Are you a short-term rental operator in Canada? Have you ever felt like the industry content you come across doesn’t really apply to your Canadian-specific challenges? Maybe you’ve been told to just follow the same strategies as those in the US, but ended up feeling frustrated and stuck? If you’re tired of trying to adapt generic advice to your Canadian business and not getting the results you need, you’re not alone. Let’s uncover the unique industry issues specific to Canada and find the solutions you’ve been looking for.

If you’re hosting a conference in a specific country, then it really needs to have an element of that country’s content. – Catherine Ratcliffe

In this episode, you will be able to:

My special guest this week is Catherine Ratcliffe.

Meet Catherine Ratcliffe, the visionary behind STR Benefits Consulting and Lost Together Stays, and the driving force behind CanStays Rental Alliance. With a keen understanding of the Canadian short-term rental landscape, Catherine’s journey in the industry and her unwavering commitment to addressing Canadian-specific regulations make her a trusted voice in the field. Her dedication to organizing the CanStays Rental Alliance conference reflects her passion for supporting and empowering Canadian short-term rental owners. Catherine’s expertise and advocacy for informed and compliant business operations make her a compelling and valuable guest for this episode.


$100 off the conference registration using code DBS

The key moments in this episode are:

00:00:00 – Introduction

00:03:01 – Can Stays Rental Alliance and Its Purpose

00:06:30 – Addressing Human Trafficking in the Short-Term Rental Industry

00:10:41 – Advocacy and Education on Public Safety and Human Trafficking

00:16:22 – The Importance of the CanStays Conference

00:17:10 – Diverse Topics at the Conference

00:19:01 – Unique Canadian Regulations

00:21:23 – Importance of Understanding Canadian Market

00:29:36 – What Direct Booking Success means to Catherine

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 For Hospitality: 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 your host, Jennn Boyles, and I'm delighted to be here with you today. And also with me today is Catherine Ratcliffe. Now, Catherine is not only the founder of both STR benefits consulting and lost together stays, she is the founder of the CanStays Rental alliance, which we will be talking about in more detail. So welcome, Catherine.

00:00:32 - Catherine Ratcliffe

Thank you so much, Jenn, for having me.

00:00:35 - Jenn Boyles

Oh, it's a really, really is. Now, Catherine is a fellow Canadian. She is on the other side of the continent from me, though. I am in Vancouver, Canada, and you are?

00:00:47 - Catherine Ratcliffe

Just outside Tampa, Florida.

00:00:50 - Jenn Boyles

So let's talk about your journey in this industry. How did you get started?

00:00:57 - Catherine Ratcliffe

So I got started with my condo on the beach. We knew that I could break even on it and it would be great. We did more than break even on it. I loved the guest interaction. I loved the data that I could play with because I was in the insurance industry. I was a large group employee benefits broker. And so it was a very fun data sandbox to play in. And then during COVID we ended up building a cabin in Blue Ridge, Georgia. And then we added the home Sasa property. Each one was designed around creating different memories with my family. All of the homes have specific memories and goals for each of the kids. So that was how I got started and became completely addicted.

00:01:41 - Jenn Boyles

Wow. So you've got what, the four properties is that? And they're in different areas?

00:01:46 - Catherine Ratcliffe

Completely different areas, yeah.

00:01:48 - Jenn Boyles

Wow, great. Okay, so. And if that's not enough to keep you busy, you've also got STR benefits consulting. Can you tell us a little bit about what that is?

00:01:59 - Catherine Ratcliffe

Yeah. So it benefits consulting for the short term rental industry. I was leaving a large group of employee benefits firms, and as I was interacting with people within this space, I realized that there was a gap of how to procure benefits. What benefits meant? A lot of times that word gets changed in somebody's mind when you say that and they think you're talking about health care. And so I just felt like I wasn't going to shelve 22 years of knowledge and relationships, and I wanted to be able to tie that in and sort of have different working relationships with the people within the industry that I was getting to know a lot better. Wonderful. I'm going to have to have you.

00:02:39 - Jenn Boyles

Back, and we're going to get into that subject. We've got a really important reason that we have come together today, and that is the upcoming CanStays Rental Alliance Conference. Can you give us a little bit of a breakdown of what CanStays Rental Alliance is?

