judged based on your behavior at an early age.
Or, like a human, you may be judged by the girlfriend you dumped when you were 16years of age, and whose heart you broke. She now has the ability to malign you for the rest of your life. Businesses have the same exposure.
When newspapers publish opinions they will only do so for people who identify themselves and whose identity can be confirmed. They won't publish slanderous or libelous material. They will allow other opinions to be published. Blogs and Reviewers - in fact - refuse to do anything of the kind.
Most websites hope to build content to build readership. Angry and extortionist reviews are embraced because we - as humans - are further motivated to read a website when its full of juicy (even if untrue) allegations. America's fascination with celebrities and the rumors that surround them prove our fascination with exaggeration even if we know they are not true.
Newspapers, magazines, radio and TV get sued frequently for mis-representation of facts, publication of innuendo and rumor. The plaintiffs often win when they prove the media or author had ignored facts and failed to corroborate and substantiated what was printed.
So why don't websites police comments and reviews posted to them? The answer is that they can not afford to. And - lucky for them - the communications decency act says they don't have to. (Don't get the word decency confuse you. The law was not written to protect websites but has been interpreted by media lawyers to do just that. Maybe one day legislative bodies will right this wrong.)
How do online reviews and website fit into the world of Slander and libel? The answer is that they are governed by the same basic rules. Speaking untruths, or speaking truths with the intent to harm others is forbidden. Common courtesy should be employed and speakers or writers should endeavor to be fair minded, courteous and restrain from unfair or misleading criticism.
Unfortunately it must be admitted that consumers simply do not understand those rules. If they did, they probably would ignore them. And with virtually anonymous postings they feel protected form the long arm of legal prosecution. And most feel that they will never be pursued for such things.
They are probably correct. Taking action against the media (website) or the writers would be an expensive process. Just finding the name of the writer might prove to be impossible. On the internet they can easily hide their tracks. Plus businesses who sue to protect themselves may be seen as bullying customers.
So at this time, businesses mostly have had to admit that online reviews -even the most unfair and misleading - are here to stay and that it is too expensive to take legal action to protect themselves. Its kind of like knowing you are going to get mugged and not being able to call the police, or ever see the criminal put in jail.
But business need to take steps to protect themselves. And there are steps which can be followed in order to minimize the threat of unfair online reviews. Here are some:
Best Practices - Always operate the business by being fair and consider to customers.
Fault - If he business makes a mistake, they must admit it and take action to return the guest to their original position. That may mean offering refunds, discounts or apologies.
Overboard - Further it is sometimes necessary to give the guest far more than they deserve. Think of this as paying off a mugger for leaving you alone.
All of these steps are important however they will not solve the problem of unfair reviews. That is because an angry customer wants far more than his money back. He wants far more than the business can give him. He wants - as Shakespeare says in 'The Merchant of Venice" the customer wants his pound of flesh.
And now with the Internet he has a tool to extract that pound of flesh over and over again. And even if he is fully in the wrong.
No business will achieve 100% highly satisfied customers. And every business is exposed to customers who will harass and threaten them. In time, other consumers will begin to understand this process.
More important is that consumers may eventually learn to discern between legitimate reviews - pro and con - and illegitimate ones. Therefore, it is necessary to work diligently to "farm" good reviews from the happy customers to offset negative reviews from the crazy ones.
Unfortunately, happy customers are happy and, without an ax to grind, they seldom leave reviews - even if the business asks them to do so. The should, of course, take the time to post online reviews praising those businesses that they like and enjoy.
It is necessary to practically beg good customers to leave bonafide opinions of the business. Even that won't produce enough online reviews - we have created an electronic survey system which can be sent to guests asking for their review and rating of our company.
Author: William May, MayPartners Advertising
Blog #: 0177 – 06/01/11
The Love of Work Well Done
By Wm. May
Published: 05/24/11 Topics: Comments: 0
Dad was a very quiet soft spoken guy who ran a truck dealership (kinda of like a car dealership). His customers loved him, his employees loved him, and no one ever quit. He grew up on a wind-swept ranch in North Dakota, went off to war and took care of his family every day thereafter.
Exactly fifty years ago, at the age of fifteen, a buddy and I helped him move to a new building and set up all of the shelving and equipment. He was so proud. That time frame seems impossible, except Dad departed this earth over 20 years ago.
After all those years, and on a whim, I recently stopped into the truck shop, and it was as if he had never left.
As I walked in, I must not have looked like the usual trucker because several parts men gave me the long look. One came out and said, "May I help you?"
I said, "Oh no, I was just looking around at the shop that I helped my Dad set up 50 years ago. And with that, he literally jumped up and down and said, "You must be Dick May's son. Hey everybody, Dick's son is here."
Although Dad retired from that store over 40 years ago, people came running and soon all work had stopped while the entire crew told me stories I had not heard. About his always positive attitude, his constant smile and his encyclopedic knowledge of everything truck. Some had never met me, but all knew the stories as if they knew him.
In return, I told them of how all those years ago when I was helping my Dad set up the store--worried about its future--that I had asked him, "Dad, how are you ever going to compete with Eckerts." Eckerts Truck Shop was the big dog competitor in town.
As usual, Dad just smiled slightly, looked around to make sure no one else could hear, kind of held his breath, looked both ways again, bent over slightly and then whispered,
"Well Billy boy, here is how it is. Here is how I see it."
"Number one, I am fairly sure I can out think them."
"But number two, I am 100% absolutely sure I can out work them."
The love of work, the love of work well done, was my Dad's secret weapon.
It was only a few years after he uttered those words (that I have now repeated hundreds of times,) that the Eckerts closed shop.
Dad's business became every trucker's favorite place to buy parts, get their rigs serviced or just stop in for coffee and see that smile, a smile that is still remembered 40 years later.
Author: Wm. May – Truck Lover, MayPartners
Blog #: 0522 – 05/24/11
Bill Gates' Favorite Burger Joint
By William May
Published: 12/01/10 Topics: Comments: 0
Over the decades there have been numerous stories here in the Northwest U.S. about how the favorite restaurant of Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft, was an old fashioned burger stand not far from Microsoft's campus.
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University District Burger Master
Learning From The past
Based on its altered construction, Burger Master looks like it was once a "Happy Day's" type car hop joint from an era well before my day. You remember Happy Days, the icon of 50's cliché, with Ritchie, Potsie, Ralph, Joanie and of course the Fonze.
I'm not sure if Burger Master had roller skating carhops long ago but maybe.
About 10 miles west of Bill's Burger Master there is another Burger Master just off the University of Washington Campus. Its been there so long, that the carhop motif was stripped away decades ago, leaving it with a big handy parking lot and a menu more like a diner than a burger joint.
