Advocates

If not, now is the time to learn how you can achieve Rental Mastery:

  • Use psychology to convert more bookings
  • Turn guests into advocates
  • Know the vital few things you should do to achieve the best results
  • Be fully booked 90% of the time

I share with you how I took a brand new rental to 80% occupancy in 3 months.

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Like many short term rentals around the world, we were locked down in my Seazen rental in Melbourne.  How could we get ready and spring back to life when the lockdown was lifted?

I tried my newsletter to past guests to keep in touch, and the results were amazing.  Here is the story.

I decided I’d send my usual monthly newsletter to past guests, and really engage before the lockdown lifted.  I’d make an offer,  foreshadow the opening of my rental and somehow ask them to connect for updates.

The offer
I knew many renters had been burned elsewhere getting deposits back, and had hassles with the OTA helpdesks, so I’d make it risk free and special for them:

  • Preference for past guests
  • No deposit, pay after you arrive
  • Special cleaning – plus a modest cleaning fee
  • Full refund any time if government policy changed after arrival
  • Join an update hotlist to be first to know when we open

Newsletter response
Normally I get a few people letting me know how much they like the newsletter, and a couple wanting to take up the current offer, while it also builds up a bank of engaged past guests who inevitably book sometime later.

In the first hour after sending the newsletter, 14 signed up to the hotlist. Wow!  Then over the next few days more and more. One week on, and I  had 41 on my update hotlist, keen to come and keen to book when they are ready! A truly amazing response!
Part of the success was the pent up frustration of lockdown for past guests, and a great Subject line.  The rest was good timing, as per my intuition.

Opening and real bookings pour in
A few days after my newsletter went out, the government re-opened short term rentals. I sent an update to my new update hotlist, and 80% were opened, exceptionally high. These folks were really engaged.

The bookings rolled in.  Eight bookings in five days.  I was booked out for over a month.  Average booking duration is about double of previous. It was a great outcome.

Looking around our area, some other places got new bookings, but no high end places that booked out so fast. This is the power of a well utilised newsletter database.
In a few days, I’ll send the July Newsletter, already prepared, and I expect more bookings will roll in.

Teething problems with cleaning
My cleaning / booking company had to scramble a bit, and is insisting on a clear day after a stay so they can do extra cleaning including spray of a lot of surfaces that were previously not required.  They are doing a thorough clean, which is great.

The problem was when taking new bookings initially we forgot to block out the cleaning day (OOPS!), but with goodwill from past guests, we tweaked arrival dates so everyone was happy. We also quickly adjusted the process and now bookings run smoothly.

Cleaning guidelines
The OTAs have released suggested guidelines.  Airbnb is here.  Homeaway also has guidelines.  You may find your local tourism association has guidelines, and many have badges of accreditation.

The main thing is you have good cleaning and tell your guests. It is all about safety perception. Be seen to be making an effort and your guests will feel comfortable.

The newsletter that worked
So what was actually in the newsletter that got me back into action so quickly?

  • The subject line was – “Are you stir crazy yet?” (taps into frustration)
  • The offer of no deposit, late payment.
  • The invitation to join the update hotlist
  • There were seven snippets of local news, with some pics. (informs)

You can read a copy here. (posted on Seazen website.)

Sign up free
If you’d like to see future Seazen newslettersyou can sign up free here.

Not a tactic
A rapid result newsletter success like this is an alluring prospect. The thing is, it is not a tactic. This is a part of my greater newsletter strategy. If I hadn’t gone through the work of building and nurturing my list, this one wouldn’t have achieved outstanding results.

From this we will take in excess of $10,000 over the next month, and the hotlist is still full of people who are waiting to be able to book. The power of a well nurtured newsletter.

Having said that, I suggest a quick and simple email to your past guests now is likely to be a big help for you getting bookings when you open.

Sign up to the free Holiday Rental Mastery newsletter
All my newsletters use Mailchimp, free version with branding.  For free indusrty tips like this. You can sign up to the Holiday Rental Mastery newsletter here.

To read about how to write newsletters and how our rentals have run at 80-90% for 20 years read my book Vacation Rental Mastery.

Hear me interviewed. 
One of our industry thought leaders Thibault Masson interviewed me for his outstanding virtual conference “SE Asia  Oceania Live conference”. You can hear it here as I explain our strategy for reopening. We are the sixth video.

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So what do you do when there are no guests?  The pause in bookings may go on for as long as the Coronavirus shuts down business and disrupts our lives.

It may scare people from their normal routines of life for quite some time, maybe 6 to 9 months.  In the meantime, what do you do with all your mental energy that is normally spent on helping guests?

Some owners may shut their rental down for a few months and take a holiday.  Switch off and relax.  However this is foreign to most short term rental owners who are naturally creative and energetic.  A time of opportunity to do some of those things that have been put off for a while.  Here are 3 things you can do.

1 Implement your newsletter.

One of the most powerful assets for a rental owner is a solid newsletter to past guests.  It works for me above all else, but if you’ve been putting it off, now is a great time to build your own newsletter.  It can take a while to go back through past records and build a clean email list of past guests.  Next you can create a store of material and actually write future newsletters.  Then as the population pulls back from the grind of daily coronavirus news, you gently remind past guests that you are still open, and now is a great time to switch off and get some enjoyment at your rental.

2 Mastermind

Have you been putting off forming a mastermind group because you are too busy?  Given that a mastermind group is one of the most valuable ways to get ahead of the pack, now is the time to make it happen. See more about masterminds here.

