Susan DeJonge

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Susan and her SOLscape team serve the mid and top-end holiday rental market in the Port Macquarie coastal area, by focusing on value and guest experience, rather than competing on price. We catch up with Susan, to see what’s new and exciting in the industry.

It has been a while since we read your story in the Women in Business edition; how are you doing?

I am doing great, and SOLscape is also doing great. We have been growing steadily and currently have a portfolio of 18 holiday houses in the mid and high range of the holiday accommodation market.  I have a great team of dedicated people working for our guests and owners every day, including reservation managers, quality managers, cleaners and gardeners. With this team in place, SOLscape’s service provision is safeguarded 24/7. It even allows me to go for a holiday myself sometimes!

Has the sharing economy like Airbnb impacted SOLscape?

There is much more competition now from individual home owners who rent out their home or spare rooms. This gives travellers more choice, and keeps us on our toes to keep improving what we do.

This new reality of the sharing economy and digital savvy travellers requires us to have a solid (online) marketing strategy in place, to ensure a steady flow of happy guests and a reliable income for our property owners.

Our brand promise of flexibility, convenience and excellent value resonates well with the modern traveller. We make things easy. All they have to do is to rock up to the holiday accommodation and enjoy themselves. We take care of the rest. These elements, combined with our proactive service, gives us great results.

Can you expand on results?

We get more bookings and better bookings compared to local industry averages. SOLscape’s holiday homes are all performing well. Our guests consistently rate us 4.7 out of 5 stars on average; 80% give us a full 5 star review.  Our most successful properties are fully booked over 200 days of the year, equating to                            55% – 60% occupancy per annum. Many of the holiday houses achieve higher yields compared to permanent rentals.

Is holiday renting more lucrative than opting for permanent tenants?

Reality check: not all properties make a good holiday home, nor is holiday renting everybody’s cup of tea. Suitability of the property for holiday letting depends on the location, space and amenities. Many owners underestimate the amount of work that is involved in holiday renting. While we perform most the work involved, regular upkeep is required to maintain the property’s appeal to guests.

While holiday rental income is “uncapped” compared to permanent renting, cash flow patterns fluctuate based on seasonality. You know exactly what you get in hand at the end of each month when renting your property permanently. Property owners need to be aware of this. Permanent renting is not the preferred choice of many of our clients, since they either like to use the house themselves during the year, have had bad experiences with permanent renting, and they like the fact that the house generally cops less wear and tear while holiday renting, or a combination of these factors.

Hence, I am transparent with owners up front and advise them on the best option for their situation. In the end, we want the best result for all.

The NSW Government is planning to introduce new regulations for short-term holiday letting; can you tell us more?

This in response to market changes seen in big cities like London, New York and San Franciso where many apartment buildings have seen a dramatic shift in residency composition from permanent tenants to holiday makers. The government objectives are to address housing affordability, avoid so called party houses and parking issues, and ensure residential quiet enjoyment and security.

The NSW planning commission is assessing rules such as limiting the number of nights a property can be rented out during the year (to 90 days a year), limiting the number of adults per bedroom, expanding strata rules, applying a registration process, and other administrative requirements.

What would these new rules mean to SOLscape and the greater Port Macquarie area?

These rules, in their current form, would be devastating to our communities and economy. We would lose out on tourism dollars and jobs would be lost.

Applying these rules to regional NSW does not make sense. Some of the rules do make sense to metropolitan and high density areas, like Sydney and the Gold Coast.

Traditionally, people from out of town have owned holiday homes in our region for decades. These houses will never become available to the permanent rental market, since the owners use the houses themselves during the year, similar for owners who holiday let their primary home while they travel during the year. Hence, 90% of our holiday houses do not negatively impact housing affordability in the Hastings area.

The issues such as noise and parking that the government likes to avoid are unsupported by factual evidence. For instance, the number of complaints last year across all SOLscape holiday rentals was less than 1%.

Holiday guests stimulate our economy and help our local small businesses flourish. Everybody goes shopping, buys a coffee and goes for dinner at local restaurants! Without the influx of tourists, jobs would be lost.  Think about the cleaners, tradesmen, laundry operators and gardeners we employ. We all support each other.

SOLscape is one of the parties that has made our voice heard in a formal response to the NSW Government and trust that an independent party will advise smartly on metropolitan versus regional guidelines and introduce industry self-regulation.

We notice a new logo; what’s the story?

Our direct booking website launches in December 2017, which is very exciting, as it will be easier for guests to book their next holiday. We found that the new logo is more visible. The logo is still a modern representation of the sun and took inspiration from the Aboriginal symbol for “place of rest”. The dots in the outer ring symbolise the sun’s rays, its rotation and the strong connection with all other planets. The centre resembles the sun as the heart of our being.

The logo also resembles Port Macquarie as the centre, with its radius of outerlying beach towns such as Lake Cathie, Bonny Hills, North Haven and Camden Head area and even further afield like Crescent Head in the north and Forster/Hallidays Point area in the south.

What is happening over summer?   

We are getting ready for the busy season; we have over 700 guests arriving in December, January and early February. Here are some fun facts:

  • Guests stay 4.6 nights on average.
  • 35% bring their pet(s).
  • We welcome many travellers up and down the coast for one night stays.

We will keep doing what we do best to put a smile on the faces of our guests and owners!  Happy summer, everyone!

Thanks Susan.

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