I found myself driving past one morning recently and, having missed breakfast, rolled in to see what they serve at that hour of the day. I entered a time warp.
The menu behind the counter was to be expected. But when I chose the eggs dish I was sent back in time. The clerk said, "How would you like your eggs?" I was immediately suspicious of the question.
They don't ask you what kind of eggs you want at McDonalds, "Scrambled?" I guessed.
The clerk was a well dressed 55 year old man. The cooks were adults and there wasn't a teenager in sight. Nothing against kids, but the owner of Burger Master was paying these employees a real wage. Huh.
"And would you like Ham, Bacon or Sausage?"
Another trick question, you don't hear at McDonalds. "Link sausage," I said quickly in case he would remember that offering customers a choice wasn't normal.
"And to drink?" Ok here we are on normal ground. "Coffee, orange juice, tea?
"You have tea?" I mussed.
"Earl Gray, Darjeeling, English Breakfast, Chamomile... "
I cut him off, "Earl Gray please."
"Toast, Pancakes, Cinnamon Roll, or . . . "
I cut him off again, "Do you have biscuits".
"Two biscuits. How would you like your hash browns?"
"Crispy. No make it extra Crispy."
"Can do," he said. You won't hear from a teenage clerk at McDonalds. "That will be hash browns, link sausage, scrambled eggs, biscuits and tea."
Burger Master Breakfast
And Service Too
I must have been looking uncomfortable, because he said, "We'll bring it to you, sir." Now it was really getting weird. Sir he called me. The price was only a bit more than McDonald's. I'm suspicious. I'll bet they'll even want a tip too. And in a burger joint.
The dining room was very large and very clean with big windows. I grabbed the free newspaper ($1.00 at McDonald's) and crawled into a booth. Before I got through the first page, the food appeared. It was on a real plate, with real utensils. A big napkins and was delicious.
The hash browns? Crispy. The sausage? Jumbo sized and tasty. The biscuits - melt in your mouth. I read the whole paper. I didn't want to leave.
There is a lesson to be learned from Burger Master, for any business. Offer a better product. Provide a few extras, give good service and set a reasonable price.
Burger Master was packed at 10AM on a Wednesday morning. It was standing room only actually and probably has been for decades.
Author: William May, MayPartners Advertising
Blog #: 0167 – 12/01/10
Nothing Beats Chateau Chocolate Cake
By William May
Published: 10/01/10 Topics: Comments: 0
Years ago when I operated an advertising agency we sure thought we worked long and hard. Not to reveal my age, but I remember when we had to "spec" type, courier the details to a type setter and then wait days while it was set and returned to us. We then had to paste the galleys onto art board along with photos or other art to arrange the desired final ad.
All about Chateau Chocolate Cake
Marketing campaigns took months to prepare. To convince a client to accept a print advertisements required us to draw the ad roughly replicating what it might look like. Once approved we then had to produce it, or record the radio commercials or shoot the television spots and in film no less.
Media plans, the choosing and budget of conventional media, also took lots of time. Decision making was actually fairly smooth but just typing orders, processing payables and comparing results was a paper and pencil exercise.
So I have been one to whole heartedly embrace the personal computer and how it has made marketing, advertising and selling smoother and more controlled. We can produce a lot more with better product and hopefully better outcome.
Unfortunately, the digital age has also made it marketing incredibly complex as we go through a constant dance of Internet and conventional advertising in hopes of maximizing revenue. It is easy to get lost pursuing the latest, greatest marketing scheme.
For lodging we invest in directory ads, video spots and certain pay-per-click. Just like in older media, we try to get in front of the consumers eyes and promote a message that might, just might, get a slight bit of attention.
So it was last summer that I had the great fun of remembering that marketing is, if nothing else, based on common sense.
Packwood, White Pass Washington
Our firm took over a previously shuttered resort located in the shadow of Mount Rainier National Park in an exquisitely beautiful and pristine place. Situated on a minor East West highway over the Cascade Mountains, Chateau Timberline was a well maintained hotel property with half-timber construction and immense visual appeal.
Unfortunately, there was no build up of time to pre-plan and organize media. Our company Sunspot Resorts has created a highly unique software and management system that allows us to deploy full automated websites including photography, online booking system and universal content including local activities, merchants and restaurants. Guests can search by map, available dates and more than enough information to pick the appropriate lodging.
But even with automated deployment and heavy advertising, websites take time to mature. Search Engine's don't index the site immediately. If you want to use the Global Distribution System (GDS) that can take months. Consumers will eventually find a good property and will begin to migrate to it when it offers a better experience than competitors.
But we had none of the time we needed. So we relied on the good old proven methods of marketing. We went local.
We opened within 3 days, and then spent another 3 days visiting all merchants and even the competitors in Packwood, Washington to introduce ourselves and to ask their help. But we didn't just come cap in hand. We came with flyers and cupcakes.
The results were stunning. It would be wrong to presume that none of the people in town had ever had a cupcake. They smiled, they ate and they remembered us as the new guys with good manners (Or at least I hope.)
Mount Rainier is a popular area. Within hours, guests were being referred to the Chateau. Within 10 days we were sold out. Although we basked in quick success we had many people to thank. So early one morning I visited the biggest competitor in town who had referred many overflow guests to us and, at the last minute, I decided to take a fresh Chocolate Cake.
I figured they couldn't or wouldn't take a referral fee. But they were more than happy to eat cake.
And now we have become friends. We refer to them as well. We know the people behind the businesses and they know us, although we'll have to keep contributing to local groups to earn our keep.
Fancy complicated marketing makes it possible for small companies to compete. It allows for advertisers to pick and choose with care and to make the most of their budget. But let's not forget. No matter how great it is, nothing really beats a great chocolate cake.
Author: William May, MayPartners Advertising
Blog #: 0161 – 10/01/10
Mother Giant Radio Station Trounced Websites
By William May
Published: 05/01/10 Topics: Comments: 0
Prior to the lodging industry, I had a perfectly normal life in the media and advertising industry. I worked at radio stations and publications and owned an advertising agency. Then I started, invested and managed some publications and a radio station.
While news, information and entertainment are the product of media companies, it is advertising sales that fuel the organizations. My first big job was at the "Mother Giant" radio station KJR-AM in Seattle, Washington in 1973. Fresh out of college I got to work with my heroes who were as eccentric as human beings are allowed to be when not locked up in prison.
I had sold newspapers ads while in college but the Radio Experts taught me a lesson about selling advertising - 'Don't sell it if it won't create sales for the advertiser," said Mr. Shannon Sweatte my boss. "This business must be built upon return advertisers. If you fail for them once, you'll never get them back."
