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VR Marketing: Doing More With Less

13 Posts tagged with the marketing tag
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Screen Shot 2014-02-23 at 6.27.00 PM.png1.7 million people are calling for an investigation into the Sochi Olympics this past week, when a Russian figure skater won the gold medal under some very...questionable...circumstances.

 

The judges in the case of figure skating wield so much power and are not necessarily as honest as we would like.

 

I mention this because my subscriber base exploded like a bottle rocket this past January, and I realized I’ve reached critical mass and now have something of a personal responsibility in our industry:

 

Beyond being responsible for conducting experiments…

 

Apart from participating in forums like the Community by HomeAway…

 

Aside from sharing all (or most) of my findings for free…

 

I realized that it’s my job more than anything else to be transparent.

 

It can be tempting for a consultant like me to try and exaggerate ease (“I Reached 100% Occupancy Over Night!”) or to instill fear or to leave out pertinent information that is critical to the success of any given technique so to keep you guys guessing and relying on me…

 

All in an effort to sell more books or videos or whatever.

 

But I am in this for the long haul...

 

And with my new-found "Transparency Mission" (not to mention, in keeping the Olympic spirit alive), I wanted to judge ten of the more publicized techniques and rank them (on a scale of 1-10) based on true levels of difficulty and required commitment...

 

Since most of my subscribers are not prodigy internet marketers, I hope this will help everyone prioritize (or at least calibrate) your to-do lists...

 

1. Blogging: Difficulty Level 2 out of 10

 

If you read my quick guide How To Create A Vacation Rental Blog In Under 5 Minutes, you know that getting a blog set up is super easy. What adds to the difficulty here is a) figuring out how to write good posts and b) doing so consistently. Once you've overcome the one-time hurdle, blogging is a downward slope. When I asked one of my most successful subscribers, Sophie Johansson of Spanish Vacation Rental how she increased her website traffic to 100 visitors per day, she said, "I am almost certain the main reason for the new readers is the blog."

 

2. Email Marketing: Difficulty Level 3 out of 10

 

Email marketing is arguably the most important thing nobody is doing and it consists of two components: a) getting your email marketing campaigns set up with a provider and b) actually being consistent about sending good information to your list. Since emails themselves are a cinch to write, the only barrier to entry here is getting comfortable with the platform. Once you’ve crossed these barriers, the difficulty level of email marketing stays consistently low.

 

3. Personal Website: Difficulty Level 7 out of 10

 

Launching your own site is one of those things that most owners/managers will probably need professional help with. If you have DIY blood running through your veins, use an assistance platform like MyVR.com or WebChalet. If you want control of a delivered product, look to VillaMarketers. If you want both a web presence and simultaneously nothing to do with any of this, check out Evolve Vacation Rentals. Because the difficulty level of building your own website is relatively high, it's smartest to use a service so not to waste your time.

 

4. Professional Photos: Difficulty Level 1 out of 10

 

The only hindrance to getting this done is procrastination. It should be no secret than any owner or manager worth her weight has professional photos. No excuses. And calling up the local architectural photographer or college photography student takes about 2 minutes. Don’t try and do them yourself – unless, of course, you are a professional photographer.

 

5. Search Engine Optimization: Difficulty Level 9 out of 10

 

The reason I don’t talk too much about search engine optimization on this blog is because it’s beyond most peoples’ grasps. There’s no point in trying to dissect the complications of an ever-evolving marketing trend without all the foundational elements (solid website, good content, compelling text…etc.) in place. Stick to the basics. Conquer them. Then read this guide.

 

6. Increasing Conversions (Inquiries>Bookings): Difficulty Level 4 out of 10

 

This is a task that all of us face and the good news is that you need ZERO resources to improve (apart from some time). The difficulty level here requires patience, diligence, organization, and the ability to stay methodical. Track your efforts like an A/B testing scientists and there is absolutely positively NO way you can NOT improve.

