By CRAIG WHITE
As a society, we do it over and over again - cram 80% of activity into 20% of the time.
For example, we do most of our buying and giving in the short period of time around Christmas, while the other times of the year see us acting much more fiscally responsible. We party like mad on Saturday nights, only to spend the rest of the week watching TV or telling our friends what a great time we had Saturday night. Ever worked on a long-term project at the office? Then you're probably very familiar with the 80-20 rule. North Americans seem to enjoy the idea of "Rush Hour."
Vacation time would seem to be no exception. In the two months of summer vacation (a figure either too short or too long depending on whether you are a student or a parent), hundreds of thousands of families jostle for position at holiday attractions like sharks in a feeding frenzy. It doesn't have to be this way.
Admittedly, there are some factors beyond our control here in the Great White North. I've heard our four seasons described as "Almost Winter, Winter, Still Winter and Bad Skiing,” so if you want a fortnight soaking up a combination of UV and Vitamin D, July and August remain your best bet. We also have to think about the kids, of course, and virtually every school board in the country has decreed that this is vacation time.
My favourite week of the year is the one that begins on the Tuesday immediately after Labour Day. It's my version of New Year's. The schools are clean and polished awaiting another year of learning and the world seems to gear up again - the perfect time to get away from it all. Before the children arrived, that week was always our first choice for vacation, for a number of reasons. First of all, vacation goes MUCH better when you know everyone else has spent theirs and is back at the office while YOU'RE just getting started on yours. Next, there's the economic advantage - in that one day after Labour Day, the vacation property climate switches from a seller's to a buyer's market. Finally, Kerry and I have never been much for crowds, so it's nice to see them driving in the opposite direction when we're heading for the lake.
The weather in the shoulder season (June and September) can be just as good as it is in the summer, often superior if you don't care for stifling humidity. Combine that with low prices, no lines in restaurants or stores, quiet beaches and trails and for many it just doesn't get any better.
Winter, of course, brings with it a whole new set of attractions. Canadians should know how to make fun of winter as well as anyone. Skiing, snowmobiling, ice fishing, skating ... the list goes on and on. There's something about the taste of a hot coffee after a session of tobogganing with the kids that is truly divine. Why not spend a weekend at a cottage pursuing these - if you're really lucky, you'll get snowed in for a week or so.
That leaves the spring and autumn months. Spring offers blossoms and that general good feeling of shaking off the Winter Blahs. October has the fall colours. Frankly though, I just can't find a whole lot good to say about November - the leaves have gone, it's generally grey and it's the month that I am forced to add “one” to my own personal year counter. Even still, a weekend getaway with a warm fireplace, a few good novels and/or a close friend can make even November a vacation month.
OK, so have I convinced all of you to forego the summer months and spread out your downtime more effectively? Likely not, and it's going to remain a buyer's market in the off-season. If you're on the other side of the fence - a property owner or manager - what can you do to avoid your property gathering dust when it could be gathering a return on your investment? We know (see above) that anytime is cottage time. All you really need is a bit of promotion.
First off, get people to see what they're missing. If your property is a winter getaway, make sure your advertising contains photos of snowy fun or a pristine snow-covered lake. Try to make sure you capture the mood of the season - make sure you take that shot of autumn leaves in full sunlight with the background of a dark blue sky. Highlight the fireplace and hot tub, the proximity to ski resorts, the nearby snowmobiling trails and anything else that people might not take for granted.
Secondly, do some research on pricing. Again, the laws of supply and demand are in play here. If you are close to ski resorts and other winter attractions, you may be able to actually charge a higher price in the colder months, but more often a discount is a requirement once July and August are history. You have to see what others are getting, and compare your features with theirs. Keep in mind that with web advertising you can experiment a bit and react accordingly.
If you are close to annual festivals or attractions, make sure to trumpet that fact in your advertising. People may waffle on the idea of visiting a festival or renting a cottage for the weekend, but the combination may be too tempting to pass up. Making a list of events and dates can help. You might try putting together special rates or make arrangements with festival organizers for tickets and other enticements.
Finally, if you're not near a single festival or attraction, consider making your own. Perhaps a series of theme weekends with other nearby property owners. Even a simple package offering use of cross-country skis, fully stocked firewood and a complimentary bottle of wine or apple cider can make the difference. Larger resorts do this all the time - there's no reason the little guy can't do it as well.
November is here, the weather stinks, summer is a distant memory - have a great time at the cottage!