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We are back – after 3 disasters

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There has been a gap of 2 years in our stories for readers, but we are back!  It has been, let’s say – an interesting few years.

Three disasters

In the past two  years we have lived through three terrible events that would shut down some vacation rental operations and yet my vacation rental has never been stronger!

As background, my wife and I live in a little village called Wye River, two hours from Melbourne on the glorious Great Ocean Road. Our vacation rental ‘Sea Zen‘ looks out to the Ocean and is in a highly seasonal summer holiday market where competitors are typically booked for less than 10% of days in the slow season.

We are surrounded by rainforest, rich with wildlife, but nature can turn nasty!

2022 vacation rental conference

1 The Bushfire

The first  event was on Christmas day 2015, when a bushfire ripped though our town destroying 118 houses, a third of the town.  It was Australia’s worst bushfire for years.  The Great Ocean Road, our tourist supply route was shut for over a week.  Although Sea Zen survived, we also lost our second vacation rental ‘Treetops’, high in the rainforest, destroyed by the fire.  It was insured, but a bitter blow.

No one was killed in the fire, but the town suffered brand damage.  Folks stopped coming because they didn’t want to be around a blackened disaster scene.   Most vacation rentals stopped operating.

We had some cancellations and refunded several guests, but many of our loyal guests came back as soon as we reopened saying they wanted to support the town and support us.  Things picked up quickly and over the next six months we were back above 75% occupancy (days of the month occupied).

2 Landslides

In September 2016 there was unusually high rainfall along the Great Ocean Road, and most of it was centred on our area, newly exposed by fire to landslip.   There were over 100 landslides along the Great Ocean Road and sure enough, the worst was located on the road at our village, splitting the village in two and shutting the road.  Again cancellations. Again we had brand damage to the entire Great Ocean Road region and tourism just plummeted.  Again our loyal guests came back and supported Sea Zen.

While many other VRs were unoccupied, in the next months our occupancy was at 85%.  We relaxed, but there was more.

3 Cancer

In December 2016 I was diagnosed with bladder cancer, with major surgery in January 2017, but a chilling diagnosis in mid 2017 showed more cancer.  Could Sea Zen operate?

Fortunately we have standardised processes and a fabulous cleaner on the ground. (‘Yay Lesley!’)  My wife knows our main processes and we have a strong repeat business from loyal guests.  We continued on with me out of action with a lot of hospital visits.  Occupancy rose to 94%!  Bookings were solid ongoing. Guests were giving us glowing reviews.   My involvement in the business was minimal.

Having had some new clinical trial drugs, my cancer prognosis is now OK.    I still enjoy taking the odd booking.

Occupancy has stayed high after some dips, as seen in the diagram.

The Occupancy

Disaster impact on occupancy

The system

It wasn’t luck that Sea Zen bounced straight back after the series of disasters.  It was the result of systems carefully put in place over the past 5 years, using the experience of 15 years in the VR business.

It is what I share with my readers here from Holiday Rental Mastery.

My underlying approach is to find the key things that work and cut them down to the bare essentials.  I think of systems as Basic and Advanced.


Here is my list of basics, that anyone can do:

  • clear target market (in my case romantics and dog owners)
  • a stand out differentiating theme (in my case Japanese Zen)
  • very fast response to enquiries
  • professional photos
  • great reviews
  • key OTA listings for the local market (For Sea Zen – Stayz/ Homeaway, Booking.com, Airbnb)
  • personal meet and greet and customer service obsession
  • standardised cleaning and supplies


This stuff is really what makes a difference.  It is a bit harder and takes knowledge, persistence and time to set up, but it is mostly free. Here is my list:

  • slick, high converting enquiry/ booking process (80% enquiries converted for Sea Zen)
  • listings that stand out ahead of the competition
  • own basic website (online calendar, online booking, card payments, blog. www.seazen.com.au)
  • google maps/ business listing
  • strong loyalty system (email newsletter, personal follow up, cards/voucher)
  • exceptional local information (minimalist, easy, includes equipment info)
  • feedback system from guests to owner (questionnaire and guest book)
  • guest surprise features that exceed expectations (35 and counting for Sea Zen)
  • improvement obsession (tracking of data, lots of experiments, standardized processes)
  • selective use of Google Adwords ads  (and maybe Facebook in future)
  • knowledge growth (Mastermind group, tourism network, Heather Bayer Podcast)
  • distraction minimisation (eg minimise Facebook, SEO)
  • highly motivated cleaner (partners in guest excellence, uses automated information flow)
  • partner proficient in processes, who acts as a backup if needed

So underlying the resilience of Sea Zen is a strong system.  It is no accident that when challenged by disasters, it sailed along at comfortable occupancy.  Others who have used the system have had similar results.

For all vacation rental owners out there, ask yourself how you would fare if faced with serious setbacks.  It is never too late to put systems in place to make your vacation rental immune!  Keep reading my emails and blog posts!

Rex Brown
Helping Vacation Rental owners get ahead of the competition


Footnote: What does Sea Zen look like?

Sea Zen Interior 600


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My name is Rex Brown. I live in Australia, on the Great Ocean Road in Victoria. I run two of my holiday rentals here on the coast, and another in inner Melbourne . They are all quite different, but they all run at high occupancy. They are the sandpit that I play in, running constant experiments about what works and what doesn’t.

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