Keep your vacation rental booked year round

How to stay ahead of the game and keep your vacation rental booked when others can’t

Proclamation: This is one of the longest blogs I have ever written and it took me weeks to compile the best practices ensuring your vacation rental is booked to the fullest extent possible. Each heading will eventually have a link to an even more detailed article which are all in draft already. Happy Reading!

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After speaking to dozens of high-producing hosts (specifically hosts with very high fill rates while still getting premium rates) it is clear that it is possible to stay booked year-round and maintain high profit margins. If you are struggling to keep you vacation rental booked year round, read on, this was written JUST FOR YOU.

This goal cannot be achieved by doing the bare minimum, it takes a considerable amount of work to achieve this. Everything these hosts do plays a role in keeping their vacation rentals booked with quality occupants all year. They have excellent social media presence, a plethora of reviews all over the internet, and a winning pricing method. From photos to follow up, all of this is specifically targeted to ‘an ideal guest’. These hosts will do the legwork necessary instead of relying on the marketplaces to do it for them.

Honestly, it sounds tougher than it actually is, it simply requires actual effort. Can you do what a major Marketplace is not already doing to keep your fill rates high all year? The short answer is yes.  The long answer requires some explanation.

Before I jump into that; really quickly I want to remind you that the market is not yet oversaturated. The economy is not in a great state right now. You are fighting that, regulations that target unqualified hosts, and seasonality. Do not give up hope. There is always a way to fight back and with saturation, when it does come, will end up meaning less competition because some people will have to fold their hand.

Okay, let’s dive in to it. Each of the following headings is going to tell you what it is and then why it is and what it means. Enjoy!

know your audience

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This may sound ridiculous (especially to people that have been doing this for a while) but it is very important to recognize who your ideal guest is. This is vital. This picture represents what we do not yet know, but you are going to have to figure out. Who is this mysterious yellow clad traveller that wants to stay at YOUR vacation rental?

What do you have? A high-end 8000 square foot home is not going to be incredibly friendly budget-wise for an average family as a vacation spot so your target audience is not going to be a typical family.  Contrast that with an incredibly chic and modern space which may be best suited for a millennial guest.  The appropriately furnished condo may be ideal for a guest that is on a work trip.  If you have a home well suited for relaxing, target guests that can appreciate the calm serenity you offer.

Who are they? If you cannot seem to nail down what your ideal guest looks like simply start asking yourself questions. How old are they? What do they like to do?  Are they looking for a vacation or an experience? Is affordability a primary booking factor or is it the amenities?  If you still don’t know who your ideal guest is, look to previous guests.  Is there any commonality among those people? How can you best market your property to attract more of the same?

Where are you located? Let’s say you have a home in Rochester New York which is near the Rochester Institute of Technology that houses the National Technical Institute for the Deaf. By location alone it makes sense to include a few things that cater to deaf or hard of hearing people. This would mean your audience can now easily include the parents of the students that go to that school.

Your amenities, furnishings, location, and surroundings ALL play a role in helping you decide who to target as an ideal guest. Those ideal guests are going to help you keep your vacation rental booked without large gaps in your calendar.

Reviews on top of REVIEWS

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You probably already know that you need reviews, but just having lots of good reviews isn’t enough anymore. You need an almost never ending stream of good reviews. Wait, what? It shows the marketplaces that you are actively doing a good job. Who do they want to promote? People that are active and getting great results!  We live in such a high-tech world that people often forget about high-touch; that is, connecting with people directly. If you want a review from all of your guests and you want them to be good, interact with those guests in some way.  This is not to say that tech doesn’t have its place, because you can automate reminders and things like that, but having some at least minimum personal relationship with your guest is going to make their decision to actually write that review much easier.

Placement is also key. Yes, you need to have that steady stream of reviews on your primary marketplace but you also need them everywhere else that you are active too. This is going to help people find you online. Reviews all over the place act as back-links to your website too boosting your…whoa cowboy, SEO is an ENTIRELY DIFFERENT SUBJECT. Okay, SEO some other time but enter social media. 

social media

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If you don’t have some sort of presence on social media, fix that…right now…stop reading…go fix it. While that is a joke, I’m not kidding.  But, this social media presence may not be what you think it is. Most people that use social media in this space will post on Instagram and Pinterest or on Facebook pages, which is where the positivism stops. What isn’t great is what they actually post. They may use pictures of their listing as the primary exposure mechanism. Booooring.

