From the Start – Commitment to Hospitality

From the Start – Commitment to Hospitality

From the Start - Commitment to Hospitality Florida Vacation HomesWhere does a career in the hospitality industry begin? When most people look for homes for rent in Florida they probably don’t start by looking at the credentials and background of their host, but it might not be a bad place to start. Like many people who retire to Florida to start a new career in,
my background has little to do with my career as a vacation rental proprietor although it has everything to do with the way I approach making sure that Erehwon Retreat guests have a superlative Florida vacation experience.

As a young man in the 1970s, in the field of Arts Management, I was keen to develop both my skills and my experience – Dr. A Clyde Roller, then the Resident Conductor of the Houston Symphony stated that I was by temperament, background and personality, ideally suited to a career that required me to create an immediate good relationship with people. Some five years later, the Governor of the State of New York, Hugh L Carey, wrote to thank me for the hard work I put into the dedication of the Helen Owen Carey Playhouse named in honor of his late wife. Just four years further on, President Jimmy Carter contacted me to express his appreciation for my efforts in putting together a Performance of American Arts to honor Deng Xiaoping the Vice Premier of the People’s Republic of China. I list these accomplishments not to boast, but to make clear that my entire career has been a commitment to ensuring people have first rate experiences whether in the theater, or in my Florida vacation home rentals.

Florida Vacations are all about experiences

From the Start - Commitment to Hospitality Florida Vacation HomesWhat we all seek from a vacation is a wonderful experience – an unforgettable memory for all the right reasons. From seeing “Mickey” to a Snowy White Egret, a commitment to service means that I want my guests to have more than a holiday, I want them to have the kind of experience that
makes their Florida vacation something better than just a break in the sun, turning it into the kind of event that delights on every level. For some guests I suggest going outside when it’s dark and gaze in wonder at the firmament of stars, planets, the moon and make a day trip to Cape
Canaveral. Others want to see the birds during Migration. I am remembering a guest who asked for special birding suggestions while telling me Pakistan has over 786 native species of birds.

Unforgettable moments are built up out of an understanding of the hospitality industry and a recognition of what moves a vacation from ‘a trip to the sun’ to ‘an unforgettable trip’. It’s the difference between setting up a vacation rental to help pay your mortgage and establishing a vacation rental to delight visitors and support the local community. As an example, our most recent review on Home Away explains the philosophy that underpins
everything we do:

Review #20506705 “Erehwon Retreat designer delight – Bandbox Fresh” 5 out of 5 stars

Super clean. Great amenities. Close to everything. Fabulous!

“Our host was exemplary – super knowledgeable about the area, great recommendations for dining and things to do. We were also property hunting and he gave us great insights into the area. Would highly recommend and return in a heartbeat!!”

Florida vacation rentals by owner can be mediocre or magnificent. I spent my entire career in Arts Management ensuring that people were enthralled by the performance or experience they had
invested in. I use every aspect of those skills and training to offer suggestions. From the everglades, coral reefs, clear springs, magnificent forests, special dining and turn of the century history, I take immense pride in succeeding in exceeding every guest’s expectations.

Book Direct with No Service Fees. Ever.

Never Pay Florida Vacation Rental Service Fees Again

Book Direct with No Service Fees. Ever. Florida Vacation HomesNo matter if your Florida vacation is a lifetime’s dream or an annual family ritual, there are many changes to keep in mind this year, first Hurricane IRMA’s impact.  Slightly more than 2 million homes were impacted with heaviest FEMA filings in South Florida. So, resist Instant Book and ask the property owners about their home, homes in the neighborhood etc. 

Since last February there has been massive consolidation in Online Travel websites and vacation rentals have multiplied.  But more than a few permanent residents don’t feel very welcoming to this ever-revolving door of new people week after week in their tight-knit neighborhoods.  Along with that, service fees. Select communities’ and city leaders feel many new listings run afoul of residential zoning rules, and many post properties that may be dodging sales and bed tax, condo rules, or apartment leases, and guests are irritated with Service Fees imposed by the travel websites. 