00:02:59 - Catherine Ratcliffe

Sure. So the idea was born. I left Canada and came back. My family is still there, and so I never fully left. I was always sort of intertwined, even from a benefit side. I would deal with clients that had customers in Canada, and just understanding the Differences in regulation, language, laws, there's all sorts of Import export. Direct Booking Success with Canada is a very unique initiative. It's not something that you can just sort of duplicate whatever you do in America, and it works in Canada. And so when I started to go to conferences and interact with individuals within the industry, I started to meet Canadians. And it was the most bizarre thing because none of the content, for the most part, applies to that. And I questioned a few people and I said, why would you spend all the money to come to an American show if the content isn't relevant, right down to the spelling of words and Internet keywords and that sort of thing? And it was a topic that had always been forefront because of personal experiences that I had. I had tried to do a book club with my mom when she was in a nursing home, and I would download a book to my Kindle and try to send her the link to download it to hers, and it would say it was banned in that CountRy, and it was over the spelling, because it wasn't the right spelling. So the nuances of Direct Booking Success in Canada are so plentiful. And I just could not understand why there wasn't a conference that was focused on Canadian content. There's certainly been conferences that have taken place geographically in Canada, but nothing from all of my conversations that focus on the uniqueness of Canada, from the language regulations, from access to healthcare, all the pricing strategies, the search words, all of it. And it just seemed like such a void in the industry. And because I was leaving one very big career and going into this new industry, I went to almost every conference that there was last year, and I was seeing the same faces, the same people. And I just thought from a sales and marketing background, that it seemed to be like, you're only going to change your PMS system maybe one time in a year, like you're not changing it six or seven times. So people were spending an awful lot of money to go to a conference to see basically the same people. And there was this fairly untapped market where they might have customers up there, but they hadn't been able to get in front of them face to face and have a cup of coffee, have a glass of wine, and the value in those relationships that are born out of personal interaction. They're so different from just having a virtual relationship. And so that was where I decided to take on the challenge of organizing it and pulling together the content that is very specifically canadian. And for every speaker that is attending, I've had the conversation with them saying, you cannot take a deck that you presented at any other conference in the US or globally and bring that to Canada. Like, you're going to have to do your homework and make sure you understand each of these topics from the perspective of a Canadian.

00:06:20 - Jenn Boyles

But it's one thing thinking about and looking at the industry and going, we need something in Canada. It's another thing to actually put on the conference that we need to have. You've got a full life, three daughters, two businesses. And now how are you doing everything?

00:06:39 - Catherine Ratcliffe

Well, I feel like I've written a doctoral thesis on vacation rentals in Canada. Yeah, it's something that I do enjoy, a challenge. I do untangling knots in that regard. I knew that I could bring topics and initiatives that nobody else was going to bring forward. It made my head hurt why nobody could organize it. And there are big associations in the states and around the world that are advocacy arms. But Canada didn't have that type of representation. And I'm a person who is a lobbyist myself in Florida. And that's important to have those types of relationships where when things are difficult, you know who to call and you know what to say, and you understand the 62nd time slot that you're given. And there was none of that that was being given in Canada. And then to tackle that, I had become very involved here in Florida with the human trafficking initiatives, and our state is very, very focused on that. And Airbnb does a very good job supporting the initiative. Florida is number three in the country for human trafficking, and that is not just what you expect it to be. Labor trafficking is a huge part of that. And so as you follow some of the news items and understanding, like foreign workers that are coming in and just sort of the explosion of the way people get paid is not the traditional way that people were paid 1520 years ago. And that's true wherever you are, right, there's a lot of e transfers and all of that sort of thing. And it's very easy to become complicit with labor trafficking and not realizing that you're doing it. So as I was becoming more involved was, you know, doing podcasts and talking about it, and everybody was linking back to the Florida course, and there was nothing that was available on a national level in Canada. And there was certainly nothing that was available for our industry and our industry. It can be susceptible to human trafficking coming in any sort of hospitality situation. Can hotels have the same potential? And there's training that's required here in Florida and across many, many states that require all hotels and cleaners to go through that type of training. And there wasn't that same level of awareness in Canada, but it wasn't that there wasn't an issue. So every time I was presenting heat maps of where trafficking was coming and going, Canada was right there. And so I have nieces and nephews and people that I care about. And I just thought, how can this education not be taking place, and how can we put this together within the scope of how we want to make sure we're not part of the problem, we're part of the solution. A lot of times we are able to have our eyes and ears on the properties next door to us, which can be trafficking hubs, as opposed to the property itself, and being better stewards of our community. We've also been in situations where we've been asked to house victims because they can't be placed in a hotel when they've been rescued, because there's concern. So we are part of solutions that people don't always think of. And I wanted to be able to rewrite that narrative and just do better. It just made me crazy that it wasn't being done. And I felt a personal responsibility to take that on because I could see.