 

7. Listing Site Optimization: Difficulty Level 2 out of 10

 

If you have a listing page on VRBO or HomeAway and have not edited it since you first signed up, it is not because you are not capable of improving. It is because you are lazy. Read 3 Interviews With Vacation Rental Listing Specialists and realize that the only thing standing between you and a more optimized listing is focus.

 

8. Automated Booking Software: Difficulty Level 4 out of 10

 

There is one reason (alone) that adopting online booking software is considered “difficult” and that is intimidation. Fear is a very real deterrent: don’t think that I don’t understand that. But it is NOT an excuse to not proceed and streamline your vacation rental business like a professional. Realize that from fulfillment to profitability, some of the most optimal vacation rental marketing experiences take place when a difficult task has been conquered. Services like Lodgix and Rezernet make this difficulty jump as easy as possible.

 

9. Getting Featured In The Press: Difficulty Level 7 out of 10

 

Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise…getting featured in major press publications is not simple! The good news is that when you get featured in one medium, the rest fall into place like dominoes (and it can change your vacation rental business FOREVER). If you have the time to implement any number of press suggested tips, you’ll realize that the challenge is less skill and more persistence.

 

10. Analytics: Difficulty Level “Undefined”

 

“Getting Analytical” was the subject of my talk at the HomeAway Summit in Scottsdale. And since then, I have come to realize that getting analytical is both very easy and very difficult for owners and managers of all skill levels. What’s easy? Something as rudimentary as a little chart scribbled on paper that tracks where your inquiries are coming from. What’s more difficult? Analyzing and pouring over data in a full-blown analytics account like Google Analytics or Rentallect. Analytics is a theme that divides many of us: depending on your level of commitment, the challenge could really fall either way.

 

Sincerely,

 

Your fearless vacation rental marketing leader,


Matt Landau

 

Matt is the Founder of the Vacation Rental Marketing Blog (the largest free database of vacation rental marketing articles online) and VRLeap (an online marketplace for tools and services for vacation rental owners up to 90% OFF). To receive his updates, you can sign up HERE.

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“Choose three and only three words to define your goals for the year.”

 

These were the words I read an article long ago that encouraged marketers of all shapes and sizes to choose three words to live by over the course of 365 days:

 

The author wrote, "In an effort to tell bigger stories, I've found that the concept of three words allows me to think in more dimensions about what I want to do with my life and it lets me apply lots of tangible goals instead of what most people do when they focus on just a finite task. It's a bit like turbo-charged goal planning."

 

I really loved this concept and so, in 2013, my theme was Help, Don’t Sell.


This theme featured prominently in all my work throughout the past year: helping travelers instead of trying to hit them over the head with the hard sell of my rentals.


When I sat down to really consolidate my goals for 2014, I knew I had a tough theme to beat…

 

Especially because the online portion of the vacation rental industry (my specialty)  is changing so massively…

 

Google-Travel.pngIn a recent Google travel study, vacation homes and rentals houses showed the largest jump (of all lodging types) from 2012 to 2013, making significant headway on more traditional upscale hotels.

 

The study showed that affluent travelers were found to rely on digital platforms more and more for travel inspiration as well as research and bookings…

 

That these travelers are increasingly comparison shopping for places to stay...

 

And that 52% of them plan to spend more time “shopping around” or researching online in 2014 before booking their accommodations because finding value for their money is most important.

 

[Note: to anyone who gets annoyed at the plethora of inquiries from listing sites compared to the dearth of actual bookings, this reason should make complete sense.]

 

So what’s clear is that the Internet is as essential today for inspiring new travel as it has ever been before...

 

And amidst this “alignment of stars” that we are all so blessed with, I have decided that 2014 needs to be about the following three words:

 

Create Optimal Experiences. 


Let me explain this a bit further...

 

What makes a vacation rental genuinely successful is a series of optimal experiences.

 

From a marketing perspective, these experiences start with the first point of contact: maybe the traveler reads a story you have written or signs up to get your Insider Guide or gets forwarded an email marketing message you have wrote.