To help you find the ideal vacation, consider my 2017 top tips for finding the perfect vacation rental at the best price.  As over 60% of American vacationers have yet to try a vacation rental, if this is a new idea also look at my 2015 top tips.

Lowest cost per night may not be cheapest

All properties advertised prices are pre-tax and usually without consideration of cleaning charge and often come with a whole host of ‘optional extras’ that you can’t avoid paying out for. When planning your trip, it’s good to remember that High and Peak Seasons are the time you’ll can expect a Florida vacation home rental will be 45-55% less compared with area hotel rates.  With a vacation rental you’ll often be living in 2 to 5 times the space of the average 450 sq. foot hotel room. In the Off Season, hotels with rooms to fill are much keener to match vacation rental rates. Remember also that a hotel isn’t the same as a vacation rental home. Vacation rental properties are increasingly seeking to offer a unique experience, where every detail is designed to complement their locale and the kind of break their guests are seeking, whereas hotels focus on giving a standard experience wherever you are in the world.

Use trusted travel sites

When looking for a longer stay, HomeAway or Vacation Rental by Owner (VRBO) may have the ideal place for longer stays – for example if you search on ‘Tampa FL’ you’ll find Erehwon Retreat listed.  If your trip is a last-minute getaway AirBnB often offers excellent options particularly home shares in which the owner is present.

Trust your instincts, and your host’s instincts

Travel portals can be great, but remember algorithms rob us of the opportunity to be exposed to things we haven’t already endorsed. They place us within a prison of our own predetermined desires. We only get what we have wanted previously and nothing else.  This is a limiting way to travel. Further, they increasingly are making changes that remove your email and phone number and don’t provide guests the property owners phone number or give the property owner any information about you. Many proprietors have set up their own websites to let you book direct and avoid the 9-16.4% service fees now being charged and in many sites offer a discount.

Read reviews

Whichever Online Travel Agency your potential vacation rental is listed on, reach deep into the review process and see what people have to say. Many properties are also reviewed on YELP, FOURSQUARE, TRUST PILOT, Google.  It’s a disaster to discover your property changed hands and the new owners didn’t earn the rave reviews you read online. It’s also good to look at photographs taken by guests and ask the owner for more photos than are shown online to get a real sense not just of the property but of its location and the neighborhood. Google Street View can help give you a sense of what you’re renting.  Keep in mind, Street Views are updated every three to five years. While OTAs make it easy to set up as a vacation rental owner, it takes a real commitment to become part of the Hospitality business. For example, I look five years ahead when planning for Erehwon Retreat and call upon eight years of successful vacation hosting to ensure that guests have a unique experience. That’s why at Erehwon Retreat our refresh program ensures every tiny detail makes your vacation special, as our Eight or Great post makes clear.

Hurricane Irma

Hurricane Irma

Hurricane Irma Florida Vacation Homes

After a long day and night of heavy rains and 74 mph winds, we are very happy to report that Erehwon Retreat has suffered no damage. We’re returning to business as usual tomorrow and will be able to honor all future reservations. I thank the many former guests who voiced concern and sent prayers.  Florida took a pummeling coast to coast.  Many tears to those who perished and prayers for the thousands of families facing major rebuilding this year.

Reasons to visit historic, affordable Tampa

Reasons to visit historic, affordable Tampa

Reasons to visit historic, affordable Tampa Florida Vacation HomesTampa is rich in history, geography, weather and cuisine, so here are a few of our insider tips to help rental vacationers make the best of their Tampa trip.

