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VR Marketing: Doing More With Less

5 Posts tagged with the homeaway tag
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If you've subscribed to my vacation rental advertising blog, you know I am a huge fan of statistics and visual representations as ways to increase our undertsanding and performance of vacation rental marketing. When it comes to digesting all the information out there, I liken good metrics to telling a joke: if it takes too long to explain what we're looking at, it probably won't succeed.

 

So therefore, I wanted to use an infographics I adore -- The Famous Wordcloud -- to help owners understand what their colleagues and peers are talking about on a daily basis. If you're not familiar with wordclouds, they are visual representations of the number of times particular words are used in any particular platform: the higher the frequency, the larger the word is printed in the word cloud.

 

Below you will find wordclouds representing each of the main categories of the Community by HomeAway Forum. They can help us quickly visualize the content of what's on vacation rental owners' minds.

 

1. New To Renting

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2. Advertising Your Rental

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3. Furnishing & Maintenance

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4. Interacting With Guests

interacting with guests.png

 

5.Policies & Proceedures

policies and proceedures.png

 

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Picture 1.pngPart of what I preach in maintaining high occupancy rates is an owner’s commitment to the cause. Owners that are vigilant, hard-working, and creative always book more nights than nonchalant marketers who think with an hour here or there, travelers will come knocking at their door. Suffice it to say, whatever type of owner you can afford to be, keeping an eye on the competition is a universal trait of success.

 

Just about every vacation rental owner has, at least once or twice, taken a peek at his competition’s availability calendar to see how they are doing. Knowing the amount of business nearby vacation rentals are getting can be helpful in a number of ways; it’s a real-world thermometer that allows you to gauge where your rental fits in the overall micro-market.

Keeping tabs on individuals, businesses or themes has never been so simple...

 

 

In order to stay up-to-date on my marketplace I like to use an online tool that’s both free and effortless in setting up. It keeps me plugged in to my rental’s online reputation as well as that of my competition. And its name is Google Alerts.

 

At the crossroads of technology and journalism, keeping tabs on individuals, businesses or themes has never been as simple as it is now with Google Alerts. No more are large property management agencies the only ones who can afford to churn up information. You too can be your own intelligence gatherer and here is how in 4 simple steps:

 

  1. Visit Google Alerts: http://www.google.com/alerts
  2. Enter your search query: I like to put a Google Alert on my three biggest vacation rental competitors as well as the names of their owners. I also like to set it up with broader trigger phrases like “Panama vacation” and “Panama travel.”
  3. Select your settings in terms of result type (Everything), frequency (once a week), and your desired email address.
  4. Then create the alert.

 

Depending on how your alert is configured, Google Alerts will trigger an email notification whenever your target topic is mentioned online, whether it be a blog, a newspaper article, YouTube video…etc. If you’re like me, you may even start seeing guest reviews about your rental that you never knew existed!

 

Google Alerts is a tool every vigilant vacation rental marketer should have in his/her arsenal. It’s a way to quickly stay abreast of your industry and region, and considering it takes about 30 seconds to set up, the investment isn’t a hard one to cough up.

 

Matt is a vacation rental marketing guru and author of the Vacation Rental Advertising blog. Subscribe to his free newsletter or purchase his $77 report guaranteed to help you increase your vacation rental occupancy in less than 1 month.

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One of the most rewarding things about doing your own vacation rental marketing is getting featured in magazines and newspapers.  Not only is it emotionally rewarding (you get to show it to all your friends!!!) but it has a tendency to drive up reservations big time. Here’s how I’ve gotten my vacation rentals featured in the The New York Times, US News & World Report, GQ, Business Week, and Travel+Leisure, among a slew of other major publications; and all without spending a dime!

 

Enter HARO: the greatest PR secret known to successful vacation rental owners.

 

HARO (short for "Help A Reporter Out") is a free service that connects reporters with news sources and small business owners. If a journalist from, say, Conde Nast is looking to do a story on a weekend in Whistler, HARO is the platform through which he/she can solicit advice or locals for their story. If you’ve ever wondered how tiny boutique hotels or vacation rentals get featured in big-time publications, now you know. It’s one of those covert resources most PR agencies keep under wraps and you'd be doing yourself a disservice by sharing it with your competition.

 

So how do I have so much success with HARO?

 

Well, first, I sign up on their website and select “Travel” as my area of expertise. I also recommend selecting “Business & Finance” since some of the story topics overlap. You can also get creative, catering your story pitch to their particular readership. This is to say, my rentals have no business in Forbes Magazine but I pitched it properly and it worked.