 

These experiences segue into the query portion of the funnel: they define how frictionless your booking process can possibly be, how their desires match up with the experience your offer, and how many “holes” you can plug up so that every guest that inquires actually books.

 

This leads into the actual vacation experience (pretty self explanatory and not something I plan to elaborate on a whole lot since so many of you run impeccable vacation rentals).

 

Lastly comes the experience of staying connected with guests after their stay. How optimal is the relationship experience you provide to make sure your guest comes back (or sends a referral your way)?

 

My personal goal for 2014 is to control the way these experiences play out…not just to leave them to chance.

 

In the same way that I presented the HomeAway Summit in Scottsdale a presentation called Getting Analyical, I would like to use these same scientific methods to optimize every marketing effort that my guests experience...

 

To identify what works best (and what doesn’t) so that my rentals (and yours too) are as optimal as humanly possibly.

 

Through The Most Daring Vacation Rental Project Ever, I hope to order the information that goes into these optimal experiences in an easily digestible way.

 

With it, I hope you can find momentum in your own marketing and greatly improve the performance of your property’s bottom line.

 

Sincerely,

 

Your fearless vacation rental marketing leader,


Matt Landau

 

Matt is the Founder of the Marketing Vacation Rentals Blog (the largest free database of vacation rental marketing articles online) and VRLeap (an online marketplace for tools and services for vacation rental owners up to 90% OFF).

 


3

A recent article in Skift quoted the vacation rental industry at $23 billion, proclaiming it one of the hottest travel segments in the world. An interesting theme that could be gleaned from the article is cited as follows…

 

“One silver lining in the vacation rental startup trend is there does seem to be a relatively high percentage taking a business-to-business tack, offering marketing services and software for owners and professional property managers rather than merely going after consumers.”

 

This is probably no secret to vacation rental owners and managers…

 

Plenty of new companies are introducing a gamut of services to help them operate their rental more like a business.

 

But what about the owner or manager who wants to do things herself?

 

For a large percentage of vacation rental professionals, the challenge of marketing their own property is not just part of the fun.

 

It’s also part of their success.

 

The Problem

 

In this 2012 survey I conducted, we learned that 51% of all vacation rental owners use listing sites as their sole form of marketing and that this group experienced the lowest average annual occupancy rate across all owner types with 54 percent…

 

"Amazingly, on the other end of the spectrum, owners who, in addition to listing sites, used their own website and participated in further marketing efforts (such as social media) topped off the average occupancy rating at 76 percent."

 

Those who do their own marketing get more than 20% more bookings?

 

That is an astounding difference!

 

Yet perhaps the icing on the cake was the following statistic: almost all owners (94 percent) thought they could be doing more to promote their property.

 

The Solution

 

20.20.jpgSo as a vacation rental columnist, I asked my self the following question: "If DIY vacation rental marketing is so popular and so (evidently) profitable, why aren’t there more resources available to fill this niche?"

 

That was when I produced 20 Tips Under 20 Minutes: "The World’s Most Efficient Primer On DIY Vacation Rental Marketing."

 

At the moment free to any owner or manager that desires it, 20 Tips Under 20 Mins is an online ebook designed as a blueprint on how to generate more bookings without relying solely on listing sites. It is written in laymen’s terms with both the beginner and experienced vacation rental professional in mind.

 

And true to its name, each of the original 20 tips can be implemented in less than 20 minutes (which is to say, your lunch break). This makes it the most succinct yet powerful resource of it's kind on the web to date.

 

The book covers topics like:

 

  • Perfecting Your Listing Site Descriptions
  • Utilizing Autoresponders
  • Plugging Up Your Reservation Process Holes
  • Mastering The Follow-Up
  • Referrals, The Forgotten Revenue
  • Using Flight Alerts Wisely
  • Pitching Journalists Like The Pros
  • Creating Your Own Website


And the fact that it is free puts the book in a class of its own.

