If you’re in the vacation rental industry (or you’re thinking about entering it pretty soon), you probably already know who Wil Slickers is. And with good reason.
His meteoric rise from renting out his parents’ place to establishing his super-successful Pacific Northwest rentals company Recreation Rentals has made him one of the hottest names in the industry. Having gone from 1-7 properties within a matter of 2 months—Wil’s company has projected to reach $1M in revenue in the next 12 months.
Since 2018, he’s also hosted the Slick Talk: The Hospitality Podcast and has a track record of understanding how hosts and property managers use tools such as smart technology to revolutionize their operations and continually improve guest stays.
And it’s safe to say his use of property tech has transformed his life.
From the overwhelming workload at his previous job, he now describes his stress as “very low”, with the freedom to “chase his dreams” and finally start traveling as a digital nomad with “a new generation of professionals”.
He’s even reached that elusive point, where all the complaints and issues he had when he was a hotel manager now have real applicable solutions that work.
When he went full-time with the podcast and Recreation Rentals, he “had that raw moment where I knew if I wanted to really be happy, I couldn’t stay where I was. It was time to take control of my life.”
“Before, I never felt as though I truly belonged and I felt lost. But when I discovered hospitality, that’s when I found a natural love and passion for people, which I’d known was there all along. I felt pulled to elevate the industry.
“Using smart tech allows us to focus on what matters most; building a business that intentionally creates beautiful and very human moments.
“I had a lot of fear, doubt, and anxiety to overcome, but the ‘entrepreneur drive’ kicked in. It was almost as if I woke up the next day as a completely new person.”
But at Operto we know it’s tough to figure out how to use technology in a way that actually makes life easier, not more complicated. As Wil says, you want tech that “works.”
That’s why we asked him exactly how he’s managed to scale his business so fast, without piling on the stress, or getting caught up in complicated systems.
Read on to discover:
How Wil went from helping his parents rent their space to leading the way in the STR industry, and finding the time and ease to follow his dreams,
The exact tech stack that makes it all possible,
And how he’s building on his existing success to make major strides in the future.
By using tech in a super-connected yet simple way, Wil has proven that it’s possible to leverage the power of digital automation without losing the personal touch.
He’s shown how super-connected devices can save you time and hassle, so that you and your team can focus on offering truly exceptional guest experiences, rather than worrying about back-end logistics.
Here’s how he did it.
Despite his success, Wil wasn’t always the vacation rental expert he is today. After a career in hotel management, he moved slowly into vacation rentals. He started small, helping his parents shift from less profitable, long-term rental, to the much more profitable short-term rental model.
By standardizing processes such as design, linen, and amenities before listing the property on Airbnb, Wil enabled his parents to boost their revenue from $1,800 a month in long-term rent, to $3,000 to $5,000 some months.
“I realized we were basically creating a one-bedroom hotel. And I thought, okay, there's something here, and I saw what hotels were lacking and how short-term rentals could fill that gap. I knew this was an area for me to jump into.”
Leveling up the guest experience
Fast forward to today, and Wil is a major rising star.He was recently listed as one of the Top 20 Most Influential People In Hospitality & Top 20 In Vacation Rental Technology, alongside huge names such as Vered Schwarz (president and COO of PMS platform Guesty) and Andrew Kitchell (CEO and founder of dynamic pricing platform Wheelhouse).
And, as co-founder of Recreation Rentals, he is building, in his own words, “a positive and sustainable business, with an exciting and beautiful vision that us entrepreneurs live for.”
Recreation Rentals is a boutique vacation rental management company, based in the breathtaking Pacific Northwest, with locations in Warm Beach, Camano Island, and Snoqualmie Pass, WA.
With a tagline that includes “worry less, happy guests, guaranteed,” the company aims to bring Wil’s stress-free philosophy to its stays, using hotel-level tools and practices to level up the entire experience for everyone involved.
As it happens, this mission is exactly in line with one of the major hospitality trends set to dominate in the coming years: excellent guest experiences.
As Wil explains: “We like to create a destination out of a property, and really make sure that when our guests arrive, they have everything they could ever want, so they never really need to leave the property.
“But when they do leave, they have all the perks of the destination itself. So partnering with local businesses, like wineries or breweries or coffee roasters, you name it. And other services like that. That's where we really love to focus.
