If you’re feeling the frustration of struggling to find a way to build trust with your vacation rental guests, even after offering a great experience, then you are not alone! Many property owners in the vacation rental industry are finding it challenging to establish that trust with their guests, leading to missed opportunities and potentially dissatisfied customers.

You can have this vision and put it all out there. But if you don’t take that other perspective of how people are perceiving you and that experience you’re providing them, then it doesn’t matter how much advertising and direct booking strategy you have. – Brittany Blackman

In this episode, you will be able to:

My special guest in this episode is Brittany Blackman. Brittany Blackman is the owner and founder of Breathe Easy Rentals, possesses extensive expertise in the vacation rental industry, with over a decade of experience. Through her journey from working with a property management company to establishing her own vacation rental business during the challenges of the pandemic, she has garnered valuable insights into the dynamics of building trust with guests. Brittany’s emphasis on delivering exceptional guest experiences and her astute attention to detail make her a respected figure in the industry. Her practical experiences and observations provide a compelling perspective on the significance of direct bookings and the pivotal role they play in establishing trust with guests.

Learn more and connect with Brittany:





The key moments in this episode are:

00:00:00 – Introduction to Breathe Easy Rentals

00:04:39 – Emotional Roller Coaster of Entrepreneurship

00:10:17 – Challenges of Finding Vacation Rentals

00:12:45 – Building Trust Through Direct Bookings

00:13:32 – Importance of Secure Payment Options

00:13:56 – Building Trust with Direct Bookings

00:15:12 – Lack of Trust and Confirmation

00:18:28 – Providing Feedback to Property Owners

00:21:18 – Importance of Articulating the Message

00:26:48 – Direct Booking Success

00:28:22 – Connecting with Brittany Blackman

FREE GUIDE: 10 Ways to Drive Guests to your Website instead of Airbnb: https://directbookingsuccess.com/10-ways-to-drive-guests-to-your-website-instead-of-airbnb/

Show notes are available at: https://directbookingsuccess.com/podcast/

Follow Jenn on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/directbookingsuccess

Join Jenn’s free Facebook group – the Marketing Hub: https://www.facebook.com/groups/marketinghubforhospitality


00:00:00 - Jenn Boyles

Hello, and welcome to another episode of The Direct Booking Success Podcast. I'm Jenn Boyles, your host, and today I have Brittany Blackman with me. She is the owner and founder of Breathe Easy Rentals. So nice to have you.

00:00:15 - Brittany Blackman

Oh, it's such a pleasure. Thank you, Jenn.

00:00:18 - Jenn Boyles

So let's start by finding out a bit more about Breathe Easy Rentals. Can you tell us about how that began?

00:00:26 - Brittany Blackman

Absolutely. So I started in the space back in 2011, and I was working with a property management company in Dustin, Florida. I had no idea what vacation rentals were and got wrapped in and couldn't escape it from there. So I was actually with that company for nine years, and then in the midst of COVID it was very stressful. I call it, like, the shakeup of life of, what are you doing? Are you happy? Where are you? We were all at home with our family and animals and couldn't escape. And so in that moment, I just decided that I was ready for something a little more. And that little more was a little dream that I had had for a while, and that was to have my own vacation rental business. My original goal was to purchase the company that I worked for and continue to build it. However, the owners at the time weren't ready to make that decision and that changeover. So said, okay, well, here we go. And that's how Breathe Easy Rentals formed in the fall of 2020.

00:01:28 - Jenn Boyles

Yeah, that pandemic, it has a lot to answer for. It has changed. Well, it's changed all of our lives, really, in so many ways, but the pivots we've done in our lives and our businesses, because all of a sudden, we had this time to think, didn't we? We had time to think about, what do you really want? That's great. So the people you were working for, they weren't ready to hand over the reins yet. So you said, fine, I'm just going to go and do it myself. That's amazing. And how did the name “Breathe Easy” come about?