 

The Proof

 

I knew I wanted to get some feedback from the industry's leaders before making this book public:

 

The Foreward to 20 Tips Under 20 Mins is written by none other than HomeAway CPO, Tom Hale, who wrote “Matt’s pragmatic and actionable advice is a short-cut to more bookings and repeat guests while getting the most from your time and money.”

 

How’s that for an endorsement?

 

If you’re looking to generate more bookings on your own, without the use of expensive consultants and void of parting ways with nagging commissions percentages, this resource is for you…

 

Simply Pick Up A Free Copy Today and get the leverage you need on your competitors.

 

Sincerely,

 

Your fearless vacation rental marketing leader,

 

Matt Landau

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In the past year, I have established my Vacation Rental Marketing Blog as the most comprehensive database of DIY vacation rental marketing on the internet. But does this mean that all owners should partake in improvised marketing for their property? Does this mean that anyone can just jump in and begin? Does it really mean that everyone has the same opportunities as their competitors?

 

Here are 6 pros and cons that everyone should realistically contemplate before diving in. Vacation rental marketing is a combination of art and science. Here’s how to determine whether it’s right for you:

 

Pro: The Cost


As a one-man business, my rental fleet had a singular dedicated asset when getting started and that was my time. I decided very early on that I may not have the financial budget of other, bigger companies or owners, but I was going to make up for my lack of funding using innovative techniques and a steadfast work ethic.

 

For the first several years, I was like the guerilla warrior of vacation rental marketing, testing out improvised, unorthodox techniques to see what might work in generating bookings. Much to my surprise, a handful of them started working...really, really well. 

 

Probably the most transparent benefit of doing your own vacation rental marketing is the cost-factor.

 

Sure it would be nice to hire expert vacation rental marketing consultants to do all the work for us. But as vacation rental owners, we don’t have unlimited budgets set aside for marketing and in fact, most of us run very tight ships when it comes to profits versus expenditures.

 

So when we do the marketing ourselves, we are saving the money of having to hire a specialist who can be prohibitively expensive.

 

Not unlike home improvements, DIY marketing for your rental takes some education and some research. In the same way that most of us wouldn’t just jump right in and try to fix our car engine when it’s broken, owners looking to save money by doing their own marketing must compensate with some time and patience in learning how to do things properly. The money saved in the end is well worthwhile.

 

 

Con: The Fears


Brand new to the vacation rental industry, Toula Hatziioannou needed to take baby steps. She had just started renting out her home in Vancouver Island, but she felt totally overwhelmed. So, the smartest thing she did to get over her many fears and obstacles was to develop a good mentoring relationship with the owner of a fellow vacation rental agency, a woman with whom she struck a deal.

 

“What intimidated me most was the paper work, contracts, billing, payment, all of that. It just felt beyond me,” Toula told me.

 

So Toula asked if this other owner would handle the payment part of her rental process her for a 10% fee. Under their agreement, when an inquiry came in, Toula would respond immediately (something she always did), thank the guest, and tell them she would be forwarding their note to someone else, who took care of the administrative side of things.

 

“I did this quite happily for about 6 months before I started getting little nudges that perhaps it was time I learned how to do this part of my business myself. Then one morning, I had two inquiries from people who wanted to complete their bookings right there and then.  I sent my friend the contacts and she responded immediately but for some reason, her phone was not sending out her messages that morning and I lost both bookings.  It was at that moment that I decided I would accept this as a $2,000 lesson and take full responsibility for my business,  learning to run every aspect of it myself.....which I started to do, that very day.”

 

Toula now has 4 months doing her own contracts and payments and she said this period of transition was just the lesson she needed to overcome those nagging but surmountable fears.

 

Oftentimes, the only thing standing in the way of a vacation rental owner and a successful self-built marketing portfolio is fear. Overcome it and take the bull by the horns.

 

The fear of not understanding. The fear of the internet. The fear of competition. The fear of stepping outside your comfort zone.


Fears are a scary thing! And there’s no doubt they are psychologically challenging many new owners from getting involved.

