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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A double booking is the vacation rental owner’s worst nightmare.

It usually comes as a confused call from a guest trying to check in when you already have guests staying. Oh no! It usually means hours negotiating a change and arranging alternative accommodation AND probably a bad review AND maybe loss of Airbnb superhost status!  Lots of stress.

The obvious solution is some channel manager software to synchronise all your calendars at once, but in recent years most solutions have been too expensive, typically A$100 per month, beyond the budget of small VR owners of just one or two properties.  Also some of the channel managers have been unable to synchronise with some of the Online Travel Agencies like Airbnb.

That is all ending as a number of vendors are emerging with low cost solutions.  Also the OTAs are realising that it is in their interest to make it easy for any number of channel managers to synchronise their software.  The easier it is for owners to synchronise with them, the more owners will sign up to their platform.  We are in the middle of a mini revolution.

This is also a perfect time to take the next step in getting more direct bookings.

Not only are there affordable channel managers emerging, they also have online calendars and online booking software that can be bolted onto the VR owner’s own website.  View the diagram at the end of this article to see how it works.

As mentioned in last week’s post, affordability, the holy grail of channel managers for VR owners, is now within reach.

A suitable Channel Manager – Update247

I stumbled on Update247  at an affordable price a few months ago, and only got around looking into it recently.  It came with glowing recommendations from Dianne, a very savvy vacation rental owner in Melbourne who has been using it effectively for over 5 years.

Update 247 is an affordable A$35/mth, much less than many competitors.  It comes complete with a calendar and booking engine (Booking247) that you can link to from your website to take direct bookings online.  My colleague Barry from London also uses it and the price is a lot lower there (10 pounds/mth) as they start to penetrate the UK market.  Update247 also has a low price guarantee, which makes it useful for any new location. [click to continue…]

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I was on a roll.  In the second half of 2018, my Sea Zen vacation rental calendars were blocked out months ahead , largely from repeat guests and direct bookings. This was in a tough environment where my competitors were running at around 25% occupancy.

I was succeeding in a tough environment – this  was the perfect scenario for a VR owner.

So with some nervous confidence, I switched off my Online Travel Agency listings to see if I could run my VR rental solely with my own bookings.  I reported in my weekly newsletter.

The hard results

After a few months, my direct bookings slowed and it was harder to fill the calendar. Bookings slowed further.   My occupancy dropped from 95% to around 60% in November.  Ooops!

It seems that I had been getting ‘leakage’ direct to my website from searchers who found my listing on Airbnb, etc and who then found my own website and booked direct with me there.  This leakage dried up when my listings were switched off.

Back to the OTAs

In mid December, with some humility, I switched my OTA listings back on.  Some OTA bookings and more leakage to my own direct bookings.  I was back in business.

Occupancy bounced back to 90% and stayed there.

I have some good plans for increasing direct bookings and later in 2019, I’ll try the experiment again.  Stay tuned.

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In the meantime, I set out on a search to find the holy grail – an inexpensive channel manager to synchronise calendars while you sleep, and a cheap robust website builder. That search was a lot more successful.   More on that next time.

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