With more and more listing sites transitioning to a strictly commission-based, online-booking-only model, a lot of property managers are starting to worry about their marketing strategy.
We can’t blame them. It’s a fundamental shift in the world of vacation rental marketing, and it’s poised to have a major impact on the way professional managers generate bookings. In fact, managers are already reporting a slew of challenges resulting from the new policies some listing sites are implementing:
- Marketing costs are going up
- Bookings are down
- Communication with guests is being hindered
- And managers’ brands are being hidden
And, it’s getting worse and worse every day.
In response, many professional managers are putting a renewed focus on building their own brands and getting more direct bookings.
And it’s working.
For years, we’ve been educating our property manager partners about the dangers of becoming too reliant on listing sites. The good news is that many have listened…and acted. They’ve built their own brands, and they control their own destiny.
If they can do it, so you can you. But how, you say? It’s actually quite simple:
You just have to start.
The problem is, many managers just don’t know where to start. So, in today’s post, we’ll outline 9 proven tactics we’ve seen professional managers use to get more direct bookings.
What We’ll Cover
Here’s a brief teaser of some of tips and tricks we’ll share today:
- The undeniable facts about why booking direct is superior to booking through an OTA
- Creative ways to ensure that your listing site guests know who you are, remember you, and book direct the next time they stay with you
- Low-cost ways to build traffic and brand awareness that have nothing to do with listing sites
- How to get more mileage out of your website traffic and inbound phone calls
But before we get into the specific tactics, it’s important to understand both how they fit into your strategic master plan for getting more direct bookings and the crucial talking points that should be the centerpiece of your messaging.
First, let’s dive into the four-tier master plan for getting more direct bookings.
The 4 Fundamental Steps for Getting More Direct Bookings
Getting more direct bookings really boils down to these four high-level activities.
Step 1: Generate More Traffic and More Brand Awareness.
First, you need to generate more brand awareness and drive traffic to your website. The two work together hand-in-hand. Website traffic begets brand awareness and brand awareness helps drive traffic.
Having a hard time driving traffic? Don’t worry. We’ll go over some low-cost ways to get people to your website later in this post. We’ll also cover some ways to generate brand awareness among your listing site guests, which in turn will help drive future traffic.
Step 2: Build Your Contact Database.
Next, you need to build up your guest database.
In the past, many managers used listing sites like VRBO as a way to generate leads and build their contact database. But, these sites are quickly transitioning from a flat-fee, lead-generation model to a commission-based, eCommerce model. Because of this, you’ll need to find other methods of building your contact database.
The best way to build your database without listing sites is to capture more contact information from the travelers visiting your site and calling you.
Many of you may already have an existing database (or at least lists of past guests / inquiries), but you also need to add to that database by collecting emails (and other contact details) on your website and from inbound calls, as well as collecting contact information from all new guests that stay with you.
|IMPORTANT NOTE: If you are using a listing site to store all your lead information (which we don’t recommend), make sure you are downloading that information and storing back-ups. You never know how long the listing site will save that information. How devastating would it be to wake up one morning and see that all your saved leads have disappeared?
Step 3: Leverage Your Contacts.
Leverage this database to communicate directly with potential guests, past guests and, of course, your current guests. Later in this post, we’ll go over many of the channels that allow you to leverage your existing contact database to reach guests (and most of them are pretty inexpensive).
Step 4: Communicate the Benefits.
Make sure these travelers know about the benefits of booking direct with a professional manager. In the next section, we’ll go over the major benefits that you’ll want to make sure potential guests understand.
The 5 Undeniable Benefits of Booking Direct
As you build up your database of contacts, you’ll need to make sure they know the benefits of booking directly with a professional manager. Here are some of the ones we think will resonate most with potential guests.
FACT 1: Booking Direct Saves Guests (and Managers) Money
Booking direct saves money for both the guest and the manager. The guest doesn’t have to pay a guest fee and it also saves the manager from having to pay a booking fee. Additionally, the manager might be running specials that aren’t available through the listing site or may be willing to negotiate the price.
FACT 2: Booking Direct Offers a Greater Selection of Professionally Managed Homes
Not all managers list their homes on listing sites, so guests could be missing out on a great home if a listing site is the only place they look. This is especially the case in certain established markets (like the Outer Banks of North Carolina) and for certain types of properties (like super high-end rentals). Guests can often find homes that are not advertised on listing sites by doing a Google search for vacation rentals + the location and going directly to the managers’ websites. The only downside is that guests may need to visit more than one website.
FACT 3: Booking Direct Allows for More Open Communication
When guests book direct, they can speak directly to a company representative that really knows the property. Guests can also choose how and when to contact the manager. Unlike listing sites, there are no restrictions on communication when you book direct. Direct communication is good for both the guest and the manager. Guests may have specific questions that can’t be answered in the home’s listing. And, managers often want to vet the guests to ensure they meet the minimum requirements and are aware of the house rules (these managers have a duty to protect the home from guests who would abuse it and from guests that would cause disturbances to neighbors).
