Q&A with China expert, Donald Kim, VP of Business Development at Cozystay

Unless your vacation rental’s calendar is full every day of the year, you will be looking to increase bookings. There are a myriad of platforms out there to list your rental – such as the big ones like Airbnb, VRBO or Homeaway or Flip Key. However, even though you are present on theses pages, are you really reaching all potential guests out there?

Donald Kim CozyStay

A lucrative market, which remains largely untapped, is the large number of Chinese tourists travelling abroad. From 2016 to 2017 the number of vacations Chinese citizens were taking outside the country increased by 7% to 131 million occasions, for example. With that comes a huge spending power. In 2016 alone it amounted to over USD 261 billion for Chinese tourists abroad. So how do you reach Chinese travellers with an interest in staying in vacation rental?

CertiStay had an opportunity to speak with an expert in the Chinese market, Donald Kim. Donald is VP of Business Development at Cozystay, which operates a platform for short-term rentals targeting Chinese vacationers.

1. Donald, thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions for us. Could you introduce yourself and tell us a little bit more about what Cozystay does?

Hi, it is a pleasure to be here. I’m the VP of Business Development for Cozystay and I’ve been working with the company since its launch in early 2015. The idea started with Galen, CEO/Founder, who initially looked at providing student housing for Chinese students in North America and then decided for a model similar to Airbnb but targeting the emerging Chinese tourism market. China has surpassed USA and Germany for outbound travel and will be the largest market for the next 10-15 years. What is fascinating is that China leads outbound tourism, but only 6% of the population holds passports compared to 46% of Americans. Also, Chinese tourists have been the top spenders when travelling since 2012. Galen and I knew that there is a big potential market to capitalize on and being the first Chinese online travel agent (OTA) with headquarters outside of China has an advantage.

2. How are you promoting your Cozystay in China?

We haven’t done a lot of direct marketing in China, because we are still onboarding inventory and developing our technology. Most of our marketing has been through WeChat and attending travel large conferences in China. Because we have an established office in Beijing, we work closely with Chinese OTA’s and local travel agents. We have agreements with Ctrip, China’s largest OTA, and Quanar, China’s second largest OTA, which was acquired by Ctrip. We also have a partnership with Tujia-Sweetome, China’s largest domestic vacation rental platform which recently invested into Cozystay. What a lot of westerners do not realize is that most bookings are still done through travel agents in China especially in the tier 2 and 3 cities. Which is why, working with travel agents in China is imperative.

3. Are short-term rentals a popular concept in China?

Short-term rentals are very popular in China and the country is being inundated by new players entering the market with slightly different approach to the business. Tujia remains to be the largest in China followed by Airbnb. However, new companies such as Xiaozhu, which just raised $300M last October from the Jack Ma fund, are trying to position itself to be major players in the vacation rental industry in China. Other companies such as Zhubaija.com, Onehome.me, Mayi.com, Munaio.com are all fighting to position itself in the market. Ctrip now offers short-term rentals on their platform along with Qunar, and Elong.com

China’s domestic tourism market has expanded rapidly in recent years, driven by a fast-growing middle class and the proliferation of online travel services. As more and more people are travelling domestically, the appetite to book a vacation rental has exploded.

Short term rentals chinese

4. What do Chinese guests expect from a good short-term rental?

Cleanliness is very important. To ensure a good guest experience, our property management division supplies simple items in all our accommodations such as chopsticks, soy sauce, rice cooker, instant noodles and a hot water dispenser. For example, Chinese do not drink cold water even if it is very hot outside. We also provide disposable slippers since Chinese do not where shoes inside homes. Our call center provides customer service in English and Chinese through WeChat. In North America, there are several apps to communicate with guests such as iMessage, Text Message, Whatsapp, Viber, Facebook Messenger. However, Chinese only use WeChat. So if a host wants to communicate to Chinese guests, he should download the WeChat app.

5. Speaking from your experience with Cozystay, what can vacation rental owners do to attract more bookings for their listing?

Cozystay operates a property management company, so we understand a high occupancy rate throughout the year is important. To obtain more bookings, vacation rental owners should be listing on as many OTAs as possible but targeting new markets – especially the Chinese market. During the slow season in North America and European, property owners can expect to get bookings for Chinese New Year which is in February and China’s National Day which starts October 1st and lasts for a week.

