When I first started out in the vacation rental industry with our fleet of (then) four apartments in historic Panama City, Panama, I would go on little marketing binges: a few hours (or in some cases, a few days) of intense, academic-like focus during which I’d do everything in my power to drive more traffic, generate more inquiries, and turn more of those inquiries to actual bookings.
These became known as my cram sessions (ironic, because I worked harder at them than I did on any school project) and they were as tiring as they were instrumental in our success. And while I don’t do cram sessions of this intensity any more because we’re so often fully booked, I do think the concept is a useful and motivational one to anyone looking to increase their bookings with a relatively small budget.
One weekend + Creative ways to market your rental = Residual bookings for a long time.
Here is my abbreviated version of the vacation rental marketing cram session: dedicate a weekend to improving your vacation rental’s exposure with these 6 free practices and your rental will be 10x better for it come Monday.
1. Giveaway: One giant value-add to promote a stay at your vacation rental should be your knowledge as an owner. Since no one else knows your area best, spend a few hours creating an interesting article or guide. We’ve used “Dining Experiences in Panama Only Insiders Can Deliver,” and “The Top 10 Panama Tours That Don’t Cost a Dime,” with great success. Create this free piece of useful information. Then convert it into a PDF document with some nice photos. Lastly, use it to encourage users to inquire or subscribe to your mailing list (Submit to receive our free “Secret Guide To Haunted Panama City”). This is a spectacular way to set yourself apart from the competition and a tremendous way to increase your inquiries.
2. List: In addition to your paid advertised listings, post a profile for your property on every existing free vacation rental listing website in addition to classified sites like Craiglist (Tip: use the VFlyer (free) to create amazing Craigslist postings that will stand out amongst all competition). This may seem boring (that’s because it is). And while most of them won’t deliver much, a small portion of them will over time. In the end, even one or two referrals will make this blitzkrieg worthwhile.
3. Contribute: Developing a good relationship with your local newspaper and/or tourism magazine is worth its weight in gold. Since many publications these days are struggling to stay afloat, there may be no better time to offer to contribute interesting/newsworthy articles in exchange for advertising. At my company, we contribute one article per month to the local tourism newspaper in exchange for a quarter-page advertisement. This ad probably lands us between 5-10 clients per month.
4. Focus: To the top income-producing owners, knowing why users don’t book their rental is the Holy Grail in vacation rental marketing. The more objective and critical you can be about your website or listing page, the better. Using a third-party perspective point out problematic images, descriptions, layout…etc. has helped us identify giant holes in our marketing process that tend to go overlooked.
5. Follow-up: One of the most overlooked techniques in vacation rental marketing is following up with leads that didn’t actually end up staying at your rental. Once a month, to all of my leads that never ended up booking a night, I like to send an email saying something to the effect of Sorry we didn’t get to host you this past month. Should you ever look into returning to the area, we’d be happy to help with any travel arrangements or suggestions. This small email can do wonders for some people (either those who weren’t happy with the lodging they selected or those who simply like free advice). I also like to make it a habit to ask where the guest stayed and how they liked it. This gives me a great pulse on the movement of tourists in my neighborhood. It also generates a select amount of recovered business that we’d otherwise lose.
6. Interview: One of the coolest ways to engage users, offer them great information, and provide a value-add to staying at your lodging is to build a database of interviews with locals. By interviewing your local tour guide, ski instructor, chef…etc. and distributing the interview article either on your website or through your newsletter (or even in individual correspondences with potential guests) you establish yourself as a wealth of information and private contacts. Yes this takes time, but it also provides a huge appeal to future clientele.
Matt is the creator of the Vacation Rental Marketing Blog, free and inexpensive ways to increase your occupancy. If you are interested in being a case study in Matt's Video Courses, email matt[at]loscuatrotulipanes.com or simply sign up for the newsletter on his blog. When he's not marketing vacation rentals, Matt makes excellent Valencian paella.