That used to work and can still exist but it’s like standing on a mountain next to 1000 other people all raising their hands. Ie, it is not going to get you noticed. So, if you DO include that in your social media presence as part of your brand, add to it what people engage with today and what they want to see. Crud stuffing…I’m lost. That is what everyone does. Should I not do what they are doing? NO

What is working today then? Everything about you and anything that could make their life easier. People want to know your story, they want to know the story behind the decor in the house, they want to know what to do in your area and what’s coming up. They want you to be more than just “a host”.  Provide value for your potential guests (your ideal guests, the ones we already spoke about).

This blog post that you’re reading right now has nothing to do with cleaning or turning an Airbnb or CleanIt, and this is exactly what you need to be doing. You are reading this right now because you want to know how to keep your place booked year-round. Well, one of the ways to do that is to become the authority in your area about your area. This strategy works incredibly well for realtors (the realtors that will remain in the coming correction at least) and it will work for you.

I am not speaking out of the side of my face here, this strategy works for me too. I get new host inquiries every couple of days because of these blog posts. But, I write them because I want to share with you the information that I have gained over the last 8 years to help you, whether you use my service or not.   So, if you don’t have social media, start some and provide value as much as you can while periodically showing off your rentals unique features.  If you do have social media, I’m going to guess you may want to change the way you’re doing it.  

Catering your social media to your ideal client is going to help shape your content  which will help get you in front of the right people which will increase your bookings. It will also help guide that content with little need to “come up with” what people may want to see. If that still doesn’t resonate with you…document your business publicly and watch your audience grow.

Amenities that WOW

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You are going to begin to notice a common theme within this post in 3, 2… Your amenities should cater to your ideal guest. If you are seeking a younger generation that is used to (and expects) technology around them then you should have amenities that align with that expectation. Put a 20 something year old in front of a manual can opener or a rotary phone and watch their mind explode. Deny them access to high speed wifi and watch them crumble.  You would certainly want to mention that your home is a smart home for these kinds of people to help attract them to it. If you’re home caters to a person that just wants to escape reality and technology all-together then you will want to mention that landline telephone, the Babbling Brook outside your cabin,  and instructions to contact a local guide.

Go search through any of the major marketplaces and look for a host that gets this concept. A family-friendly home with a pool might include offerings like a variety of pool floaties, water guns, a pool hoop, and any number of activities that make it more family-friendly.

Think of it in simpler terms. Maybe you compete for the attention of couples or newlyweds. Would you be more likely to get their attention if your listing had a hot tub?  Don’t answer that. Yes, couples search for hot tubs 37% of the time when seeking a vacation rental (according to a 2020 survey conducted by Airbnb, sorry I could not find a newer one). You could be sandwiched between a few cooking schools that cater to vacationers. This would make kitchen gadgetry and wonderment an instant fixation; hot water pot filler, gas stove, convection oven, etc.

Just by listing you property on Booking.com you get access to the extranet where they will recommend top amenities you should have for you listing based on where it is located.  No joke…If you have a listing with them, check it out.  Airbnb does something similar in the performance tab for opportunities.  

contacts contacts contacts 

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At the very minimum you should have collected an email address and phone number from every single guest who stayed in your home. You should also be collecting contact information from social media interactions and pushing them to a collection location (read:CRM) via some automated process. 

Overwhelmingly, hosts KNOW and will openly admit they could be doing more to market their listings themselves to set themselves apart. Since few put much effort into it, just give it a go.

Note: *******Actually. Market. Your. Listing. ******* :End Note

Re-circling a bit…this means you should have a presence on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Tik-Tok, perhaps LinkedIn, and Pinterest.   You should also be emailing your past guests on some type of drip campaign until they tell you to stop.  This too can be automated. Use MailChimp, Constant Contact, or any other capable tool you can find. Some of them are free up to X number of contacts, so early on it wouldn’t mean $$ spent.

Consider contacting the people that inquired about your space last year but never booked with you. Those people should be on some sort of drip campaign too but consider reaching out to them directly if you can stomach the word no on a phone call (you will only get to a yes by hearing the word no several times and you will hear yes more often with practice).  Create a special offer just for these people. This is not a cold call, it is not an unwelcome solicitation, nor is it spam (but be careful not to become spam, SPAM BAD).

Contacts are also good for referrals And if you can make it worth their while by sending them a small token of your appreciation, then you probably have another source of potential new guests.  Just remember that the referral gift, which would only be applied if one of their friends actually books, should match the ideal clientele.

Don’t Forget to Automate

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Ignore the above photo, that is exactly what we mean, but someone else already did the coding for you. Yes, we already mentioned that you need to be high-touch but don’t forget to automate the tech side of it, which is also worth repeating. There now exist a plethora of software to help you run your listings, synchronize them, help communicate with guests, auto respond to inquiries, get reviews, and even assign tasks to other team members automatically when a guest checks out or before they check in.