00:01:58 - Brittany Blackman

I had a couple of different ideas. I kind of knew the vibe and the feel that I wanted to provide, and so went through a couple of different names in my head, and I was taking a shower one day and breathe easy, it just popped. It was that light bulb moment. And ran it past a few people who knew what was going on and know, how does this make you feel when you hear this? And got those reactions. And so from there, it was a done deal. I also liked it. It's at the top of the alphabet. So if we're in alphabetical order. I'm not at the end. It's easy to say, it's easy to spell and hopefully easy to remember on top of, again, just that feeling, which is initially what I had started looking for with it.

00:02:43 - Jenn Boyles

Yeah, well that's good. Yeah. Thinking about the alphabet because I know your last name, Blackman and my last name is Boyles and my maiden name was Bartolak. So I was always like, in class, I was always like, number know or number three maybe. So what a good thing to think about for your own business name.

00:02:59 - Brittany Blackman

It was. I liked it and it's just fun. Like I said, a lot of people remember it once you hear it. So if you're at that point where you're going to name something, make sure it's quick and concise. And the other thing too that I forgot to mention that was very important to me was not setting a specific destination to it. So again, we're destined for Florida on the water. But I didn't want it to be anything about the water, the gulf, the ocean, the beach. I wanted to keep it something very generic. That was, again, just something, for some reason just very important to me in setting that.

00:03:33 - Jenn Boyles

Yeah, I can see because in branding we talk about being specific. So I like how you actually were the reverse. You were very specific about not being the destination. And that's a marketing strategy on its own. I love it.

00:03:50 - Brittany Blackman

Thank you.

00:03:51 - Jenn Boyles

That's great. So how many properties are you managing these days?

00:03:55 - Brittany Blackman

We have just under 30.

00:03:57 - Jenn Boyles

Wow. That is going to keep you busy. And so the changeover from what you were doing prior to the pandemic, working for someone else, what are some of the differences that you've seen in your own life now working for yourself?

00:04:10 - Brittany Blackman

Great question. It was much more of an emotional roller coaster than I initially thought it would be. I went into this, okay, I know what I need to do to be successful. I know where to start, how to start. I did not expect the emotional toll that starts with starting your own business and then running it. And so that's been a constant up and down even. I guess we're almost four years later now, so that is different. The nice thing though, one thing that I love is I don't have to ask anybody else for their opinion. I asked my team before making those kinds of changes. But as far as if I want to do something, I don't have anybody else above me in that sense. So that freedom is something that I have definitely very much enjoyed having my own business.

00:05:01 - Jenn Boyles

It is. It's a wonderful sense of freedom. But then there's also no one to tell you what to do when you're being indecisive, right? When you're like, should I do this because I go down this path, or should I do this? There's no one to say, just do this. You have like, oh, I have to think of this, figure it out on my own. And what if it's not right? So, yeah, no, it's freedom. It's great. So today we're going to talk about mistakes that hosts are making by not using direct bookings. And, of course, this is a subject close to my heart, and I know for yourself as well. I want you to tell everyone listening about these two trips that you had. So she's going to tell you a story about these mistakes that these hosts were making and how it impacted Brittany as a guest. Take it away, Brittany. Tell us about these trips.

00:05:51 - Brittany Blackman

Perfect. So both trips I took in the past six months, and the first one was a group of friends and I that were going to Mobile, Alabama, for a comedian, and we wanted to make a small weekend trip out of. So, you know, initially, again, I come from the property management side of things, so I tend to look for property managers when I can. So in my search, I went directly to Airbnb and VRBO to start with, saying, okay, what's out there? Looked for property managers, didn't find too many or the properties that I liked that they managed and started coming across direct owners that were renting. And in that, I found a few that I liked. I did try to narrow it down. I tried looking for a regional site in that area. Couldn't find anything. And so then it was like, okay, well, now you're stuck with the OTAs. So then I put on my little investigator glasses, and I'm like, all right, I like these listings. They've caught my attention. So now I've got to figure out who manages them and how I can reach out to them directly. That was very difficult. Proved to be much more difficult than I had hoped. So for that trip, I did wind up somehow. I don't even know how I found that owner's name. I had two or three other people in the short term rental industry here in Destin who I contacted, and I was like, hey, I think this guy owns it. But I don't know. Can you do any digging for me to see if he owns this house? Because I've got six people coming with me, and if we get to mobile and there's not a house there or it's a dump, I'm in huge trouble because we didn't book a hotel and we booked a vacation rental because Brittany wanted to stay in a vacation rental.

