Vacation Rental Marketing - You Better Take This Personally
In this article, I’m going to be talking about the biggest change in the vacation rental business in the next two years.
This is a change that you need to be aware of and more importantly, it’s a change that you will need to implement in order to stay competitive.
Here I’ll discuss what’s coming and how you can leverage it in order to outsmart your competition and get more bookings.
The vacation rental business is evolving and it’s evolving rapidly.
As owners and managers, we need to adapt and evolve alongside this evolution in order to avoid extinction.
The biggest predicted trend in our sector is personalisation.
Industry websites, publications and thought leaders all believe that the travel sector Shangri-la will become more personal.
In short, they all agree that personalisation will be the holy grail of the business in the coming years.
In this article, I share some personal thoughts on getting personal with your guests.
Where we are now…
Ironically, when it comes to the vacation rental sector personalisation has been steadily, and in many cases, totally eroded over the last 10 years.
Since the birth of Airbnb, all of the big online travel agencies have done all they can to remove personal contact between the owner/host/manager and the guest.
When operating a commission based business these companies need to keep the homeowner/host and the potential guest apart or they risk ‘leakage’.
They have erected what are commonly called ‘walled gardens’ but these barriers are much more of a heavily defended barbed wire fence, forming a communication no man’s land.
All pre-booking discussions are censored.
Emails that you and your potential guest send each other are redacted without notice.
It’s anything but personal.
When potential guests contact these companies customer service departments they are connected to overseas help centres where the operators read from scripts. These CS representatives know nothing about the homes in question or the areas in which the homes are located.
A cottage industry turned into a commodity, stack them high, warehouse business.
Back in the days before listing sites, all of our business was transacted personally. We talked to our would-be guests, we answered their questions and provided for their needs.
In many cases, we became long-term friends.
We discovered that George and Mary like to play golf. We learned that Sue and Burt are avid hikers. We're delighted that John and Marie became devoted grandparents to twins, Theo and Sally.
This helped with our marketing because we could personally help our guests…
We could email George and Mary to tell them that the local golf course is offering reduced rates for late tee-off times in October.
We could let Sue and Burt know that there are local guided walks available every Wednesday and Friday in spring and fall.
We could contact John and Marie to let them know that we have added additional children’s play equipment in the garden at our rental home so that Theo and Sally can have more fun when they visit.
These personal touchpoints stimulated bookings.
It was personal.
Now, some would say that you can still have conversations via the big platforms but there are various levels of personalisation and talking one on one is far more intimate than emailing through third-party systems.
Worse still, the big companies bombard the guests with corporate email after corporate email (anyone using booking (.com) will know what I mean). As the companies have zero personal interest in you as a homeowner they are not averse to recommending other peoples homes too. Something that never happened in the old days.
This depersonalisation doesn’t stop with people.
Real estate agents sell properties. People live in homes.
No two of our rentals are the same. They too are personal spaces. We decorate and furnish our homes to different tastes and styles but when you lump thousands of homes together, listing 50 or more on a page, they just become properties.
This in itself sanitises any individual qualities that your home may have.
The mere process of advertising on one of the big listing sites makes your above average home just another average property.
The next few years, where are we going?
Here’s what some of the leading lights in the travel sector have to say about the coming few years…
- In a recent interview, GetYourGuide CEO Johannes Reck said that ‘true success in the future of travel comes down to personalization.’ (Tnooz, 2018)
- Personalization is the name of the game in 2018 when it comes to the travel customer experience. (Skift, 2018)
- If a travel brand tailored its information and overall trip experience based on personal preferences or past behaviour, 36% would be likely to pay more for their services. (Google/Phocuswright, 2017)
- Google’s Vice President of Engineering for Travel and Shopping, Oliver Heckmann, says that nearly 60% of consumers believe that their travel experience should deploy the use of AI (Artificial Intelligence) and base their search results on past behaviours and/or personal preferences. Google’s data shows that 36% of consumers are willing to pay more for these personalized experiences. (PhocusWire, 2017)
Don’t take this personally…
You can see from the quotes above that there’s a lot more to personalisation that chatting to the guest whether pre-booking, during the stay or post stay.
As the saying goes,
“People prefer to do business with people than with businesses”.
Like it or not, we are going to have to reinvent our businesses. If personalisation is the future then doing business with companies whose entire premise is impersonal will be detrimental to your business.
It’s that simple.
There are two sides to the personalisation of your business.
1. Your persona/brand
The first is projecting your own personal identity, persona, qualities, tastes, experiences and recommendations. It’s these traits that will set you apart from the masses and in a marketplace of over 11 million listings the number one factor in success and survival will be individualism.
Owners and managers will need to expand their websites far beyond the property. They will need to tell their story.
This starts with your ‘about us’ page and it needs to tell your customers all about you (obviously) but it also needs to tell guests why you bought a property and what drew you to the area in particular.
Here's an example where the family have shared a very short video of themselves having fun.
Further down the page (https://saltandsandals.vacations/about-us) they show photos and video of their rental being built
Just like choosing a vacation, buying a property starts with a location and you need to get across why you chose your locale in particular. Tell people about your passion for the area. Tell people what you do when you stay at your rental.
Enthuse, expand and educate.
