Chamber of Commerce: The Right Membership for You?

Erin Colbert —  October 22, 2012

Chamber of Commerce for Vacation RentalsYour local chamber of commerce — also called a board of trade or economic development council in some areas — is a business organization that specializes in advocating with different levels of government about business issues. They’re also a great place to network with other local business people, and they often get involved in supporting local businesses and the community through events and other initiatives.

As a vacation home owner, you have a variety of memberships, subscriptions and services to consider every year. Should your local chamber of commerce be one of them?

About the Chamber

The first chamber of commerce was founded in France in 1599; similar networks can now be found around the world, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Canadian Chamber of Commerce.

While the goal to be the voice of the business community is standard, every chamber operates as an independent organization. Some have thousands of members while others have just a few dozen.

Each chamber offers different benefits to its members — and a different membership fee — so be sure to get information specifically for the group that’s active in your area. Then, compare those benefits with your needs to assess whether joining is the right decision for you.

The Benefits

People do business with people they trust, and your local chamber of commerce is likely the straightest path to building relationships and visibility within your community. While specific services and benefits may vary, there are many common points across every organization.

Networking —

If there’s one strength to any chamber of commerce, it’s networking. However, you also want to make the most of your networking by building connections with people who can help build your rental business.

Chamber Networking EventThink about what you want to get from networking: Is your objective to build your profile in the community, or do you want to focus your efforts on generating leads?

If you want to take a more focused approach, review the list of existing members before you join to see whether groups that are likely to impact your business are represented. You may also be able to attend one or two meetings as a guest.

  • Do you have the perfect rental location for outdoor enthusiasts? Review the list of members for local guides, equipment providers, and nature groups.
  • Want to cater to business travelers? Use the chamber’s network to identify the companies most likely to draw these visitors to the area and connect with their representatives directly.

Word-of-mouth is a powerful source of leads for your business, so ask whether the chamber has any programs to encourage referrals among its members.

Information and Advocacy —

Because chambers of commerce are so focused on things that impact the local business community, they’re likely the best source for relevant news about bylaw changes, new construction, revised tax rules, and other developments that may impact your business.

They may have the political clout to give you a voice about regulations that impact your property directly.

Chambers often offer professional development opportunities through guest speakers and workshops, covering everything from business trends and new business opportunities to marketing and legal issues.

Visibility and Advertising Opportunities —

The tactics vary, but chambers of commerce offer advertising opportunities to their members. This may include a website listing, advertising in the member newsletter, the chance to send a promotional flyer to all members, or programs targeted to particular groups of people.

You may also receive a membership plaque — or have permission to use their logo on your website — which helps build trust with potential renters by indicating that your business is stable and reputable.

Many chambers also actively promote local tourism and accommodations, either through a listing directory or other visitor-focused services. For example, the chamber of commerce for Niagara-On-The-Lake in Ontario, Canada, offers an accommodation booking service that encompasses vacation rentals, inns and bed & breakfasts.

Discounts and Special Member Offers —

Chambers of commerce can often offer special discounts to their members, either through group purchasing power, or members offering deals for other members. To help promote your vacation rental, you could approach other members to barter services, or offer a referral bonus to those who send business your way.

The Drawbacks

The value of the chamber of commerce for your business will vary by organization; some have services that cater to businesses like vacation rentals, while other chambers don’t recognize vacation properties as a small business.

It’s possible that the only way you’ll be able to truly assess the value of membership is to give it a try and track what happens:

  • Do you form any business-building relationships through the organization?
  • Does the chamber or its members send referrals to you, either in person or online?
  • Does your listing on the chamber’s website, or other advertising opportunities, drive traffic to your website?
  • Are you able to take advantage of any of the available discounts?
  • Is there a way to duplicate these same results on your own, like adding your listing to other locally-based sites, or networking through a different group?

What If You Live Somewhere Else?

If you don’t live in the area where your rental property is located, search chamber members for other vacation owners and ask for their input. You may find that benefits like online networking, promotional opportunities and information sharing still make the membership valuable.

photo credit: Truthout and Thompson Rivers

Erin Colbert

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Marketing at MyVR.com. I help vacation rental owners improve their online marketing efforts and get more inquiries & bookings as a result. You can find me on Twitter and Google+.
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