00:10:14 - Jenn Boyles

That pattern with the regulations that are going on, especially here in BC right now. This event is happening in April 2024 in Banff, Canada. Here is a conference that is going to make a difference. And you start off on day one. It's a three day conference, but you're starting off day one with advocacy, aren't?

00:10:39 - Catherine Ratcliffe

Yes, yes. We have the minister of public safety coming federally. Dominica Blanc has agreed to come specifically to talk about the issues of public safety, human trafficking, because it is such an important issue. It's a huge issue across Canada. And I think what's really important is, again, no one industry is going to solve this. And it's about taking our corner and talking with fellow industry partners, whether that's hotel associations, DMOs, whomever, and saying, how do we become part of a solution with this? And education is always the beginning of a solution. And that's where, until you take the training. I took the training almost by accident, and it was a Florida course, and I am a licensed sharma instructor for the state of Florida. And I learned about it from Deborah Labet, who's in Europe. And it came to me for that. Florida developed it because we were hosting the Super Bowl, and it was the most recent Super Bowl attempt. And so anytime you have a compression event like that, trafficking spikes. And again, it's labor and. Right, so because you need workers for these three days, you don't need workers for a year. And so you're pulling people in. And a lot of trafficking is familial. And so people have visions of things that certainly can be dark and scary, but it can also be very much in your face where your spouse, your parents, your child is sending you out to work and taking that money, and that becomes trafficking. It's the exploitation of another human being for financial gain. And so when you start to understand that the person might be stuck and might be trapped, Canada has compression events, and those are important conversations to have. Taylor Swift is coming, and so Canada will have the Taylor Swift effect. And those were topics that it was really, really important to draw those out and make sure that from a perspective of regulation, if you're not telling your story, somebody else is. And so it's really important to have a seat at the table, to have the conversations about where we fit. There are housing crises all over the world. There are negative issues that you can pick on any single industry from environmental protections, like all kinds of things, right? And we are not immune to that, but we need to talk about how we help and not be talked about by other industries. And so this was very much the opportunity for every province to come together and say, what is unique about Nova Scotia versus the Yukon versus Ontario versus BC? Because they're all incredibly different with the demographic that's brought in. And we've challenged sponsors and partners to go through data and look at how much traffic is coming in provincially. So how many people are traveling for healthcare or work related periods that are coming into a city like Vancouver? Because those are very real issues. If you're in Regina and you need to go to the closest children's hospital and you're looking at Calgary as your option, those are things that are more uniquely canadian. And there are governmental programs provincially to offset some of those travel expenses. And some of the property managers that I've talked to and had a chance to really look at what they're doing have done a fabulous job of marketing specifically to them. But that's information that the governmental folks don't necessarily hear directly from us. Our story gets told by the hotel industry or tourism associations, which we may or may not be part of. And it was important to tell every piece of that narrative from a safety perspective. You've got people that don't necessarily feel safe being in a hotel. And from an economic standpoint, you've got families that travel for sports or graduations. They're going to college. There's student housing issues. There was an article that I read a few weeks ago where this woman was saying she couldn't afford rent, long term rent, and so she was just going from Airbnb to Airbnb because it included the utilities. And she could one or two weeks an Airbnb and just kind of move around nomadically because long term rent is not inexpensive. So when you start talking about a housing crisis, there's a number of factors that go into that, and short term rentals are not the solution to it. And so I really wanted to bring in those governmental officials at different levels to say, hey, let's talk about how we are part of this.