 

But one of the most fulfilling things I do, as a vacation rental marketing blogger, is help owners like Toula overcome their fears. Of course, it’s not easy to convince someone who’s just started using email (!!!) that they can, in fact, increase their bookings with new online techniques!

Of course Toula isn’t an expert vacation rental marketer just yet: but she is 10x ahead of her competitors (all of whom have failed to even begin this process).

 

I have found that fear is a great motivator. Learn to leverage your fears about vacation rental marketing into momentum and not only will your bookings improve: but your sense of self-accomplishment, like that of Toula, will be through the roof.

 

Pro: The Control


Dennis Hoffman owns a gorgeous vacation rental villa in Roatan, a tiny, funky island off the coast of Honduras. His bookings were good, his family was happy, and he visited his rental a few times a year to enjoy the view.

 

Before I started working with him, Dennis’ success was fastened to the listing sites he paid for. If there was a dearth in inquiries, that meant Dennis' villa (from $3,000 per week) sat empty. If he spent a little more money on his exposure, he could hope for (but not guarantee) more bookings. He was reactive, not proactive.

 

That’s when we sat down to restructure his Google Adwords account. Google Adwords is a pay-per-click platform that allows vacation rental owners to literally “buy” interested guests via clicks on the Google network. It is the ultimate example of control because the more you spend, the more visitors you are guaranteed.

 

 

There is nothing quite like the feeling of being in control of your own vacation rental success.

 

If you are slow on bookings, the ability and knowledge that permit you to independently bump up your efforts and see more inquiries are equivalent to gold.

 

But too often, owners expose a potential weakness by relying exclusively on listing sites whose membership rates could fluctuate. As small business owners, the last thing you want is to be tied to a  company’s corporate decisions. So with the magic of DIY marketing, owners of all skill levels can add foundation, stability, and control to their vacation rental operation.

 

When I finished with him, Dennis in Roatan had turned his Adwords campaign around. Here is the proof that he was generating nearly double the web visitors for nearly half the price as before. But not only is his campaign now supernaturally honed: he now enjoys the luxury of supreme control. His Adwords account is designed like a light switch: when he wants more bookings, he cranks up the heat. When he’s busy, he turns the account off.

 

This type of control is invaluable to a vacation rental owner: simply because it allows you to roll with the seasonal punches.

 


Con: The Learning Curve


Approximately 1 year ago, my friend Brendan decided he wanted to complete a full Ironman triathlon about 4 months before the actual event. He had biked sparingly, he ran once or twice a week, and his swimming was practically non-existent. But as any good trainer will tell you, improving any three of those disciplines takes time.

 

Just three weeks ago, he completed his 2nd full Ironman with a time nearly 60 minutes better than last year (a remarkable improvement). This was a direct product of nearly 1-years worth of training, learning, and improving. His swimming pace – this time around – was almost 2x as fast as last year. His fast-twitch muscles propelled his biking almost 40 minutes faster than previously recorded. Which is to say, Brendan’s learning curve is on the rise.

 

 

Unless you are a freak, learning the fundamentals of vacation rental marketing will take time and patience as well. Don’t expect to get it all figured out in one day.

 

It would be nice (oh, so nice) if bookings were slow and all it took was a weekend of crunch time and then *poof* you were booked solid. But unfortunately, learning vacation rental marketing is not unlike learning to swim: you can pick up the basics in a very short period of time, but developing a proper stroke, improving your speed, and covering professional distances takes time.

 

Anyone who’s preparing to do their own vacation rental marketing should be mentally prepared for the long haul – the Ironman, if you will – and not a sprint to the finish.

 

 

Pro: The Time Is Now


One of my favorite vacation rental owners, Gene Fahey, has several gorgeous properties in Vail, Colorado displayed on his site www.myvailcondos.com. Gene isn’t much of a technology guy, but he knew that the merits of online vacation rental marketing were sound. So he built a website.

 

With this one fell swoop, Gene launched himself into an elite category of vacation rental owners (those who have their own website). While it wasn’t something he necessarily expected to produce massive, immediate results to his bottom line, he knew that launching a website now would act as a powerful investment for the future.

