Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Super Bowl bound -- HomeAway online rental network to buy ad spot

The competition for second-home and vacation home rental listing must be getting ferocious. One of the largest web conglomerates, HomeAway.com, announced today it's going to kick off its most extensive national advertising campaign yet with a spot on the Super Bowl 2010 telecast Feb. 7th.

HomeAway (that's its logo, above) has consolidated a number of popular vacation home rental sites under its wing -- including VRBO (Vacation Rentals by Owner) and VacationRentals.com -- to become, according to its own literature, "the worldwide leader of online vacation rentals, representing more than 425,000 vacation rental home listings across more than 120 countries."

No matter what other TV spots it might buy, this surely will be its most expensive entry ever into national markets. In recent years, a 30-second spot on the Super Bowl has cost in the neighborhood of $2.5-million to $3-million. One Website that has made a Super Bowl appearance for the past five years is the domain name host and Internet registrar GoDaddy.com.

For mom-and-pop outfits that buy into the HomeAway.com network in hopes of getting better visibility for their services, the Super Bowl spot may or may not translate into more, or more easily convertible, clicks by consumers. However, the HomeAway announcement sure raises the stakes for all Web-based vacation home market sites.

Less than a year ago, HomeAway made a splash with the announcement of an infusion of $250 million in private financing. The Austin-based outfit says that private home and condo rentals is the travel industry's fastest-growing segment.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

FlipKey rates vacation homes as TripAdvisor does hotels - almost

Many vacationers rely on TripAdvisor for reviews of hotels written by authentic travelers just like themselves. Now, as more tourists choose vacation homes as their accommodations rather than hotels, FlipKey, a TripAdvisor-owned service, welcomes the same type of peer reviews of thousands of properties.

"We have over 100,000 authentic guest reviews on our site," a spokesman for FlipKey wrote me in an email, but he added that "coverage can vary quite a bit depending on the area."

What makes TripAdvisor so valuable is, in part, its sheer quantity of hotels and reviews. It has 450,000 hotels from around the world in its listings, according to its press material, with millions upon millions of reviews. (TripAdvisor also lists and ranks restaurants and attractions. It is owned, as is FlipKey, by Expedia.)

FlipKey is not there yet. Many properties listed have just one or two reviews. It will take a while before scores of guests judge and post reviews for a single vacation home or condo. Nevertheless, it's making progress toward a critical mass. Some properties in such locations as Disney World and Gulf Shores, Alabama (where the condo pictured above is) have up to 19, when I checked today.

To make properties trustworthy, FlipKey offers a verification program for professional property managers. To make reviews trustworthy, it only allows verified previous customers to post reviews through an email invitation system. However, owners or managers pay for a property listing itself. Properties in a given area -- Disney World, Lake Tahoe etc.-- are not shown ranked by popularity as hotels are in TripAdvisor. And a huge number of reviews I looked at were super-positive (5 stars.)

Still, feature-rich FlipKey provides details of rooms, baths and amenities in each property plus photos, prices, location, availability It indicates whether homes are managed by the homeowner or by a management company.

Given time, FlipKey could develop into a must-check website for discriminating travelers, just as TripAdvisor is.

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Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Ski Helmets Mandatory for Kids at Vail, Aspen, Tremblant, Whistler

Thinking about winter travel? For those who own or rent vacation homes in ski areas, it's time to think about ski helmets.

Aspen requires children and teens who take ski or snowboard lessons on any of its mountains -- Aspen, Highlands, Buttermilk and Snowmass -- to wear helmets.

For winter 2009-10, Vail Resorts, too, has made helmets mandatory for children and teens who take group lessons. (Vail Resorts operates Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone in Colorado and Heavenly in California.) In announcing the helmet rule, Vail also said its employees would be required to wear helmets while on the job.

In Canada, Mt. Tremblant and other resorts owned by Intrawest joined the kids with lids bandwagon Oct. 1. The company announced that children and teens who take lessons at any of their mountains must wear helmets, as must its instructors in those programs.

Tremblant, of course, is the Quebec resort where actress Natasha Richardson fell while taking a lesson without a helmet last spring and later died.

The Intrawest rules applies to all its properties including Winter Park, Copper Mountain, and Steamboat Ski & Resort in Colorado; Stratton in Vermont; Snowshoe Mountain in West Virginia; Mountain Creek in New Jersey; Panorama Mountain near Invermere, British Columbia; and Whistler Blackcomb, which will host alpine events for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.

Photo courtesy Aspen/Snowmass

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