For many owners, normal is being booked 40% of the time or even less. As you master the key few things that give you the best results, occupancy of 80% or more can be routine.
→ If you have skipped over Rental Basics, go back now. Without the basics, you can’t advance!
My list for achieving Rental mastery is:
- Customer Obsession/ repeat customers
- Guest reviews/ social proof
- Fast response/ slick process
- Own website
- List high/Adwords
- Experiments and measurement
Before I start, you should realise that there is a lot to be gained financially by increasing occupancy of a holiday rental property, eg from 40% to 80%. It can be many thousands of dollars. That means it is usually worth investing the time and cost in the various steps in getting to mastery.
How you spend your time is the most critical. Do you spend time on reorganising the DVDs in your rental or do you streamline your booking process? Do you buy some new curtains – or do you invest in your own website? Do you do your own cleaning, or do you contract it out and spend the time on improving your marketing? For me the answer is very obvious.
Customer Obsession/ Repeat Customers / Email List
As you start your journey to exceptional bookings, you will need to know everything about your customer, through lots of conversations with them. How did they find you? What keywords did they use? Why did they book with you? What did they like about their stay? What was missing? Would they be interested in this new feature you are planning? The conversation should not be intrusive, but somehow you need to know the answers. There are many ways to do it – on site chat, telephone, guest book, exit survey – you can experiment. I do all of the above at various times, and I usually learn something new.
The end objective of customer obsession is partly knowledge. However, the underlying motivation should also be for your guests to have such a good experience that they will come back, and tell their friends. A repeat customer is worth a lot of revenue, and the marketing cost is low.
Somewhere in your booking process you need to capture your guest’s email address. Then regularly you send an interesting email that helps bring your property back to mind and the great time they had before, and sometimes a booking. Your list is a very valuable asset.
Some listing websites don’t give you the guest’s email details. You may need to be creative. They are your guest, get them on your list.
Guest Reviews/ Social Proof
It is a fact that your guests will trust a review written by anybody else before they trust the flowery claims on your website.
I’ve lost count of the number of times a guest will book saying ‘.. and I really like what the reviews said’. You should be targeting more than a review per month. You need to make it easy for the guest to leave a review. You need to understand the process intimately; a helpful guest with a great experience will usually be quite happy to tell you exactly what it was like leaving a review.
Fast Response/ Slick Process
As I’ve said in my post on conversion of enquiries to bookings, fast response is important. I’m talking minutes from the instant of the initial enquiry until you are talking with your prospective guest.
All your processes should be standardised. You must have templates for everything you do, but with room for personalising where you can. I target a personalised email response to my enquirer within 2 minutes of the enquiry.
The booking process should be easy, easy for your guest. I like to give my guests the easy option of paying on the spot by credit card, or even online. I know I have my money instantly, and they get instant bank confirmation. Snail-mailed long agreement forms for signature are for those who don’t want repeat customers!
Physical access to your rental should be easy, easy. A clear welcome pack with a map. An onsite key access arrangement, so guests can come any time. Keys are harder for apartment complexes, but are easy for stand alone properties.
Your backend processes should be simple and foolproof. As any owner knows the ultimate nightmare is a duplicate booking! It is far worse for us small operators because we don’t have another 10 apartments at our fingertips! Having said that, it is handy to have a network of other owners nearby who might help you in a tight spot.
Now we are coming into serious territory.
Why do you need your own website?
Because you then have control. You can run an Adwords campaign to drive traffic. You can email past guests, and have them book without any commission. You can list prominently on Google local business for free! You can build your own SEO ranking (take care – here be dragons!).
If the big holiday rental listing site jacks up their fees, you can leave and drive traffic to your own site. You can have a local visitor guide. You can run specials with pretty photos. Videos, guest reviews, you name it. And it’s all yours.
The downside is that a website costs. It can cost $5,000 or more to develop, and some extra to maintain. You need a trusted developer, or a slick efficient website building system.
You can do it yourself for almost free – using something like WordPress – but that takes time and knowledge. If you like building websites, it is better than free, it is play.
Another overhead to your own website is security. Some owners have been hacked 3 times in 3 months by bad guys. The sites might be backed up, but it is a headache they don’t need.
List High / Adwords
Folks browsing usually start at the top and work their way down. Common sense. But translated into numbers it is an opportunity. The overwhelming majority of traffic goes to the top half dozen options. If you list high, you usually get more traffic.
Some listing sites give you the opportunity to pay extra and be listed higher, and get more traffic. On the other hand if you are listed on the 20th page, you are nowhere! You can run experiments and see if it is worth your while to pay more for a higher listing.
Google Adwords is a serious option for rental owners. This is where you can pay Google extra for your own ads to be listed at the top.
Done well, Adwords can be very good business. I found some ways of running Google ads that let me dominate a market niche inexpensively for years.
(Warning, here be dragons!). If you don’t know what you are doing with Adwords, you can lose your shirt! Get good information and you can get good rewards.
Experiments and Measurement
As you might have gathered, I’m a big believer in running experiments and measuring the results. One of the wonderful things about our industry is that you can quickly run experiments on the internet, and stumble your way to success! It does mean you need to keep good records at times and change one thing at a time.
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