You know you are doing something right when 11 of the next 13 days booked are from past guests who read your newsletter.

That was the case last week when many short term rentals in Victoria Australia are struggling with bookings due to a combination of short-term shock from bushfires and cessation of Chinese visitors after the coronavirus problems.
Four of five bookings for my Sea Zen rental were from past guests who read my newsletter, but I have to work at it.

Fine tune
I find it’s a good thing to ask guests about the newsletter, to check you’re getting the content right. I asked a guest who had just booked how he finds it. Is monthly too often?

He was enthusiastic, “No we always love reading it, we really liked the series you did on the local animals, that’s why we’ve come, and we are keen to try the new walk that you mentioned in a previous newsletter.”

A newsletter really works and provided you make content interesting, monthly is not too frequent.

Be different
Last month I tried something different.
I organised a flash mob event at the local cafe. A local celebrity stood up and started singing.  By arrangement a few locals joined in and in minutes the cafe was rocking.
I captured it all and put it up on a YouTube video that got 7000 views within a week.

Of course I featured it in last month’s newsletter with 12% of the readers clicking the video. You can see it here.

Repurposing newsletters for SEO
I usually put these newsletter stories on my website, so it provides rich material for Google.
You can read the stories on the website here.

Be a fly on the wall
If you aren’t too sure about how this works, the kinds of things to talk about, and how to make bookings easy, you can become a reader of my Seazen newsletter.  Sign up free here, and you can unsubscribe at at any time.

Start your own newsletter
Find out how by reading the three Chapters on newsletters in my book Vacation Rental Mastery.  You can buy a copy on Amazon here.  These three chapters explain the free platform to use, typical stories and layout, and a list of 20 topics.

It’s never too late to start your newsletter.


Gradually the internet giants dominating accommodation bookings are being reeled in by consumer watchdogs.  The travel aggregator Trivago is the latest culprit convicted.  On 21 January 2020,  Trivago was found guilty of making misleading representations to consumers by the Federal Court in Australia.

The Court ruled that from at least December 2016, Trivago misled consumers by representing its website would quickly and easily help users identify the cheapest rates available for a given hotel.

In fact, Trivago used an algorithm which placed significant weight on which online hotel booking site paid Trivago the highest cost-per-click fee in determining its website rankings and often did not highlight the cheapest rates for consumers.  It also used misleading price displays.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), which brought the case to court said, “We brought this case because we consider that Trivago’s conduct was particularly egregious. Many consumers may have been tricked by these price displays into thinking they were getting great discounts. In fact, Trivago wasn’t comparing apples with apples when it came to room type for these room rate comparisons.”

Multimillion dollar penalties are likely to result from later court decisions.

Trivago aggregates accommodation at a location and claims to help consumers find the best and cheapest places to stay.  It includes hotels and also smaller accommodation such as from the short term rental industry.  Based in Germany, it is majority owned by Expedia and operates worldwide. also has a stake in the company.  Expedia also owns vrbo, Homeaway, Stayz and many others.  Trivago claims to be the world’s largest online hotel search site, comparing rates from over 1 million hotels and more than 250 booking sites worldwide.

This is yet another prosecution of the internet giants for bad behaviour by consumer watchdogs, and follows cases in Europe where and others have been found to have abused consumer guidelines and abused market power.

The cat and mouse game between the giants and the watchdogs will continue to play out in coming years.  In the meantime, the best defence that short term rental owners have is to capitalise on their intimate relationship with their guests.

By having strong repeat business tactics, owners can insulate themselves from the dominance of the ruthless internet giants.  Those tactics are covered extensively in the newsletter.


Do you have a newsletter email list that you can use in a crisis? It is a valuable asset.

This was brought home to me this month as the Australian bushfires made the news and guests cancelled, or just stopped booking.  This has happened  across regions far from the areas affected by the fires.  Owners are trapped by the wave of negative publicity. If that is you, what can you do to get your bookings back to normal?

If you have an active newsletter to your list of past guests, you can use it as an asset in the crisis.  You can contact past guests, reassure them that you are unaffected by the crisis, and tell them you would appreciate their support.

This happened to me, twice!  The first time was after a bushfire ripped through our little town of wye River in December 2015, destroying 108 houses.  We lost a house, but another, our beloved Sea Zen survived.  The problem was the relentless negative publicity and people stayed away, even when the town reopened for business, there was no business.

Our newsletter saved us.  We had been sending monthly newsletters to guests for years, including just before the fire, so we were top of mind with a large group of 500 loyal past guests..  In the 24 hours after the fire, I had 94 texts and emails from past guests saying they hoped we were OK, and sending their good wishes.
The hard part came in those weeks afterwards, when past guests didn’t know how they could help, or even if it was safe to come and stay. Some cancelled and bookings dried up.

