Functional Luxury: How a Swim Spa Differentiates this Vacation Rental
With the rise of Airbnb and other online booking services, the hospitality market has gotten increasingly competitive. At the Nelson Manor, a three-unit, 7-bedroom rental in the D.C. area, innkeeper Tarus Nelson has found ways to stand out and maximize occupancy rates. He installed an swim spa.
A pool “is the primary amenities search that allows us to come up in different types of algorithms,” he reports. “Where we are, there aren't many Endless Pools. Within that whole Airbnb market, you're not going to find too many regular homes that are offering traditional pools.”
That differentiation is part of the marketing strategy that has given Tarus and his wife, Yolanda, the freedom to travel when their Fort Washington, Maryland, Manor is booked. When it’s not, they have the freedom to swim, play, and train at home in their Endless Pools swim spa.
How it All Started
“This is a home we purchased in 2001,” Tarus recalls. The couple “decided on this being the new foundation for us to start our lives.” Back then, they were twenty-something parents; in the past few years, they’ve become empty-nesters. That’s when “we decided to convert it over into a vacation rental property.”
The seed money came when Tarus sold his beloved Harley Davidson motorcycle. “I didn't have too many riding partners, and it sat in the garage.” In 2017, they purchased a small cottage and listed it on Airbnb. “It was completely sold out all the time,” he says. “From there, we just kept reinvesting.”
It only took until 2018 before “we realized we could create our own brand.” To do that, of course, they’d need to stand out in a crowded hospitality marketplace.
Building a Brand
Their Fort Washington location offers many advantages. “It's so close to all of the attractions of the area. You have D.C. that's 15 to 20 minutes away. You have National Harbor, which is 10 minutes away. The Gaylord Convention Center – about 5 minutes away,” and the list goes on. “We realized so many people want to come here and stay in a different environment other than a hotel.
Without Airbnb, the Nelson Manor needed a digital presence. “My wife and I started the website [TheNelsonManor.com] and started to do direct booking."
They expanded their single-family home “into different rental units. You can rent the main floor and upstairs which is a five-bedroom unit. You can rent the basement apartment which is a thousand-foot, one-bedroom suite. We have this amazing tiny house that is now the Moroccan Cottage. So, there are multiple experiences that we provide.”
One Popular Amenity
“People that are coming here to visit, one of the top amenities they want is the pool,” Tarus has found. Upon arrival, they can’t miss the Endless Pools swim spa. “It’s been nothing but a high-visibility attraction. Once you come outside into our backyard, it's the first thing that people put their eyes on.”
The Endless Pools swim spa is consistently popular with guests, he finds. “They use it all the time. We have some that start off in the morning and use it for aerobics and swim exercise. Of course, the children and the families just simply enjoy it during the day. In the evening, after a long day, everyone just sits in lazy-river mode and enjoys it.”
“We tried to keep it open all year when we first got it. I was so excited. On New Year’s Eve, all of us piled in there in the snowfall, so it was the most amazing gift!” Since then, their Mid-Atlantic climate has made it sensible to winterize the swim spa. “We try to open it early April, if we can, and we’ll try to keep it open all the way to early October. We really get great use out of it.”
The Innkeeper Lifestyle
“We don't have a permanent house,” Tarus notes, and that suits him and Yolanda just fine.
During the Manor’s peak season, “We may stay at Airbnbs. When we're booked for long durations, it's a great opportunity for us to pack up and explore the rest of the U.S., see some of our great parks, or do something exotic and go overseas.”
During partial vacancy, “we stay in whatever’s not being rented.” Staying with guests gives them a chance to make new friends from all over. “We can have renters from ComicCon to CEOs that want to take the entire property and want full concierge service.” Yolanda manages the Manor’s concierge services, scheduling everything from a full-time chef to a poolside massage.
Of course, they don’t have to be booked at all, if they choose. “We shut down whenever our daughter's home from college or our son's visiting” from the Air Force. But increasingly, these reunions require more advance planning.
"We have such a high occupancy rate here at the Nelson Manor, and part of that is because, in the summertime, we have such a great outdoor space and the Endless Pool," Tarus says proudly. "It puts us in a different realm."