Starting an AVROA chapter in your community is a great idea but once you decide to start your Chapter many questions will start to surface. This guide is designed to give you an understanding of how the AVROA Chapter program works so you can move forward with confidence and answer the common questions members of your chapter will have.

 

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How the Chapter Website system works

The way we create Chapters is simple. When someone joins AVROA as a paid member and lists a property, all that data is added to the Association’s property database. When you tell us which properties you want in your Chapter, we “tag” those properties, letting us know they should be grouped together.

The listings in your Chapter will still appear on AVROA’s main listing website but now they will also display on your Chapter website. You instantly increase your exposure on the Internet.

Every Chapter has an “administrator”. This person has access to the Chapter’s design and content menus so they can keep your website up to date. We will be talking about what an “administrator” can do a little later. For right now, two important thing to know are:

  1. Administrators cannot add/delete properties from a Chapter website. You must contact us to do that.
  2. Only the owner/manager of a listing can modify that listing.

Common questions

Why start a Chapter?

Chapters offer many benefits:

  1. Your Chapter website belongs to you and over time it will become an effective tool in reducing your dependency on large property listing services.
  2. Chapters are a very low-cost form of advertising. As large Internet listing services continue to raise their fees, your Chapter will have an increased pricing advantage. You will be able to save your guests as much as 10-15% in booking fees when they “Book Direct” through your Chapter while earning the same profits.
  3. Chapter members get more bookings by sharing inquiries they can’t accommodate with other Chapter members instead of releasing them back to the open market.
  4. Chapters can use the power of their membership to save money by negotiating group discount pricing from services and retailers.
  5. Members can work together to coordinate rental rates and maximize income.
  6. Chapters members can “cover” for each other when someone is sick or is out-of-town.
  7. Chapter members can share information on vendors and pricing so they can get top quality work at the best price.

How much does it cost?

Starting a Chapter is free. All you need is a group of 5 members with paid memberships. A standard AVROA membership is $49/year. It is important that your chapter members understand that AVROA is an association and that your Chapter website is just one of a growing number of benefits received with membership.

What if I use Property Management Company?

Having a property management company for your property is no problem. In fact, many property management companies offer significant reductions in their booking commissions when you refer a guest to them. That means inquiries that you refer to your property management company could save you hundreds or thousands of dollars a year. Of course if you don’t want to be involved, then you can always have the inquiries go directly to your management company.

How much work do I have to do if I join?

You only have to be an AVROA member with a listed property to join a Chapter and, if you choose, you don’t have to do anything more, but we certainly encourage you to connect with other Chapter Members and get involved.

Can our Chapter sell advertising?

You have two options. You can place advertising on a very basic Chapter content page or, the better option, is to set up a WordPress platform, WordPress is free, where you can integrate any of the optional plugins available. We would then integrate your Chapter’s property listing service to that platform.

Can I synchronise my calendars from or to other sites?

Yes, you can use iCalendar format to sync a calendar both ways.

Can I see the website traffic directed to my own property?

The site administrator has full access to statistics which he/she can share. If you want your own rental website, this can be created for you as well, and it would have its own set of statistics and many other tools.

Can we choose our own Domain name?

Yes you can. You have two choices. You can choose a name and create a free domain on our server which looks like this: http://crystalshores.rentivo.com/  or you can register your own domain name which does not display “Rentivo”.

Registering a domain and connecting it to your AVROA Chapter is technical. If you would rather have us do it for you, simply select the domain name you would like to use and we will register it (if available) and connect it to your Chapter website for $25/year.

Adding features to your Chapter website

You can add features to your website to maximize its appeal to your guests.

First, let’s look at a Chapter website’s basic features. (click on the image below to see an actual website):

Chapter Website

  1. This area is where your Chapter property listings are displayed. These listings work just like listings on the main AVROA property listing service and display property descriptions, amenities, rates, availability calendars and the guest inquiry system.
  2. At the top of the page is your website’s menu directory that directs to guests other pages. You can decide what pages your website should have. This website has pages with Community Rules, a page for Chapter Members, a page describing Community Amenities, a page explaining the advantages of “Booking Direct” and a page showing an Availability Calendar for a community space guests can reserve. Another page I would add is one for emergency services showing contact information and directions to urgent care and hospitals facilities.
  3. The upper left hand corner is for your community logo. You can supply artwork, place an image or simple stylized text. In this case, it is a picture of the community’s building sign.
  4. Below the logo are sort options
  5. Key word search
  6. The weather forecast
  7. A Google map showing where the community is located

After you have 5 or more AVROA paid members with listed properties to start your Chapter, you are ready to use our website design tools to personalize the look and content of your Chapter website. The design menus look and act very similar to the menu you used to create your property listing.