The solution was to use our newsletter email list to tell our past guests that we were open for business and they could help us simply by booking holidays with us as normal.
It worked.  We were back to normal 85% occupancy within weeks.  The newsletter saved us from a very bad season.
Nine months later landslides from rain on the damaged soil closed the area again.  It was a rerun of crisis and solution.  Again there was negative press, again a pause in bookings and again I used the newsletter to reassure loyal guests it was OK to return and we appreciated their support.  Again our bookings went back to normal.  Other owners in the area were not so lucky, and it took them many months to recover.  We also did regional lobbying, but that is another story.

If you don’t have an active newsletter, you can still use your database of past guests to tell them you are still open.

If you don’t have an active newsletter, maybe it is time to start.  As I found it can help you in a crisis, it also can help you get far more owner bookings and increase your occupancy.
I recommend a newsletter to all short term rental owners.

To your success in short term rentals.

PS there are three chapters of actionable advice about newsletters in my book Vacation Rental Mastery


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This week a friend said she hadn’t listed on because she was worried they would control her prices.  Is she right?

Well, yes and no.

For years Booking has had a price parity clause in their contract with owners that said the owner had to offer Booking a price as low as anywhere else, that is, to control your price.  However, this practice has come under increasing pressure globally for breaching anti competitive laws.  For example, France has outlawed such practice totally and in most of the EU, you can have any price on external websites, but not lower prices on your own website.
That is also the case in Australia, but you can have lower prices on your website for loyalty schemes and where the prospective guest calls direct.

In practice, hotels with hundreds of rooms are easily scrutinised for keeping to the parity rule.
However many hundreds of sole owner short term rental owners who are confused about price parity anyway are harder to scrutinise.  A smaller owner is likely to set any price they want and if challenged, reasonably say they are confused by the unconscionably complex 11,400 word agreement.   Any crackdown on an individual owner would attract publicity and public outrage at the oppression of a small owner by a giant dominant player, and would possibly trigger a review of anticompetitive behaviour by authorities.

In practical terms, you can do what you like with pricing.

Should my friend list with Booking?  Yes.  They are growing constantly due to their market dominance and bring in valuable extra bookings. In a previous article I discuss how you can optimise your listing with Booking.

If in the most unlikely event they give you grief on price, simply delist, you’ve lost nothing.


Calendars are at the heart of short term rental operations. Get them right, all goes smoothly.  Get them wrong, it can cause grief.  This article compares the main online travel agency calendars and 5 tips to avoid grief.

Calendars are one area where Airbnb is clunky.  The back end used by owners/ hosts is in monthly rectangular blocks, with availability and rate visible for each day.  You can amend individual days easily, but it is harder to change blocks of dates. Minimum stays are also hard to change.

If you want to change many months or an entire year of pricing, then there are some traps for the unwary.  You need to change the base rates first, then the few date ranges with special dates like events and holidays next.  If you then change your mind and change the standard rate, chances are you will over-ride the special dates.  This can mean low rates at your peak times, which will be quickly snapped up by bargain hunters. If you have instant booking switched on, you have a dilemma.  Do you let the booking stand and lose a lot of money or do you cancel and maybe lose your superhost status?
Booking is the best of the bunch.  Its backend has a horizontal table of dates with the availability, rates and min stay in rows underneath.  It also has a tool for bulk changes to these values.  In a few minutes, you can check visually the entire year for mistakes in pricing.
In November 2019, Booking rolled out a new colour coded calendar display, making visual checking even easier.
Booking also integrates very well with most channel managers.

Homeaway/ vrbo/ Stayz
Homeaway has a similar backend setup to Airbnb, that is rectangular monthly blocks.  Blocked out dates are done in chunks of dates, and rates, minimum stays and availability can be very difficult to change in comparison with Booking. It also has less integration with channel managers.

Our rating for ease of use and effectiveness:
Airbnb             3/5  5/5
Homeaway     3/5

Five tips for getting your calendars right
1 Prepare a master reference document that records the public holidays and peak periods for pricing for the current and next year, and your pricing rates for the different OTAs. Also the minimum stays at different times of year. You record your decisions in one place, and avoid confusing ad hoc changes.
2 Change your forward pricing in the right sequence  – first the standard or minimum rate, then the exceptions, and peak rates.  Always take care if you are changing the standard rate that you haven’t overwritten peak rates.
3 Always check pricing for your peak periods after changing a lot of prices – avoid those bargain hunters who find your mistakes and book at crazy low prices in peak periods.  Those mistakes can lose you a lot of money – or your superhost of ranking status for cancellations.
4 Periodically check your minimum stays, and avoid unbookable gaps between bookings.  For example you may have a 3 day gap between bookings, but with a 4 day minimum, the calendar will correctly not let a guest book those dates, so change it to a 3 day minimum.
5 If possible automatically synchronise your calendars via iCal or a channel manager.  Discussed in a previous article

Let me know if you have any other tips

Article written Dec 2019