6. How important is safety for Chinese guests?

A report from China Tourism Academy and Ctrip launched in March 2018 stated that ‘safety and security’ is the number one concern for Chinese tourists. As more and more Chinese tourists are becoming younger with Chinese millennials being the driving force, they are traveling in smaller groups as FITs (free independent travellers) and they all want to be safe and secure starting with the accommodation they are booking.

7. Thank you, Donald. Where can we find out more about Cozystay?

The best place to start is our website. You can also follow us on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

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Do you have any more questions? Let us know via our social channels – FacebookTwitter or Instagram – and we will try to answer them. 

Insurance for short-term rentals

Understanding Liability Insurance for Your Short-term Rental

Chief Insurance Officer CertiStayAs the Chief Insurance Officer of CertiStay, Yvonne Chan is the go-to expert to answer any questions regarding vacation homes and insurance. Yvonne holds impressive qualifications such as Chartered Insurance Professional (CIP), Canadian Risk Management (CRM) and Canadian Association of Insurance Brokers (CAIB) designations. She has been working in the industry for over 20 years and specialises in modelling proprietary insurance solutions.

Also read our interview with Steve Watt, Chairman of CertiStay’s Safety & Secruity Committee.

1. Yvonne, thank you for answering some questions for us today. Could you briefly describe your background in the insurance industry?

Today many young insurance professionals are graduates of a risk management program at post secondary institutions – many of my peers of my generation either fell into insurance by accident or it is a family business. I fell into insurance by accident when I was trying to figure out what to do after school. In my very first insurance job, I met a wonderful mentor who continues to be a mentor and friend to me to this day. She was knowledgeable and kind. However, she was a tough teacher, which I admired and wanted to emulate.

My first job was with The Dominion of Canada Insurance Company, which was the oldest Canadian Insurance company prior to Travelers acquiring it. I was a Claims Assistant before being promoted to an In-house Claims Adjuster, adjusting homeowners’ claims. From there it was a natural progression to learning how to create insurance programs to meet the needs of different insured operations so that when there is a claim that the policy would respond. I went on to become a Placement Specialist with several global insurance brokers to continue to develop my craft. I was extremely fortunate to have many wonderful mentors along the way that encourage my curiosity and passion for the insurance business.

2. What is your role now at CertiStay and what does it encompass?

My title is Chief Insurance Officer. I believe that everyone dreams of having an opportunity to apply what they have learned throughout their career and to implement products to specific business needs.
CertiStay’s business is unique and one of a kind as there is an urgent need to address safety and security of short-term rental properties by an independent third party. The clients that seek us out are therefore savvy and exceptional business operators with specific insurance requirements.

My main role at CertiStay is to create insurance product offerings to address their specific business requirements. Insurance that will stand the test of claims that are unique to this class of insured.

3. Diving right into the topic, what is liability insurance and why should operators insure their short-term rental?

Vacation home owners can be sued at any point in time – whether there is wrongdoing or not. This is a fact. It is also a fact that our society has become more litigious. It takes time and money to defend yourself or your business, whether it is your fault or not. Liability insurance therefore is a financial protection against bodily injury and property damage sustained by others for which you are found liable.

You and your business can attract liability for things that you have done or may not have done. Consider the example of someone tripping down the stairs at your short-term rental. If the injured person tripped over their own feet, you are not in any way at fault. However, if they felt that that the unfortunate accident was due to some faulty treads on your stairs, you can be held liable for their injuries. So at the very least, you as the operator would want the peace of mind to, either be able to pay for the damages or to have the ability to defend yourself against nuisance claims.

4. Do popular short-term rental listing sites like Airbnb or HomeAway include liability insurance? Why would operators consider seeking extra insurance beyond that coverage?

Short-term rentals are not like a hotel or a bed and breakfast. Many operators operate either from their principal residences or have property that is strictly for short-term renting. As a result, insurance programs have to be tailored for these unique business operations.

Some of the larger listing sites do provide some liability coverage for operators or hosts, but generally the limit of coverage is too low for a business operation. Should a serious accident occur – the limit may be insufficient.

Operators should not only seek additional insurance coverage but they should make sure that they have the right coverage. They run a business, and in order to thrive as a business, they must operate profitably and without loss due to liability claims. Therefore, financial protection and the ability to transfer the risk to an insurer should be key considerations of any business operations.