Of course, the advertisers we dealt with were big and smart. They were stingy with money, and spent it wisely. As I started my career, calling on these tough negotiators, I began to get sales fright. What if I sold ads that didn't work?
I wanted to know and one day, got up the guts to ask Mr. Pat O'Day, the station manager who was then and later became a legend in the radio station business. (That's him in the photo.)
"You can tell your advertisers, that money spent with us will always make their cash registers ring, " said Pat in response to my question.
"But what if they don't?" I asked.
"Then we'll just run some more ads for free until customers come streaming in." He answers. "Or we'll do promotions if we have to. Or we'll have the Disc Jockey's visit or do live on-air commercials. We'll just figure it out. Do what it takes."
Retailers Know the Score
Many of these clients represented retail store owners who were notorious for asking clients how they heard of their stores, why they came in that day, and on which radio stations the customers had heard their store's ads. Expecting these clients to buy ads without knowing whether they worked, would be like thinking a mama Grizzly would let you run off with her cubs. "Ain't gonna happen," I said to myself.
Pat O'day could have just taken the money and run and probably would have gotten away with it for a long time. However smart business people know better. Perhaps that is why, all these years later I am so amazed by some of the dominant Vacation Rental Directory websites.
In today's recession, does it strike you right that HomeAway announces their revenue is up Forty Percent last year? Anecdotal feedback from VRA members, tell us that inquiries are down and the cost per inquiry and cost per booking is up hugely. Is it right that FlipKey gives away free ads, then demands reviews and then ratchet up the cost?
Yet HomeAway benefits by pitting one advertiser against another, by taking an ever increasing number of listings, even if it cannibalizes the results they provide for current advertisers. Consumer advocates could easily claim that paid ads from media should know they can not justify their costs to clients and could be accused of "Unfair and deceptive" tactics.
Some Advertisers track and can justify their purchases. Others buy more ads and fall for the gimmicky ad ones of photos to push up rates because they are desperate for inquiries - any inquiries.
Where are the smart website publishers who understand their craft as well as conventional media do?
Dennis Miller, Past President of Publicist of the West, (The Ad Agency who wrote the nefarious Super Bowl Commercials - well after Dennis' Departure from Publicist) says, "Media buyers who place ads for big companies would eat a newspaper, radio or TV station alive for boasting of such an accomplishment when their clients were hurting." Dennis is on the Board of VRA. "Aren't these guys smart enough to understand that?"
Penny Taylor, Former Manager of Northwest Cable Advertising (A $50 million dollar joint venture of Viacom and TCI communications, and now vice president at VRA as well as Sunspot Resorts) agrees. "For a hundred years, smart media operators have justified their existence by the results they can produce for clients. Being new to media, these techies and venture capitalists are making up their ethics as they go along. Failing to put client's needs first is going to bite them in the behind."
Websites and other new media have been a boom to the travel and lodging business. Today, they command a dominant aspect of the industry by usurping owner and manager advertising with their own Search Engine Optimization and big pool of capital.
But will website publishers ever learn what conventional media outlets have learned over so many years, or will they figure it out over time? Will they prosper regardless of their ethics, or will advertisers stop being victims and start demanding results?
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William May is President of Sunspot Inns, Resorts & Vacation Rentals and volunteer Executive Director of the Vacation Rental Association (www.Vrai.org.). KJR radio is still on the air, but now as a sports station. KJR-FM now places oldies music. Its not much like the old KJR-AM Top 40 hit station, but make listeners happy just to see the call letters still in business.
Author: William May, MayPartners Advertising
Blog #: 0149 – 05/01/10
Become a Vacation Rental Angel
By William May
Published: 03/01/10 Topics: Comments: 0
Operating a vacation rental business can be fun and profitable but it is also an opportunity to do some good in the world. Now property owners and managers can do that by participating in a public program that offers unused vacation rental nights to charitable causes through the Vacation Rental Angels Website.
The program is administered by the Vacation Rental Association (Vrai.org) a not-for-profit trade association offering membership services to owners, managers, suppliers and website publishers.
"Every now and then we see a property or manager who is inaccurately portrayed in the media", says William May, President volunteer Executive Director of VRA, "And we thought it was high time that the public understands the millions of dollars that owners donate to good causes."
VRA offers inspections and verifications of properties to assure the traveling public of property quality. Members of VRA subscribe to a Code of Ethics and the vast majority of properties are well run, even luxurious. Guest complaints are almost non-existent for VRA members, who take their responsibilities seriously.
Participation in the Angel program is open to all VRA members and there is no cost or rigid rules for donations. Members who agree to offer at least one week per year free to charities may join the program and have their properties and their donations listed on the VacationRentalAngels.com website.
"Limiting how and when donations, or forcing owners to use the site for giving, would only serve to lessen donations," said May, "And that would defeat the entire idea. This program says give first and then get a little recognition later".
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Vrai.org operates the world's first Multiple-Listing-Service (MLS) for Vacation Rentals at www.VRMLA.org. VRA member can easily post their property to the VacationRentalAngels.com website along with subscribing to many other paid and free websites. Vacation Rental Owners and Managers, not already VRA members, can join the group and become Angels by visiting www.Vrai.org to join.
Author: William May – Volunteer, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0138 – 03/01/10
Doing What We Can To Help People
By William May
Published: 11/19/09 Topics: Comments: 0
For a number of years our company has donated vacation rental home use to a wonderful group called OutdoorsForAll.org (Formerly SkiForAll.org). Their mission is to enrich the quality of life for children and adults with disabilities through outdoor recreation.
OFA takes handicapped folks to destinations and into sports they could never imagine otherwise. Blind kids go skiing, the wheelchair bound go biking. The offer horseback riding, hiking, swimming, canoeing, rafting, water skiing and more.
The first time they stayed with us they brought a dozen kids to a ski area. It made us feel good to help, but we were disappointed when the housekeepers found that the beds had not been slept. A bit alarmed we placed a quick phone call to the organization apologizing because we didn't want them to think they could not use the beds.
We were greeted with boisterous laughter. "Oh you don't understand do you?" said the director. "These kids are mostly bed bound so staying in a big bed in a luxurious home is not an adventure." She explained. "But sleeping in a sleeping bag on the floor by a fireplace is a thrilling experience for them. They could hardly sleep." We smiled and felt better.
If you want to make yourself feel great today, click here to make a donation to the Ski For All Organization.
Besides wonderful groups like Outdoors For All, we sometimes have guests that require special assistance.
Recently one such guest complained that we could not provide her with a wheel chair condo during her stay - even though she failed to request one when booking. She complained her condo wasn't actually on the beach, even though it was as close or closer than every other accommodation in town.
Never the less, she went home and THREE MONTHS later demanded a full refund, complained to every agency and media (who bought her trumped up story without corroboration) and then demanded a full refund for the week long vacation she received.
