First Published in 2016!
Last weekend I attended the third edition of the Vacation Rental World Summit (VRWS) in Barcelona. I had the pleasure of meeting passionate and savvy owners, managers & technology providers from around the world, sharing their unique information & insights – I had a fantastic time, so a big thank you to all the speakers, Antonio, Cristina & Adrian.
I’d love to share the 47 takeaways I found extremely useful. This post was candidly written from notes – I have awful handwriting, so apologies if they aren’t entirely accurate. I’ve categorised my notes by the speaker and included my thoughts.
The entire event was filmed, and all the slides & footage will be available at the Vacation Rental World Summit soon, so make sure to sign up for full access to the fantastic information shared!
Jessica Gillingham on Twitter A beautiful morning for the first day of the Vacation Rental World Summit #VRWS #Barcelona @GuestHook
OTA = Online Travel Agency (Airbnb, HomeAway, VRBO, TripAdvisor, Booking.com etc)
Adrian Brown 2be2serve.com 1. Learn what problems your guests are trying to solve by booking with you All guests take vacations to solve various problems in their lives; whether it’s to unwind from stress, satisfy a desire to experience new things or take an opportunity for important family bonding, people take vacations to solve their problems. It’s important to understand these problems so you can solve them throughout the guest experience – which we all know leads to better reviews & more repeats. For example, you own a small city rental. After questioning guests, you find most of them are business travellers from abroad.. they choose your rental because it has great transport links to the centre. Why not provide transport maps, a free topped-up tube/bus pass or a voucher for a free dry-cleaning pickup?
2. Complaints come when guests buy into the price Be careful marketing to guests based on price – they’re more likely to complain. It was mentioned that advertising with Booking.com could lead to worse reviews because guests buy into the price. Instead, don’t focus on price; focus on your fantastic guest experience. Get people to buy into your vision.
3. Reward guests for negative feedback Always reward guests for negative feedback. Positive feedback is great but will never give you an understanding of how to improve and become better. If a guest helps you improve the experience, send them a gift – they may become repeats.
4. Don’t let the guest leave with a shitty experience It’s easy to focus on ensuring guests are happy until they leave – but if something goes wrong in the closing hours, they’ll leave with a bitter taste and bad reviews.
5. Hospitality is the entire guest experience Hospitality encapsulates the entire guest experience, not just the booking process. It’s essential to build rapport with the guest and be their friend. These are the stages of hospitality:
Define your ideal customer
Make them aware of you
Influence their expectations
Deliver an excellent experience
Nurture & strengthen bonds
Antonio Bortolotti vacationrentalsecrets.com
6. The most significant success factor is guest communication, and your website is your biggest asset for communication Antonio drove home the importance of having your website. It’s the basis for direct bookings and communication with your guests. It allows you to have greater control over your company, make more money and improve the guest experience.
7. Use a 3-step email sequence for enquiries After every enquiry/inquiry, launch a 3-step email sequence designed to nurture the enquiry into a booking; Antonio’s secret is to have the final email offering something amazing and unexpected to clinch the deal.
8. Use a custom page for every guest enquiry Using WordPress, creating a personalised booking page for every guest who enquires – with their name, video testimonials, photos, descriptions and a link to pay is possible. Again, another example of going above and beyond to produce the unexpected – imagine their reaction! Note: You can create your own or follow the exact template Antonio uses to convert 100% of the inquiries into solid bookings.
9. Use video; it doesn’t have to be expensive Video is amazing – An awesome to way to quickly consume vast quantities of information and perhaps the best way to sell your vacation rental. It doesn’t have to be expensive – here’s an example of a video which paid itself back with one booking: Which makes up part of casamarazulsanpancho.com, Antonio’s latest site he built for a fellow property owner.
10. Remote personalised welcome with a Skype call & video testimonials Sure, this is highly time-consuming for a manager, but for an individual owner, it’s perfect – a great way to deliver a unique experience. Also, using ecamm, you can record conversations and use them later for video testimonials.