“We’re focusing on local partnerships with the best and favorite restaurants, coffee shops and roasters, breweries, tour and activity operators, and more, so we can ensure our guests have the best experience with us.”
Part of Wil’s passion for the project is because he’s about to embark on the exact kind of freedom-filled lifestyle that so many of his clients aspire to as well, and is set to start traveling and working on the road as a digital nomad from October this year.
He believes that this type of demographic—young, entrepreneurial-minded couples and solo travelers—is the future for many in the industry.
“That lifestyle was already there but Covid has made it more of a reality,” he says.
“We have been more disconnected from other humans in the last 18 months than ever before, but the internet is a crazy thing and I’ve met so many people who I’ve become really close with these last couple of years.
“This lifestyle gives individuals and even small groups of people the opportunity and flexibility to capture that feeling of meeting people beyond the computer screen again.”
Even for people who aren’t planning to become full-time digital nomads, Wil believes that the trend is changing the face of the industry for the better, with tech at its core.
This might mean travelers wanting to add a few extra days to their trips, so they can continue to work when they aren’t out exploring. Or it might mean people who work from home, so they’re really keen to find a sense of community or place when traveling.
Smart tech makes this possible, by combining the demands of modern life with the adventure of a trip away.
As Wil says: “The funny thing about travel is that life at home never stops just because we are away. So, our job is to ensure that they have what they need to meet the demands of life.
“Need to attend a Zoom meeting or webinar while on a ski trip? Perfect, we have fast and reliable Wi-Fi with a dedicated workplace just for that. You can let your snowsuit dry off and be ready to hit the slopes right after.
“Smart tech allows us to check off all the right checkmarks for travelers. Easy access to the property, a great digital guidebook...you name it, we make sure it’s a part of the experience so they can focus on living.”
The Avengers of Hospitality Tech: Wil’s ultimate tech stack
If you're wondering how Wil went from 1 property to 7 in a matter of 1-2 months, with projections for 25 properties in the next 12 months, while still managing to travel around and work completely remotely, here's the exact tech stack he uses:
Contactless access with Operto
Noise monitoring platform NoiseAware
Vacation rental insurance and guest screening with Safely
Hostfully PMP (property management platform)
Dynamic pricing tool
The stack is so finely tuned, with so many industry-leading tools, that Wil even calls it “the Avengers of tech.”
He says: “The process of building the stack has been pretty fun! These are our ‘must-haves.’ With our properties being spread out via location, we need reliable tech so we don’t need onsite staff, or have to keep driving to the rentals.”
Operto is one of the first elements of the stack that the company rolls out to new properties, including Yale Assure locks connected via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, which are then in turn connected to the Operto system.
“The cool thing about smart locks with Operto is that this also helps us document when our cleaners or maintenance staff start/stop a job or clean,” Wil explains.
“We also can see when guests check out so we can get our team onsite sooner to have the place ready for the next guest. Gone are the days of wondering who is on-site, when staff start and complete jobs and tasks.
“It even answers the question of “what if there is a party on my property?” Now we can know and have the data to back it up and that will help us become better operators as we scale. Our maintenance staff and housekeeping all have their own personal codes, and Operto makes it super-easy and simple.”
Technology also enables the company to stay just as streamlined and stress-free as ever, even as the number of its properties rises, Wil says.
Wil explains: “Within our first year of being in business, we have been able to scale and grow, all because we have the right tools, the right people, and the right systems to make it successful without damaging quality and reputation.”For example, Operto’s ability to create a new keyless entry lock code for every guest automatically takes the manual admin out of reservations, which would otherwise become unmanageable with a growing portfolio.
“Making operations simple is key. You can turn on a listing and start getting bookings, but if you don't have good operation flow, that's where many people struggle.”
He recommends that operators who want to build their own best-ever stack follow the following process:
Understand your business model. What markets do you want to target? How can you use technology to scale and tackle operational challenges and pain points?
Look into which platforms already connect with each other. What integrations already exist? What tasks do you not want to spend all of your time on as an operator?
Then, start testing all of them…yes, all of them. It’s really important to know what is going to be able to fit your operation flow and model.
Once you find the ones you like, you can start building out a cost model and sign up, and get started.
Start with Property management software (PMS or PMP). Let that be your hub.
Then, connect the access control, noise monitoring, guest screening and insurance, operational, cleaning and maintenance software, and the dynamic pricing software.
