All About Emerald Coast By Owner
Did you know that national listing sites like VRBO and Airbnb charge significant service fees on top of every booking which results in reduced income for owners and higher prices for renters? Did you know that those same websites scrub your information making communication extremely difficult? The fact is that the big players continue to change the rules and not for the benefit of local owners and guests.
Thankfully there is a brilliant solution in the form of… Emerald Coast By Owner
Interview with Cory and Joe Godar of Emerald Coast By Owner – ECBYO.com
I met up with Cory and Joe Godar on an absolutely perfect day in early March at the Miramar Regional Beach Access which is right next to Pompano Joe’s restaurant. Being a big sports talk radio fan, I first learned about Emerald Coast By Owner on The Ticket Sports Network driving home from the office last summer. Having lived in the 30A vacation rental world for the past 5 years, the ECBYO radio spot immediately got my attention because it sounded like a great alternative to VRBO. Naturally, I was extremely excited when Joe and I started an email exchange that eventually led to the interview below…
30A Prime: Cory and Joe, thanks for taking time to speak with me today. Joe, please talk about how you originally discovered Destin and fell in love with Florida’s Emerald Coast.
Joe: Growing up, our family vacationed in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. My cousin had a condo there and we just thought it was the greatest thing in the world. To get in a car, go on vacation, end up at the beach and spend a week in Florida was great. I was just enthralled with it and as I got older and into my high school years, my father explained that my cousin would rent that condo out and make money on it when not using it himself. So that got the wheels in my head turning.
Eventually, I went into Real-Estate and was with RE/Max in Cincinnati, Ohio. I began investing in properties and at about that time (1998 – 1999), a friend of ours suggested visiting Destin, FL. Luckily we decided to take our friends advice and give Destin a try. My wife Shannon, my daughter and I literally just fell in love with the place. Destin was all so beautiful, all brand new, everything was about the families and the next year we came down and bought our first vacation property in Florida.
30A Prime: How did Emerald Coast By Owner come to be a reality?
Joe: We started this listing website (ecbyo.com) about a year ago and first thought about this process maybe 2 to 3 years ago when we saw a lot of things in the market not going in our direction. I’ve owned property and managed property here in Destin for about 20 years. We were already in the vacation rental business with websites and software. When we saw some of the things the big OTA’s (Online Travel Agencies) were doing like taking control of other people’s businesses, taking high percentages, up to 20% of a transaction, we decided we wanted to go into the vacation rental by owner listing business.
We launched ECBYO.com a little over a year ago and we’re a traditional listing site meaning the owners and managers of this area can list their properties on our site. Our team drives traffic to ecbyo.com so that guests can call and deal directly with property owners/managers and we Do Not take a percentage of the transaction. So we’re going back to the old way of doing things. Our big job here at Emerald Coast By Owner is driving targeted traffic to the website to maximize exposure for all those property owners that list with us.
Cory: We started ECBYO with the intentions of bringing all of our marketing focus to the Emerald Coast. I get to spend a lot of time in the marketing department and a lot of time working on our social media accounts. Covering one main area allows us to really hyper-target who we’re marketing to. Being in one area allows us to focus on adding as many properties as possible to provide Perdido Key, Pensacola, Panama City Beach, Navarre, Fort Walton Beach, Destin, South Walton, and Apalachicola vacation rental seekers with tons of great options. We really provide the best experience for those looking to book a vacation rental anywhere along Alabama and Florida’s Emerald Coast.
30A Prime: How is Emerald Coast By Owner different from large booking sites like FlipKey, VRBO and Airbnb?
Joe: What’s going on right now is people are losing control of their vacation rental businesses. The analogy I like to use is…
Let’s say you’re going to spend a half million dollars and open up a pizza joint. You have your grand opening, your doors are open, and someone comes and sets up a tent in front of your door and says…
‘Any person that’s going to buy a pizza is now going to buy it from me, pay me, and then I’m going to pay the pizza guy 80%’.
Nobody in the world would put up with that type of arrangement. It’s basically like mob rule back in the day. The online travel agencies got so strong and took such a big presence online that they decided they now can control everyone’s’ transactions. When a person goes to book a property on VRBO, they can’t talk to that owner or manager, they can’t communicate with them directly. They have to go through that OTA, and then the online travel agency takes 20% out of the transaction.
So this area is missing out on 20% of the income and it’s inflating prices for the guest, and we just don’t believe that’s correct. I don’t think that model is going to work. I think that in the long run, it’s going to have a lot of issues so we see a giant opportunity to come in and fill that void. We just want to do it regionally so we can hyper-focus on the Emerald Coast.
30A Prime: Geographically, how do you define the Emerald Coast?
Joe: That was a big decision for us because we didn’t want to go too big in the region and we didn’t want to go too small. We basically just looked at a map, did some numbers as far as how many properties are where, and what would people consider to be the Emerald Coast. In the end, we decided to go from the west side of Fort Morgan, Alabama and move east through Pensacola, Fort Walton Beach, Destin, 30A, Panama City Beach all the way down to Apalachicola. In total, it’s about a 300 mile stretch of the beach and we felt like we could handle those 850 communities and put that all under one roof, one umbrella, and market it effectively.
Cory: In general, people who travel to the Emerald Coast all sort of come from the same region. When we spend all of our time focusing on this area we can find out who those people are. Therefore, when we’re bringing traffic to the website it is people that are actually interested in vacationing on the Emerald Coast.
