Category Archives: Customer Retention

Expedia’s Purchase of Orbitz Approved – What This Means for Vacation Rentals

Photo by Alexas_Fotos
Photo by Alexas_Fotos

Many have seen this coming, and the writing has been on the wall for quite a while now. With hotels firmly in place, it’s just a matter of time before one of these companies (Expedia or Priceline) dominates the vacation rental market.

I think this is likely to play out one of a few ways;

  • One of these companies buys AirBnb. My money is on Priceline given recent comments by their CEO. AirBnb is a cash cow and they are better suited to the hotel model. (Mostly RBO and willing to rent for a single night.)
  • Expedia doubles down on TripAdvisor (they essentially own it) and tries to crack the vacation rental nut. They definitely have the cash, though they have had plenty of time to do it without any significant results. TripAdvisor seems to be focusing more on hotels, and will likely decide that’s where the money is for now. Particularly given their less than stellar recent financial results, they will likely decide they can’t risk putting too many eggs in the vacation rental basket.
  • One of the companies make a strategic investment in HomeAway. I doubt an acquisition is on the horizon, though it could happen. My money is on Priceline given that Expedia already owns TripAdvisor and as mentioned above, Priceline is chomping at the bit to get into vacation rentals. (It’s also possible that HomeAway becomes a viable contender to Expedia and Priceline, but I think that’s unlikely at this point.)

Of the three, my money is on the first scenario, though I would not be surprised to see the third one happen.

What this means is that more and more bookings are going to be made through OTAs and the standard is going to be the “Book It Now” model. (I predict that by 2020 the majority of listings will be this way.)

What does this mean for vacation rental managers?

  • Diversify revenue streams – the majority of revenue for vr managers has historically come from rent. With OTAs and listing sites taking anywhere from 10%-30%, other revenue streams will become critical. This will include everything from additional charges to concierge services and damage waivers. (Companies like Discover Sunriver are doing some really innovative stuff with their loyalty programs. Check it out here.)
  • Yield Management – this is already an important part of revenue management, and it will become more and more critical as time goes on. The days of having two pricing structures (high season and low season) are almost gone. If you aren’t capitalizing on the nuances of supply and demand then you are falling farther and farther behind. (Read more on Yield Management strategies here.)
  • Direct marketing – Use the OTA’s and marketing sites to get new customers through the front door, then use direct marketing to past guests to keep them company back. This is going to become critical for survival. (Read here and here for more idea on this.)
  • Automate, automate, automate – Streamlined processes are going to be key to reducing costs. This doesn’t mean sacrificing that personal touch that differentiates vacation rentals from hotels. This means automating processes like check-in/out, keyless entry, auto-correspondence and credit card processing, etc. It won’t be cost effective to employ someone to manually send out guest correspondence and process credit cards for example.

The good news is that this is still just the beginning of the transition, so there is plenty of time to start making changes and gradually transition. You can start now upgrading units to keyless entry and remote climate control. Start now building a loyalty program and direct marketing campaigns. Explore new ways of driving revenue through additional services, referrals, and programs.

Smarter Marketing to Past Guests

Welcome back!
Photo Credit: Sarah Joy

One of the mistakes that I have seen many vacation rental companies make is assuming that anyone who has stayed with them before will stay with them again. Instead of regular communication to stay top of mind, they take a passive “If they had a good time they’ll come back” approach. The thing is, this doesn’t work. Not for the majority anyway. Maybe before online bookings and OTAs changed the game, but not now.

It’s just like dating. If you want to see them again you have to pursue the relationship. You can’t assume that because they had a good time the relationship is now defined. Customers are playing the field these days more than ever.

Not only are we constantly bombarded by tons of messages vying for our attention and dollars, OTA’s and listing sites spend millions of dollars a month to get those same guests to book through them. And they’re doing a really good job at it.

The good news is, you can take some of that ground back. While there are no hard and fast rules that ensure success, here are some guidelines on developing a successful strategy to bring your guests back to you.