 

 

The vacation rental industry is very new and the vast majority of owners are doing almost no vacation rental marketing. Apart from listing on the major sites, most owners simply sit back and hope their property gets booked.

As you might imagine, this leaves the door wide open for those who want to get a leg up on the competition. This leaves a giant advantage for the taking, to any owner who’s more proactive than his/her nearest competitors.

 

If the giant surge in vacation rental services is any indicator, the near future will prove to be a very influential period for local vacation rental markets: now is the time to scramble for the best Internet presence, the best copywriting, the best photos. Not unlike most booms, those who have a head start on their competitors are the ones who – several years down the road, when the industry is more developed – will enjoy the fruits of their labor.

 

In a few years time, I can tell you where Gene’s rentals will be: with an established website drawing web traffic for the phrase “Vail Condos,” he’ll have a sizeable lead on any of his competitors. He’ll be high atop a group of owners just then – a bit too late – realizing the need for some DIY marketing. Gene will be grateful he invested when he did.

 

 

Con: The Lack Of Resources


The first time I ever tried yoga, I was thrust into a group of professional yoga instructors at a seminar in Tulum, Mexico. As you might imagine, I was so overwhelmed with their positions and nomenclature that, in just minutes, I felt like a failed pretzel.

 

Oppositely, I was convinced to give yoga a second chance down the road in a learning environment for beginners in Chicago, and guess what? I loved it! I got to joke around with the other guys who were inflexible like me! We shared our amazement about the amount of sweat produced! We cried, harmoniously, when the toughest portion was over.

 

 

Roughly a year ago, I set out to create the most innovative community of vacation rental owners in the world for one reason and one reason alone: support.

 

When doing anything for the first time, support plays a huge role and the presence of similar-minded folks acts as everyone’s crusade fuel.

And since the amount of resources online to help first-time vacation rental owners improve their occupancy rates was next to nil, I became determined to connect owners from across the world who shared the same common aspirations.

 

What I have now is a resource (Vacation Rental Marketing Blog) that is read by thousands of owners every week.

 

Why?

 

Because owners like the safe, non-judgmental, scientific learning environment we’ve established for one another.

 

When someone has a good idea, we share it with the group. When someone has a failure, we share it with the group. Owners of all levels are drawn to my blog, not only because it contains, inarguably, the best material in the industry, but also because being in a circle of like-minded individuals helps – almost through osmosis – to spur everybody on.

 

Unfortunately there are not a ton of great resources to help owners improve their online marketing at this point in time. So learning to seek out the best and the brightest can be a difficult and overwhelming task. 

 

Like any new discipline (whether it’s yoga or swimming or vacation rental marketing) be patient, seek out the best advice, and surround yourself with good energy. The rest will take care of itself.

1

Screen Shot 2013-01-15 at 7.00.48 AM.pngMost vacation rental owners look far and wide for inexpensive ways to get a leg up on  competitor rentals just down the street. Some build their own websites. Others upgrade their HomeAway listing for several hundred dollars. But what few fail to realize, is that the biggest, most influential vacation rental marketing weapon is sitting right under your nose.

 

As vacation rental proprietors, what almost all of us have going for us is that we know our geographic region inside and out. Whether we’ve owned in the neighborhood (or vacationed there) for years, we know the inside tips because we’ve lived them!


For owners in winter ski destinations, this may mean knowing the area’s most secluded or challenging slopes.

For owners in beach towns, this might mean knowing where to get the freshest seafood or individuals who rent out the best valued charter boats.

 

Whatever the region or specifics, vacation rental owners are a wealth of local knowledge for vacationers and learning to leverage it means generating substantially more bookings than you have ever had before. Why? Because getting the best advice significantly enhances a vacation! Think about the last time you visited a friend in a foreign place: you ate at all the best restaurants, you saw only the best sights, and you met some amazing people. Simply because you had a friend helping out.

