Ocean Beds is a market-leading wholesaler of vacation homes in Florida to the UK trade. Katherine Lawrey meets chief executive Harry Hastings
Being able to book the exact vacation home the customer wants, rather than allocation on arrival, is one of the most exciting developments in the Florida rental market in the past three years, says Ocean Holidays’ chief executive Harry Hastings, who oversees Ocean Beds.
“Due to technology improvements, we can now book exact homes, so customers can see the pool and the size of the bedrooms. We have more than 1,000 homes, about 20% of our inventory, in this reservation category. That number was almost zero three years ago. Now demand is soaring at the rate of knots and it wouldn’t surprise me if it becomes 50-50 in the next year.”
He said this was a major advantage when you have groups wanting to book next-door villas, which can’t always be guaranteed with allocation on arrival. However, he added said that new developments in the Disney area – Champions Gate, Encore Resort Homes at Reunion, and Paradise Palms Resort – offer a choice of bigger homes. “The original homes stop at seven bedrooms, but now you can book new-builds with up to 13 beds quite easily.”
Thanks to a combination of renewed consumer confidence and Florida’s more relaxed stance on short-term lets compared with the rest of the US, he said the vacation home market was booming. “There’s been a lot of development on new land since the recession, and when you consider that you can rent a new eight-bed luxury home, all mod cons, near Disney, for the equivalent of $25 per person per night, there’s little comparison with a hotel – the value for money and space makes for a much more rewarding holiday.”
With tens of thousands of homes in the Disney area, Hastings said consistency and quality could be a challenge. “It’s a fragmented market – we deal with multiple management companies dealing with privately owned homes. We look for consistency and professionalism from suppliers.”
Although Ocean Beds’ HQ is in London, he said having a base in Kissimmee, Florida, gave the company a distinct advantage. “We have four inspectors on the ground, eight contractors and reservations staff, and nine front-desk staff in our welcome centre (pictured above), which is open 8am-10pm year-round. When you stay in a villa, you treat it as your home, it’s a very personal experience, so we offer a personalised service to complement that.”
Clients receive a welcome phone call the morning after their arrival and a check-out call the day they are leaving. “More issues tend to arise in villas than hotel rooms,” he acknowledged, “so we do offer that support on the ground. But often the Brits just want to know where the kettle is!”
There’s a free grocery pack on arrival in every home except the most budget, and in the newer homes, a Platinum upgrade is free of charge, offering a mid-stay clean, a barbecue, Playstation/Wii, free international calls and Wi-Fi.
Ocean Beds does not deal with agents directly as it supplies the likes of Travel 2, Gold Medal, Funway, Getabed, and Goodlife Florida Villas. “We’re a wholesaler, a receptive tour operator,” explained Hastings, “and we do our best to stick to the traditional model.”
It was common for agents and consumers to request Ocean Beds over other suppliers, he claimed, and tour operator reservation consultants would have that supplier information to hand. “If booking online, check the address of the welcome centre [for key collection],” he advised. “If it says Ocean Holidays, 3204 Rolling Oaks Boulevard, you can be sure it’s with us.”