1. Tampa’s got history

Reasons to visit historic, affordable Tampa Florida Vacation HomesBest kept secrets in Tampa include the 1891 Tampa Bay Hotel where Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders mustered here before heading to Cuba – Remember the Maine. Tampa’s exotic history may not be obvious to a vacation rental visitor but 150 years ago it was the railhead for cattle shipments to Cuba. This influenced almost every aspect of Tampa life, and today visitors can take a trip on an electric streetcar from Tampa to Ybor City whose architecture reflects the area’s Spanish-Cuban roots, with a style reminiscent of New Orleans’ French Quarter. Beautifully renovated cigar factories make clear the strong links between the two nations.

2. Sandwiches and Coffee

Ybor City was once known as the “Cigar Capital of the World” – it boasted 200 factories with 12,000 cigar-makers who rolled 700 million cigars a year, outproducing Havana. Difficult to believe? Not if you try Tampa’s strong coffee and satisfying pressed sandwiches – both part of our Cuban heritage.  Where do you find the best of both? That depends on who you ask, but the family-run Aquila is a great start; fabled for their delectable roast pork. In nearby Seminole Heights Jet City Espresso (5803 N Florida), just half a mile from Erehwon Retreat, is hosted by Jessica Conlan and her cozy bungalow dispenses coffee, espresso, chai latte and her signature Cafe Borgia, a honey-and-orange-infused latte. For pure Cuban coffee, kick it old school at El Molino, a simple café attached to Ybor City’s Naviera Coffee Mills, which has been in business for nearly a century (2012 E. 7th Ave.).

3. Beer city

Recently rated one of “America’s Top Ten Emerging Beer Towns”, Tampa has a bounty of brews to tempt vacationers. Cigar City Brewing (3924 W. Spruce St. an industrial estate near the airport) salutes its hometown by brewing up some very Tampa beers: a bright, fruity Guava season (the city’s nickname is the Big Guava) and the rich Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout -it’s what makes Cigar City famous.  For more of the local good stuff, head to Seminole Heights where The Independent was one of the pioneers of the craft beer movement in the Tampa Bay area and continues to offer rare and unique beers and wines from around the world. In the same neighborhood, Angry Chair has a unique tasting room with diverse offerings. Folks love C 1949, a quaint, dog-friendly little hole-in-the-wall beer garden with plenty of seating, live music and rotating food trucks outside. Finally, take in America’s oldest beer-brewer, which has a home right here in Tampa Bay. The Yuengling Brewery, complete with a “biergarten” where you can sample Yuengling’s rich heritage, offers free tours of the facility Monday-Friday.

4. Manatees, the cutest animals on the planet

So, you might not think a giant power plant is the best vacation spot, but the adorable manatees who winter in the warm waters adjacent to the gargantuan Tampa Electric facility (6990 Dickman Rd., Apollo Beach) think it’s just perfect. The utility company has constructed a popular Manatee Viewing Center, with exhibits that teach visitors more about these friendly beasts, surrounded by other delights including butterfly gardens. Winter vacation rentals are the lucky ones because the manatees tend shove off around mid-April, once the weather gets warmer and return by early December.

5. The great food offerings of Seminole Heights

Make tracks for the neighborhood’s Taco Bus, a hipster-junkyard set-up with a very good food truck and outdoor seating; it’s open weekends all year round (913 E. Hillsborough Ave.) For something more elegant dine at the James Beard nominated ‘The Refinery’ (5137 N. Florida Ave.) Finally, drop into Ichicoro, a unique fusion of Asian and Cuban ramen (5229 N. Florida Ave.) or a check out Ella’s Folk Art Cafe on Sundays (they’re known as “Soul Food Sunday”) for chicken, waffles, live music and fun cocktails like the Po-mosa, combining Narragansett beer and Tang (5119 N. Nebraska Ave.). 

6. Key Lime Pie

So, it might be a staple of the whole South but it began in the Keys. The key lime tree arrived in Florida in the 1500s and recipes for the pie began appearing as early as the late 1800s, though it became really popular in the 1930s. Some restaurants make it with graham cracker crust, others with pastry. Either way, it’s a must-have several times over and in Seminole Heights we love Trips Diner for this very special confection.

