Suncoast Post Interview with Heidi Banyas, Co-Owner at Cortez FL Vacations
I had the opportunity to sit down and interview Heidi Banyas, co-owner of Cortez FL Vacations in Cortez, Florida. Heidi is well known in the Anna Maria Island, Bradenton, and Cortez area. We sat down for several hours to discuss her latest endeavor. Heidi is quite the go-getter!
Can you tell me about your background and how you became involved in vacation rental management?
Twelve years ago, I started a vacation rental cleaning business. It gave me flexibility with my family and a steady income to provide for my kids. Several years later, I got my real estate license and dabbled in real estate for several years. I learned a lot about my strengths and weaknesses within myself and business and sales. Although I love real estate, showing properties continuously day after day and the countless hours with contracts, I found myself missing time with my family. The best part was meeting people from all over, spending time with them, and focusing on how I could help them find a home and fulfill their dreams. I especially loved seeing all the different home’s interiors, exteriors, and the uniqueness of each home and what it had to offer each client. The craftsmanship, style, and decor were what inspired me. The more houses I showed or visited, the more my imagination wandered…and dreamed.
What inspired you to create Cortez FL Vacations, and how did you go about setting up the business?
My husband, a fourth-generation commercial fishermen and long-time resident of historic Cortez owned a small house in Cortez that we had an annual renter occupying. When the renter decided to move back north, John was deciding what he would do next with it. With Airbnb’s becoming the choice in the rental vacation world and me deciding what direction to go with my current background, I decided to create a fun project that would benefit both John and me and vacationers from all over. I wanted to create an Airbnb space where people could come to stay and enjoy all the historical aspects of Cortez and the quaint fishing village. A home away from home that was both welcoming, cozy, and inviting. It was then that I created Cortez FL Vacations with the hopes of adding more Airbnb’s to our rental availability. I created a business online with a license for lodging, purchased the name, and had Sande Caplin and Associates build me the most informative, amazing website.
What sets Cortez FL Vacations apart from other vacation rental platforms like Airbnb or VRBO?
Cortez FL Vacations provides the opportunity to rent a vacation home without paying all the added fees that Airbnb and VRBO charge. We have used the Airbnb platform in the initial stages of getting the properties the most exposure, but we will be transitioning to mainly booking on our website for the ease of guests and affordability.
Can you describe the types of properties that are available to rent through CortezFL Vacations?
Cortez FL Vacations is a company that provides rental cottages with a quaint old historic feeling inside the cottages and the common exterior areas. Each one is set up with its own unique style, different decor, different colors, and different floorplans. We kept a lot of the old historic feeling of the cottages while adding some updated charm we. We have four one-bedroom one- baths cottages and a three-bedroom 2 1/2 bath on the waterfront acre property with a 150-foot private dock and several seating areas for your comfort. We also have a boathouse bar with commercial icemaker and plenty of seating for vacations or functions.
How do you ensure that your properties are well-maintained and cleaned between guests?
Our professional cleaning company does all between cleans, and a linen service does all our linens between check-ins. Cortez FL Vacations has an on-property groundskeeper that comes daily to keep the property in pristine shape. We also have a contractor that takes care of all of our maintenance with an on-call electrician, plumber, and AC repair and pest control.
How do you manage customer service issues that may arise during a guest’s stay?
The guest receives their check-in information within three days prior to arrival. The day after arrival, I personally message every guest to ensure that they arrived safely, were able to access the property and to see if they needed anything for their stay. I am always accessible by phone and will generally respond within 30 minutes of receiving a message with any issues or questions. We live locally and have several businesses in Cortez. Therefore, we are around for most issues that should arise.
Can you discuss your challenges in running Cortez FL Vacations and how you overcame them?
Starting a new business is never easy; modification requests, changes, hiccups, and challenges always exist. The anticipated time frame for any project to be finished is a never-ending unknown. As we know, anything worthwhile takes time, patience, and effort. My husband John always said if you don’t put your back against the wall, you will never do it, so take the risk! Anyone who knows my husband knows that that’s worked well for him in business!! It’s great advice for me and those around me, especially our children. As we all know, no property or project is ever fully finished, so as time passes, we will continue to add, update, and provide significant fun, memorable vacation experiences for our guests in the future, and that will be ongoing.
What kind of feedback have you received from guests who have stayed at your properties, and how do you use that feedback to improve your service?