1. Determine who your customer is. This may sound too obvious but it’s more nuanced than it appears. There is a particular demographic that tends to frequent vacation rentals in your area. Find out who they are and market to them.
Most reservations systems capture some kind of guest information that you can use to build out your customer profile. Is it mainly families? Outdoorsy types? Twenty-somethings? People with pets? Likely it’s a combination of several attributes.

You can cast a wider net but spend the majority of your efforts on your key demographic.

2. Target your offerings. With maybe the exception of holidays like Valentine’s Day and Christmas, a one size fits all approach doesn’t work all that well. Instead, cater offerings to different segments of your customer base. You can promote a relaxing or romantic “Weekend Getaway” for couples. A “Family Fun Week” for guests that have kids, or an “Adventure Weekend” for people without kids that includes kayaking, jet skiing, or rock climbing. 

Your reservation system likely won’t capture all of the data that you need, but you can make some educated guesses based on other demographics. For example, a younger (late 20s-early 30s) person that has never brought kids with them, and only stayed in a 1 bedroom condo/home is probably going to be more interested in an Adventure Weekend than say, the mid-40s couple that brought their kids and stayed in the 3 bedroom home with the pool last summer.

3. Cultivate a relationship with your customers throughout the year. Don’t just blast them with a generic “We’re still here!” message a couple times a year. Instead, focus on things like:

  • What information can you share about your area to get them thinking about the upcoming travel season?
  • What do they need to know in order to plan their stay and make the most of it?
  • Are there new attractions or events that would interest them? A restaurant that’s been getting national attention?
  • Are there things that they need to take into consideration when they travel? (Construction at the airport? Road work? An event that’s drawing tons of people? A new resort that’s causing congestion?) 

Become the expert on your area and share the important stuff with them.

Why would they be better off coming to your area and staying with you? Help them connect the dots. Blogs and social media can be great for this as well.

4. Play your booking curve. You’ll want to send out your ideas and offerings right before and right after the peak of your booking curve. The peak is that period of time that the highest percentage of bookings are made.

Let’s say for instance that July is your busiest time of year, and that the majority of those bookings are made 30-60 days out, in April and May. You’ll want to send your communication pieces in March, June, and August. This will spike interest during those slower times when you are less likely to get passive bookings (passive booking = when the guest takes the initiative) and can net you some additional dollars.

5. Have a compelling offer and call to action. Reminding guests that you exist isn’t enough. You need to prompt them to take action. Usually that means dangling some kind carrot in front of their nose. Maybe that’s a discounted rate. Perhaps it’s reducing the minimum night stay. Or a free night. Or two tickets to a local event. Maybe one free canoe rental. Or a round of golf. Whatever it is, make sure that it’s enticing to the audience it’s aimed at, and put a deadline on it. “Book by 6/20/15” or even “Hurry, space is limited and going fast!”

I realize that “discount” is a dirty word to many rental companies. Like it or not, the internet has taught us all to expect discounts. That’s just the way the game is played now. If you don’t have a compelling offer then chances are they’re going to take their business down the street. Whatever it ends by being, figure out what compels guests to book, and then offer that.

The other thing to consider is that, while you may end up discounting a bit to get the booking, you aren’t paying that % to an OTA or website that is going to do their best to make sure the guest comes back to them instead of you. Look at it as an investment in the relationship with the guest instead of a fee to the OTA. Plus you don’t end up eating the commission, you’ll split the rent with the owner.

One final thought regarding unit descriptions. Make sure that you write your descriptions to your target audience. Or at least the audience best suited for that unit. If it’s a house that’s outside the city, but guests like to go into the city for the day, then highlight the fact that it’s close to public transit and is only a 20 minute bus ride to downtown. If your guests rent cars make sure to call out that the unit has a garage, or that there is plenty of street parking. Highlight that it’s in walking distance to a grocery store, restaurants, or entertainment. Provide reasons to stay before they think of reasons not to.

All of these things take a little extra time and energy but they pay off down the road in a stronger relationship with your guests because you’re getting the right message to the right audience at the right time.

What are other ways that you have found build strong relationships with your guests? Put your thoughts in the Comments section. I would love to hear from you.