00:07:36 - Jenn Boyles

I love it. It's all on your shoulders. The pressure. The pressure because you wanted to book.

00:07:44 - Brittany Blackman


00:07:44 - Jenn Boyles


00:07:45 - Brittany Blackman

Yes. So I did wind up finding that owner. I believe it was through Facebook, which is how I made that connection. And I'll kind of pause that because I want to also tie in another trip that I had, which was in Taos, New Mexico. So a few months later, fast forward, my husband and I want to take a quick trip to Taos, New Mexico. And it was very similar in that setup. I did not want to work with the property managers that were there. So then I had to turn my eye and it looked like more direct owners were in the area. And so I think the biggest thing on the Taos trip that stuck out to me was the lack of professional photos. And for me, it was a no go. And my stance, my philosophy was, if you're not willing to spend a couple of quality professional photos, how are you going to take care of me? What kind of experience are you going to provide? And again, that was my personal take of just my experience. So that quickly got rid of several options left with a few and same things. I started scanning their listings, trying to see who the owner was. Wound up reaching out to them on link and awkwardly like, hey, so I found this listing on Airbnb. I think you might be the owner. Is this ringing any bells to you? So awkward. Thank goodness it was him. And he connected me. So I say all that to say. It proved to be a lot harder than I thought it was going to be. And I've been in this industry for, I can't count me, 12,13 years now. And I know a lot about direct booking, and that's one thing that we're always cognizant on and breathe easy. And so when I had to go out there and find these listings and realize how hard they were, we could go into some other trusting things in just a few minutes. But it was really mind blowing to me to realize that how many other people are experiencing this? How many other people have never booked a vacation rental before? Or maybe they're used to booking with an owner, not a property manager, or vice versa. And so trying to find that good blend of mixing all the things and building that trust in the initial process, just even looking at which property to book, it's so important because there's probably so much lost business, I would imagine in our industry, because people get confused and overwhelmed and there's a lot to work on.

00:10:17 - Jenn Boyles

Yeah, there is. And I think if we all just take a step back and think about when we're wanting to be a guest, when we're needing a place to stay, when we're going on vacation, sometimes a hotel is the right fit. Sometimes it's a vacation rental, depending on the makeup of your trip and who you're going with and why you're there. If I'm going to a conference, most of the time I'm going to want a hotel room because it's not an experience for me. It actually is a place just to sleep. But if I'm going with my daughter, then of course I want something that is more about the experience and more space and can eat breakfast, those kinds of things. Right. But before we even get there, we have to find them. And this is really hard. And I have people coming to me all the time, and they're like, how do I find a vacation rental? How do I find them? And I'm like, well, the first thing is Google. Google it. See what you can find. And there's a few websites out there that are sort of listing sites where they're trying to get people on their platforms and they've got a range of accommodation. I'm not explaining that very well, but, I mean, somewhere other than an OTA that's taking a commission. But then the OTAs are great because so many people advertise on them, but it's then finding the managers or the owners of those properties outside so we can book direct. And it sounds like neither of these people were using something called signposting, were they? There was nothing in their listing that was saying rose cottage. And then you could Google that. So there was nothing like that?

00:12:03 - Brittany Blackman

No, that was, you know, even things that we've, you know, at Breathe Easy is even in responding to a review saying, oh, thank you, Shelley, for your great review. Signed breathe easy rentals. And so that was, the first place I go to is I look at the actual content, the description, to see if they've put something in there. And the second place I go to are the reviews. It's not to read reviews normally. It's to actually read those responses and see if they've put their name. And I believe that's how I found the Taos owner was in a response or in a review where someone said, I forgot their names now, but John and Kim were so great, and that's how I knew to go from there.

