Tag Archives: marketing

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.

3 Powerful Ways Vacation Rental Companies Can Adapt to Changes in the Marketplace

Be prepared for change.
Be prepared for change.

If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.” – Gen. Eric Shinseki

There is massive change underway concerning how vacation rentals are marketed, booked, and paid for online. We’re just in the beginning stages, but make no mistake, the industry is going through a massive shift again.

The fact is, like it or not, the genie isn’t going back into the bottle. Gone are the days when guests shopped out of a catalogue or brochure and booked their vacations several months, if not a year, in advance, and never tried to haggle over price.

Now guests compare prices, book at the last minute, and think they deserve a discount simply for shopping online. To complicate things even further, companies spend millions of dollars a month to convince guests to book their vacations through them, instead of picking up the phone and calling you. What’s more, the move is being made to allow guests to book your units without having to send an inquiry first.

The good news is, all is not lost. But it’s going to take some adaptation and that word no one likes, “change”.

Here are some things that you can do today to help ensure that your vacation rental business will be around for years to come.

Market to your past guests – I can’t encourage this enough. You are sitting on a goldmine in the form of your past guests and yet most vacation rental companies do not actively market to their past guests. This is the most important thing you can do that will offset people going to an OTA or listing site in order to book their next stay with you.

Contact them regularly (bi-monthly is fine) with compelling calls to action and offers. Just getting in front of them isn’t enough. Tell them why they should stay with you again instead of going somewhere else.

Target communications to specific segments of your customer base. Do you have homes that are perfect for families? Send an e-mail highlighting those units to past guests with kids and talk about all of the family friendly things that your area offers.

Have units that don’t seem to rent as well as the rest? Put together a “bargain” offering. Lower the minimum night stay for those units. Offer up to two tickets for a local event or show if they book one of the units by a certain date. There is a ton that you can do to keep your company top of mind with your past guests. Be creative and leverage your uniqueness.

Yield Management – If you don’t know what this is, you need to. In a nutshell, Yield Management is taking advantage of supply and demand. You can raise or lower your rates and minimum night stay in order to capture more revenue. More revenue = longevity and greater freedom.

Here’s one example of how you can leverage this. The majority of guests book holiday vacations (Christmas, New Year’s Eve, etc.) several months or more in advance. Determine how far in advance you get the majority of those bookings and charge a premium for booking during that period. Say you get the majority of your holiday bookings 8 months prior to arrival. Increase your rates 10%-15% for bookings that are made 8 months or more in advance.

On the flipside, determine the time period in which you get virtually no bookings for the holidays (usually a week or two before the date) and offer a reduced rate and/or reduced min night stay to capture additional revenue. The goal is to leave as little money on the table as possible.

Distribution – This has become the “necessary evil” for many vacation rental companies. Distribution channels like HomeAway, Airbnb, and TripAdvisor are here to stay. Like it or not, most travelers are going to start at these websites to book their next vacation. So having your units on these sites gets them in front of eyeballs that otherwise wouldn’t see them. The thing is, you don’t have to love this fact in order to benefit from it. Get the guest through distribution, and keep them coming back through direct marketing.

Here are a couple of guidelines for distribution:

  • Use what works. You don’t have to be on every site out there. Focus your inventory on the sites that drive the most bookings and ignore the rest. Even if what works is a little more expensive than what you’d prefer.
  • Make sure your units stand out. Take the time to get great photos. Write descriptions that help the guests see themselves in the unit and enjoying all that the location has to offer. Don’t assume that guests are going to connect the dots on why they should stay with you. Write photo captions. Highlight positive guest reviews and respond to negative ones. Don’t try to hide the fact that you got less than a 5 star review. The negative reviews give legitimacy to the positive.
  • Split the marketing costs with your owners. More and more sites are moving towards a commission based pricing structure and many vacation rental companies can’t afford to swallow the entire commission. It’s worth suggesting to your owners that in order to continue to participate on a particular website (which delivers $X a year for them) you can’t continue to eat the entire commission. All of the companies that I know that have done this haven’t regretted it. Some of their owners said “no”, but they’ve been surprised at the number that have said “yes”. Most people tend to be pretty reasonable and fair if you frame your request in a thoughtful, “win-win” sort of way.

Putting it all Together

Each one of these things is good to do but the key is to combine all of them into a cohesive strategy. What works best for you will depend on your location, type of guests, booking trends, and individual economics. It takes a little bit of time to find what works for you, but it is absolutely worth it in the long run.

If you need help getting started or aren’t sure how to figure out what will work best, I can help. Contact me and we’ll get started.