Simplifying the stack
Wil also uses Operto to consolidate his tech stack, to enable the management of various platforms on a single dashboard. That way, this wide array of tools functions as a single, powerful unit.
“It’s a total gamechanger,” he says. “I can see how many check-ins I have for the day, how many checkouts, and how many units are waiting to be cleaned. I can see if the property is locked or unlocked. Right now, we can see that our Camano Island property is unlocked.
“That probably tells me the guest is there and on-site, but it’s locked. So maybe they're inside and being safe, or they're outside exploring the beautiful outdoors that they have. It’s great to have a sense of what's going on in the property.
“Simple things like that really make a big difference.”
Connect your operations
Curious about how going tech-first can simplify and transform your business?
More good tech, more great moments
Like many of our case studies doing pioneering things, Wil set out to implement tech that made staff and guests’ lives easier right from the start. This sits at the heart of his overall mission, too.
Because, beyond the convenience and security advantages of technology, the main benefit for Wil is how it enables him to continually improve the guest experience, and offer real, “memorable moments”.
More technology doesn’t mean cold, faceless, or clinical. Quite the opposite.
“These tools enable the human-to-human connection, right?”, he explains. “I'm not using smart home technology to get rid of humans. I’m using it so I don't have to worry about a lot of the stuff these companies take care of.
“They streamline things for us, so we can have fun. Make partnerships with the local restaurants and massage therapists, get wine delivered for the anniversary couple, or to set up a kayak trip around the lake for this other couple that wants to explore the outdoors.
“We just want to focus on that. Freeing up time using tech enables us to create something cool to offer our guests while they're here with us. That's why we use these systems.”
And despite his success, Wil is also happy to admit that he is still continually learning when it comes to short-term rentals.
Learning curves and connection
Switching to a tech-first, hyper-connected system has not been without its learning curves for Wil, as with any new process or platform.
He explains: “I thought I had a good understanding of the software and the tools, but talking about them on the podcast is very different from actually doing it.
“Setting up the locks, making sure that they connect to Operto, and that it’s pushing the information correctly to Safely, and NoiseAware...learning the little steps in between has been a good challenge.”
That’s why Wil is so big on testing each part of the tech stack in turn, figuring out what works for you, and partnering with companies such as Operto, which prioritize customer service and continue to offer support throughout set up and beyond.
Now, having succeeded (and then some), Wil’s confident he can help other hosts and property managers to implement what he’s achieved.
Working with a company such as Operto is all about that process: helping operators to set up their perfect system for optimum success, and continue to make sure it works at its best for years to come.
Standing out from the crowd
Installing and using the software is one thing, but showcasing the power of technology, and its ability to continually improve guest and staff experience is now also a major part of Wil’s public mission.
He says: “Talking about our tech is definitely part of our branding. You'll see a lot of companies that are, I think, a little nervous to showcase their tech stack.
“But for us, we take full advantage of their brand and of the tools. As a growing company, we want our owners to see firstly, that we’re professional in operations. But secondly, that we really do choose the best of the best.”
With most bookings coming in through OTAs, emphasizing the power of technology in the brand’s public platform can help his units truly stand out from the crowd.
This includes making sure that curious guests, who might check the properties out on social media before booking via an OTA, get a great impression right off the bat. This means making sure that the company’s online presence highlights the quality of its industry partners, properties, and team.
“That really helps build trust from a guest standpoint,” he says.
‘Focus on guests; the money will come’
Building on his existing success, Wil has set his sights on yet more growth, and more effective use of smart devices without losing the business’ all-important human connection.
He plans to branch out with more smart devices, and explore more ways that tech can enhance the business, save costs, and become more sustainable, without losing perspective of what’s important: the guest experience.
“There are so many cookie-cutter companies out there that are like, ‘I'm gonna show you how to make a million dollars in less than a year on Airbnb.’ And they don't care about guest experience or operation flow,” Wil says. “It’s all money-focused.”
Instead, Wil advises operators to focus on streamlining operations, focus on the guests and owner, and trust that if you take care of that, the money will take care of itself.
“Focus on your vision and bring your own unique twists to it. That’s what entrepreneurs live for. Just focus on creating a really good brand, and use tech to streamline and implement really good business processes as standard.
“If you do, the money will come,” he says. “Don't worry about that.”