00:12:43 - Jenn Boyles

Brilliant. Okay, so what happened next? So you've gotten a hold of both owners for both trips. You've done a bit of stalking, basically. Found them. They've told you, yes, those are our properties we own. Then were you able to book direct with them?

00:13:03 - Brittany Blackman

The Mobile, Alabama one? He was willing to book me direct. He didn't have a website, though. He did not have a way to take a credit card payment. So I was going to have to mail this person who says he's the owner, a check for six other people and me.

00:13:20 - Jenn Boyles

Yeah, there's big red flags there, aren't there? So let's not be mailing.

00:13:25 - Brittany Blackman

That made me really nervous. And with the Taos, they did say, yes, we can book you direct. We can accept PayPal. So I could still actually use my credit card and have that coverage. So that was nice. So in just accepting payments, there's value in knowing just understanding how that trust connection equals a value to the guest. I never thought about payment processing that way until this.

00:13:54 - Jenn Boyles

I never thought that was a trust. Exciting topic, isn't so one of the owners, that's the New Mexico, they said, yes, we can take a payment. But the guy in was, has he ever done direct bookings? Was this something totally new to him?

00:14:12 - Brittany Blackman

It didn't sound like it wasn't. I did actually talk to him on the, you know, I'm the psycho that phone you on Facebook, because I'm sure that's the other part too, is like I felt just a psycho trying to reach out to these people because it wasn't like, oh, I landed on your website and here's an inquiry. I'm reaching out to them on social media and they have no idea who it was. Like, it was scary not knowing who I was dealing with. And also, what am I presenting to these people as well to say, hey, trust me that I'm going to pay you. There were so many emotions in the Alabama one. He said, well, you can send me a check, I'll go ahead and hold it. I waited for about a week, still didn't feel comfortable. So I unfortunately did go ahead and book directly on Airbnb. I knew that they were 100% guest centric and so I knew if I got there and something was wrong, I could get a response from Airbnb. So there was that at least trust, whether I agree with it or not, on the operator side, 100%. But there was that trust there. And then with the house New Mexico ones, we paid for it directly. We just had an email. I will say the lack of trust building continued, though. Even though I had found the properties, I loved them. I've talked to the owners, I've sent them payments. I never received a rental agreement. I never received a confirmation email. So the entire time, even from booking to actually showing up, I was still worried at both of them because it's like, well, I just have this email, I just have this text thread. Do they actually have the dates booked for me that I wanted? I don't know. It was just all just awkward. And in my world, we have probably too long of rental agreements, but that's just we've got the structure. And so again, it wasn't the way I would choose to go on a vacation. Thank goodness. In both situations we showed up. The hosts were absolutely amazing. In Alabama. He actually lived out of state, and this was more of a hobby. So I think that's why he just listed it on Airbnb. Didn't feel the need for a direct website because Airbnb does everything for him. And in New Mexico, they actually lived on site. And so that was a new experience. But that was something that I appreciated in that one, especially as I left, I urged them to please, please get a website, even if you connect, even if you're just using the OTAs right now, and this is your step one, because you've got to start somewhere. Even just getting a website and putting those listings up there. I don't know why I realized AI can make websites now, but it would have made me feel more comfortable just having some sort of landing page, some sort of confirmation sheet, even a basic rental agreement. I wouldn't go into it thinking it's going to be a ten pager, but just making sure that you're following and presenting that trust from start to finish before they even check in is just so important.

00:17:21 - Jenn Boyles

Very. And I'm really glad that both trips worked out for you because I'd hated talking about these stories and finding out. Yes, well, there was a tent in the grass or something, but the guy with the place in Alabama, if it's a hobby, fine. So you were trying to find somewhere to book direct. He didn't have the capabilities. It sounds like he knew about it, but it wasn't really his focus. And fair enough, fine. You had to book through the fine. But I hope that your experience with the people in New Mexico and being able to book direct with them and maybe sort of help them along their path, did they seem receptive to any of your. I don't know. I doubt you sat there and gave them a list of all the things they should do. But did you have a conversation with them about how they could make it a bit better for people, for guests?