Add family photos and add photos and videos of you doing what guests themselves will be doing on vacation. If they see images and videos of you having a great time, they can imagine themselves having a good time too. The aim here is to form an emotional bond so that potential clients get to know you straight off the bat.
In this example, Laurie and Jeff tell site visitors about their dream of owning a property on Maui, their family history in Hawaii and what they do when they aren't on Maui (click on the image to see the page itself)
Another advantage to personalisation is that if people connect you, the owner, to the property they will treat your home with more respect.
Become a virtual tour guide (who works 24 hours a day, every day).
Share your personal experiences and recommendations via your blog.
This not only helps guests with what to see and do, what's on and where to eat and drink but it also helps build your brand and it keeps Google’s spiders happy. Both of these aspects are essential in this oversaturated marketplace.
This turns your website into a local magazine
Here's a screenshot of part of Laurie's and Jeff's blog (What to do in Maui Magazine)
Laurie has written around 75 articles (so far) and each of these gives guests a personal insight into island life.
Just click on the image to see the page itself
Taking things to the next level
Historically, blogs are somewhat cumbersome to navigate (articles are date sorted), so here at Vacation Soup we have introduced geotagging on all posts so that the guest can access the blog when they are out and about exploring the region.
Guests can pull up a map that displays where each recommendation is located, relative to where the guests are at any time.
They can use the served up recommendations to help shape their daily activities...
You can click on any of the examples below to read the recommendations themselves...
Maybe the guests are hungry...
You can see how Laurie's site is acting as a personal concierge for her guests, helping them plan, research and enjoy their vacation (24 hours a day).
Can you say the same about your website?
Here's what Laurie has to say about this form of marketing (and Vacation Soup)
It's because I found this site... that I never had to join VRBO/ABNB/TA etc.
I've been independent and successful since the get go. It's a lot of work, but very rewarding to know that I can vet and speak to each guest that books with us.
I now have a successful travel blog that ranks in Google and Bing (because of you and your video courses) and I've branched out to now have a web presence in most of the social media formats as well as Pinterest.
It's daily work but it's paying off.
I control the money, I control 100% of my business and never had to bow to the big guys. So thank you for all that you've brought to my VR business.
2. Customer service - Treating guests as individuals
When it comes to customer service for potential, current and past guests, the current service levels across the board are pretty low with regard to communication.
Owners tend to answer initial questions prior to booking. Send rental agreements once the booking is made then provide access details just prior to the vacation. Very few follow up with newsletters or emails post stay. Even fewer provide details on what to see and do in the area pre-booking and during the stay.
Most, if not all, owners could up their game in this area. Better communication leads to higher conversion rates (more bookings), better reviews and more repeat bookings. Personalised communications take this to a new level.
Enter the chatbot.
It’s now relatively easy to set up and deploy a chatbot on your Facebook page and your website and it will handle a lot of your customer service needs.
Chatbots can answer a lot of customer questions quickly (instantly in fact) and effectively and can save an owner a lot of time and provide great customer service.
We all have to deal with frequently asked questions and the keyword here is frequently.
People ask the same questions, over and over… ‘are you pet-friendly’? ‘do you provide a cot’? ‘is there off-street parking’? ‘how far is it to the beach’? etc.
Chatbots are ideal for providing the answers to these questions. This increases service levels and saves us a lot of time. That’s a win-win in any book.
Meet Bella, our chatbot at vacation soup...
There are 2 sides to setting up a chatbot.
The first is drawing up a list of FAQ’s and their answers. That’s pretty straightforward and could be done in just a couple of hours (if you don’t already have an FAQ section on your website).
The second is the techie side of creating the bot itself but this can be outsourced using services like Fiverr, Upwork or Freelancer. This will cost you anywhere between $50 - $1000 depending on the size and complexity of your bot.
Up until recently, we didn’t know much, if anything, about our site visitors but with the advent of messenger bots we can not only answer our visitors' questions, we can also ask them questions and guide them to the information that they are looking for.
We can ask if they are looking for somewhere to stay or for information about the area. We can ask if they are looking to play golf, go hiking, visiting with young children or have interests in other activities.
The bot retains these questions and answers so that we can send targeted communications to past leads highlighting relevant PERSONAL offers. Just as we did with George and Mary, Sue and Burt and John and Marie at the beginning of this article.
The use of bots doesn’t stop there though.
With some imagination, you are in a position to take things to otherwise uncharted waters. If you have a healthy blog you could set up suggested itineraries or serve up geo-related information depending on where the guests are at any time.
24% of travellers use their smartphones to find out information about the local area.
Who better to serve up this information than you, the local expert.
You can go from host to virtual personal guide offering relevant recommendations on the fly. With no work other than the initial set up. The bot will do the rest.
By treating guests as individuals rather than a homogenous group, it also means customers are far more likely to return in future.
- 2 billion messages are sent between people and businesses monthly
- 56% of people would rather message than call customer service
- 53% of people are more likely to shop with businesses they can message
The travel sector is constantly evolving and in order to survive we, as owners, need to evolve with it. We need to embrace change or we will be left behind.
Personalisation is working its way into this business. We need to reintroduce it into our businesses.
You cannot offer a personalised service if you rely on faceless corporations to bring you your guests. There is no getting around this fact.
At the end of the day the big sites can, and will, employ personalisation through AI but only owners and small to medium-sized managers can serve up a truly personal service.
and personalisation can only come from you (and your personal bot).