Businesses are often maligned for being callous or uncaring. That is unfortunate because businesses are nothing more than people; people who care about every guest and work diligently to satisfy them.
Our staff and affiliates were crest-fallen when that guest complained. But should they be?
Their actions went beyond the call of duty. Instead of sulking about one person who seemed to be asking for far more than she ordered, they need to focus on the hundreds of thousands who appreciate their lodging, noticed how clean the linens are, appreciate the comfortable furniture, relax at the pools, use the fully furnished kitchens and offer those little compliments everyone needs in life.
We need to judge our own compassion by those who appreciate it, but keep working for those pesky people as well. You know we will.
P.S. A good thing came out of this incident. We sponsored and our not-for-profit trade association - the Vacation Rental Association (www.Vrai.org) formed a donation program where owners can announce their giving to charitable causes. See VacationRentalAngels.com.
P.S. Coming Soon. The VacationRentalAngels.com program sponsored by the Vacation Rental Association. Where owners can announce their donations to charitable causes.
Author: William May – Volunteer, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0128 – 11/19/09
Everything Robert Fulgham Learned in Kindergarten
By William May
Published: 11/01/09 Topics: Comments: 0
I stumbled onto an Internet posting the other day that told me it has been twenty years since Robert Fulgham wrote "Everything I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten."
That is stunning really because it does, as they say, seem like yesterday. Of course I've read some of his other books and now that I've visited his website (RobertFulgham.com). I see there are others I will have to savor. So should you.
After 22 years as a Unitarian Minister in the Pacific Northwest, Fulgham published that first book and has never looked back. His view of the world is pretty simple or so it seems. As the world accelerates and technology dominates, Fulgham would remind us of the basic, appropriate and mature.
Although his attitude might strike some as youngish or maybe even immature, the stories and ideas he illustrates so well are the basic foundation on which we as humans should strive.
So what would all of this have to do with the somewhat non-universal industry of vacation rentals? Well plenty as it seems. Or maybe I should say it has to do with every business, every career and certainly every calling.
The kindergarten book reminds us all to foster those concepts which are universal in every culture. Things like:
- Don't lie. Always tell the truth.
- Don't hit.
- Treat your parents well.
- Pick up after yourself.
- Say Please and Thank You.
To me it seems like Fulgham’s message might be summed up in the phrase "treat everyone well" or at least try.
I am not sure I have always accomplished that goal but I know I am always aware of it and have always tried. I also know that isn't easy when conflict exists in the world, as it inevitably does. Nor is it easy when others might try to bring you down to their level. An acquaintance who becomes distraught, a customer who is unreasonable or even governmental bureaucrats who steal more and more freedom from Americans.
It would be easy to despise such people but in the end, we have to remember to treat them well also. Even if that respect will not be reciprocated.
VACATION RENTALS & LODGING
So is there anything practical in this blog? Yes I assure you there is. Here are a set of rules for how we conduct our business in hopes that guests, owners and vendors will treat us likewise.
- Be Clear. In advertising, contracts, phone calls, emails.
- Be Fair. It can be difficult to understand unreasonable requests, but we gotta keep trying.
- Be Quick. Get back to people. Take care of problems as fast as possible.
- Be Happy. No job is easy and half the job is simply deciding to go about it with joy.You can buy Robert Fulgham's Book at Amazon.com.
Author: William May, MayPartners Advertising
Blog #: 0125 – 11/01/09
Seeing your Name in Print
By William May
Published: 10/01/09 Topics: Comments: 0
Sometimes it is nice to see your name in the media and sometimes it is not.
As the volunteer Director of the Vacation Rental Association (VRA) I receive calls from media all over the country. Speaking with most reporters reminds me of sitting ` Journalism class while pursuing my college degree in Communications from Washington State University all those years ago.
The Communications Department is now named after Edward R. Murrow the CBS television journalist made famous for his broadcasts from London during the Blitzkriegs of World War II. Murrow is idolized by virtually every professional well meaning journalism student for his strength in exposing the McCarthy era Communist witch hunts of the 1950's.
Murrow didn't go after destroying every small business person or government bureaucrat he could intimidate. In fact, I'm pretty sure he would be embarrassed by the state of some current news organizations who have nothing better to do than harass small businesses and well meaning companies.
Instead, Murrow focused on those very few evil and bad will people who seem intent to do harm to others. His ethics were sound unlike those of many reports in conventional media today.
FREEDOM OF THE PRESS
Benjamin Franklin was quoted as saying, 'Freedom of the press is reserved for those who own one." That powerful statement warns citizens about the power of the press. And it encourages them to resist over zealous journalism by fighting fire with fire.
Franklin's thought was the rule from the American Revolution until very recently. Today every person on the planet with a computer with an internet connection has the opportunity print their thoughts and stories on line.
While much of that information is flawed, biased and selfish, there is hope this new age of unlimited visibility may level the playing field between laymen and reporters.
For too long reporters with little proper training, no adherence to ethical principals, insufficient time to examine both sides of a story and, frankly, a dangerous casual disregard for the position of others have begun to pop up in main stream newspaper and broadcast organizations and not just in odd-ball print publications.
It is really too bad. Bad for everyone. For those who slander others. And for those who believe such lies without questioning the integrity of the writer.
But the internet is good because now those conventional media reporters themselves can become targets of probes from anyone with a computer, video camera and website. They find out what he feels to be parenthetically stripped searched and exposed to the world for any failing real or imagined.
It is good news to know that there still exists today a legion of journalists who hold true to the principals of Ed Murrow, Walter Cronkite and other greats. But sadly, the quest for ratings, notoriety and ever declining newspaper readership and broadcast audience has forced conventional media managers to hire folks simply not equipped to cautiously handle the immense public-opinion power they are given.
In 1861, Wilbur F. Story, Editor of the Chicago Times said, "It is a newspaper's duty to print the news, and raise hell." This quote, or something pretty darn close, has also been frequently attributed to Mark Twain.
In that regard we could consider unethical reporters a success. Unfortunately they have focused on the raising hell part because it’s a lot easier than digging for information, being factual and attempting to report accurately.
They seek out stories to bolster their resume and inflate their own egos. Unfortunately that is done by spewing innuendo, falsifying the facts and not even pretending to pursue a neutral reporting stance.
The difference between Mark Twain and so many current writers is that Twain knew the difference between when he was reporting the news and when he was writing fiction. (Pretty good darn fiction too, most folks say.) That is not true of the vast majority of folks, with little training or great thinking, who can blog away at all hours of the day and for page after page about every conceivable subject from the lurid to the boring.