00:18:22 - Brittany Blackman

Yeah, I definitely did not come at it. I don't like when people come at me telling me how to run my business either. So definitely not that approach. I would say kind of how I left things with them is that I said we had the most amazing time ever. I mean, they gave us a jar of honey, came, knocked on the door, checked on us and gave us a jar of honey. I took the cutest photos ever. Not of me, of towels. Like all this amazing stuff that I want to share. And this is how I left it to them. And I can't share it with anybody except for my friends. And they said, well, we're working on a website, it's in the works. And I said, the minute you get it ready, if I can leave a review, please let me know. So that's the other thing. If you're going to just start out with a basic website, which is fine, having a place where people can directly leave you reviews or a Google listing, reviews that you can connect to, Facebook, anything. There's so many resources out there, even if you don't want to go all in on yourself to use. Unfortunately, not that the conversation ended badly, but it just didn't end as pleasant as I wanted because I want to share my experience. I want to tell everybody, how awesome this place is. And there is absolutely no way for me to, because I didn't book through an OTA and they don't have a direct website.

00:19:46 - Jenn Boyles

I hope that they do jump on that and get that website up and running and that your stay there has been instrumental in helping them. I really hope that that is the case. I think it's great. Nobody wants to be told how to run their business, but to give some help and some tips and say, look, I'm in the same business, but as a guest. It's flipping it, isn't it? And it's probably. Did you see anything in these trips that helped you with your property management business?

00:20:17 - Brittany Blackman

That's a good question. Yes. I think the biggest thing that I took away is how important building that trust is. Like, we know what we're offering, but are we actually articulating that the way that we want people to understand it? And so that was this thing. Like these homeowners had these great properties. They took care of them. They were clean, very homey in a sense. And I didn't know until I got there that that's what it was. And they could have done so many things up ahead of time to show me that that's what that experience was going to be like. And so it was some good self reflection of, okay, I breathe easy. I know exactly what we're offering. I know how we take care of our properties. I know how clean they are. I don't doubt any of that. But am I articulating the message so my guests know that. So a prospective owner knows that that's some deep stuff and you don't just fix that overnight. But it's just changed the way that I have looked at it.

00:21:21 - Jenn Boyles

And from these two experiences, do you have any tips that you could give them? If they were here with us, what would you say to them? Maybe talk to the couple in New Mexico, because the guy in Alabama, I think he's fine. He is just like, this is fine. I'm on Airbnb. This is all good. But the couple in New Mexico that are understanding about direct bookings, and it sounds like they're wanting to. Did they have more properties? Did they have the one property?

00:21:53 - Brittany Blackman

Just the one. It was like a carriage.

00:21:55 - Jenn Boyles

Oh, nice. Okay, so and they're wanting to make more money and have better guests and these kinds of things. If they were here right now, what would you tell them?

00:22:07 - Brittany Blackman

Get that direct booking website. It doesn't have to be big and fancy. It doesn't even have to be bookable. It's really great if it is, but at minimum, if you're using the OTAs, get those listings up there. And that's the other thing, too, with the trust of seeing that they're being listed on multiple websites, which is in another way called the billboard effect, but being able to see, oh, okay, well, they actually have this on several listings and here's all the reviews. I mean, the biggest thing is that it doesn't have to be big and fancy. If you're initially starting out with that trust factor, I would say let's fast forward two years and let's say that they get this direct booking website. They get their links on it, so they've got that baseline of trust. I think the next step from there is making it bookable and then an about us page is so valuable. I don't need to know what you do for your nine to five and how you pay your bills and what you eat for dinner, but I would love to know who I'm working with. If you're an individual owner, just tell me a little bit about you. What do you care about? Like, what are your values as a company? Do you have people? Are there humans that work for you? How did the company get started? On what? Sometimes you're asking these people to spend so much money. I remember one of our first bookings at breezy. We have a seven bedroom home, and it was like $30,000 for the week. And they didn't even call me first. They just booked it online. And I was mind blown that somebody would hand me $30,000 and have no idea who it was. But we had an about us page. I don't really love putting myself out there, but I realize the importance of authenticity and vulnerability. I do it a little bit, not a ton. And I think that that helps people as they come to us just feeling comfortable. They know my face. It's in our guidebooks, it's on the website. They know why I started. Breathe easy. And just that little bit of an emotional connection can go so far other than, well, we've got a property management company and we clean them and we take care of them, and there's beds in there, guys. We are all doing that. Truly, what makes you different is just being your authentic self of why you're doing this, why you love it, and why you want to share your space with someone else.