FACT 4: Booking Direct Means Better Service
Professional managers can often offer guests additional services that aren’t available through listing sites (think grocery delivery, tee times, lift tickets, personal chefs, equipment rentals, discounts at local businesses, etc.). These managers are nearly always on-location and available pretty much around the clock in the case of an emergency. While some RBOs (rent by owners) do live close to their vacation homes and are more available, the majority of RBOs live hundreds of miles from their second homes and have lives (and jobs) outside of managing their home. For professional managers, managing vacation rentals is their only gig, and many are exceptional at what they do.
FACT 5: Booking Direct is More Secure
When booking with an established professional manager, you know the home exists. You can’t expect a large listing site to vet every home that is listed. In fact, there’s no shortage of news stories out there about people running scams through listing sites. When a guests knows the manager they are dealing with, they can do their own research on that manager’s ratings and reviews online.
Unfortunately, many listing sites hide the brands of professional managers, making it pretty much impossible to do any research on the company you are booking with. They’re also making it much harder to even identify the property if it’s listed somewhere else. All you can really go on is the reviews for the property and hope they’re legitimate.
9 Specific Tactics for Getting More Direct Bookings
Okay, now that you know the high-level steps you need to focus on, as well as the benefits of booking direct that you’ll be sharing with guests, it’s time to move on to some specific tactics you can implement right away.
Tactic 1: Change Up Your Marketing Budget
If you want to build your own brand and get more direct bookings, you’ll want to dedicate some of your marketing budget to do so. This means pulling some of the money you’re spending on listings sites and instead spending it on things like building out your website and driving traffic to it through online advertising, search engine optimization and email marketing, among other things.
Tactic 2: Start Collecting Emails on Your Website
Most professional managers are going to see online booking rates of less than 1%. In some markets, half of that is a good conversion rate. But, if you’re looking to really leverage the traffic you’re sending to your website, you need to find a way to gather contact details from a higher percentage of your website visitors.
Because giving out your contact information is a much smaller request than say committing to a 7-day vacation for hundreds or thousands of dollars, you’ll generally be more likely to get a guest to opt-in to receiving your emails or to submit a contact form for more information on a property.
Don’t get me wrong, a completed booking, either online or over the phone, should be your first goal, but make sure your website is also set up to gather contact details from those visitors that aren’t ready to pull the trigger on a booking.
Most email marketing programs make it really easy to link or embed opt-in forms on your website. And if your website has a content management system (like LiveRez offers), then it’s really simple to just paste in a line of code for the opt-in form.
Make sure to sell the benefits of opting in to receiving your emails, either in the form itself or on the page where the form is embedded. Even though you’re not selling guests something, you are asking them to give you something. The value of receiving your emails needs to be greater than the potential pain of their email inbox getting filled with more promotional emails. Try offering them an incentive up front (like a special guide or a discount on their next booking), and make sure you demonstrate the value your emails will deliver.
Tactic 3: Gather Contact Info over the Phone
If a guest calls you about one of your properties, you should leave that call with their contact information. Here are a few tactics for doing that without annoying guests:
- Collecting Phone Numbers – When the call starts, have your reservationist get the potential guest’s name and a good contact phone number, so they can call back if they get disconnected.
- Collecting Email Addresses – Offer to send the guest more information (like quotes for properties) while you’re on the phone – that way you can get their email address. LiveRez has a feature called instant quotes, where the reservationist can send multiple bookable quotes to a guest within seconds. The great thing about this is that those quotes are automatically saved as a lead in LiveRez’s CRM system.
Tactic 4: Start Marketing to Your Guest Database
Once you have emails (and even mailing addresses) for people who have stayed with you (or were interested in staying with you), you can start marketing to them directly. Here are a few ways to leverage that information in your marketing efforts:
- Email Marketing – You can send marketing emails to your database to keep them informed about the area, your properties and your company. LiveRez makes it really easy to export lists of your past guests, leads, and even owners, which you can then upload to an email marketing service like Mail Chimp. Just be careful about blindly adding people to your email lists. Make sure the emails are something they would expect to receive. Consider the level of your relationship with them: Are they past guests? Did they freely opt-in on your website? Are they a lead that never booked? Also consider how long it’s been since you’ve last been in contact. Would they remember who you are?
- Facebook Custom Audience Advertising – Not a ton of people know about all of Facebook’s options for advertising. For a basic Facebook ad, you might target people based on their interests or their demographics. But, if you have a large enough list, you can upload it to Facebook and let Facebook match the people on the list with their Facebook profiles. Once that is done, you can create Facebook ads and only show them to people on the list you uploaded.
- Direct Mail Print Advertising – This one is a little bit more expensive, but it can be a great way to reach guests. Basically, you create some sort of marketing collateral (a letter, a post card, etc.) and then mail it directly to the people on your list. Make sure your offer is strong, and do your best to make it personal and relevant to the guest.
