Gearing up for what could be a tough year-end season, the vacation home travel industry didn't wait for summer to end when it released tips to help property owners tune up marketing efforts to keep properties full this fall and winter.

Total domestic travel expenditures by U.S. tourists is expected to rise at a rate of only 4.1 percent this year, compared to nearly twice that much, 7.5 percent last year, according to the Travel Industry Association of America..

TIA reported expenditures for domestic tourism by U.S. travelers dropped by 1.1 percent in 2002, the year after the day of infamy when terrorists turned commercial jetliners into missiles used in three U.S. cities.

In 2003, 2004 and 2005, those same expenditures rose 3.7 percent, 6.8 percent and 7.5 percent, respectively with 2005 revealing the highest growth rate since 9/11.

TIA forecasts expenditure growth will dwindle further in 2007 growing by 3.7 percent and in 2008, growing only 2.7 percent.

In December of 2005, the TIA's Traveler Sentiment Index hit an all time low and by it's summer 2006 forecast the industry said, "Historically high fuel prices are expected to have a negative impact on summer travel and (fuel prices) are accompanied by broader economic concerns for many Americans."

The industry also forecast summer travel would grow this year only by 1 percent over last year.

While the vacation rental sector says it's weathering the slowed growth better than the overall industry, vacation home rentals are not immune to economic conditions. The industry also faces increased competition as record numbers of Americans purchased second homes in recent years. Many purchased them as investment properties, including vacation rental.

"For many second home owners, vacation rental income is crucial for paying the mortgage. But with interest rates and other costs rising, it is difficult to boost rental prices since there are so many properties now on the market. It's brutal out there," said Yardley, PA-based Alfred Glossbrenner, who along with his wife, Emily, self-published "How To Make Your Vacation Property Work For You", a guide book and CD-ROM for vacation home landlords.

But some of the same conditions forcing travelers to alter vacation plans and related spending could cause them to beat a path to vacation home rentals.

"The good news is there are vacation homes within a two-hour drive from most metropolitan areas," says Christine Karpinski, director of Owner Community for HomeAway.com a network of vacation rental listing websites.

"Americans pinched by high gas prices can still enjoy a getaway close to home by staying at a vacation rental for a fraction of the cost of a hotel room," said Karpinski, also author of "How To Rent Vacation Properties By Owner".

That's provided the marketing fundamentals are applied. Karpinski and HomeAway.com offer the following tips for vacation home renters looking to reel in travelers.

  • Cast a broad net. Don't let the off-season cause you to reduce advertising. With more and more people using the Net, vacation homeowners should maintain a high advertising profile on the World Wide Web. Include detailed property descriptions, photos and search options that make it easy for travelers to find maps, attractions, facilities and services they'll need when they visit.
  • Fish with a line. During peak season, many vacation rental owners require a minimum week-long stay. During the off season offer nightly rates to lure cash-poor travelers and to encourage extended weekend rentals.
  • Use fresh bait. Offer off-season specials, such as, "Rent three nights-get one free," discounts for older travelers, members of the military, students, locals and others. E-mail past guests with a special VIP package that includes reduced rates and a bottle of wine or dinner gift certificate.
  • Don't throw back the small fry. Roll out the welcome wagon for kids by emphasizing family attractions and activities children. The National Association for Year-Round Education says more than two million children are enrolled in year-round schools, which means their families can take advantage of lower-priced vacations during off-peak periods when school breaks.
  • Try ice fishing. "Winterize" marketing by playing up local winter fun in your property descriptions. Feature and use photographs of fireplaces, winter activities, mountain hiking and snow. If your home lacks winter appeal, consider adding a hot tub.
  • Cat fish. Accept pets. During the last three years, more than 29 million Americans brought their pets on trips further than 50 miles away, according to the TIA. Who travels during the off-season? Travelers not constrained by school or other schedules and people who travel with "other children" -- their pets.
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