11. Use What’s App to chat with guests Over 1 billion people use What’s App, and growing. It’s a great way to have an informal conversation with guests to build rapport and be their friend. The guest also feels like they have a direct & personal line to you, the owner.
12. Use peek.com to watch how people interact with your website Pretty self-explanatory – people record themselves (with audio) using your website. It’s a good way to see how you can improve the usability of your website so it can have a greater impact on conversions. Martin Picard vreasy.com
13. Only 23% of our traveller's budget is dedicated to accommodation People are price sensitive. However, only 23% of our traveller's budget is dedicated to accommodation! Lots more money to be made from guest services (if we provide them). For example, taxis, tour guides, attractions, events etc.
14. OTAs own the booking experience, don’t let them take the guest experience Luckily the property remains the centre of the guest's universe on holiday – that’s their base. OTAs have done a fantastic job refining the booking process, but now they may try to take the guest experience by offering ancillary services.
However, as Martin pointed out, each OTA would have a different guest experience. There’s a lack of consistency across multiple platforms in the guest's experience, negatively affecting you and your ratings. It’s the one thing you still control and the one thing you have to stand out amongst the crowd – don’t let OTAs steal it! Personalised tour guides through your eyes – no OTA could replicate that.
15. Remove Damage Deposits This is an interesting point but one I agree with, coming from a tech background. Think about removing the damage deposit… it’s just another pain point for guests that negatively affect their experience. Martin is happy to do this because he covers the cost through the additional services provided by Vreasy.com.
16. Make fun of yourself and even leave typos in your initial communication with guests Many of Martin’s emails and notifications are entirely automated. He’s made sure to add a funny photo of himself and even leave typos in the email to add a personal touch to show they’re talking to a real human (kind of).
17. Implement a company culture to save time With a strong company culture, you’re able to unburden yourself with mundane tasks because you can trust in your team to live by a code. Martin has distilled a culture in his management team by giving them money and full autonomy regarding complaints. For example, if the boiler breaks and the guest complains – the management team can fix the problem and buy the guest an expensive bottle of wine without Martins's permission – massively reducing stress!
18. Use smart interactive checklists before the guest arrives Both Vreasy & BookingSync are great for automating guest & management notifications. In this case, Martin uses a smart interactive checklist to ensure the guests have received their arrival instructions. Texts are sent if guests haven’t verified they’ve read the instructions. This also presents an opportunity to determine the type of guest – do they want help or want to be left alone?
19. There are five stages to travel, but we only focus on one: me, me, me
According to Google, there are five stages to travel: However, we only focus on the booking stage – selling our amenities like en-suite bedrooms, balconies and kitchen sinks! That’s NOT why travellers go on holiday; they go on holiday for the location, culture, sights, sounds, attractions and events. Why not focus on that?
20. Create a daily blog schedule to attract people with attractions (1-2 hours per week) Yoomondo on Twitter Wise words from @rentmoreweeks: ‘Using the attractions to attract people’ on your VR website #vrws. Write a daily blog; it need not take longer than 15min per day. Each day you can cover topics such as:
What to do
What to see
Where to stay
What to eat
This creates a unique place where travellers can view helpful information about their destination. Sell your holiday home secondary. You’re unlikely to beat OTAs in SEO for terms like “vacation rentals in XXXX”; however, you’ll have a much better chance of ranking for “Love Saves the Day festival in XXXXX”.
21. Share your posts on social media and use hashtags to increase exposure by x5 Share every blog post on your social media accounts and include hashtags such as #holidaysinlocation #whatsonlocation – hashtags open up your social media reach by making your post visible to interested parties. Richard Vaughton rentivo.com
22. OTAs are like crack cocaine Richard’s slides were all about the future & direction of the industry. The second portion of his presentation was a panel discussion with questions from himself & the audience directed at panellists from Airbnb, Booking.com, Klik Villas & Original Cottages. Probably the biggest highlight from the panel came from James Ellis – Original Cottages, who said:
“OTAs are like crack cocaine; they’re addictive but not very good for your health” - James Ellis
23. Use a personal assistant for nighttime enquiries From the panel discussion, we also learned the benefit of handling nighttime inquiries/enquiries with a personal assistant from around the world by answering enquiries immediately.