Next, watch your inbox for the daily emails.  They will be composed thrice per day of various story leads and reporters looking for helpful sources. When you find one that might apply to your vacation rental business, jump on it.

 

In my experience, your email pitch is the most important thing between you and getting featured in a major publication. While you want to respond swiftly, reporters are always on a deadline, you also want to put enough thought into your pitch so that you set yourself apart from the rest. It is here where the email subject and the first line of your message itself need to be catchy and to the point. Here are three examples of my subject lines that have caught the reporter’s eye and elicited a response:

 

“Quotes For Your Vacation Article -- With A Tropical Twist!”

“Matt's 5 Reasons Vacation Rentals Trump Hotels”

“Why Are Vacation Rentals Not For Everyone?”

 

Once you’ve gotten good at the email subject lines, making sure they are action-oriented, compelling, funny, etc., make sure your message is short, interesting and to the point. Remember that the reporter is probably receiving tons of pitches so yours needs to be unique and relevant. Getting the pitch down won’t happen overnight. But over time, you’ll start to see more and more reporters responding and asking you for a quote. In a recent seminar, I gave out this tip and wasn't surprised to hear from three owners who, not one week afterwards, were featured in Home & Garden, Budget Travel, and Destinations Travel Magazine respectively.

 

If you are interested in seeing some samples of Matt's emails (and subject lines) that have resulted in major publication inclusions, you can sign up for his newsletter on the Vacation Rental Marketing Blog. Matt is on the eternal search for the best ways to increase vacation rental occupancy. He also once hosted a surprise birthday party for his mother, in which Oprah Winfrey was a surprise guest.

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cram.gifWhen 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.

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ML.jpgNearly a decade ago I decided to trade three-piece suits for flip-flops and make the jump from corporate America to entrepreneurship in the tropics.

 

I landed in Panama City’s UNESCO World Heritage district of Casco Viejo: a Latin-American pastiche of New Orleans and, in my opinion, the most interesting neighborhood in Central America. It was here I began my career with vacation rentals; and it was here I learned how, with a shoestring budget, property owners anywhere can book their units solid using the right tools.

 

My typical days in Panama consist of lots of exploring: I have gorgeous beaches on both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts within 45 minutes of my front door. I jog every morning under a rain forest pantheon of monkeys, toucans and sloths. I eat way too much local shrimp ceviche, and I do all these things with the comfort in knowing that my rentals – a fleet of historic apartments known as Los Cuatro Tulipanes – are churning a healthy flow of vacationers through their doors.

 

But business wasn’t always this smooth.

 

Like a lot of owners or property managers, listing sites such as VRBO.com and HomeAway.com were the first places I turned to generate reservations for my properties. Inquiries were good, but with the recession about to hit, I thought I’d need far more creative exposure and promotional material if I wanted to achieve occupancy levels above 90% year-round.

 

As a general rule, 90% occupancy has always been my gold standard: it is a realistic occupancy level any self-respecting property owner should and can accomplish.

 

Striving for more bookings, I spent seven years analyzing my properties’ performance. I gleaned secrets from expensive advertising agencies, haughty PR experts and ultra-successful vacation rental owners, split testing every single minute technique against another to determine, statistically, the most effective way to spend my time and money. By the end of this journey (at a time when my own rentals started operating at capacity), I copyrighted my system in the form of a report: 30 Bookings in 30 Days - a recipe book of innovative ways to increase vacation rental bookings on a shoestring budget.

 

The report represents seven years of my own time, six months researching successful vacation rental owners and a collective trial investment of tens of thousands of marketing dollars. "30 Bookings in 30 Days" sold just under 500 copies in 2011.

 

As an example of the quick tips you can adopt from my report are the use of free services like HARO (the resource I used to get my vacation rentals featured in Conde Nast and Travel+Leisure) and ASmallWorld (an invite-only travel-minded social network that generates about 15 bookings each month). I look forward to opening my knowledge base and sharing with you many more valuable additions to your marketing arsenal.

 

I now enter 2012 with one very ambitious goal: I will participate in the Ironman Triathlon (my first event of this sort) on February 12th, swimming through the Panama Canal, biking through the InterAmerican Highway and running on a historic oceanfront causeway. Throughout my training process, I have learned that the only people awake at 4AM in Panama are triathletes and insomniacs. And as motivation for this event, I have started referring to myself as IronMatt.

 

I look forward to sharing my knowledge for vacation rental marketing "on the cheap” and can’t wait to see more owners benefit from my tips and earn more cash!