For vacation-rental property managers in growth mode—and in today’s high-demand market, that should ideally be all VR property managers—digital marketing prowess is paramount. And that doesn’t mean just having nice-looking OTA listings, or a well-performing Facebook ad, or a good SEO guy. It means approaching digital marketing strategically, and analyzing performance rigorously. It means finding gaps where you could be generating vacation rental revenue for your owners and your business, but aren’t. And it means demonstrating your digital marketing mastery to potential acquisitions, winning their business, and keeping them in your portfolio. Here’s how, straight from the industry’s leading experts.
- Optimize listings across channels.
- Use a flexible pricing model based on hard data.
- Use guest communication to fill gaps and add “extras.”
- Retarget lapsed guests and lost leads.
- Make mobile booking a breeze for guests.
1. Optimize vacation-rental listings across channels.
One-and-done is not an ideal marketing plan for vacation-rental properties. But all too often, owners “feel” they’re doing just fine because they’ve been getting consistent bookings through one sole channel. “Then, suddenly, they realize they’re charging half of what their competitors are charging,” says Marcus Rader, founder and CEO of PMS and channel manager Hostaway. So they raise their prices…and suddenly they’re not getting bookings anymore.”
This is where channel management comes in. To optimize both occupancy and vacation rental revenue, a property needs to be positioned and marketed across multiple channels. This means understanding individual channel demographics, filters, booking behaviors and pricing options. Property managers who utilize channel management software can show owners greater value, and much more easily model revenue and occupancy projections.
2. Use a flexible pricing model based on hard data.
The vacation-rental market is in flux, especially as COVID surges and declines…and surges again. But even during non-pandemic times, short-term rentals are subject to high seasons and low seasons, along with factors like weather, local events and school breaks. Add this to the new “flexible living” trend, work-from-home mandates and the advent of the “digital nomad,” and you’ve got a rental market that redefines the word “dynamic.”
Which means pricing needs to be dynamic, too. For smaller property management companies, adopting a flexible pricing model may mean something as simple as “making assumptions and adjusting pricing accordingly,” says John deRoulet, director of enterprise sales for top VR revenue-management platform Wheelhouse. To start with, “Just do time-based stuff. For example, if a property is not booked within XX days, know you’re going to drop the rate.”
3. Use guest communication to fill gaps and add “extras.”
Low-hanging fruit is the best kind of fruit when it comes to digital marketing. In the short-term-rental space, that fruit is the already-booked guest. This guest has swirled around the top of the marketing funnel and popped out the bottom. They’ve already invested in your value proposition and entrusted you with their booking dollars. Now is the time to look for ways to better serve them pre-stay and in-stay, while capitalizing on revenue opportunities.
“Our first job as a vendor is creating an access code, getting that code to the guest, and communicating that we’re excited to have them,” says Rick Gay, VP of revenue for hospitality automation platform Operto. But messaging shouldn’t stop there. “As you get closer to the date, you have more chances to maximize the revenue from that stay,” Gay adds. You can say, “Just FYI, if you want to come on Thursday night as opposed to Friday, the property is available, I can give it to you at 50% off,” avoiding a return trip to the OTA, and filling shoulder dates, with basic messaging.
4. Retarget lapsed guests and lost leads.
“The most expensive guest is a new guest,” says Michelle Marquis, chief revenue officer for TravelNet Solutions, creator of multiple tech platforms for vacation-rental and hospitality marketing and management, “so it’s important to have a strategy to talk to guests with your current database.” And that’s the role of CRM (customer relationship management) marketing.
With a good CRM platform in place, you can easily look up everyone who made reservations last year, or who has stayed three out of four years, and compare them to this year. You can then set up emails to go out on a scheduled cadence to encourage repeat bookings, and show past guests new property options that might appeal to them. “There are so many rich options when you’re speaking to guests,” Marquis says. “And these are inexpensive opportunities.”
5. Make mobile booking a breeze for guests.
It may not technically be considered “marketing,” but your mobile booking engine does put a face on your brand and your business. And it should be one that guests are happy to see. Marquis points out, “Data shows that guests are searching on mobile, but most often, they go home, and book on a PC or a laptop or ipad. And that’s because it’s a pain in the butt to book on most mobile booking engines.” Once the guest gets back to their laptop, “They start googling, and that means they’re starting their search all over again.” Which means you run the risk of losing their business, after doing all the good work to get them to that conversion spot.
Natasha Garber covers short-term-rental industry trends, news, regulations and compliance for NoiseAware. Her posts on STR property management technology, privacy-safe noise monitoring, and licensing laws can be found weekly on the NoiseAware blog.