24. Guests are paying more because OTAs are forcing hosts to mark up prices The host / OTA relationship is causing hosts to mark up their prices in response to increasing commissions, which means guests are paying more for rentals – not to mention guest service fees too! Booking direct should theoretically save guests a tonne of money!
25. 2016 is all about brands Search terms for holiday rentals (vacation rentals in **) have decreased since 2004, but search terms for OTAs & popular brands (Airbnb, Booking.com) have been increasing. This demonstrates the increasing importance of brands. They’re a fantastic resource providing trust that small independent websites can’t match.
26. Vacation rentals are hot property, OTAs are growing, and so are commission rates This is probably an obvious point, but it’s important to note that OTAs and the entire vacation rental industry are increasing. There are enormous sums of money involved, and it’s spawning 1000s of new businesses: 27. Airbnb has the best reputation among guests Rentivo’s OTA survey demonstrated that Airbnb has a great reputation amongst guests – according to hosts:
28. There’s a shift from globalisation to personalisation The world’s moving to personalised experiences. It’s no longer good enough to send blanket marketing messages; one size fits all – millennials are leading the way, demanding a more personalised experience. This requires smarter tools and more data. If you know what the guest wants before they arrive – their experience could be dramatically improved.
29. Other trends & future predictions Vacation homes, technology demands, manager consolidation & host collaboration, are increasing. AI will become bigger and better – chatbots and devices like Amazon Alexa may be the future of booking holidays: There will also be an increase in video and new forms of media, such as virtual reality walk-throughs of holiday rentals.
30. Vacation rental software will connect & share data New and existing software will begin to connect & share data. Vreasy & bookingsync.com are great examples of software which connects to multiple apps, providing you and your guest the best experience. Sébastien Grosjean bookingsync.com
31. Bring communication outside OTAs Use software to automate notifications and send guests' arrival instructions with a “pre-filled” form to capture guest details and move communication outside of OTA platforms. This provides a professional experience… and by connecting to apps like Mailchimp, you can send targeted email campaigns to your existing customers to increase repeat bookings.
32. Use home automation to automate & control remotely Home automation was covered many times throughout the VRWS, demonstrating its growing popularity. Seb showed how companies like Nest can help you automate & control aspects of your home remotely, such as monitoring security & safety, adjusting temperature, changing lights and much more. These are great tools to save you time and improve the guest experience!
33. Use welcome apps to identify your guest's wants & needs Welcome apps are tablets or software installed in your holiday home to provide guests with helpful information. Seb proposed using these devices to record guest search terms to identify common themes. What do your guests want? And how can you use this information to pre-empt & improve the guest experience?
34. Convert more visitors into bookings with great branding, design and UX Dennis covered how to increase conversions and make more direct bookings with great branding, design and UX. Instead of me summarising his presentation – Lodgify has already created a beautiful infographic: You can read their full post here.
35. 2016 is about offering a professional service, and 2017 will be about connectivity This doesn’t conflict with the industry moving toward personalization – they go hand in hand. Expectations are increasing, and we must adapt to stay ahead of the pack. Next year’s trend will be about everyone connecting, as mentioned earlier.
36. Manage operations with these super products & tools for your home
Great guests: Bnbsitter, WeChat
Smart Locks: Renting Lock, August, Lockitron
Key Exchange: Key Nest, Key Cafe, Igloohome
Noise Monitoring: Noiseaware, Party Squasher, Room Monitor
Vanessa De Souza Lage rentalsunited.com
37. 97% of people are not ready to book when visiting your website Additionally, the average traveller visits four separate websites and makes seven enquiries before booking. These statistics clearly show that most visitors to your website are NOT looking to make a booking. This presents an interesting problem that can be solved through “re-marketing”. The idea is to capture visitors' details to sell them your holiday rental when they ARE ready to book.