We will work with your administrator to install your initial design since many of these items only need to be put in place once and we are more familiar with the design platform. Just contact us when you are ready to get started. Once we explain the platform to your administrator, it will be easy for that person to make any changes or updates going forward.

It is a good idea to define what type of images you want to display on your Chapter Website (for example, the community, local attractions, Chapter member images, etc). Then, select the best images you have in those categories, so you have them ready when you stylize your website.

Building your Chapter business

When you think about guests, there are really only two types: those that have visited your community and those that have not. Right now, you pay other companies to attract guests that have never been to your community. But think of the hundreds, if not thousands of guests, friends, family of guests, and visitors that visit your community every year.

Your business plan is to first convert the people who already visit your community to “Booking Direct” and then, over time, as your Chapter business grows, start working on attracting people who are new to your area.

Now that you know what you want to do, you can start thinking about how to do it. A great place for ideas is to look at what your competitors are already doing.

Signage, Business and Information cards:

Start looking around to see how local property management companies are promoting their businesses and you will get a fast education on what you could be doing with your Chapter business.

Common advertising strategies that property management companies use are having signage around the properties they manage so any visitors know how to contact them directly. For example, they place information cards or refrigerator magnets in the rental units. Business cards are very inexpensive and can be placed around the community or handed out when Chapter Members meet new guests.

Create a Discount Offers Welcome Basket:

Another strategy is working with local merchants and restaurants to create special offers for guests that “Book Direct”. For example, you can create a “basket” of local merchant discount offers to give to your guests in appreciation for “Booking Direct.”

Promote how Guests can Save up to 10-15% on Fees just by “Booking Direct”

Now that the large Internet listing services have started to apply guest fees that can add up to 10-15% of the rental rate, it is easy to offer your guests the opportunity to avoid those fees by “Booking  Direct” through your Chapter website.

Work with your Home Owner Association (HOA):

HOA’s can be very helpful. Let them know what you are doing and ask them if there is anything that your Chapter can do to support the association. If you earn your HOA’s support, they can help you communicate with other owners in your community.

Use Email to Promote your Chapter:

Staying in touch with guests and visitors through email marketing is one of the most effective marketing tools you have. Consider all the emails that your Chapter members have received over the years, and you will realize you’re sitting on a goldmine of information.

Just like there are two types of guests, there are two types of emails: those that guests have recently sent you (like inquiries) and all those emails that guests have sent you in the past.

Always promote your Chapter in every email you send to a guest. Have multiple links in the email that direct your guest to your Chapter website and always explain the benefits of “Booking Direct.” An example of what you might include in your email is something like:

“Thank you for your inquiry! We only use XXXX to advertise. I invite you to “Book Direct” through our community website where you can get valuable information about our community and discount offers that can really raise the quality of your stay.”

The second type of email is the hundreds of emails all your Chapter members have received over the years. There are companies like MailChimp or Constant Contact that specialize sending out mass emailing and many times these services are free. What you want to do is bring every Chapter member’s email list together, set up an account with an email company and then start your email campaign. Setting up an email campaign is easier than you think. These companies have designed their platforms for people with limited computer skills and have made the process very easy. Once you are set up, an email once a month is all you need.

What do you write about? It’s simple. Write about upcoming activities, local recipes, local attractions or destinations, children friendly activities, restaurant reviews, what to do on rainy days, how to save money, last-minute deals…there are a million things you can write about. Keep your emails short (500-600 words).

The trick to email campaigns is to keep them going once you start. Use images to break up the text and to write like you are writing to a friend.

Writing material for your email campaign is a task that Chapter members can share. With the help of an email campaign company, sending out the emails is as easy as clicking a button.