Citizen journalists however can be forgiven because they haven't studied the craft nor been entrusted with the public airwaves or widely read print media. They are kind of like people with gun's who have only seen them on TV. What may seem glamorous in a scripted made-for-TV war movie is, as any soldier will tell you, a pretty great place to have a gun turn you into blood and guts and death. So these writers know little of the damage they can cause.
Educated journalists on the other hand know better.
A look at online bio's for reporters shows that most have some form of degree in journalism, broadcast or some similar line of study. Unless colleges have changed radically in recent years I know there are well-meaning, well-trained and ethical professors who care deeply about teaching students to research facts, evaluate testimony, and attempt to provide a seemingly unbiased version of the news.
These colleges turn out a great many skilled and well meaning reporters. Like any industry where participants willingly agree to pursue big money, big fame and fan worship (think of sports here) journalists can fall victim to the lure of the game.
You only have to travel from town to town watching sportscasts to admit that all home-town sports reporters are sporting the home-town at the expense of pretty much every other town. Perhaps with sports that should not be concern - after all no one gets killed in sports and even drug-taking athletes can get back in the good graces of fans if they repent.
PROCLAIMING THEIR BIAS:
Consumer advocate journalists are the next category of reporters to fall under the spell of self-aggrandizement. They openly admit they are here to "fight for consumers". No where in their diatribes do they promise to care if the consumer is correct or accurate. Never do they check out the reputation of the consumer.
Instead, they start with the bias the "consumer is always right." That is tantamount to saying that in a divorce, the "Husband is always right." Society has learned there are seldom absolutes like that and anyone with sufficient education or self-thought knows better.
A good reporter’s job is not to become the story. But to report it fairly. Those who take delight in chasing people down the street, jumping on employees, demanding meetings with people they have never met or and making life hell for other people so he can print a dishonest and disreputable story have sunk to the lowest level.
If a reporter has to big, ugly, ineloquent, rude and obnoxious to get a story, then he is making the story instead of finding one. There will always be consumers who fall for everything, but to fool them into believing a story because of such tactics should be objectionable to all involved.
Naturally creating a story is a lot easier than investing the time necessary to locate a story, determine if it is legitimate and gathering sufficient fact to determine if the story is true and worth of the reader or viewers time. But being lazy should not be a substitute for destroying the honor that Murrow and prior practitioners brought to the craft of news.
Oh and about our own self-aggrandizement here are a couple of stories you might like. Unlike those reporters who need a story before 5pm everyday, we didn't solicit the inclusions or intimidate anyone to get included.
Go to (WashingtonPost.com)WashingtonPost.com and search for "Andrea Sachs" Reporter and "Vacation Rental".
Author: William May, MayPartners Advertising
Blog #: 0126 – 10/01/09
Remembering the "Thank You" Game
By William May
Published: 09/01/09 Topics: Comments: 0
Surprises are great. And thank you's are best.
In an industry like property management that requires attention to detail, constant supervision and reconciliation of occasionally conflicting goals between guests and owners it is too easy to forget the little personal things that make life worth living.
Long ago I attended a parent-child basketball camp and had the great luck to meet a man who I now call hero. Having built the largest basketball camp for kids in the United States, Coach's success seems based more on his knowledge and approach to life than on his immense basketball training skills.
At one camp he suggested to everyone they could learn how to be thankful by using his now famous thank-you game. The rules are simple.
You can be in a meeting, watching television or whenever you find yourself in the car with your family, especially on those long boring drives. The games starts by one person mentioning something they are thankful for. Then next person does likewise and so one until everyone has spoken.
The first responses are what you might expect like, "I am thankful for what wonderful children I have." or "I am thankful for having a loving Dad."
These kinds of honesty is not easy for everyone. Some people seldom tell anyone how they feel about things. And complimenting another person directly to their face is a lost art unfortunately.
After each person has spoken you should sneak a peak around the room. Smirking smiles will be breaking out all over the place.
But the game is not over. Because this game goes on until you reach your destination, or everyone is out of ideas. In a car, thank you's may come tumbling out one after another but be separated by pauses and that too is acceptable. Be thankful that there is no hurry. Give everyone sufficient time to dig deeply into their thoughts.
My family once spent over two hours in a car as compliments went round and round. Eventually resulting in "Thankful that the car still has gas" and that "I am sure happy it didn't snow or we would be stuck somewhere."
Does this sound a little mundane? That's OK because the best thank you's come near the end when each person realizes they have so much to be thankful about. My young son once said, "I am thank you for this game because it makes me remember how much I have."
Today I am thankful that the recession wasn't worse that it was. I could say thanks for all the owners and guests who have hung with us as the industry continues rapid change. My thanks for the housekeepers, maintenance people and reservation crew knows no bounds. So many people have been understanding and compassionate and kind. I am very thankful that guest inquiries continue to rise and that our team is in tact and making constant headway.
Of course, not everyone has been pleasant. But maybe that's because no one taught them the thank you game.
So that means this year I have to be thankful because maybe I'll get the opportunity to introduce the game to more people and hope they'll enjoy the great benefits I have received from a kids basketball coach.
Give it a try before the end of the week.
Author: William May, MayPartners Advertising
Blog #: 0119 – 09/01/09
Ocean Shores and Westport are Beaches Like No Other
By William May
Published: 08/01/09 Topics: Comments: 0
A truth in advertising disclaimer is required first.
Although I haven't lived in the area in almost 40 years, I must admit that I did grew up in several towns on the Washington Coast. Up until 4th grade the town of Raymond was where my parents lived along with my two brothers and I. After that we moved to Aberdeen the "Big" town some 25 miles up the Coast and it was here that I became aware of a place called Ocean Shores.
Both Raymond and Aberdeen are located on major waterways in from the Pacific Ocean. Raymond on the pristine Willapa Bay and Aberdeen on the equally large Grays Harbor.
From Raymond the drive is an idyllic 25 miles to the villages of Tokeland, Grayland and the Westport Harbor. BeachyDay.com
Located on the ocean south of Grays Harbor and area designate the South Beach for easy categorization. Later in high school my buddies and I would drive the byways of the South Beaches looking for Seattle girls who we were told, were anxious to meet local boys.
Less developed than the North Beaches of the Ocean Shores area, these little towns boast a real sea side ambiance and miles of undisturbed beaches. In recent years Westport has become a surfing Mecca. Having grown up in the area and later come to love the warm climes of Hawaii I haven't seen any good reason to venture out in to 50 degree water but surfing has been a boom for the area
Ocean shores is another 25 miles due west of Aberdeen on a pleasant and easy road to drive. BytheseaBythesea.com
In grade school, living just east of Aberdeen my friends and I loved to go up to the highway on Friday afternoon to watch all the crazy tourists from Seattle flock to the beaches. It is through this single road that all travelers must venture to reach the Westport and Ocean Shores destinations.