00:15:38 - Jenn Boyles

And what we're seeing right now in BC as this law is coming. Now we didn't have a seat at the table because nobody's thinking it's going to happen to them. People here did not think it was going to happen to them until the announcement that this was going to happen. And then everyone's on the back foot trying to get the association put together and to start talking about it. So nobody from short term rentals was at the table when the government decided now, and this is the problem. And if we aren't able, and even if you're not in Canada, if you're not in the states, if you're anywhere else in the world, you need to have a seat at the table and exactly what you're saying about telling your story. So this conference could not come at a better time for us here in Canada. And if you are somewhere now, think about it, because if you've not heard the regulations or the word advocacy in your area, it is coming. It is coming because of this ominous housing crisis, that is not really what I would have talked about a housing crisis, but it's being talked about all over the world because it's affecting all the big cities around the world. But it's not just advocacy and trafficking, safety, public safety that we're going to be talking about at this conference. So I made a list of all of the topics that Catherine has put together. She has curated this list. So let me just run through them. Oka nts. Now, as we're going through these topics you can see that they very much can be specific to the area we're in. So if this was an american conference, this is going to be the american government and the grants and the lending. So that we're talking to Canadians, finding the right team. All the HR issues, interior design, AI standards, mental health, owner acquisition, diversity, minorities, women in business, managing vendors, direct bookings. That's a good one. Provincial breakout sessions, getting together with all those are in your province. Revenue management, trust and digitalitizing the guest experience. Amazing list of what you've put together.

00:18:23 - Catherine Ratcliffe

Yes, thank you. As I was going through each of those and saying, what's Canadian content mean? I wanted some of those topics. Again, you could certainly see those on an American conference list. But this is all from a Canadian perspective. I think that's really important because the regulations, from a marketing perspective, from a language perspective, from a safety perspective. Canada has its own set of safety standards, and it's important to make sure that you're operating under the rules of the country, province and the municipality that you're in. So I really wanted to take all of those topics and be able to say, let's talk about it from a Canadian perspective. Operations and housekeeping looks very different in Canada based on where you are in terms of your short term rental or your vacation rental, and sometimes the seasonality of the issues. I know there's been a lot of snow lately in some parts of the country, and there are some challenges that kind of come across because you are that much further north and accessibility to some of the properties can be challenging. You can have that in the US, too. But there are different ways that pieces of this get handled, and that's whether you're talking about surcharges that can come about, whether you're talking about even the employment and how you gauge housekeeping and inspectors and all the rest of it. How do you navigate that? There are property managers that have properties that spread across the country, and so what happens when you are trying to navigate topics like performance or compensation, leave management, any of those things across different provincial lines? And what does that look like? What if a province changes the way that they have certain checks? How do you stay up on that? And those are all things that any business owner needs to be mindful of. But again, there was nothing that was serving Canada with the specific Canadian issues.

00:20:42 - Jenn Boyles

And I think we know, we're so kind and know, aren't we the friendly, nice people? But we're so used to playing second fiddle to the Americans. This is an amazing opportunity to have it be Canada. First Canadian content. What would you say to those from other countries that are looking at what you've put together here?