The ideas above are to your mind working. Every marketing strategy needs to be specific to the area. Take these ideas and talk with your chapter members about what might work or not, then develop your own strategy. You will most certainly be refining your approach as you gain experience, so don’t worry about getting everything perfect. AVROA is always available to offer advice.

The power of Inquiry Swapping:

Imagine that you going to a hotel and you see a room with a great view that you would like to rent for the night. You go to the front desk and ask about the room, only to find that it is already reserved. What does the reservationist do next? Does he/she say “goodbye?” Of course not, instead, they say, “I am sorry that this room is not available, but I do have another room with the same view that I am sure you are gong to like just as much”.

Now think about all the inquiries you have received in the past that you could not accommodate for one reason or another and had to release back to the open market. Every year vacation rental owners release millions of dollars of reservations back to the open market.

Now think about your Chapter and the power of working together. A guest inquires about some dates you can’t accommodate or has family coming down and needs three places to stay and you only have one. Instead of saying you can’t help them, now you can help the guest and raise the quality of their vacation experience.

The minimum you can do is refer the guest to the Chapter website so they can look for other available Chapter rentals. A better response would be to help the guests directly and solve their problem. The personal relationship between the owner/manager and guest is the business model that has made the vacation rental business successful for hundreds of years and is one of the best opportunities you have to build your chapter business. Here are some alternative response examples to those inquiries you used to say “I can’t help you” to..

Mrs. Jones,

I am sorry. My unit has already been reserved, but I looked on our community website for you and unit 1402 is still available. I know the owner and this is a great place. The owner’s name is Ben Cartwright. You can reach him at 516-555-1212. Just tell him that Little Joe sent you.”

or,

“Mrs. Jones,

Thank you for your inquiry. I see you need three units. I took the liberty of looking on our community website for other available rentals and found that units 1401, and 1102 are also available. I know both of these owners and I am sure you will like their properties. Here is their contact information”

Sharing inquiries with other owners and managers is a very powerful tool that will increase your inquiry conversion rate and bring you return guests and referrals.

A few final words on building your Chapter:

Your Chapter has some tremendous advantages over your competitors: you own the properties, you have better quality information about the local area than any Internet listing service, you care more about your guests than anyone else, the cost of advertising on your Chapter website is a small fraction of what you are paying to advertise anywhere else which is going to give you a huge price advantage down the line, you can control the rental rates and as a group, you have infinitely more capability than as a single owner. Use these advantages and others to position your Chapter website as the place guests prefer to go. In other words, build a better mouse trap…

A final word on adjusting your expectations:

Building any business takes time and investment. There are no short cuts and I guarantee you that any “easy way out” never is. Think of your Chapter as an integral part of your business plan: nurture it every day and in time it will start producing significant revenue for you.

Chapter business basics

Your Chapter is much more than just an advertising website. It’s your community’s vacation rental marketing business and you are starting your business for the same reasons that farmers formed grain cooperatives in the past.

The moment you start thinking of your chapter as a business that competes for guests against other companies in the same business, you have taken a major step in understanding how to make your Chapter a powerful tool to convert guests to booking directly from you.

So why did farmers finally stop competing with each other and  start working together? The answer is the same for you as it was for them – that they had lost control of the marketing of their product.

In the beginning, farmers would take their grain to private grain elevator companies. Grain was fragile and needed to be dried and stored correctly. Grain elevators were very expensive to build and many farmers could not afford to build their own, so selling their grain to the private grain elevators seemed an easy and convenient solution.

Well, it did not take long for the private grain elevator companies to understand that they had the farmers just where they wanted them. They had the best of both worlds. Not only could they raise the fees that they charged farmers at will, they could also increase their profits by controlling the price of grain on the open market.

It was the pain of shrinking profits and the realization that things were only going to get worse that led farmers to start working together and build their own grain elevators. Now the farmers’ cost of storing grain is a fraction of what the private companies charged and the farmers can control when and for how much their grain is sold for raising profits.

The farmers had two tremendous advantages, they owned the product, and as a group, they had even more money than the private elevator companies. The moment the farmers started working together the whole game changed.

Any of this sound familiar?

We hope this Chapter Start Up Guide was helpful.

Please Contact Us with any additional questions or to get started.