3 Go on a free swap holiday

Contact a few other rental owners and see if they would like to do a swap.  They stay free at yours and you stay free at theirs.  You just have to pay for a clean, or do the clean yourself.  If could be at the same time or time shifted.  You are both professionals, so you can make it happen and have a great holiday for free.  Also see those little touches that your swap partner has in place as inspiration for you.

Seize the day and grab these free opportunities!

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Everyone is uncertain about travel right now.

No one really knows how the coronavirus will affect them.  Should I take that overseas holiday I booked? I might get stuck.  Should I cancel? Would travel insurance work for an event like this?

What about an interstate holiday? Things are tightening, will I get stuck on a domestic flight? Should I just holiday locally?

No one knows the answers to the questions, but one thing is certain: now is a bad time to lock in an expensive holiday, particularly if it involves a plane or group holiday.  It is also a bad move to book somewhere with very strict cancellation policies.

Short term rental impact

People are unlike to commit to long holidays or vacations ahead of time.  They are also unlikely to book if there are strict cancellation policies.

Loosen cancellation policies

We should loosen cancellation policies and expect more last minute bookings – the alternative is to have no bookings.

Today I loosened cancellation policies on the OTAs for my Sea Zen studio.  I also expect fewer bookings and more last minute bookings.

Opportunities to work separately

Some people are already choosing to avoid their workplace and work remotely.

We should make it easy for them to work in  a great location – our short term rentals. Make it clear that you have free wifi and a desk they can use as a work station.

Some people will also choose to self isolate away from crowds.  It is also hard when one member of the family has to self isolate.  One solution is for that person to move away for a while to a nice location – like your short term rental, particularly if you have full facilities like cooking and laundry and wifi.  Attractive weekly rates will also help.

Tell your list

If you have an active newsletter, you can explain the advantages of booking now for past guest.  A newsletter is a great asset.

In summary

  • Make it easy to book during uncertainty by allowing a less strict cancellation policy
  • Make your rental attractive to working remotely and for self isolation.
  • Use your newsletter to tell past guests

 

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Our friends were amazed.  They had been renting their apartment on Airbnb for the last year for the times they were not using their apartment.  They were learning the hard way.
“The guests just took it, and it was an expensive coffee machine, outrageous!”  They had been stewing over it for days.

I tried the obvious.  “Well, did your cleaner tell you who took it?”  For me, that would not have been a problem with Lesley my cleaner for many years.  She had a good memory, and would have told me within minutes of arriving for a clean.  She would even tell me if a book had shifted on the bookshelf.
It turns out my friends had a ‘manager’ who used a variety of cleaners to clean for her.  No one knew when the coffee machine was stolen.  No problem, she told them, we’ll just claim it back from Airbnb.

That was two weeks ago, and they haven’t heard back.  Maybe Airbnb will just pay for a new machine, but I wouldn’t hold much hope.

What can you do in a situation like this?

Firstly, it reinforces the reality that primarily “It’s a cleaning business”.  A good, steady cleaner is like gold, worth paying a little more for if you can get one.

However, in an urban apartment where the rental is just a commodity and cleaning is also a commodity, cheap and changing cleaners are a reality.  You should expect some kind of trouble regularly. Factor in the costs.

You should definitely have a simple cleaning manual, mainly images of how you want each room presented.  Often it would help.

There are various apps you can get where the cleaner clicks through an extensive checklist.  Maybe they work, I don’t know, but they are another overhead to factor in for the app and for the extra cleaning time to tick the checklist.

Secondly, owners should remember to not leave out anything expensive that can be damaged or stolen.  Certainly don’t leave out any precious family momentos that can be damaged.
In this case it was probably easier to leave out the expensive coffee machine than locking it away and having to lug it out when the owners came back to use their apartment.

Insurance? Chances are it wouldn’t be covered, or the excess would eat into the amount you’d get back.

A lot of new Airbnb users are finding out the hard way a short term rental isn’t an easy path to the high returns they had optimistically hoped for.   They really need to do their sums and factor in realistic revenue, realistic costs and realistic overheads for things like damage and theft.  Many jump in, regret it and give up.

What would I do about the coffee machine? I’d just buy a cheap replacement and move on.

What would you do?

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The short answer of course is we don’t really know, but it may not all be bad for everyone.

We don’t know if Coronavirus will fizzle out in China through amazing government shutdowns and controls.

Alternatively because it can’t be detected in people who are infected, it may propagate undetected into countries all around the world, where new infections will break out.  The data is leaning towards the latter.

Unprecedented uncertainty
What we have here is unprecedented uncertainty and fear, far worse than the SARS outbreak.  Travellers are cancelling or postponing their overseas holidays.

In some destinations the majority of travellers were from China and the outlook for rental owners is bleak.

In many developed countries where people are well off enough to travel overseas, they are likely to postpone their holidays.  For example in US, EU, Australia where most of my readers are located, there will be less outbound travel to external countries but travelers will still want to take holidays and many will choose to holidays safely at home.

These two trends will tend balance each other out – less overseas holidays, more local holidays.

While it is still early days, after the initial shock drop in bookings from Chinese travellers, local travellers are starting to book again locally to take their place.  If you are totally dependent on Chinese travellers, now might be a time to diversify.

Remind past guests of the benefits of staying locally

If you have a newsletter, now is the time to remind your past guests that overseas travel is potentially risky, and local holidays are totally safe.   That is what I have told my past guests in my newsletter with encouraging results. In past weeks 11 of 13 days have been booked by locals via my newsletter.

You don’t have you don’t have a newsletter to past guests?

It’s never too late to start.  Just give it a go or to make it easy you can read chapters 23 24 25 of my book Vacation Rental Mastery.   You can buy it here on Amazon

Hang in there, it is not all gloom and doom.  Make a fuss of your past local guests and they may just help keep your business on an even keel.

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