Month: November 2020

Spirit of VR Roadshow: Last Stop, The Florida Panhandle

As a record-breaking named storm named Eta hoovered in the Gulf of Mexico near South Florida, the Spirit of VR Roadshow, a first-of-its-kind industry event, gathered in Panama City Beach. This would be the final area for the event, which had started in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Not only had the hurricane season been unusually active, but COVID-19 cases were increasing and a major election had not gone the way most residents in the panhandle had hoped. Despite all these tensions, property managers were still willing to come out and meet, to talk about what challenges their guests were facing (and causing).

The Spirit of VR Roadshow

Spirit of VR Roadshow Sponsors (TruPlace, Xplorie, Silicon Travel, Beyond Pricing, RealTech, and Brivo)

On Nov. 9, 2020, the Xplorie-driven van pulled into the waterfront venue of Papa Joe’s Bayside, which is now an outdoor event space that held nearly 500 people over the summer. With beach chairs, fire pits, food trucks and even a football goal post, the space felt tropical and relaxing. And relaxation was one thing vacation rental managers in this area were ready for. As of the event, most of them were still at 50% occupancy, and it wasn’t due the recent influx of IronMan participants. “That’s just how things have been going,” said one manager who has about 148 rentals. “We have not slowed down since Labor Day like usual.”

Like Usual?

Nothing about 2020 will be referenced as “like usual.” The Sheraton in PCB was at 70% occupancy the first week of November, which has never happened in its 34-year history. One waitress at Sharky’s beachfront bar and grill, which boasts a large outdoor seating area where you can step on the sand from your table, ended the summer with more than $20,000 in tips.

Another rental manager said she had to go knock on doors of the FEMA trailers, which are still occupied with victims of Hurricane Michael, looking for cleaning crew help because she couldn’t turn over the units fast enough for new guests. Several crews working in the industry to clean vacation rentals had tripled their prices over the summer as well. Some property managers still recovering from Hurricane Sally received visits from event sponsor, Silicon, which helped them repair or replace damaged routers.

No Longer a Secret

What was once known as Florida’s best kept secret, the turquoise waters and white sand beaches off 30A became (and stayed) a respite for those who had been pent up for too long. Boasting a healthy mix of single family homes, townhomes and condos, the rentals near Miramar saw record-breaking numbers right up until Halloween. With no mask mandates and 100% capacity at restaurants, this location was just what drive-to guests were looking for.

The Grand Sandestin, a sprawling 2,400-acre resort town, where the last stop on the roadshow gathered to meet, welcomed several managers to enjoy Hammerheads Creole cooking, cold brews and a demonstration of Xplorie’s new Alexa-powered guest experience. The voice-powered program allows guests to ask Alexa for everything from the WiFi password to recommendations for local restaurants and entertainment. Event sponsor Brivo, formerly known as Parakeet, was also on hand to share ways their locking system can help in contactless ways.

New Normal

TruPlace's Rebecca Lombardo and Greg Manson at the Spirit of VR Roadshow

TruPlace’s Rebecca Lombardo and Greg Manson at the Spirit of VR Roadshow

Standing outside that evening of the last stop in Destin, FL, one would hardly know there was a global pandemic occurring. People were calm walking around the outdoor shops and restaurants, enjoying the sunset from their balconies, and pushing strollers through the wide Baytown Wharf walkways.

Hearing from the vacation rental property managers in this area, it’s easy to understand how 2020 impacted each area very differently. These folks were thankful for how they had come through it, so far. And for those of us meeting with them face to face, we were grateful they were able to come out and chat for a few hours.

After all, hearing from Seashore Vacations that the manager, who also runs the front desk, has a layaway program and tells prospective guests he’s got properties for every budget: Chevy, GMC, and Cadillac, is just something that doesn’t translate well over Zoom.

Spirit of VR Roadshow: Myrtle Beach, SC

There’s good news and bad news coming out of Myrtle Beach, SC heading into the fourth quarter of 2020. The bad news is that bookings since April never reached pre-pandemic levels. Even now, with many markets seeing an extended shoulder season, the streets are mostly empty along the Grand Strand. A few travelers taking a long weekend can be seen coming in and out of high rises along the coastline – a couple of which came all the way from Europe. For the most part, this market lost revenue when closures hit in March and never recovered it in the months following.

Why Low Bookings?

Myrtle Beach, SC is primarily a drive-to vacation rental market, which should have worked in its favor, as people stayed off airplanes for the majority of 2020. A couple of factors worked against this though.

  1. Myrtle Beach was a “hot spot” for spikes in COVID-19 cases in June and July. The vacationers trying to stay safe while still getting away, preferred destinations with plenty of accommodations for families, even extended families. The preference being single family homes, hopefully not too close each other. Myrtle Beach has even spread of condos, townhomes and single family homes, so not as many options for the 2020 preferences.
  2. Golf courses limited access deterred groups. It was like a one-two punch for this popular four-season market. Even though the golf courses where allowed to open, a major draw for this area, they could only do socially distant parties per government regulations.
  3. Most of the counties folks drive from to reach Myrtle Beach remained open for business – meaning restaurants and venues were hosting guests locally. This was not the case in drive-to locations for Outer Banks, NC. Those drive-from markets were in a take-out only or very limited capacity mode for many weeks.
  4. “Zoom-school,” as it is fondly referred to by parents, allowed drive-from visitors to stay in the Outer Banks while still working and doing online classes. Schools in drive-from markets for Myrtle Beach went back to school at the end of summer either totally in-person or split between in-person and online – an option Outer Banks visitors did not have.

While Myrtle Beach is considered a four-season market, it is not seeing the visitor traffic to its vacation rental websites, nor the advanced bookings it had last year. What property managers say they have their eyes on next is the upcoming election, as they expect the economy to move one way or the other based on its outcome.

Vacation rental companies here are toying with some lower than average rates for spring to entice visitors to return if conditions are conducive to do so. Brainstorming ideas in a vacuum is hard though and most of the contacts we spoke with had not been in contact with many of their peers.

Next top on the VR Roadshow is Panama City Beach, FL. Follow our journey on Facebook, or reach out to any participating sponsor for more information.

Special thanks to our sponsors Xplorie, Beyond Pricing, Brivo, RealTech, and Silicon Travel.