Find out more about CertiStay and how it works.

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Do you have any more questions for Yvonne? Feel free to join our Facebook community where safety and security experts and STR hosts come together! Join now…

airbnb safety security

Tips & Tricks on How to Keep Your Short-term Rental Secure

As the Chairman of the Safety & Security Committee of CertiStay, Steve Watt can look back on over 35 years of experience in policing. Starting his career in Northern Ireland with the Royal Ulster Constabulary, he quickly established his career in police, law enforcement and private security training not only in Canada but internationally as well. A recognized expert on policing matters, he has been consulting for the Province of British Columbia and Public Safety Canada since 2007. With this impressive CV, there is really no better person to ask a couple of questions on how to keep your Airbnb and short-term rental safe and secure. Let’s get started!

Note: Short-term rentals are referred to as STRs.

1. Having summarised your experience a bit above, could you tell us about a highlight that stood out in your career?

While there many are highs and lows in policing, my main focus has always been helping others; whether that was a police officer in training, the victim of a crime or someone struggling with life’s challenges. It’s all about reaching out and touching someone in a positive way. My role with CertiStay carries on that philosophy to ensure individuals and families can experience safe and secure business and vacation short-term rentals.

2. How did you become a member of the Safety & Security Committee of CertiStay?

Happenstance! A colleague of mine introduced me to Wolf Worster in April 2017 and the rest fell into place after meeting with the CertiStay team.

3. Getting onto the subject of security in STRs, which are the 3 most important issues in terms of security to consider when setting up your Airbnb, VRBO or Homeaway?

There are two interrelated issues to address here, the security of your rental property and the safety and security of your guest. Take steps to target harden your property from break and enter, theft and vandalism. That includes secure doors, windows, lighting and visibility to and from the street; and as an additional step, exterior cameras and motion sensor lights. By increasing the security of your property you will also enhance the safety of your guests as a result.

4. What is an easy thing an short-term rental host could do just now to increase the security of their vacation home?

Generally welcoming someone into your home or rental unit and especially as they are paying, increases your responsibility for their safety, security and overall experience of their stay. As the owner, make sure your property is secure from unauthorized entry: door locks are secure; keypads are reset with each new guest; door chain locks are installed as a secondary step; and windows are secure. Also, ensure that your property is well-lit at night and entry ways are clear allowing your guests to safely enter and exit the dwelling. On the inside make sure everything is operating as promised and that emergency information is available for your guests. Finally, make sure your guests can easily exit your property in case of an emergency.

5. What do you think that most hosts forget that is important to keep their STRs safe and secure?

Make sure your rental unit meets the standards expected by the general public and the safety and security guidelines provided by your municipal government and/or crime prevention and community based policing practices. Also compare your rental to others being offered, including hotel rooms and suites. Identify your problems and correct them. Just because you have the space to list a short-term rental, doesn’t mean you have acceptable accommodation. Most importantly, put your guests first.

6. You help put together the audit CertiStay performs for STRs/vacation homes to certify their safety and security. Can you tell us a little bit more about it?

The CertiStay audit template is quite comprehensive including some 24 categories covering a wide range of rentals from single family homes, laneway homes, basement suites and condos. An example of some of the categories are: security and surveillance; doors; windows; fire suppression; smoke and CO alarms; electrical; emergency preparedness; communications; and individual rooms (living room, kitchen; bedrooms; and bathroom). Each category has multiple questions to ensure the rental unit meets the base requirements for certification by CertiStay.

Furthermore, owners who go beyond the basics will be recognized as ‘exceeding requirements’ and can achieve Smart Home certification were smart components are in place. Regardless of the foregoing, should a rental unit score ‘below requirements’ on a category that would potentially be life threatening (absence of smoke and CO alarms), that element would require correction before being certified. Mainly, our goal is to collaborate with the owners to enhance the safety and security of their short-term rentals.

7. Is the audit automated or is it performed by an auditor?

It’s both. Gone are the days of paper based audits. The CertiStay audit template will be accessed by our auditors via the CertiStay App on a tablet. The tablet application allows the auditors to walk through the audit questions, category by category. While the questions have been developed to eliminate subjectivity, the auditor will be able to comment on any element of the audit and also embed photographs, as required.

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Do you have any more questions for Steve? Feel free to join our Facebook community where safety and security experts and STR hosts come together! Join now…