We have been extremely fortunate that we provide clean, quality vacation rentals for people to stay. Among our many guests who have given us a review or feedback, we have had positive reviews, good vibes, and wonderful guests. Sometimes guests give us a private note of something that they saw that can improve the property or a recommendation regarding the property (which we love and appreciate) but mostly we have had happy guests who have either booked for next year or can’t wait to return as future guests. They have been great at spreading the word and recommending us to friends, family, and other guests. I think the most important part to providing good quality guest experience in any business is relationships foremost and also not spreading yourself so thin that you can’t maintain quality and service . More is not always better! We have very much enjoyed getting to know most of the guests that have stayed with us and look forward to many more friendships along the way.
Can you discuss any plans for expanding Cortez FL Vacations in the future?
Cortez FL Vacations consists of five historic 1936 waterfront cottages and one separate cottage in the village of Cortez. We have one additional cottage to be remodeled within the five waterfront cottages, hopefully within the next year and a half. The plans for this year would be to add a commercial pool to the property, a privacy fence that runs the length of the property, outdoor showers, and exterior outdoor handicapped restrooms for weddings and functions. We always have the opportunity to add more properties to our vacant lot that abuts the four currently available waterfront Cottages.
How do you keep up with trends and changes in the vacation rental industry?
After traveling over long distances to get to your property, guests expect a customized and seamless experience waiting for them. Renters will disengage and most likely never return if they sense that you’re more interested in their money than their experiences while in your vacation rental. It is a business for us but also an experience, our livelihood, and the community we wish to build.
Guests expect that a high level of thoughtfulness and planning would have been integrated into the entire guest experience, from booking a stay to little details throughout their stay.
Communication is key for me. Keeping in touch with guests as much as possible, even before they arrive (if possible, I send them a list of favorite places to eat, things to do, and helpful information. We keep a well-maintained and clean property with top-notch amenities. We pay attention to details (clean bed sheets, bedding, and towels), provide toiletries, and visit the property daily, with hopes of meeting and introducing ourselves to guests. Patience and understanding that things can go in a direction you may not have planned is ok and will result in growth. It’s ok to take risks and not play it safe. Going to a level that’s out of your comfort zone sometimes leads to the most success!
Can you describe your pricing strategy for the properties on your platform?
There are many different ways to price your property and what it offers. Waterfront vacation rentals bring more interest to vacationers coming from different parts of the country who may not have access to the water and enjoy the waterfront while vacationing. Others also enjoy having their boat, paddleboard, and kayak, so our property brings a lot of uniqueness to how it’s laid out and what it has to offer. You can use typical auto pricing through Airbnb. That gives you an idea of other vacation rentals in the area and what the rates are going for during different times of the season. I tend not to use that or maybe only a guide when pricing our property. The prices change throughout the month.
How do you market Cortez FL Vacations to potential guests, and what channels have been most successful for you?
Due to the fact that Cortez FL Vacations is fairly new, social media is a great hub and engine for marketing the property. Repeat customers and reviews have been key in our bookings. Sharing photos of various functions, we have had at our venue in combination with videos and photos shared among public sites as well as our website and Airbnb itself.
What advice would you give someone interested in starting their vacation rental business?
Having owned a cleaning company for 12 years and being so particular with that business, it was evident to me when starting Cortez FL Vacations that cleanliness, organization, friendliness, and relationships with guests are important, first and foremost. Getting all the facts, guidelines and researching what has been successful for other vacation rental owners has been helpful. I think the biggest thing that has been a driving force for me is again, patience and time. It seems as though what happens with many vacation rental business owners is that they take on too much in a short period of time. There has to come a time that you decipher what is manageable for you as a business owner so that you can do it well instead of spreading yourself so thin that it becomes too cumbersome and demanding.
Finally, can you share a particularly memorable experience or story from your time running Cortez FL Vacations?
I can’t pick one particularly memorable experience when having started this business. I have met so many amazing guests from all over the world that I have had the pleasure to cross paths with. My husband, John and I can’t tell you how many of our guests have either had drinks with dinner taken on our boat, shared our family with, our stories, and have become friends and will be repeat guests. Having a business, yes it does drive income, but more importantly, the relationships you form along the way is the ultimate goal!
It’s fun for me. I love decorating and remodeling. I love flexibility. And I love what I do! With a bachelor’s degree in psychology, previous cleaning company and real estate background, I’d rather manage my Airbnb, have the opportunity to meet amazing people and provide them with the best experience we can while traveling. We had a welcome reception for a wedding. We have had several celebrations of life, and we have hosted a few rehearsal dinners. Having a space that we can share with others to create memories, remember loved ones, and just gather with family or friends, was the most satisfying part of our journey with Cortez FL Vacations in Cortez Dockside Cottages.
Thank you, Heidi for taking the time to share your wonderful story about Cortez FL Vacations and best of luck.
Cortez Fl Vacations
4515 125th Street
Cortez, Florida 34210
Photos from Heidi Banyas