Reasons to visit historic, affordable Tampa Florida Vacation Homes 7. The world’s longest continuous sidewalk

Tampa is a record breaker. Bayshore Boulevard, which runs along Tampa Bay through the city’s pleasant Hyde Park neighborhood and on to points south, isn’t just the city’s most scenic street, it’s also a four-and-a-half-mile linear bay-front park favored by local joggers and walkers. It’s a fantastic way to work up an appetite for lunch. On Sunday follow the in-the-know local foodies and make a beeline for lunch at the Wat Mongkolratanaram of Florida (a.k.a. the local Thai Buddhist temple). Here, food vendors set up mid-morning every Sunday, dishing out authentic Thai eats (cash only) to a hungry audience. Stick around to enjoy the riverfront grounds (5306 Palm River Rd.)

Reasons to visit historic, affordable Tampa Florida Vacation Homes8. The kids will totally dig it

With exhibits that combine the educational with the awesome, the Glazer Children’s Museum – a 53,000 square-foot spa which opened its doors in 2010 – has been a hit with the younger set from day one, featuring climbing structures that teach about water, a firehouse with a working pole (and a “fire truck” you can drive), plus many more items that make learning fun. The nearby Florida Aquarium offers exhibits that range to the dramatic (anyone want to swim with sharks?) to the educational. Still got energy? There’s always Busch Gardens, Tampa’s most famous family attraction.

9. Life’s a beach

It certainly is in Florida which might be the third most populated state but still has miles of beach not covered in footprints or fishing lines. One of Florida’s greatest beaches and hiking areas is at Ft. Desoto State Park, with its nearby historic beach community of Pass-A-Grille. Travelers from St. Petersburg and Tampa began visiting Pass- A-Grille as long ago as 1857 and have never stopped.  Great beach-combing, quaint shops, sunset dining, it makes for a perfect day. And talking about perfect days – according to the National Weather Service, the sun shines, on average, 361 days a year in Tampa Bay.

Reasons to visit historic, affordable Tampa Florida Vacation Homes10. Perfect vacation rentals

There are 2,000 restored Craftsman and Mediterranean bungalows in Seminole Heights where you can find well reviewed Arts and Craft vacation rentals like Erehwon Retreat (5801 N Suwanee Ave).  Proprietor owned vacation rentals give their guests the lowdown on all that’s best in the local area … so your trip is unforgettable and your memories are wonderful.

We have a comprehensive listing of Area Attractions & Events where you can find details, maps, addresses, and links to the area’s entertainment.

America’s love of housing – a property restorer’s perspective

America’s love of housing – a property restorer’s perspective

America’s love of housing - a property restorer’s perspective Florida Vacation HomesIt would be easy for somebody who lives in a carefully restored 1923 property to become precious about development, but one thing that recreating Erehwon Retreat has taught me is that complacency is unhelpful. My choices: to drive a nineteen-year-old Subaru, to own a 48-year-old sloop and to have restored a 1923 sloop might make me unusual but they are underpinned by a consideration none of us can afford to ignore. I believe that our planet cannot endlessly support our throwaway American lifestyle. In Florida, a vacation capital for people from around the world, our dependence on aquifer water to protect strawberries during cold weather could- one day – lead to a drought we cannot solve and often creates sinkholes today.

Two strands came together to give me a deep interest in conservation and sustainability:

  • Back in 2010 my consulting firm was involved with the Creativity World Forum in Oklahoma City – a prescient event given the hot topics of world trade today
  • My restoration of the vacation rental properties at Erehwon Retreat gave me an abiding interest in local history.

So what?