00:24:32 - Jenn Boyles

Why isn't it? It really just leaned into that why? And showing your face, put your photograph on your website. This is me. This is what I look like. This is who you're going to meet, or this is who you're going to talk to. And I had someone the other day say to me, I was asking them about, are they taking direct bookings? Where are they in the process? And they're like, oh, well, we're too small to take direct bookings. And I was like, what do you mean you're too small? I only have one property. Well, then it's actually more important now than ever to be getting onto this, because you can't run a business when you're giving 15% away at every booking.

00:25:13 - Brittany Blackman

I think some of that probably just comes from fear. I don't know what it is. The OTAs are great at what they do, but they've just created that trust relationship with both sides of it. And it's awesome that people can get into the industry starting there, but that's also not how the industry started. It started with people opening their doors, literally with each other and stuff like that. So I think the biggest thing is that it doesn't have to be big and fancy. You can always upgrade, but you've got to think about what's that trust factor on the other side and book a vacation to a place you've never been before and stay in a vacation rental and it will teach you a whole new process.

00:25:56 - Jenn Boyles

I love that because I always tell property managers to stay in their own properties because that'll teach you a whole lot if you stay in your own properties that you manage or own. But yeah, go and book a holiday. Go and take a vacation, a new know, try and find that vacation rental and see how it goes and see what you can learn from it. I think that is really good, Brittany. That's really good. So I have to ask you, while I have you today, what does direct booking success mean to you?

00:26:30 - Brittany Blackman

Yes. So to me, it means having a strategy in place of why you're offering what you're offering and making sure that the way that you're presenting that people are understanding it and consuming it in the way that you want it to be. Because you can have it. To me, the direct booking side of it is like you can have this vision and well, this is why and you can put it all out there. But if you don't take that other perspective of how people are perceiving you and that experience you're providing them, then it doesn't matter how much advertising and direct booking strategy you have. To me, it's a very two sided equation of that and you have to be firm in it and you've got to have a strategy with it. You can't just be like, I don't know, I'm just going to put it up on a listing and one day I'm going to get a website and eventually I'll do this. That's not a strategy. So you can be graceful with yourself. If something, if money is tight or a deadline surpasses or whatever, reset yourself. But you've got to have some sort of strategy for it and make sure you're staying consistent with that messaging and what you're providing.

00:27:36 - Jenn Boyles

Yeah, I totally agree. 100%. Well, thank you, Brittany, for coming on today and telling us these stories of these two trips that you took and the outcomes of them and what you learned and what you hope that the host learned, too. Who knows? Maybe that guy in Alabama will surprise us and next thing we know he'll have a website and he'll have more properties and he'll be like, just going for it all direct. You never know the effect your stay will have had on them, which is not what they probably were looking for. But I think it's great that you've brought this issue to light for them as well, and brought your stories to us and told us what we can learn from your experiences. So I'm going to put your links in the show notes, but can you tell us where's the best place for listeners to connect with you?

00:28:29 - Brittany Blackman

Absolutely. LinkedIn. And then also on Facebook for Brittany Blackman. And then our website is breasrentals.com. Great.

00:28:40 - Jenn Boyles

I'll put those links in the show notes. Thank you so much for coming on today.

00:28:45 - Brittany Blackman

Thank you. I enjoyed it.

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