This was before a four lane highway was built and traffic was stop and go, bumper to bumper all afternoon. The only bad part was even our parents couldn't drive the five miles into Aberdeen in less than about an hour. We were relegated to make the trip late other times, except Sunday of course when the problem repeated itself in reverse.
Ocean Shores, Oyhut, Moclips, Copalis and Pacific Beach compromise the North Beaches with each town differing from the next and all scattered with lodging, camping, restaurants and little shops.
So what was it that all those Seattleites loved about the North and South Beaches so much they would sit in traffic for hours to reach their destination? The answer to that has changed over the years.
Once known for its huge Salmon Charter industry, Westport has seen that business taper off due to over-fishing and governmental limitations. But adventurous visitors can still catch Salmon and Halibut. Or they can opt for whale watching trips now a mainstay of the economy.
On a recent afternoon, sitting on the deck of one of the prestigious new homes at Cohasset Beach in Westport (CohassetBeachCottages.com) I was started to see a majestic gray whale breach repeatedly only 50 yards off shore. I am used to seeing humpback whales in Hawaii but this bugger was bigger and much closer.
Later that day over at the Westport At the Sea Resort I was engaged in a lengthy conversation. As it started we noticed a huge rush of small birds flying just off the Coast headed south. It is hard to explain how many birds there were. Perhaps a thousand at a time rushed past our view of the ocean. Perhaps a thousand every 2-3 seconds.
As our conversation continued, the bird flow never stopped. When we left a half hour later it was still continuing. Deep in the heart of Grays Harbor, just north of Westport, is Bowerman Basin a stopping place for many species of birds on their migration from as far north as the Arctic to the warmer south.
Having grown up in the area I knew something of Bowerman Basin, and anyone who watched the nature channel knows that bird colonies can be enormous. But not until that meeting did I understand there could really be millions of birds passing through my child-hood neighborhood. Did we see a million that day? It is entirely possible.
The South Beaches have the usual beach visitor attractions like restaurants, go-carts and fudge shops. But the best reason to visit there is to enjoy the ocean. In summer it moderates the heat and in winter, throngs of visitors come to watch the storms and get closer to nature. And, I might add, away from the hordes of city dwellers.
The North Beaches are somewhat the same as the South with many visitor attractions but Ocean Shores, in particular is more developed. In the 1960's some ambitious developers bought the entire peninsula that runs south between the Pacific and Grays Harbor. To the existent beauty they added canals running north and South, lakes and a harbor. In the center of town they erected resort like hotels and a golf course. Check out (OceanShores.com)
Although not a golfer myself, I can tell you that my golfer friends love the place. Not too pretentious and apparently a lot of fun to play. A convention center was added in recent years and the city has plans for updating the golf course.
In the center of Ocean Shores is a kind of retail center where you can buy souvenirs and some fancy shops like Fling Cats Flyingcats.com) where you can enjoy a pleasant stroll among sophisticated goods. Plus you will find a wide variety of eats, activities and adventures.
But remember people come to Ocean Shores for the Beaches. Unlike most places in the world, visitors are allowed to drive their cars down the beach which is more firm than that fluffy white sand places you see in travel brochures. And the beach runs for miles north and south. Plenty of room for bon fires, kit-flying and lazing away the time.
On a recent trip to both Westport and Ocean Shores, allowing myself a little bit of time to look around and reflect on my youth I gained a better appreciation for the place. The air is different I think. Crisp and clean and altogether enjoyable. With more time I think I could sit on the deck and devour a lot of books without an ounce of guilt.
Author: William May – Manager, Sunspot Vacation Rentals
Blog #: 0115 – 08/01/09
Owners Who Kill The Messenger. And Managers who help them.
By William May
Published: 07/01/09 Topics: Comments: 0
The stinging effect on vacation rentals and vacation rental managers through out the US due to today's economy is having a effects that none of us can do anything about.
The loss of demand is bad enough but now some managers are receiving those proverbial calls from owners who want to kill the messenger instead of rewarding those operators who are busting their butts to make things happen. For top managers it is a time to capitalize on the opportunities but I do hope you are one of the ethical groups out there who refuses to do so with the old Peter-Paul scheme.
This newsletter is a wake-up call to managers to watch out for the scoundrels who will misuse current owners just to steal new ones. And to owners about how to do themselves a favor.
Lack of Demand
If fewer travelers in total are going on vacation then surely vacation rental revenue will also suffer. Traveler preference for vacation rentals may still be increasing as it has for a decade at least. It might even be increasing as guests look to cheaper ways to travel and realize what a bargain they get renting a home instead of a hotel room. More space, fewer restaurant bills and the opportunity to split the costs among more friends.
But recent drops in pre-booking demand and current month occupancy in virtually every geographic market must be out pacing any perceived growth in vacation rental preference. The numbers don't lie. From vacation rentals and rent-direct owners every member calling VRA has reported a drop.
Some see as little as 10 to 20%. Tourism in Hawaii is reporting an over all deficit of 30-40% and there are rumors in some Florida destinations of being hammered by 70% drop offs. Yikes that hurts.
So what should the industry and individual practitioners be doing right now, immediately to retain business or stay in business? The laundry list must include cutting costs of course but that is a double edge sword. All businesses should only spend what is needed to provide a good product. Being opulent is seldom a good tactic.
One seemingly smart move is really just the opposite. In every recession there are businesses that cut advertising because doing so is easy, immediate and visible. If past recessions are an indication (and why wouldn't they be?) dropping out of public view is the beginning of the end.
That is more true now because consumers use the internet to daily to determine if you are still in business. Some go directly to your busy website but most revert to finding you gain through search engine and website directories. If you aren't there, they don't find you in the first place and probably not on return.
In another newsletter we'll ask experts from everywhere there strategies on the cost cutting side of things. For now, however, let's focus on retaining or increasing revenue.
Get Your Game On
I must admit I quit playing basketball at the tender age of 50. I miss it, I do. From it I learned many things. First, if you aren't talented it still feels good to play. Second, the game is all about being ready to play and pouring it on.
If you play basketball in various gyms you also learn an important rule - known when not to enter the game. Unless you are Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant or some other superstar there may always be someone in the place who will enjoy kicking your posterior.
Today the economy is the opponent and we must all decide whether we stay in the game or throw in the towel. If you are a gamer, then the next decision is to decide how hard you are going to play.
Here are some things my rental management company has done to up our game. We're increased our reservation hours and are open seven days a week. Plus someone always has the mobile in their pocket for reservations. (We already have a 24-7 emergency operator for other matters). We have built faster, more efficient software. Think one-second quotes and fully signed, sealed and done reservations in 60 seconds or less.