Well, during that Forum in 2010 I learned that 308 million Americans produce $14 trillion of the world’s $60 trillion GDP.  In other words, 5% of the world’s population controls 20% of the world’s economy.  I’ve also read that if the more than seven billion people in the world lived like Europeans the planet could only sustainably support two billion of them – and that the average American consume twice as much as the average European. The conclusion must be that if everybody lived like an American the planet could only support one billion.

America’s love of housing - a property restorer’s perspective Florida Vacation HomesWhen I began to research Tampa, FL, I discovered the city’s impressive growth after the Civil War. From the 1880s with the construction of the first railroad and Plant Railroad which linked the town to the cigar and phosphate industries that fueled Tampa’s success, though to 1930, Tampa increased in size by 1405%, much of which growth was Cubans, Spaniards, Italians, and a handful of other immigrants, all of them required for the two major employers to succeed. From what had been a typical small southern town, Tampa became a bustling international center – which most people believe only happened when air travel and Florida vacations became essential to happiness.

It just goes to show how long we’ve been stretching our resources.

America’s love of housing - a property restorer’s perspective Florida Vacation HomesAmerica, as a nation, has not been given to the introspection that other cultures indulge in, and many see that as being to America’s credit, our state system also allows for development and change to happen at the pace of the local community, rather than having a centralized approach to planning. The downside though, is that there is little or no focus on the effect that expanding energy, resources and land use had on the environment. The McMansion phenomenon, a large ostentatious modern house – often seen as lacking in architectural integrity – has been a piecemeal development, but its effect on each city, state and the nation as a whole has probably disproportionately affected the planet.

And again, so what?

Each of us has to form our own opinions on this subject. I can’t deny that mine will have been shaped by living colonial Boston, Philadelphia and Annapolis, postwar Minneapolis and Cincinnati. Growing up in Manhattan’s apartment culture, I was handed powerful historic narratives about resisting the “tear down” housing, and clear ideas of what affordable, friendly neighborhoods should look like.

We might have unrealistic expectations of the way older housing was constructed – for example, that historic builders were ethical and modest, worked with long-lasting materials like wood and were frugal with their designs. This last might be true – just compare the small closets in 1920s homes built to hold work clothes and one set of Sunday best, with today’s electrified walk-ins, with air conditioning and rotating shoe racks! Such historic values can simply dismiss new developments as gaudy, disruptive, wasteful and ‘walled-off cul de sacs’ both in reality and in the way, they become architectural dead ends.

This is no new concept – when I set out to restore my vacation rental properties, I read articles complaining that the bungalow was breaking down Victorian traditions, was ugly, and destroying the social fabric of city life by replacing rooming houses and apartments with single family homes, urban sprawl and the need for car ownership. Creating Erewhon Retreat was a stunning reminder that everything, even the 90-year galvanized pipes, were once new … and today’s replacement, PVC pipes, are only guaranteed for twenty years!

America’s love of housing - a property restorer’s perspective Florida Vacation HomesAmerica’s love of housing - a property restorer’s perspective Florida Vacation HomesIt’s certainly true that bungalows tended to be much larger (1600 sq. feet) when the average home at the time was closer to 1,000 sq. feet.  Also, by 1920, one in every two American families had a car. A walk through Seminole Heights reveals this proportion is much higher in bungalow communities as show by the number of porte-cochères, built large enough for a Model T.

In Modern Housing for America Gail Radford writes that bungalows often represented luxury housing for their day.  To put that in perspective – our recent housing crisis, back at the turn of the century featured a period in which the overall cost of living increased by a factor of two between the 1890’s and 1920’s but the cost of an entry level home in the period to 1927 had increased by a factor of five and a half. Way back then, Florida was seeing a growing foreclosure crisis, suggesting housing costs were too high for the incomes for many families.

Everybody who was part of the turn of the century change is gone – only history buffs and dedicated restorers like me know that in 1926 the streets of Seminole Heights were paved by raising a $3 million Tampa Bond issue, and nobody remembers what existed before the bungalow craze. Who knows what future generations will think of our current developments?