38. Use Facebook to nurture your website visitors, previous guests & newsletter subscribers into booking Using Facebook Custom Audiences, hosts & managers can create “custom audiences” to show Facebook ads too. This would be website visitors, previous guests or newsletter subscribers for vacation rentals. Thibault uses Facebook to display a free guide about his property location in exchange for an email address. This encourages website visitors, who are no longer on your website, to leave their email addresses – which you can use in future to send promotions about your rental – very smart.
39. Use Facebook to spy on your competitors & target people with direct flights to your location Using Facebook Audience Insights, owners & managers can understand where their competitor's bookings are coming from. In Thibault’s example, he used this technique to identify where almost all his competitor's guests were from – the major U.S cities with direct outbound flights to his location. With this clever insight, every ad campaign targeted these locations specifically to increase conversions and bookings.
40. Develop a brand voice According to Moz, about 16% of people read all the content on your website! Skimming isn’t always the incase, and it’s for that reason what you write is extremely important. Developing a brand voice allows you to express your tone, style, humour and personality – key to driving conversions.
Your brand voice starts with a critical message – something you want to convey throughout your content – your USP. Below are some outstanding examples of brand voice on vacation rental websites:
Kid&Co: Tailored to families with kids
Oliver’s Travels: Tailored to luxury villas
41. Words to use in your listing Your/me/we, verbs, because, introducing, discover & fun
42. Words NOT to use in your listing Awesome, best/most, excellent, customer service, cheap, affordable, budget – these are all words you need to prove with evidence; otherwise, guests won’t trust you. Alex Nigg & Tammi Sims getproperly.com
43. Airbnb guests rate their stay 15% better than on other listing sites like TripAdvisor A fascinating statistic – this is because people rate other people more tactfully than businesses. Airbnb is excellent at being personal; you connect directly to the host (with a profile picture). The biggest takeaway from this statistic is to be more personal throughout enquiries and on your website. You’re the face of the business – make guests feel like they are talking to you, not your company! Make guests feel like they are talking to you, not your company!
44. Google doesn’t really ‘know’ about local attractions; find someone who does When constructing free traveller guides, guest guides or welcoming guides, it’s important to remember information coming from a local expert is infinitely better than information from Google. Today’s guests appreciate an authentic experience over a tourist experience.
45. Go above & beyond for guests; it’s all in the details Alex & Tammi are both super hosts; they understand a great deal about how to give the guest a fantastic experience. Alex expressed he has a fantastic track record of 5-star reviews – His secret – is Truffle Oil! Well, not just truffle oil, but just one example of wowing customers. Little details like pre-stocking Truffle Oil over Olive Oil & incorporating an Amazon Alexa in your kitchen for cooking measurements add to an unexpected and amazing guest experience.
46. Personalise your home but draw the line with socks A great way to personalise your home is by adding a shared bookshelf with books you read – books that are different and unique to you or your message. Even encourage guests to take and leave their books! Leaving family photos in your home is a great way to give guests a personal experience but draw the line – guests don’t want dirty socks in their draws!
47. Airbnb data mines keywords in your reviews I never knew Airbnb did this, but it’s a very clever idea – By data mining keywords in your reviews, Airbnb understands what guests love and hate about your rental. Therefore it’s essential to focus on getting good reviews with as many keywords as possible so your listing is super applicable. The best reviews come after you shock the guest with a unique and unexpected experience! This was the VRWS’s first live event – and what a success. The event has a fantastic family feel with many intelligent & like-minded individuals. I’m sure next year will be even better! Here, you can get early bird tickets to next year's Vacation Rental World Summit in Florence, Italy.