The 2013 Eastern Seminar, April 22-23, 2013 in Savannah, Georgia was a home run for the Vacation Rental Managers Association. The event reached a milestone as the largest Eastern Seminar in the Association’s 25-year history, welcoming a record 468 attendees (up from just 269 attendees at the 2012 event—an attendance increase of greater than 40% in just one year!).
The 2013 Eastern Seminar was the first to incorporate a new educational structure developed by the association’s Education Task Force in 2012. Historically, VRMA offered two Regional Seminars in the Spring (one in the Eastern U.S. and one in the Western U.S.) and an Annual Conference in the fall. The common misperception among leadership was that Regional Seminar attendees were primarily front-line and middle-management employees (as the events are less expensive than the fall Conference, so the belief was that members would bring more staff to these events) while the Annual Conference was primarily for executive-level vacation rental professionals. A 2012 study found that this perception was incorrect; the same types of members, with the same experience levels and professional titles, were attending both events. Moreover, the Regional Seminars were perceived as “Annual Conference Lite,” meaning members felt that they could receive the same type of education at either event, so they had no incentive to attend multiple VRMA events each year. Additionally, executives had little reason to bring front-line/ middle-management staff to a Regional Seminar where education focused on high-level management and marketing topics.
Based on these findings, education at the 2013 Eastern Seminar was significantly restructured to better meet the educational and professional development needs of all VRMA members. The Eastern Seminar offered more hours of programming than ever before, including “train-the-trainer” sessions to give supervisors, mid-level managers and department leaders the tools they needed to ensure excellence in areas such as housekeeping, maintenance, reservations and marketing (just to name a few). A special executive-level track provided owners and general managers (who had been attending the event for many years and, research showed, would be unlikely to send front-line/middle management staff unless there were also executive-level offerings that would allow the executives to attend) with the specific information and resources they needed to be more effective in this ever-changing industry. Front line staff benefited from highly regarded, interactive and practical 3-hour Workshop sessions. And, the schedule was adjusted to allow more time than ever before for networking.
Marketing efforts included weekly emails and regular social media posts to vendors and vacation rental manager members (95 percent of attendees indicated satisfaction with the information provided about the event before the Seminar), website communications and a registration brochure mailer. All marketing highlighted the new educational focus of the event to better target the vacation rental professionals who would most benefit from the revamped session lineup.
Among our Vacation Rental Manager (non-exhibitor) attendees, satisfaction rose:
- More than 85% of vacation rental manager attendees said they were likely or extremely likely to recommend the event to a colleague
- 93.9% said they were satisfied with the event’s educational opportunities
- 96% were satisfied with the networking opportunities with other vacation rental managers
- Additional comments from Vacation Rental Managers after the event:
- “Much better than previous Seminars!”
- “I feel the Eastern Seminar gave our staff a breath of fresh air, along with management.”
- “Due to the variety of the sessions this year, if the format stays the same we are going to take all department heads as everyone can gain useful knowledge from these.”
In addition to a record number of attendees, the Seminar also saw a record number of exhibitors in the Vendor Showcase, resulting in record Vendor satisfaction:
- 100 percent of supplier member attendees were satisfied with the Eastern Seminar
- 96 percent of exhibitors said the Eastern Seminar helped them improve relationships with current clients.
- 96 percent of exhibitors were satisfied with the number of viable sales leads established during the event
- 93 percent of suppliers were likely or extremely likely to recommend this event to a colleague
- Additional comments from exhibitors after the event:
- “We met several new potential partners and suppliers. We also strengthened relationships with our new clients who were in attendance.”
- “Very good exposure to a great network of industry of professionals.”
- “As a vendor, we got the largest amount of leads in over 5 years of attending the show.”
All of this translated to financial success for the Association: 2013 Eastern Seminar revenue increased by $65,014.50 over the 2012 Eastern Seminar revenue, nearly $20,000 more than projected in the 2013 budget.