00:21:12 - Catherine Ratcliffe

I think one, a takeaway is this should apply everywhere, right? If you're hosting a conference in a specific country, then it really needs to have an element of that country's content. I would say to anybody that is trying to do business in Canada, you need to be at this conference because it is going to talk through very different things. And you can struggle to be successful business wise in Canada if you don't understand the makeup of the country. And that is incredibly important because you're right, it is sort of treated like the 51st state, and it's not. It's its own country. It deserves its own platform for a conference. I'm married to a very american. He's a little bit older than I am. And so when we talk about, did you see this or did you listen to that when you were a kid? It was very different because we had Canadian content regulations. I mean, they're real. And so the television shows that I watched, the music that I listened to, didn't line up with what he watched and what he listened to. You know, I grew up on Chateau Lane and Canadian living, and then my father's American, so when we would come to the states, there would be all of this different list of things. But I can never discount the uniqueness of every aspect of being canadian. And I've sought it in every possible piece of my career from the moment I left Canada to this day, I preach about how unique and how individual it is to any other country, the rules. And I was quoting the charter for something yesterday, the other day, because, again, I feel like I'm writing a doctoral thesis here. But the uniqueness of you having two official languages across the country, but provincially, you've got New Brunswick is the one that provincially has two official languages. So the charter calls New Brunswick out completely differently. Those nuances are never going to be talked about from an American perspective. But from a regulation perspective, if you're not on point with language laws, canadian content regulations, your search engines, if you're not putting in the keywords in a canadian spelling or backlinks for French, that's a problem. If you have emergency instructions and guidebooks that are not in both official languages, that is also a problem. And so it's the sort of thing that the hotel industry, I think, has done well in Canada because they have adhered to all of those issues, but not from a short term rental perspective. And that's where the professionalism of saying things like, hey, let's bring this up to a standard where we can get a seat at the table because we are respected. And that's really the issue. Because of the nuances of Canada, but the potential for what we bring to the Canadian economy, the social fabric, it's so critical. You can't just dismiss it, eliminate it. You're talking about people's jobs, you're talking about access to health care. The accessible accommodations is a huge issue. And when you look at some of the regulations in Ontario, there's a huge problem with accessible accommodations, period, where they're not projected to hit the targets that we're committed to. And I think there's opportunities for us as short term rental owners to be able to provide some assistance with that because we can educate and be advocates. And Lorraine Woodward will be speaking at the conference. And that's a lot of what we're going to talk about from a banking perspective. It really shocked me that nobody went through all of the banking regulations in Canada because you're more influenced by what's going on with mortgages because you don't get the potential 30 year locked rate that an American does. And so understanding where you are on your finances, how to approach a bank, there's a lot of things that have gone on from homeowners insurance, where you're not really insured the right way and you're skirting regulations that way. There's issues with mortgages where you applied for it as potentially a second home, but you're using it as an investment property. And these are things that if we don't educate people and get them to do it the right way, this is absolutely how regulations come down. Somebody else tells the story and it becomes a huge problem.

00:25:52 - Jenn Boyles

I am so excited to be a part of this conference, to be talking about direct bookings with that canadian perspective. It is going to be a fabulous event. And Catherine has kindly given us $100 off the conference registration. So the website will put it in the show notes. And it's canstaysrentalalliance.com. If you use the code DBS, you can get $100 off your registration, which is great. And there's savings as well on airfare with Westjet, there's savings on accommodation if you want to stay at the Bounce Springs hotel, which if you've not seen this place, it's amazing.

00:26:40 - Catherine Ratcliffe

It's going to be absolutely spectacular. We've added a couple of features. There's a spa discount code that is out there too for a Monday through Friday, so it's not valid on Saturday or Sunday. And then we added a spousal ticket as well for folks that want to bring their spouses to the event, because it is an amazing venue. The hotel in and of itself is a destination. The conference is going to be pretty amazing, too, but we wanted to be able to include spouses, especially because it was a weekend to really make it as inclusive as possible.

00:27:14 - Jenn Boyles

Well, I hope that not everyone's going to be at the spa when I do my talk on Monday morning. But no, seriously, it's going to be a great event. And I do hope that everyone thinks about getting a ticket and coming to it because it's not going to be a conference where you're just sitting back and sort of just letting everything go past you. This is something where the content is directly related to the area that it's in.

00:27:46 - Catherine Ratcliffe

Yeah, it's really important that people do come. The pro and con of the government coming and having this level of attention. That's not a repetitive thing. It is a very critical moment in Canada's history in terms of where we are regarding this issue. If you look at the number of election issues that are kind of coming up that this falls into, this is the moment for everybody to show up. The idea of, oh, see how this one goes and maybe I'll come next year. You're not going to have the same impact. You're not going to be able to tell your story. And what I love about Canadian hosts and property managers is they're not these huge organizations that you find in America. These are fairly regional managers that have a number of properties, but it's very personal to them. The experience and those stories are so unique, host to host, and they need to be told.

00:28:51 - Jenn Boyles

Yeah, wonderful. We're going to be doing that. So before you go, I need to ask you the question in relation to what we've been speaking about today, about the can stays conference and talking about direct bookings and marketing. What does direct booking success mean to you?

00:29:11 - Catherine Ratcliffe

It means relationships. I really feel that a direct booking success is when you've been able to establish a relationship, ideally before they've been through an OTA, but you've been able to establish a relationship through your website, through your content, through your property, and that individual trusts you with their memories that they're going to make in your wonderful.

00:29:36 - Jenn Boyles

Thanks, Catherine. I will see you at can stays. I'm really looking forward to it. The $100 off using the code DBS on the can stays website and all the links will be in the show notes. Thank you.

00:29:49 - Catherine Ratcliffe

Thank you so much for having me.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *