Sterling Resorts Receives Award for Innovative Marketing

Last summer, in response to the BP Oil Spill and the lull in tourism, Sterling Resorts began a “Happy Hour” promotional campaign.  This campaign countered the increasing number of cancellations and led them to win the Flagler Award, which recognizes outstanding tourism marketing on behalf of the Florida Commission on Tourism.

About the Award

A competition for the Flagler award is held in conjunction with the Annual Florida Governor’s Conference on Tourism  This award is based on the pillars of creativity, innovation, vision, and commitment. The standout entry in the Flagler Awards is also awarded The Henry Award, which Sterling Resorts received.  They were awarded top scores by five judges in the Direct Marketing segment.  Sterling Resorts was competing against top competitors in areas like The Keys/Key West and St. Pete/Clearwater.  The awards are open to all individuals, private businesses and not-for-profit organizations offering a product or service that promotes tourism to or within the state of Florida.

The Happy Hour Sale

The campaign involved a weekly email sent on Friday afternoons to offer exclusive savings to regional subscribers with time-sensitive offers.  These offers were available at select Sterling properties located in Panama City Beach, 30-A, and Destin.  They also used weekly Gulf updates and offered a ‘100% Clean Beach’ guarantee.  The promotion was aimed at reassuring travelers and combating cancellations, similarly; it produced more then 2,600 inquiries and 300 reservations.  This campaign generated $212,000 in revenue and provided for many vacation relationships to be built.  The Happy Hour Sale was brought back this summer by popular demand.

About Sterling Resorts

Sterling Resorts is one of the leading vacation rental companies in the Southeast, a division of Encore Enterprises.  They have over 20 condominium resorts in Panama City Beach, Destin, and 30-A.  In Panama City Beach, they manage Laketown Wharf, Calypso Resort and Towers, Celadon Beach Resort, Emerald Beach Resort, Emerald Isle, Grand Panama, Ocean Villa, Majestic Beach Towers, Ocean Ritz Resort, Splash, Southwind, Reflections at Bay Point, Sterling Beach, Sterling Breeze, Sterling Reef, Sunrise Beach, Tropic Winds, Tidewater Beach Resort, and Twin Palms Resort.

Congratulations to Sterling Resorts and all of those involved in the Happy Hour Sale!

2011 Tourism Predictions – Resorts

This is the second article in a series that explores 2011 Tourism Predictions for Panama City Beach.

We’ve checked in with the airport, and now it’s time to turn our questioning minds to the resorts.

In an effort to snag an idea of early predictions for the 2011 season, we touched base for a little Q & A session, with Paul Wohlford, Vice President of Sales & Marketing for the Resort Collection of Panama City Beach.

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A Special Thanks to our Sponsors

Focused on Panama City Beach, PCBDaily has a broad scope of coverage including the current real estate market, the tourism industry, special events and festivals, construction updates on new projects, photographs of the area, videos of the area and much, much more.

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To our current Sponsors, Advertisers and Affiliates, we wanted to offer our thanks in a special shout-out section, for working with us and keeping PCBDaily able to continue bringing you news, interests and social media updates from Panama City Beach.

Check after the break for a list of our sponsors.

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Customer Service in the Service Industry Stinks!

We all need them. Plumbers, painters, carpenters and housecleaners. A home needs constant attention and most homeowners don’t have the time or skills necessary to complete every project. So we hire someone else to do it for us.

The biggest complaint that people have with these types of businesses concerns customer service. They don’t return phone calls. They’re late for appointments. They don’t correct mistakes. And some of them decide to not even show up at all. How can an industry that is entirely dependent on customer satisfaction be so bad at it?

Because there’s a lot of great carpenters out there – but not a lot of great managers. A domestic service business is born everyday. John loves to fix things. He’s so good at it that his neighbor hires him to do some side work. He repairs his dishwasher, unclogs his sink, and even paints his office. John’s neighbor is thrilled with the work. He’s so thrilled that he tells everyone at work. Of course, everyone at work has had terrible experiences with previous handymen – so they all call John for help. He agrees and the tree starts growing pretty quickly. This is where it happens.

John can’t keep up with the work. But the money’s good and he doesn’t want to turn it down. So he hires a friend and starts delegating responsibilities. The friend does a decent job but the work keeps pouring in. Finally, John has so much responsibility that he can no
longer spend a day in the field working. Instead, he spends his day estimating jobs, purchasing supplies, coordinating work schedules, answering phone calls, paying bills, hiring employees, resolving problems, and supervising everything. He’s now become a full-fledged manager.

Is John ready to become a manager? Does he have the skills necessary to create customer satisfaction? Maybe, but only time will tell.

This happens everyday. People are fed up with their current service provider and they want something better. It’s a crazy cycle. These great tradesmen have to become great managers overnight. The vast majority can’t handle the responsibilities and that’s why most people complain about their domestic service provider.

So what steps can you take in order to avoid this problem?

  1. Don’t trust your neighbor. That sounds silly, right? You’ve relied on your neighbor for restaurant recommendations, fishing holes and driving directions in the past. But finding a good fishing hole is a lot easier than finding a good maid service.
  2. Hire a landscaper like you’re hiring an attorney. Just because he weeds your flower bed doesn’t mean he can’t be a professional. Expect professionalism and great customer service. And nothing less.
  3. Only hire a domestic service provider that answers your phone call. Answering your phone call may sound trivial – but it’s a symbol of bad things to come if your call goes unanswered. How many times does your doctor’s office phone go straight to voicemail? And if he’s hard to reach when you’re trying to give him your money – just imagine how hard he’ll be to reach once he actually gets your money.
  4. Ask this one question: How can you guarantee me that you will meet my expectations? It’s a simple question for a professional domestic service company. But it’s a very difficult question for an unorganized or poorly managed company. Ask this question and you’ll be amazed at the answers. Most will just promise to be better. Many will promise to perform all the work themselves. And some will not have a clue. Try it. It’s worth a good laugh if nothing else.
  5. Never hire a domestic service provider that is a single person operation. What happens when she gets sick? What happens if she gets too close to your family? What happens if she starts making a bunch of mistakes? What happens if she moves out of town unexpectedly? You wouldn’t hire a dentist if he worked out of his back bedroom. So why is it ok to hire a plumber that works from his truck?

Of course, there’s plenty of other simple things to look for when hiring your next domestic service provider. He needs to be licensed, bonded and insured. He needs to provide workers’ compensation for his employees. He needs to provide you with past customer references.

And his company must be in good standing with the Better Business Bureau. There’s a new pool cleaning or house cleaning company opening up right now. Be careful. Finding that bad apple isn’t quite as difficult as you might think.

About Ron Holt.
Holt operates Two Maids & A Mop, a residential cleaning company serving the entire gulf coast from Panama City to Pensacola. Two Maids & A Mop cleans more than 250 homes per week and employs more than 50 professional cleaners. Two Maids & A Mop is the only maid service in the country that employs a pay for performance compensation program. Basically, their employees get paid based on a customers’ satisfaction level. The happier the customers are; the more the employees are able to earn with the company. And it’s for this reason they call themselves, “The Most Customer Friendly Housecleaning Company In The World!”

Contact: Ron Holt
Two Maids & A Mop
(850) 769-6646

How to rent your vacation home…without losing your mind

As vacation rental property owners, we have gradually learned the importance of mixing exceptional hospitality with a good measure of common sense. It is generally the goal of any vacation rental owner to provide their guests with comfort, affordability and a place of respite. Isn’t that what we all need from time to time? My aim in this article is to provide new or struggling property owners with suggestions on what floats the boats of potential guests.

When my husband and I first entered into this business, we were what you’d call rental property virgins. Oh yeah, we’d rented vacation homes or condos from the Bahamas to Maui, but we had nothing to prepare us for this new journey. Our curriculum was hours of Internet research and “Googling”.

Our quest began with a visit to Panama City Beach, where we stayed at some relatives’ home, about three blocks from the beach. For months before our trip to Florida, I began to contact several real estate agents. Not an easy task when you’re doing it from your home in the Midwest. But we muddled through. This California native was beach-starved and I wasn’t going to let 800+ miles stand in my way of the beach dream. Then we narrowed our real estate agent list down to one we enjoyed working with. We also printed out listings and photos, and trimmed down our shopping list of homes.

Location, location, location! Although we desired an actual single family dwelling on the beach, our budget limited our search to beachfront condos. So letting our agents know our price range, this helped narrow our search considerably. To make a long story short, hours of condo shopping resulted in finding our dream condo. We now owned a ground floor, beachfront condo on the quiet west end of Panama City Beach. I prefer a view closer to the ground as I’m agoraphobic (fear of heights) and I hate using an elevator. I have no aversion to using stairs, but I already use them at home. So I figured why not provide my older guests and those with young children with nosebleed-free accommodations. Nothing beats stepping right onto the sand from your patio. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. We returned a month later to close on our property, refurnished, and enjoy our first week as condo owners. That was the easy part!

We always knew we’d eventually run the business without the help of an agency, but we needed some guidance to get our feet wet (no pun intended). For the first couple of months, we used a rental agency while we figured out what we were doing. We knew we’d need to secure reliable housekeepers, obtain vacation rental web sites to list our property, and work our property into a successful business. Well, at least try to get it to pay its own bills. When we were ready, we learned that it was actually easier, for us. I won’t claim it’s easier for everyone. But since we only own one condo, it was a no-brainer.

I cannot stress enough how important record keeping is in this business. You must record every transaction relating to your business. Every loss, gain and receipt must be meticulously recorded…right down to the housekeeper fees, bed tax collected, and heaven forbid, stolen towels! By the way, we’ve only had spices removed! So find yourself a good spreadsheet template. Also, keep good records of your correspondence and emails with your guests, inquiries, housekeeping and maintenance staff. You are more likely to enjoy repeat guests if clear and friendly conversations exist between you.

I have made it a habit to contact my inquirers immediately (within that day). They are usually impressed that I took the time to get back to them. Some never get back to me even after I take the time to call or email them. But I figure, hey, it’s their loss! By the way, every email I receive from potential guests, whether they rent or not, get filed. I try to reconnect with them for the following season, or when I run specials. Never underestimate what an invitation to bookmark your listing site for future rentals can do for your business. Repeat guests can eventually become your bread and butter. This year we’ve enjoyed about 90 percent occupancy. There are other factors to contribute to this phenomenon.

Provide your guests with all the creature comforts. Upgrade your cable programming to HD and furnish the nicest high def television you can afford. Prices have really dropped as resolution and contrast ratio have risen. For the living room, a 40” to 52” LCD does nicely. However, be sure to put locks on pay-per-view. Also, it would behoove you to have a smaller HD LCD in the bedroom, instead of a bulky tube TV. The LCDs run cooler and do not attract as much dust. Also, provide DVD players in the living room as well as the master bedroom. If you have extra DVDs lying around, stock a few for your guests. Provide movies for younger guests. Mark them clearly and keep an inventory.

For the basic price of combining local phone service with DSL, the rewards are obvious. I’ve rarely had guests that didn’t need it or use it. Many ask for it and prospects just may choose your rental over another that doesn’t provide Internet service.

I cannot stress enough how important a good housekeeper is. Find one that has a spotless reputation, great references, flexible, has great attention to detail. Your housekeeper deserves to have good communication with you, for schedules, expectations, prompt payment and a good working relationship. She/he can make or break your business. Keep them happy and everyone wins.

Keep your rental like you would your home. Not only will it feel more like home for your guests, they will tend to respect it more. Provide plenty of linens and first-day amenities such as little soaps, TP, tea, spices, etc., will remind them they are not in a mere hotel. Little touches like bedtime mints, champagne for newlyweds, even a couple of loads of dishwasher soap will make them yearn to return.

A comfortable bed that they don’t want to get out of is sure to bring your guests back. Don’t scrimp on comfort here. A sturdy mattress will last years longer than one from a discount store. Do provide moisture-proof anti-microbial pillow and mattress covers. Let your guests know this, as it will ensure them that you have their health and comfort at the top of your list.

Keep your appliances updated and good working order. If you buy new, get extended warranties. I guarantee it will be worth it, and it’s tax deductible. Provide your guests with tips and information on how to use them. High efficiency front loading washers use only HE (low sudsing) detergent. Remind them to keep the lint traps clean on your dryer. Provide coffee filters! They are cheap, and even if you don’t provide coffee (which can go stale anyway), your guests will appreciate not having to buy filters.

It’s nice to keep a broom and dustpans, bagless vacuum and some cleaning supplies available for your guests to use. Some may never use them; after all, they are on vacation! But then you may have guests like myself, A-types that can stand to see dust or sand on the floor. My housekeepers are always delighted to walk into a recently vacated unit that was sparkling clean. It can happen!

When the deal is closed and your guests have only weeks until they arrive, be sure to send them receipts for payment, email to print out of what you expect of them, how to check in and out, how to get keys, times, phone numbers and anything else that will make their arrival and departure as smooth as silk. Encourage your guests to sign a guestbook. Others will enjoy reading pages of kudos and you can write their entries into the much-forgotten online guestbook!

Every January, I create a letter to email all my contacts, whether they actually stayed or just inquired. Then I write them and invite them to check our web sites to start planning their next vacation. I remind them to book early, especially for peak times like March through the end of September. Guests that you expect to return will appreciate the reminder. If you prefer not to rent to college age guests, and we strictly avoid this, do be cordial and diplomatic when emailing them back. Firmly remind them of your policy but don’t burn the bridge. Let them know to share your link with their parents, should they be shopping around for great accommodations. A little diplomacy may lead to a booking you didn’t expect.

Lastly, I’d encourage rental owners to remember what it is like to be on the other side of the door. Treat your guests as you would like to be treated. Do for them what you can afford, try to break even, and try to enjoy your vacation home yourself when you can. We’ve developed some great relationships with our renters. The dividends will be great new friendships and happy memories for all. Have fun with it and many happy returns!