 

Perhaps the perfect way to showcase your regional expertise to your vacation rental guests is in the form of an Insider’s Guide, or a simple PDF document that reveals inside secrets for vacationing in your neighborhood.

 

An Insider’s Guide with a punchy title can be a short as a few pages, while still managing to accomplish two goals:

 

1) Does it convey expertise? If written properly, an Insider’s Guide that’s given away for free to prospective guests manages to add value to the traveler’s experience. It’s no secret that travelers tend to migrate to rentals owned by expert owners. So by creating a guide that is valuable and accurate, owners are solidifying their position of authority and thus generating more leads.

 

2) Does it build trust? Just about everyone can explain, in person, the many intricate travel tips of a given destination. But only seasoned writers can create prose that leaps off the page. A good Insider’s Guide manages to transform helpful information into an actual relationship. A good Insider’s Guide should prompt a reader to say, “wow, this owner is the real deal, I need to stay at his/her rental.”

 

Here are some examples of successful Insider's Guides being used today by rental owners:

 

  • Cheapest and most reliable transportation services
  • 6 Things You Can’t Leave Without Eating/Drinking
  • 12 of the best happy hours in town
  • The most unusual restaurants in town you never knew you craved
  • Hawaii's 8 Top Secret Beaches
  • The most knowledgable tour guides in town
  • 6 insider's hikes for hiking enthusiasts
  • The neighborhood's TOP underground bars


In fact, you can check the Insider's Guide we use at my rentals, "5 Crackheads You MUST Meet In Casco Viejo."

 

Creating an Insider’s Guide is really as simple as sitting down for a few hours and documenting all your best, most influential travel tips, then formatting your content nicely in the form of a PDF document. By keeping the information private (and not just published somewhere on the web), owners wield a professional weapon in the process of generating more bookings. Here are some ideas for use:

 

  • Attach your secret Insider's Guide for free along with your email inquiry responses
  • Offer your awesome Insider's Guide in your VRBO description to anyone who inquires
  • Send your influential Insider's Guide to local bloggers and journalists to get your rental featured in major publications

 

Starting today, owners can commission a professional travel writer to Create Their Own Custom Insider's Guide: the offer includes a 30-minute consultation, up to 5 pages of custom-written text (and a snazzy cover) in the form of a PDF document for easy distribution. It also includes unlimited revisions. This deal is on sale now on VRLeap.com.

17

The vacation rental industry has been humming along now for nearly a decade, but 2013 is poised to bring with it more changes than any year prior. From legal issues to increased competition to newly emerging traveler segments, owners will have their hands full as the new year epitomizes how this little industry is most certainly growing up. Here are 8 of the most powerful trends that will define vacation rentals as we know them:

 

1. Prepare for growth: The vacation rental industry is in the second inning of a 9-inning baseball game and 2013 will see some fireworks in terms of growth. As more and more travelers will demand alternative lodging, the supply side (property owners and marketing companies) will make enormous strides in 2013. Those who get out in front first may be able to ride the wave and oppositely, vacation rental owners who were used to full occupancy with little effort will be increasingly under the gun.

 

2. The “hotelization” of vacation rentals: The vacation rental industry is relatively new and one of its biggest flaws – inconsistency – will start to rear its ugly head in 2013 more than ever before. Owners will need to start focusing more on the “hotelization” of their rental: in other words, streamlining their operations process to be more professional, consistent, and hotel-like. 2013 will probably see a few fiascos (like the great AirBnB robbery of 2011) that will highlight a need for more regulation and formalization in an otherwise Wild Wild West industry.

 

3. More mobile bookings: As 2013 surges onward, discounting mobile platforms will be more and more of a mistake for vacation rental owners with their own websites. Record numbers of Internet users are on mobile devices as a whole, and this trend is accentuated in the vacation rental industry, which is notorious for it’s stunted technology. In addition, owners will need to learn to write better descriptions to convert these mobile users into paying guests.

