Vacant nights vacation rental booking calendar? You’re in good company. While the short-term rental industry overall continues on a growth trajectory, many hosts and property managers are seeing dips in bookings. Several factors are impacting the market. First, there’s the sheer number of vacation rentals on available. Vacation rental supply grew by more than 20% in 2022, and continues to rise. That means more competition for bookings, at a time when those bookings may be fewer and farther between. With inflation still very much in effect (though likely to plateau) and potential economic recession on the horizon, some travelers are delaying plans or canceling them altogether. Others are opting to still travel, but stick a bit closer to home.
But more rental competition and fewer guests doesn’t mean you should give up and turn your STR into a long-term rental. Or sell it outright. There’s still tons of potential for short-term-rental revenue in 2023. And with a few simple tools and tweaks, you can fill bookings gaps, even at the last minute. Here are six strategies to point you in the right direction, plus an insider tip on when not to fill vacant nights.
- Use a dynamic pricing tool to fill vacant nights.
- Message guests and offer specials on vacancies between vacation rental bookings.
- Appeal to remote workers and encourage mid-term stays during slow months.
- Update your rental listing photos to win coveted bookings.
- Emphasize seasonal pricing and features to fill vacant nights.
- Consider changing your cancellation policy or easing up on rules.
1. Use a dynamic pricing tool to fill vacant nights.
Mathematical magic or pure wizardry? Whatever you choose to call it, dynamic pricing can significantly help your vacation rental bookings. Using algorithms to look at the big picture (aka the supply and demand in your area), dynamic pricing technology adjusts rates in real-time, helping fill vacant nights by:
- Enticing last-minute reservations by gently lowering rates on upcoming available days
- Setting competitive pricing in the off-season—ultimately increasing conversion and strongly positioning your home for peak season
- Incentivizing extended stays by generating discounts on “orphan days” (the dangling unbooked days between stays—think the Thursday before a weekend booking)
2. Message guests and offer specials on vacancies between vacation rental bookings.
Smart software also makes it easy to identify gaps between stays. With messaging templates, you can quickly email or text your guests with discounted rates. A few ideas:
- Invite previous guests back with an incentive, like a free night or a discounted rate. Blast out your special offer to your email subscriber list if you have one, calling out the dates and discount in the subject line
- Add a sense of urgency by putting a deadline on the discounted offer. For instance, add a few lines to your confirmation template, letting guests know they can tack on an extra night for a 50% discount if they respond within 24 hours
- Update your listing description and social network sites with the upcoming dates that have special rates
3. Appeal to remote workers and encourage mid-term stays during slow months.
Now more than ever, people are choosing to live that digital nomad life. Completely changing the way we work and travel, the COVID-19 pandemic also impacted the short-term vacation rental industry in the process. More guests are now choosing to book mid-term stays (one month or more) where they can work remotely in a new location, often during the slow season. And it’s not a trend that’s going away anytime soon. To appeal to remote workers and increase vacation rental bookings during slow months, make sure you:
- Provide high-speed WiFi that works in all areas of your house
- Create a comfortable work setup, either a designated office or at least a comfy chair and desk
- Set up your office area in a place that has good lighting, or invest in options to brighten the area, like a good lamp
- Revamp your indoor/outdoor living areas. Most guests working remotely won’t be hitting the town every night and are more likely to book a place that has a great spot to relax after a long day of Zoom meetings (think living areas with smart TVs and fireplaces or decks with firepits and grills)
4. Update your rental listing photos to win coveted bookings.
You may think your listing photos are fine. But is fine good enough in today’s competitive vacation-rental marketplace? And are you the best judge of how your listing looks and feels to potential guests?
If it’s been awhile since you updated your Airbnb photos or the images on your direct booking site, it’s probably time for a refresh. Your photos should be crisp, bright and professional looking (after all, the other properties’ photos you’re competing with are!). Important photo tips:
- Take photos during the morning or afternoon, when natural light is at its peak.
- Even so, turn on lights in rooms you are photographing.
- Use your camera’s grid tool when photographing your vacation rental: Place your focal point (the bed, sofa, a game table, jacuzzi tub, etc.) where two grid lines meet, to draw the viewer’s eye, and give them the best viewing experience.
- Point your camera toward the corner of the room – this perspective will make the room look more spacious and airy.
- Declutter, but make the space inviting – you can do this with fresh white sheets, quilt and pillowcases in the bedroom; gleaming countertops and stainless steel in the kitchen (plus a detail shot of your coffee station if you’ve got one!); and fresh or hung towels in the bathroom, and a closed toilet lid, please!
- Photograph in high definition and use a tripod for clean, clear, crisp images.
- Use photo editing software (Adobe Lightroom, VSCO, Snapseed) to really make your vacation rental photos stand out among your competitors.
5. Emphasize seasonal pricing and features to fill vacant nights.
Seasonal rates give you the flexibility to adjust your pricing for not only the peak, shoulder, and off-season, but also special events like long weekends, holidays, or specific occasions in your area. While you won’t want to drop your prices to budget status, offering and marketing lower off-peak rates can help keep you earning more and keep your calendar full. A few additional ideas:
- A week for a week – Offer a 10% discount during the peak season when guests rent an entire week during the off-season
- Ease minimum stays – Consider also lowering the minimum stay during the off-season and shoulder months (i.e 1-3 nights vs. 1 week)
- Special packages – Take note of events in your area during the off-season (wine festivals, sporting events, etc.) and offer free or discounted tickets. Or partner with local businesses (restaurants, spas, etc.) and provide gift cards with the reservation
- Modify listing description – Updating your listing description to showcase seasonal events, activities, and perks of your home will not only boost your vacation rental’s appeal but can also help you rank higher on Airbnb and your other OTAs
6. Consider changing your cancellation policy or easing up on rules.
Having more flexibility with travel is also important in a post-pandemic world. Guests want to know they have security in case things suddenly shut down or change after they make a reservation.
Offering different booking cancellation options can not only build trust but also help fill vacant nights. This could look like adapting policies during specific periods throughout the year (say a firm and strict cancellation policy during the peak times and a moderate and flexible policy during slower months).
When should you leave your vacation rental vacant?
Sometimes it makes sense to shutter your home and leave your vacation rental vacant. Maybe you need the slow season to work on maintenance projects, so you can spruce up your place without losing the prime revenue during peak season. Maintenance is especially important in light of the new Airbnb refund policy, which gives guests up to 72 hours to report “travel issues” such as broken or missing amenities, and request partial or full refunds.
Or maybe you just need a moment to catch your breath and get a head start on preparing for the busy months. It also all depends on your location. If you live somewhere highly seasonal like Cape Cod, with many vacant homes driving rates down, you may run the risk of increasing your expenses while your rental income drastically decreases.
If you do choose to “winterize” your home or leave your vacation rental vacant for a period, just make sure you’ve safeguarded your home from weather-related problems, increased security, and kept utility expenses low.