Tactic 5: Leverage Remarketing
Wouldn’t it be cool if you could show ads only to people that you knew at least visited your site? Well, it’s actually pretty easy to do. There are a lot of different services available, but our two favorites are Google Remarketing and Facebook Remarketing.
- Google Remarketing – Google really has a corner on online advertising. They show ads in search results, and they can also show ads on millions of web pages across the world, thanks to their Adsense program. With Adsense, Google lets online publishers put a code on their website that dynamically shows relevant ads to a visitor, and once a visitor takes an action on the ad Google pays the publisher some money. How do they do this? Well, as an advertiser, you can opt in to remarketing from Adwords. You just need to put a special piece of code on your website that tracks the visitors to your site, and then when those visitors come to a site that is running Adsense, your ad has a chance to display. Most consumers don’t know about this, so when they see your ads all over, they’ll not only be constantly reminded about you but they’ll also think you’re more credible (because obviously you have to spend a lot of money to advertise on all these sites, right?). In reality, though, remarketing is quite affordable for most managers, and generally cheaper than traditional Adwords ads.
- Facebook Remarketing – Another similar tactic is to install a Facebook tracking pixel on your website, which will record anyone who visits your website while logged into Facebook. You can then create Facebook ads that are only shown to people who have visited your website. Like Google remarketing ads, these ads are fairly inexpensive when compared to other types of ads.
Tactic 6: Partner with Other Businesses
You aren’t the only person out there who stands to benefit from people booking direct with professional managers. Here are few other people that have a dog in the fight:
- Other professional managers
- Service providers that you partner with for those concierge services that you can’t offer through listing sites
- Local businesses that you work with to negotiate special perks for your guests
- Local chambers that promote tourism in your area
- And, if you’re a LiveRez partner, as your software partner, we have a vested interest in helping you get more direct bookings
All these people have incentives to be another voice espousing the benefits of direct bookings. The more you can work together to communicate the value of direct bookings to consumers, the more educated consumers will be about the benefits of booking direct.
LiveRez is even actively developing technology that facilitates managers working together to get each other more bookings. For more information, check out our interview with VRM Intel.
Tactic 7: Make sure your guests know who you are
This may seem really simple, but especially for guests that book on listing sites, they may not be aware of your brand and the people behind it. People like to buy from people, and from the brands (and people) that they trust. You’re missing a huge opportunity if guests go through an entire stay without learning more about you.
Here are a few ways to make sure your guests know who you are:
- About Us Page – Create an About Us page on your website that tells the story of your business, shares your values as a company, and highlights the people behind the brand. Consider including a group photo of your team and maybe even individual photos and descriptions of your key team members.
- Onsite Information – Have printed materials and signage at the property that lets guests know more about your company.
- Office Signage – Put a sign up in your lobby where guests check in that talks about who you are and also lets them know about the benefits of booking direct.
- Pre-Stay/Post-Stay Communications – If possible, communicate with your guests before arrival. Make sure to include your branding in those communications (you might even be able to fit in some of the benefits of booking direct, too).
- LiveRez’s CRM system can help you automate these communications, while making them more personal and more professional looking. Not only do these emails let the guest know who you are, they can greatly enhance the guests’ experience and answer questions before they are asked.
Tactic 8: Use Branded Giveaway Items
One way to keep your brand top of mind is to give your guests branded items that they actually want to use. They’ll take these items home with them and be reminded of you every time they use them. Plus, who doesn’t like getting free stuff?
If you’re looking for a good vendor for branded items, check out our friends at BeachHouseLogos.com, who specialize in the vacation rental industry.
Tactic 9: Offer Amazing Guest Experiences
Want your guests to remember you and come back and book with you over and over again?
Make sure their vacation is out of this world!
Go above and beyond in making sure every part of their vacation is perfect. They certainly deserve it after saving up both their limited vacation time and the money for their vacation. As you know, some guests save for years for a big vacation.
Many successful managers strive to offer a “Wow” moment for their guests. Strive to do something that is relevant, personal and unexpected (leave roses and champagne for a couple celebrating an anniversary, decorate the house for a guest celebrating a birthday, etc.). It will certainly stand out in their minds – not to mention, the famous marketing book Influence says that when you do something personal and unexpected for someone up front, they’re likely to return the favor somehow (in your case, hopefully that’s repeat business).
These are just a few of the ways we’ve seen managers increase direct bookings. What tactics have you used to increase your own direct bookings? Let us know in the comments below.
Learn More About LiveRez
LiveRez is the most widely used software platform for professional vacation rental managers. The company’s cloud-based, end-to-end platform offers fully integrated solutions for reservation and property management, websites with online bookings, trust accounting, CRM, housekeeping and maintenance, reporting, reviews and more.
At LiveRez, we take our partnership with each and every one of our property managers seriously. We believe in the power of community and teamwork, and, together with our partners, we win as a team.
Visit LiveRez.com to learn more:
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