None of the software out there right now is perfect, but it is still incredibly helpful.  For example, you may find that an incoming booking from Airbnb will not be synchronized to your VRBO calendar for up to 48 hours. You can check that manually but this COULD cause an overbooked situation if you weren’t already aware it could happen. Ask you techy friends who they recommend. Read the knowledge-base articles associated with whatever software you choose. Write to tech support and ask them.

Personal touches help. When you Auto respond to an inquiry you should follow that auto response with a customized response that you write. Remember that our personal relationship with a guest (high-touch) is the best approach to getting that review when coupled with automatic reminders.  AND, even though this software can assign tasks to your other team members, it is still ultimately your responsibility to make sure the messages were received and work accepted by them.

OFFER MORE

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What if you could get the same rates year round if you simply made a concession or offered something extra. Offer something free; an outing, an experience in conjunction with your listing, or a dinner at a popular local eatery.  Maybe your listing is near a sports arena. Would it be too much to offer free General Admission tickets to an event or game there? Not if you are getting peak pricing during the slow season, then it would simply be good business.  If this is something you could do on a regular basis and show a restaurateur, sports facility, or some other local shop that you can provide them with off peak traffic it wouldn’t be unprofessional to ask them for discounted pricing.

You are literally upping the ante for your space AND doing their marketing for them. Maybe they can return the favor and recommend your place too, just one time and all of this “extra” is covered.  This is a chance for you to think outside the box. Send guests on a date of your making for miniature golf, an ice cream social, and drinks. All of this prepaid for at a discounted price in exchange for their paying Peak pricing. YOU MADE THEIR VACATION EASIER. Congrats.

In the same spirit, if that is just too much,offer an additional day for booking out the weekdays for free.  Really think about this for a second, it’s not going to hurt you because it is helping you. Scenaro: You were booked 50% of the time last year during slow season (much of that was Friday to Sunday).  This year, you offer a free day if a guest books two consecutive days Monday through Wednesday, giving them Wednesday or Thursday free. You are still booked weekends at regular price with perhaps a minor concession. But, NOW you are 80% booked factoring in the free day. You’re welcome.

***BTW, you should be using a pricing tool but not a marketplace provided tool. Marketplaces want THEIR fee. They don’t really care about your profit margins so use a 3rd party pricing tool.

Spread Out

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We cannot change that 90% of hosts simply cannot do the legwork to produce their own leads and find their own guests as suggested above.  For those of you that simply don’t have time, spread out to some Niche marketplaces. If you do have time, put in the work and still spread out a bit.

Airbnb and VRBO are clearly the top 2 marketplaces for vacation rentals right now.  But, in an ever closing third and fourth is booking.com and Expedia. These are followed by a BUNCH of niche marketplaces.  Just to list a few: TripAdvisor, FlipKey, HomeStay, OneFineStay, InterHome, 9Flats, bring Fido, Plum guide, All Luxury Apartments, State One, homes and Villas by Marriott International, cool stays, Boutique homes, Villas of Distinction, Four Seasons private retreats, and more.  Not all of these are going to be available in your area but it just goes to show you how many up-and-coming marketplaces exist. (The above are all just links, we do not get kickbacks from any marketplace platform).

Quick Tips for the Major MarketPlaces

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If what you were doing during the peak season was working during an off-peak season then you wouldn’t be reading this article.  Remember, it is not best practice to rely solely on marketplaces to generate leads or bookings for you. However, you can capitalize on a few things to make your listings more appealing.

  • Lower your minimum requirements
  • Couple your vacation rental with a vacation experience
  • Offer rental cars or motorcycles
  • Offer free bicycles.
  • Alter your title for off-season searches
  • (This may sting) Get rid of extra charges during off-peak
  • Incentive longer stays with discounts
  • Become very flexible regarding cancellation policy 
  • Allow instant book

Summary

It is going to take time to get your vacation rental booked and keep it booked but YOU CAN DO IT. Yep, just heard that in my head from those (old) Adam Sandler movies. Dang it time flies! Start by learning about your target audience. Ask yourself questions about them. Are you looking for the same audience all year or will it adjust with seasons?

Attract more ideal guests by getting your name out there. Offer something in exchange for reviews…but not just on Airbnb and VRBO, get reviews on Google and every other platform you are on. Some of these reviews should be on your social media pages and those pages deserve some of your time.

Automate responses everywhere you can but remember to customize an actual response after your bot does the work of answering quickly.

Offer more than you would during peak seasons. Team up with restaurants, entertainment facilities, and consider adding an experience to you listing that you can “give” away.

Be sure to be on major platforms but don’t ignore the smaller more niche marketplaces.

Finally, make some adjustments to your listings to reflect slower seasons. Best of luck!!

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