An interview with Jan Stevens from Bowen Island Accommodations
In 18 months, Jan Stevens has built her online presence–and it’s paying off. Jan Stevens, the owner and manager of five properties up on Bowen Island, BC, has done an amazing job marketing her properties and and expanding her business. Currently, her OneRooftop site is bringing her just as much business as her Airbnb listings. She sat down with OneRooftop for an interview to share her rental wisdom.
OneRooftop: How did you get into the vacation rental business? Can you tell us a little about yourself and your properties?
Jan Stevens: In 2004, my aunt passed away and left me her property on Bowen Island [British Columbia]. I also live in Henderson, NV and thought I could just keep the two properties. I mean, how expensive could it really be? Well, there were other expenses that nobody had told me about then. My work by training is interior design, but when the 2008 crash hit, design became a luxury. So that’s when I really took off marketing my second property as a vacation rental.
But business has been good. This is my sole source of income right now. In Canada, if you have over $30,000 in revenue, you need to start collecting a sales tax. I know a lot of people who aren’t concerned with earning this much money because they don’t want to deal with the tax. I never thought I would get close to making that much, and yet in 2010 I finally reached that goal. Within a couple years, I doubled it. It’s been 2 years since I opened two other properties. I then opened a fifth property last December. I think I am very good at managing my properties and that allowed me to continue expanding.
ORT: Do you think it is an advantage having a vacation rental business in a smaller market (versus a larger market like Orlando)?
JS: I think it is an advantage. Bowen Island is the size of Manhattan but with only 3200 people (rather than 3 million, you see?). For a little while, I was worried about advertising too much. A lot of people come to the island to relax and I didn’t want to change that for people. There are no hotels. This is a major business opportunity. Unlike my home in Henderson, NV, there is no need for business licenses and Vacation Rentals are approved to be here. The rental agreement is the only thing I need to do. They make it so easy for us to do business.
ORT: When did you begin working with OneRooftop? Why did you choose to partner with OneRooftop?
JS: Well, Matt Landau made me realize that I needed to get myself a website. I really love his blog.
But, let’s see. I tried designing a website myself when I got started and we got some business through it, but the website wasn’t interactive. That was the main problem before. I knew I couldn’t do that again. When I decided to launch a professional website, I started to ask around. This was in 2014, about 18 months ago. At the time, I was an ambassador for VRBO and got to know the other all-star ambassadors. I asked some of the others who have had their own websites, and a fellow named Mike told me about OneRooftop and how much he liked the websites. I then got to know Sarah [Brubaker] more and the design team, who designed my logo. I think the logo looks really nice!
ORT: Where do you currently advertise?
JS: I have a blog connected to my website, which I update frequently. I also use local advertising at Bowen-Island-BC.com. That’s how I get a lot of traffic and you see a lot of smaller lodging and accommodations there as well.
ORT: How much of your business is driven through your website?
JS: My OneRooftop site brings me 20-28% of my business, which is equal to what Airbnb has done for me.
ORT: Wow. So are most of your leads just coming through organic searches then? Are you doing anything to optimize your website to show up higher in Google search results?
JS: If I do a search for Bowen Islands vacation rentals my site comes up on the first couple results. That’s because I use search terms in the back end. Specifically, I’m using StatCounter and have percentages for the search terms and just repeat those terms in my listings. But with Google, I’m not able to see my percentages in StatCounter. So I’ll have to learn Google Analytics but it is a little too technical for me. If it was more simple and straightforward, I’d like it better. I’m on the branding committee for Bowen Islands. We surveyed a pool of visitors to Bowen Island, and did a word word count to show which words people were using to talk about the island. I took those keywords and included them in the backend. I also think the fact that my blog is connected to the site makes a big difference.
ORT: What do you blog about?
JS: I blogged a lot about the improvements to the property and different activities to do on the island. Sometimes if I have days that aren’t booked, I blog about availability. Every now and then I post a complimentary review a guest has left me. But I also try to be helpful and share things that I know. When we did the survey and I got the keywords, I posted the results of our word count.
ORT: Do you have any specific goals for the coming year?
JS: Last year, every weekend was booked for the off-season. In the summer, it’s easy to book 95% (I try to book 100% if we have a good availability of cleaners). But after summer, we’d like it to be a destination all year round. Our goal is to have every weekend booked and increase our occupancy for mid-week bookings in the off-season. I’d like to advertise the storm season more, along with our fireplaces. I got the tip from rentals over in Tofino, BC. They’re open to the ocean on the west side of Vancouver Island and people like to be part of the storms.
ORT: Do you have a “secret sauce” to success that you wish to share with other owners and managers?
JS: Being exceptionally organized. And a drive to stay on top of every inquiry that comes in. It’s necessary to see every inquiry as income. Every booking is the next referral. Month long stays might only mean 1 referral, but if you can get 10 people to talk about you in a month—doesn’t that seem better? It’s my prime source of income and people can come here and relax. There is a lot to stay attentive about for guest relations. People want to feel like they’re at home. You have to be intuitive about the guest needs. If they enjoyed their time here, then I know I did a good job. It’s about being empathetic to every guest and understanding their needs.
To stay empathetic, I do this: I ask if there’s something I can do to make a guest’s next stay better. They have suggestions. If I can make the change on the spot, I do it. But I want to make it so there is nothing ever to complain about. That’s hard to do, but it’s my goal.