Today I had what seemed a helpful message from an online travel agency that I list with.

“Let us know where guests can pick-up the keys

Quickly tell us where guests can pick-up the keys so you don’t have to worry about explaining it each time a new guest stays.”

Sounds good, easy for the guest and you, BUT … I say no!

The “but” is that this particular OTA (Booking.com) masks your guest’s email address and censors messages. Keeping the key details in your control gives you leverage to withhold the key details until you get your guest’s full personal email address.  No keys until you get the full address!

Why should you want the full email address?

There are two vital reasons.

1 Your loyalty program

You should keep the option open to be able to email past guests for any reason any time.  The OTAs remove emails after a while, and you have literally no way to contact past guests by email. Once guests stay you can get their permission to go onto your newsletter and if you have the guest personal email you now have a fabulous way of keeping in touch, sending offers and marketing to your own guests.  Remember, it is so much cheaper to get a repeat guest than to acquire a new one.

2 Transparent emails without censorship

With your guest’s direct email, you can send attachments and telephone numbers direct to your guest, knowing they will get them in their entirety.  Guests can also send you any details and they will all come through untouched.

It is well known that OTA robots may censor messages removing attachments and any other information.  Last week, my OTA guest tried to send me his telephone number via the OTA messaging service, but the robots stripped it out, twice, and he had no way of knowing.  [click to continue…]

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Are your guests are leaving problems behind? 

For example, leaving the heating on, or unwashed dishes, or losing the key?  Or do they leave  their chargers behind or are they late leaving?

For remote hosts, some of these can be very expensive, particularly leaving heating on in a ski village.

You need to manage your guests’ exits.

Most guests want to do the right thing, so it is just a matter of telling them – right?  Weeell, it is not so easy, and you need to get the balance reasonable.

The crazy checklist

Some hosts treat their guests as unpaid cleaners, with a long checklist of tasks. You may have seen such a crazy checklist – strip the beds, sweep the floors, empty the firebox, wheel the bins to the street, turn off the pumps, and on and on.   In today’s competitive market, such a list is totally unreasonable, it invites poor reviews and definitely kills any prospect of having your guests return.

The vital few instructions

On the other hand [click to continue…]

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A smart logo can give your guests the impression your vacation rental is a professional operation, not just some amateur rental.  Well run professional operations can charge more.

Your logo can also be part of that all important first impression.  Guests see your logo, hear the soft music playing, the welcome card, the welcome hamper and bottle of wine.  It all sets the scene for an enjoyable stay.  I often greet my guests soon after they arrive and they often melt, saying how wonderful the place is.  The logo on the door and the logo on the welcome folder are just another few of those nice touches setting up those first impressions.

Timing

Getting your own logo is easy and can be fun, but first a word of warning on timing.  A logo is a nice extra, but should only be explored after you have done all the hard work setting up and bedding in your operation.  Early on it can be a distraction from the main game which should be about crafting a great experience for your guests and all that involves, from purchase, decoration, marketing and slick processes.  Do the logo at the end, when everything is set up and running.

Getting a logo can be quick and easy.

Gone are the days of paying some fancy designer thousands for a logo.  Thanks to the distributed world of the internet, you can tap into hundreds of thousands of designers around the globe, and it can be cheap and easy.  You can select a designer from a site like Upwork, but 99designs.com is probably the easiest.

99designs – how it works

I used 99designs way back in 2012 after I had finished setting up my Sea Zen rental.  The process is much the same now as it was then.  You set up a brief and designers from all around the world will offer you designs in a competition.  You pay a fixed fee for the design you like best. Timing is up to you, it can take a few days or a few weeks.  I found the experience efficient and enjoyable.

Price

The current base fee for a logo using 99designs is US$300 (A$400).  You can pay more to provide more incentive to designers. [click to continue…]

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In a previous article I explained how you can avoid double bookings with a Channel manager – but there is another way – iCal.  It is free and easy and everyone should do it. Several readers have asked me for more detail.

Sync your calendars with each other using iCal

The big OTAs have set up a way to sync between each others’ calendars using the iCal standard.  If you have just one or a few vacation rental properties and you don’t want to pay for a channel manager, I strongly suggest you use iCal synching.  It updates all your calendars almost simultaneously so you can avoid double bookings and have an easier life.  You have nothing to lose, and a lot to gain.  It just takes a few minutes to set up.

How to set up iCal

The principle is to pass some code between the OTAs, as an example from Airbnb to Homeaway.  The Airbnb calendar is exported to Homeaway, and imported from within Homeaway, and then the reverse.  Sounds a bit confusing?  Fortunately there are a number of Youtube videos showing you exactly how to do it, step by step and easy. It takes under 5 minutes per calendar pair.

Sync Airbnb and Homeaway calendars, 3 mins – watch it here.   This clip from Homeaway is one of the best explanations and easiest to follow.

Sync Airbnb and Booking.com calendars, 2 mins – watch it here.

If you have Airbnb, Homeaway and Booking.com calendars, then by setting up synch for Airbnb/ Homeaway and Airbnb/ Booking.com, then Homeaway/Booking.com will automatically sync too.

How the OTA calendars work together

This diagram from the Homeaway clip shows how the synced calendars link up with each other. [click to continue…]

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The Airbnb host thought she had it right for guest entertainment.  A massive TV, expensive surround sound system, Blu-ray player, Apple TV and fast internet.  A $3000 investment.  All the manuals were in a very pretty folder.

All a guest would want right?  No, actually a serious FAIL!   A guest nightmare, because it was missing the key ingredient – simple tips on how to use it all easily.

That was my experience this week in a charming Airbnb in central Hobart, Australia.  The host was pulling out all stops to make her new rental delight her guests, or so she thought with the top of the range entertainment system, and even a Netflix account.

The problem for me the guest was how to work the damn thing?  Different brands, different remotes, and a sequence you had to get right. The long operating manuals would not help.

It took half an hour of trial and error to get the sound working, and another half an hour of trial and error to get the Netflix (mostly) working.  An interesting challenge for a techy like me, but is that really the way guests want to spend their holiday break?  Some guests will give up and never see the benefits the host intended.

The less is more solution

After running short term rentals for twenty years, I have learned the hard way that less is more, and that TV system is an excellent example.  For that, a simple page of TV instructions is essential.

A simple tips and instructions page helps the guest get going in a minute and they can truly enjoy that $3000 investment.  [click to continue…]

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