Focusing exclusively on this 300 mile stretch of beach makes it easier for us to send people to ECBYO.com that are looking to vacation in Destin or Panama City Beach or on 30A. It’s really a win-win for everyone involved as we provide a better experience for people looking to vacation as well as the property owners here trying to advertise their rental.
30A Prime: What type of vacation rental properties are eligible to list on ECBYO.com? Also, are property management companies allowed to list their client’s rentals on Emerald Coast By Owner?
Joe: We focus on what we call privately owned vacation rentals. That means we won’t have hotels on the site, we won’t have resorts on the site but any condo, townhome, single family house that’s located on the Emerald Coast we welcome. Some property owners choose to self-manage 100%. Other owners list with management companies and so, the management company might come on our site and list say, 30 of their properties with us. Either way works and all of the listings on Emerald Coast By Owner are treated equally. We’re just promoting those individual properties on the website.
30A Prime: Please talk about your marketing strategy and how you drive large amounts of highly targeted traffic to Emerald Coast By Owner.
Cory: We’re not just in the search engines, we’re not just on social media, we’re not just doing Google Adwords…
We try to do it all and be everywhere and do everything because we believe in a holistic approach to marketing and know that we have to touch people at multiple points. Most people don’t generally want to book a Destin vacation rental on a website they heard of for the first time. Folks want to know who you are, see who you are, see what you’re about before booking a rental. So we really do believe in being everywhere and doing everything from a marketing standpoint.
Joe: We have billboards up and down the coast. We fly airplanes along the beach in the summer when it’s busy with banners that say “Book Direct, Save the Fees”. We do magazine ADs, radio spots all on top of the immense SEO work that has been done on the site. Search engine optimization work is a constant, never-ending task that we prioritize here at Emerald Coast By Owner.
We have exclusive software that helps us maximize our SEO efforts. We have an amazing social media program. People might not see the SEO work that we’re doing until it comes up in the search, but when they drive up and down the roads and see the billboard or see the airplane banner they know that we’re heavily marketing this area.
30A Prime: Another part of your marketing plan I saw on ecbyo.com is something called ‘Community and Sub Regional Sites”. Please tell us more about community-based marketing.
Joe: The other thing we do is what we call Community Based Marketing. By going small and going regional, we’re able to set up over 800 communities along the Emerald Coast. We have the name of every complex of every neighborhood on the website gaining organic traffic. In addition, we can create what we call microsites.
For example, we have microsites setup for Majestic Sun and Villages of Crystal Beach which are communities in Destin. As that area grows on Emerald Coast By Owner, we’re able to create another website strictly for that area. Now we’ve got 2 targets online and so that is what I mean by hyper-focusing on the Emerald Coast. Community-Based Marketing is just one aspect of our strategy that a big national site cannot compete with in terms of hyper-targeting specific areas.
30A Prime: How does communication between property owners/managers and guests work on Emerald Coast By Owner?
Cory: ECBYO.com is a little different than VRBO in the way communication works. We took a very simplistic approach and its kind of old school. We believe that all bookings should happen directly with the owner or manager because we don’t know their properties as well as they do. Guests want to ask owners questions directly before booking and we do not interfere with that process.
Emerald Coast By Owner provides a simple inquiry form that allows guests to communicate directly with owners. The simple communication system on ecbyo.com is best for all parties. Owners/managers are in direct contact with the guests and they know who is staying in their home. Guests know who they are staying with and are able to get all the info about the property in advance of their vacation. In fact, they are able to get all of the info they need prior to booking as ECBYO Does Not hinder the communication process like VRBO, Airbnb, and the big online travel agencies do.
Also, we Do Not take a percentage of the booking. The payment goes directly to the owner.
Joe: To expand on Cory’s points regarding the communication system on ECBYO… Our goal is to make the communication between owners and guests direct and easy.
A major problem right now with the big online travel agencies is that they scrub your information. So if you’re a potential guest looking for a 30A rental on VRBO and you message the owner something like…
“Please call me I have questions about your property.”
The phone number is scrubbed by the OTA which means the owner/manager cannot get a hold of the potential guest. As you can imagine, that is causing a lot of strife in the market right now because people don’t want to book until they find out the details of the property. VRBO blacks out the phone number and now its just frustration on both sides.
Owners email the potential guest back saying…
“I can’t call you on this system, you have to book first.”
The potential guest emails back and says…
“I don’t want to book until you call me.”
30A Prime: I own a condo in Panama City Beach and would like to list it on Emerald Coast By Owner. How do I get started with ECBYO.com?
Cory: If you own or manage property here along the Emerald Coast, the process for listing on ECBYO.com is easy. In fact, it is similar to the large online travel agency sites like VRBO and Airbnb in that you start by purchasing a listing. From there you can log-into your account and upload your property photos, input a title and description. Once your property info has been entered, your listing is created on ECBYO.com and you’re ready to take bookings.
Joe: We invite everyone whether you’re a guest looking to book or an owner in the area, we’d love to have you on Emerald Coast By Owner. Everyone wants to book direct and that means getting ahold of the owner/manager directly either through our site or another source. We also preach the shop direct, whether it’s 30A Prime or one of our managers. ECBYO is local and if you give us a chance we’re going to do everything we can to make sure that your experience is fantastic.
Learn more about Emerald Coast By Owner via their website here… ECBYO.com