When we set out to build a unique, contemporary villa on the best locale on all of St John we intended to leave no stone unturned in terms of delivering an exceptional experience for Gaia’s Pearl’s guests. Now with our first quarter under our belts, it is time for a moment of reflection; how have we done and what have we learned? We’ll touch on a few of our most memorable moments; VRBO is a challenge from an owner’s perspective; it feels really good as a host to exceed customers’ expectations; and not everything will always go right.
VRBO versus Booking Direct
In a word, VRBO is a challenge. We thought of using the word greedy, but . . .. Well, I guess we just used it. They have forgotten what VRBO stands for, Villa Rental By Owner. Owner satisfaction is the farthest thing from their mind. Beyond that, the renters are a distant second to what’s good for VRBO. Twice this quarter the VRBO programmers did something that unlinked our calendars. The first instance led to a double booking (months out, thank goodness) that caused us a good deal of stress and time on the phone with our guests. The second instance, just this week, led to a phone call from a potential guest asking about availability. Without her phone call, we may have never noticed the lack of syncing calendars. Each instance took some time to fix.
Oh, and let’s not forget the increased costs to travelers and owners. In the five bookings received from VRBO (about 20% of our reservations) VRBO has made a total of $8,805. (Well, that must have gone to help pay for their $14 million dollar 1-minute ad just before Super Bowl kickoff.) Of the nearly $9,000 made by VRBO from our bookings, travelers have paid about an extra $4,000, or an average of $800 more per reservation. The savings from booking directly could help guests pay for a boating excursion, meals etc. We encourage our guests to book directly through St John Villa Rentals. There are no booking charges, it is exclusively St John villas and It is run by an entrepreneur that loves the island, not a behemoth corporation that has lost sight of its origins.
When our hard work is rewarded with glowing reviews, it gives us a real sense of pride. (Yes, we know five-star ratings help with bookings, but we do so appreciate the recognition of our hard work.) We scrambled to be ready for our first guest the week of Thanksgiving. As Ben H’s boat taxi was pulling up to the National Park Dock, our cleaners were backing out of our driveway. Talk about being anxious!
Gaia’s Pearl is 99% complete and 100% functional. Our first several bookings have been wonderfully understanding. While we have had a few hiccups that needed attention, our property manager, Shimer Solutions, has been incredibly responsive and things have gone surprisingly smooth. It does our heart good to hear things like, “This house is equipped with everything… everything you need for an excellent vacation is there. They built it with vacationers in mind.” And, “We truly loved Gaia’s Pearl and would rent it again . . .” It does indeed warm our hearts as well when we hear, “Gaia’s Pearl will always hold a special place in our hearts . . .”
Things are going to come up
Between three different inbound booking channels, being new to the industry, and being 1,500 miles away, things got a little dicey the first months in business. To quote a bookmark, “It’s not having everything go right; it is facing whatever goes wrong.” While our guests have all been extremely satisfied, it has not been without incident. (Nothing serious, mind you.) As an example, our solar was not 100% installed at the time we opened. We designed it with a battery backup so Gaia’s Pearl would not lose electricity when the power went out. Notice we said “when”; we know that power outages occur on St John. As luck would have it, there was an outage when guests were staying at Gaia’s Pearl. Again, they were incredibly understanding, and we have since installed our batteries. Gaia’s Pearl (as most houses on the island) runs on “gray water”; cisterns are filled by rain water, filtered and then dispersed through the many faucets and showers throughout the house. The island had not received much rain for weeks Therefore, our cisterns ran low and there was no water for a party’s first morning. We are so very fortunate to have some wonderful service providers on the island and within an hour water was delivered (on a Sunday, mind you) and everyone was happy.
Operational processes continue to be refined to streamline our workflow, increase response times and assure guests are 100% satisfied from the time they first get in touch with Gaia’s Pearl, to the time they depart. We have instituted a form to capture guest information, updated a user-friendly calendar, and have updated our website with these features. We believe that these changes will make communication with Gaia’s Pearl seamless.
We welcome your suggestions as to how we can continue to improve, for ‘Good is indeed the Enemy of Best.’ Our goal is for Gaia’s Pearl to “be the home [you] choose to stay in once again!”