We have asked our creative staff to reshoot photos of units that needed them. Non-reservation staff are in the call-queue to attempt to grab every phone call with a live person, no matter how busy the phones (Yes the phones still get busy but they get cold sometimes too.)
Our part-time media buyer is now full time. The ad budget has been doubled and with staff that triples our costs. We have crated a software driven automated ad placement system and helped started the industries first multiple listing service (MLS) for vacation rentals, mostly so we could use it.
We call every phone or email inquiry lead three times before setting them aside for fresher calls. The on-site staff are spending more time double checking properties, attending to issues and following up on details.
These are all good things we were doing anyway. We just decided to go into hyper mode.
John Wooden was the Coach of UCLA for a great many years. He won ten NCAA championships with his closest competitor no where near. I had the great opportunity have a long breakfast with him years ago, after hearing him speak for four straight hours to a group of kids.
In all his years of coaching, Coach Wooden ran a full-court press 75% of the time. For those of you not basketball fans, that means his players contested every pass from one end of the court to the other. This is terribly tiring and no player really wants to do it. But players, you see, like to win. And wining is what Coach Wooden taught.
There are great players and smart players and skilled players. But the player who wants to win the most usually does so. The one who will put in hours at practice, live and breathe the sport and always be one step ahead of the competitor.
This economy is every rental manager's chance to win a championship. If they have the stomach for it. And if they go at it hard enough.
Killing The Messenger
Our owners know this. We try to find time to keep them posted of the situation and try not to sugar coat the economy. Taking the time to report takes time away from serving them so it is a delicate balance.
It is satisfying to find so many who understand the plight and appreciate our extra energy and effort. But we can't expect that with everyone. Owners are like bosses. There are good ones, lazy ones and the kind - those who don't care about the details they only want results. Unfortunately the economy is going to make some want the impossible. And that is tough to deliver.
I guess the only thing that surprises me in this economic meltdown is when I see other managers taking devious steps to steal owners away from other managers. Almost always competition is good. We have had numerous owners come to us from other managers asking if we can do more.
It would be tempting to inflate the truth and make pie-in-the-sky projections. Having been in three professional service industries over the years I have been offered this easy out before. But easy outs seldom are.
So if you are a property owner and wondering if your manager is up to the task of meeting this catastrophe head on, how should you go about evaluating the work your manager does?
First, realize there are no magic elixirs. No manager has an unlimited number of guest inquiries that they can just casually throw your way. Whether they have 10, 100 or 1,000 homes they must market relentlessly to fill them and more so in this economy.
Another manger tells the store of losing a long time landlord for whom they had increased business about 10% every year including in 2008. The owner switched to a new manager who is open just 6 hours a day for reservations, has an ugly website and no on-line booking engine - but it does have an online calendar which is very revealing.
It has only been 3 months and the new manager has secured absolutely no bookings. Nada.
Beware of managers who rob Peter to pay Paul. One recent caller told the story of losing one of her condo owners to another manager and two weeks later signing back another condo in same complex who was leaving that other manager.
The reason? It seems some current bookings had mysteriously canceled at the same time that the first owner was getting bookings. Same complex. Same dates.
It is obvious and it is not ethical. The other manager moved guests from an old owner to a new one to get the new property. Luckily, in this case, the owner figured it out and jumped shipped. But I worry many owners are falling for the ploy.
Is The Grass Greener?
We have heard the click "The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence." We all know it is never true. But asking questions is particularly important now-a-days.
The surest way to determine if your current manager is well underway to protecting your rental interest is to become knowledgeable. Ask detailed questions and be a smart savvy boss. Evaluate the effort but not the results because right now no one can guarantee you anything. In fact, walk quickly away form any manager who tries to BS you with promises.
Instead, you should want to know these facts:
- Has your manager increased or decreased operating hours?
- Have they hired or laid off sales people?
- Are they working longer hours or letting dejection take its toll?
- Has advertising and marketing been increased decisively?
- Are they undertaking new websites, photos, panoramas and more?
- Do they invest heavily in the internet or are their websites second-class and antiquated?
Making subjective decisions takes time. It is emotionally satisfying to fire the messenger. But don't lose the investment you have already made in your current manager.
If they are innovating, cooperating and hustling you have a keeper. Musical chairs won't get you anywhere.
Author: William May, MayPartners Advertising
Blog #: 0117 – 07/01/09
Why You Can't Shoot Vacation Rentals with a Camera
By William May
Published: 01/15/09 Topics: Comments: 0
Well of course you can.
Today everyone has a camera or two or three. They've moved up from the decades old "Brownies" to Polaroids to click and shoot and now into the world of digital and now to sophisticated digital cameras with large formats (pixels) and self correcting shooting.
So how come when you look at vacation rental photos they are still kind of lousy. Yes they have gotten better over the years due to technology. Some rental managers and even real estate agents have even taken a class or two. Some actually have some talent but still the photos are over exposed, under exposed, out of focus, have washed out colors or are just plain boring.
The reason is no camera can shoot what you eye can behold.
The human eye is a miraculous device. Made up to three layers of issue its complexity is almost too much to understand. The tough Sclerotic coat creates the "white" of the eye except in the front where it forms the transparent cornea. The Choroid middle layer is deeply pigmented with melanin reducing reflection of stray light. It reduces the amount of light and improves its image forming ability. The retina is the inner layer and contains light receptors, the rods and cones that process the signals before passing them back to the brain.
And it does all of this in low light, bright light and everything in between. It thinks and changes and adapts. Something no camera can do. OH sure scientists can cause the image to appear on a medium such as film or transistors (hence digital cameras) which can then be transferred and printed onto another medium (some kind of paper). But that is all it can do.
No camera can interpret what it gets to determine if the color is correct, if all areas are in focus and if the camera is level to the ground (as an example).So giving a novice a camera and expecting them to make art will not produce another Mona Lisa.
Instead, when it comes to our little area of the world - vacation rental and lodging photos - an additional machine must be added before great photography can be created. And that machine is the human brain.
Surely that is required to locate, light and photograph architectural type photos. But then the same machine needs to use other tools to review, edit and fix photos. The goal is to produce vacation rental photos that reveal nothing more and nothing less than what your eye can see in a split second.
Ancil Adams was famous for shooting nature photos especially mountains and forests. But did you know that he spent far more hours in the dark room than in the field?
Shoot vacation rentals is the same. Using tripods, lighting, Photoshop, macros and rigid shooting rules today's top photographers spend more time correcting photos than they do shooting. That is especially true when completing photos for commercial purposes.
In future blogs we'll reveal why photos by the Signatours Image Team far surpass what you find in the usual travel, lodging, website and real estate web pages. You can get a preview at (signatours.com)signatours.com/. Or look at the photos of fantastic vacation homes on our sister company’s website (sunspotresorts.com)sunspotresorts.com/. Tune in next time for the secrets of great photography.
Author: William May, MayPartners Advertising
Blog #: 0097 – 01/15/09
Sometimes the Best Ideas are Obvious
Published: 01/10/09 Topics: Comments: 0
It was our very first vacation rental. A sumptuous 3,000 square foot vacation home located at Washington State's top destination - Wapato Point a private resort on 50 miles long Lake Chelan Washington. Because it sits on Native American land we dubbed it the Totem House and filled it with native American art. (totemhouse.info)totemhouse.info.Now this is a beautiful place. The cleanest water, 300 days of sunshine a year and a resort with pools and hot tubs, tennis and basketball courts, acres of green grass and thousands of feet of white sand beach. There are indoor pools too and an ice skating rink in winter. Close to huge outdoor activities. But best of all is the sense of getting away and being in a place created for recreation.
But we did not know what we were getting into. The year was 1999 and buying the house was a long term goal. The seller had accepted renters for certain weeks of that first summer that was fine for us. And at the end of the year we were delighted to find how much income we had received for no inconvenience at all.
In fact, The Totem House went so well we were able to buy a large condo on Poipu Beach Kauai. The Poipu Place (poipuplace.com)poipuplace.com was an extension of the dream for fun, adventure and relaxation all wrapped into one place. Then we bought a place in a ski resort and other vacation rental homes too, all made possible by the nice income.
With interests in other businesses, operating the rentals was no sweat. But then a neighbor approached one day to say, "Hey, how come your house is full all the time and mine is not." And that is how it started.
In time we started management vacation homes for other folks in a number of locations. Our marketing, sales and guest services were more in depth than others and the business began to grow.
Two years ago we decided it was time to offer what we had built and we have been designing and building an expandable business ever since. Our concept is simple - offer all the back office tools that make rentals successful and that most local managers don't or won't invest in. Things like staff photographer, dynamic database driven front-office and back-office systems. World class websites and multiple channels of marketing.
So far So good. In the next few years we'll be opening in more markets start with the Northwest US and Hawaii and British Columbia Canada. If your own deserves the best management possible all you have to do is call William May at 888-628-8989 x902. Or if you would like to join our growing cadre of offices call today.
Author: William, MayPartners Advertising
Blog #: 0096 – 01/10/09
Hello Blog. Goodbye Newsletters.- Lodging Newsletter January 10, 2009
By William May
Published: 01/10/09 Topics: Comments: 0
After years of writing newsletters I've succumbed to writing a blog. Not sure what the difference is - we've been posting newsletters online years ago- as well as emailing them and, in fact, snail mailing them years ago.
What better way to keep in touch with all those people I should keep in touch with. So that is my promise to tell you things you'll want to know about Sunspot Inns, Resorts and Vacation Rentals in specific and about Vacation Rentals and even Lodging in particular.
I'll announce our cool new rentals as they come in. And our new offices and network members as our company continues to grow. Like Poipu Beach and Princeville Kauai in Hawaii. Plus Lake Chelan, Crescent Bar, Sunbanks Resorts, Gig Harbor, Whidbey Island and the Bavarian Village of Leavenworth in Washington State.
I would be remiss if I didn't mentioned we are recruiting agents, professionals and property managers in multiple markets right now. If you want to own your own business, live in a desirable recreation market and grow in our dynamic industry, please give us a call. We are recruiting and training new network members particularly in the Northwest States and Hawaii too.,
And I suppose I should tip you off to the specials, discounts and promotions we offer. In fact right now we're having our annual pre-season sale. You can get two weeks for the price of two in many homes. A big discount in Hawaii. And right now always best pick of dates before the spring rush.
In fact, I guess I better be going. If I don't book my own place before you do I wont have first pick will I? Oh, and by the way, happy new years from all your friends at Sunspot Inns, Resorts and Vacations rentals. You can preview homes and book online at (sunspotresorts.com)sunspotresorts.com. Or give us a call at any time to book 888-628-8989.
Author: William May, MayPartners Advertising
Blog #: 0093 – 01/10/09
Barack Obama Endorses Vacation Rentals
By William May
Published: 11/24/08 Topics: Comments: 0
The next President of the United States has effectively endorsed the entire concept of Vacation Rentals by renting a private home in Kailua on the North Shore of Oahu, a Hawaiian Island. He is staying there for a week with his wife Michelle and two daughters.
He is staying at a secluded beach rental, obscured from the road by a long driveway and trees, about an hour’s drive from Honolulu. He plans to body surf, has already been on the golf course, visited a childhood favorite drive-in restaurant and visited his grandmother in her Oahu apartment building.
He said he might stop by Zippy’s, an Hawaiian chain restaurant known for its chili, or the Rainbow Drive-In for a Hawaiian "plate lunch," a mix of rice, macaroni salad and meat.
"I am going to go get some shave ice," he said. "I am going to go bodysurfing at an undisclosed location. I am going to see my Tutu, my grandma. And I am going to watch my girls play on the beach, and maybe once in awhile I will go in the water. But mostly I am going to sit there and watch them."
(In Hawaii the term Tutu is reserved for beloved grandmothers.)
In short Obama is doing what millions of Americans and others around the world have learned - staying in a private beach home is more comfortable, saves money and allows visitors to fit into the neighborhood rather than being relegated to tourist ghettos like the high-rise hotels and noisy diesel buses of Waikiki.
Republicans, still hoping to smear him as an elitist for frequenting such a high end vacation area, need to remember that Obama was born and raised in Honolulu. Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle who tows the party line should know better. In fact, Obama lived in Hawaii well before Lingle arrived on its shores.
Although he graduated from the prestigious Punahou School on Oahu in 1979 he did so on a financial need and academic scholarship afforded to those with great merit. At this point, it would be difficult to call the school's decision anything but prophetic.
The Maui news quoted local residents in the Windward Oahu beach community who have said they are excited to have Obama as their neighbor for a week and hope to catch a glimpse of him.
''Maybe we'll go back down to the beach and see if we could see him. That would be real cool - our future president down at our beach,'' said surfer Anthony Burris.
Like cranky xenophobes everywhere, these may be the same neighbors who yelp loudly at county officials saying only full-time residents should be allowed to stay in homes in areas such as Kailua.
But Obama's residency underscores that everyone, guests as well as residents, have a right to stay and enjoy the quiet lifestyle of a wonderful beach community.
Obama is just another American who endorses vacation rentals for what the comfort job and family atmosphere they offer. If vacation rentals are good for the next president of the United States they should be allowed for all visitors.
Author: William May, MayPartners Advertising
Blog #: 0085 – 11/24/08
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