 

4. Live or die by reviews: As reviews have become the de facto influence in the hotel industry, traveler reviews of vacation rentals will follow suit in 2013. Because traveler reviews equate to more original content, the major listing sites will try to replicate the success of TripAdvisor in soliciting as many reviews as possible. Slowly but surely, this will result in good vacation rental owners (the ones who go above and beyond) superseding their less-invested counterparts once and for all.

 

5. Be gay friendly: 2013 will be a very competitive year for vacation rental owners trying to get a leg up on their competition and perhaps the #1 swing segment that owners will be vying for is gay travelers. Gay travel websites like Purple Roofs and Gay Journey will see vacation rental listings boom as owners realize the high quality of gay guests. Capturing even a tiny segment of gay travelers in any given region will be a game changer.

 

6. Experiential travel: While travel in general will continue to edge towards experiential travel and away from generic, big-box, all-inclusive, air-conditioned-tour-bus-style hotels, vacation rentals will emerge as the perfectly-poised solution thanks to their affordability and growing supply. Rental owners able to articulate their authenticity (thus effectively overriding the same old hotel world everyone is bored with) will skyrocket in 2013. The use of a powerful vacation rental blog will emerge as perhaps the most popular trend.

 

7. Hotels will get feisty: As the vacation rental industry continues to mature and steal hotel market share, hotel lobbyist groups will get more organized and aggressive in 2013 pushing hard for city and state legislature to outlaw short-term rentals. From here, it is inevitable that stricter regulations will be formulated. After all, the vacation rental industry DOES need more formalized regulations. The densest vacation rental regions will also lead the way as owners join to form a unified voice in opposition to the hotel oligarchy. If they don't, more bans (and huge losses) like this in Manhattan will unfoil.

 

8. New services will turn the art of managing a vacation rental into a science: Up until very recently, the vacation rental industry has been a jerry-rigged one, comprised of part-time owners, band-aid solutions, and makeshift excel documents serving as occupancy calendars. 2013 will mark one of the most evolutionary years for the industry as more companies (than ever before) will enter the market to make things easier for the first-time owner. These services, competing for the loyalty of the almighty client, will start lowering their prices and offering their free tools to capture market share.

 

Conclusion: 2013 will be a year of turmoil (both good and bad) for the vacation rental industry. At it’s most fundamental level, this coming year will set the stage for performance-based rewards for owners: no more will it be enough to simply buy a listing with VRBO. Owners will need to start getting proactive and persistent: that or watch their competitors emerge victorious.

 

Matt is the founder of the Vacation Rental Marketing Blog and VRLeap, tools and services for vacation rental owners at 50-90% OFF. In his spare time, he enjoys Spanish-language crossword puzzles and birding.


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madscientist-300x300.jpgSometimes I feel like a mad scientist. More mad than scientist because the large majority of techniques I try fail miserably. Ever seen the Red Bull Flutag challenge where teams of everyday people try to build homemade, human-powered flying machines and pilot them off a 30-foot high deck in hopes of achieving flight? Well, most of my vacation rental marketing experiments resemble the infamous bath tub plane. And of course, I don’t write about those. But for every handful of terrible ideas comes one brilliant one. And just last week, a brilliant one reared its beautiful golden head.

 

So let’s say you’ve followed my advice and imported all your former guests email addresses into some sort of email management service. You’re sending out newsletters that help you stay connected to your former guests, provide updates or news about the neighborhood, blah blah blah.

 

An Aside: I had lunch a few weeks ago in Chicago with a friend who works at Groupon and he told me “a substantial percentage of buyers never ever redeem their vouchers.”

 

This got me thinking: in low season, if owners are tight on cash flow, what would happen if we offered gift certificate vouchers at a discounted price to all their repeat guests? It would be like creating homemade Groupon-style deals for our rentals!

 

So I decided to try it with a segment of my newsletter database.

 

“Special Promotion For Repeat Guests Only: Buy $500 of Los Cuatro Tulipanes Credit for Only $250″

 

Of course I made some stipulations like voucher expires in 2 years, applies only to yet-to-be-booked reservations, applies to normal advertised rate, all other minimum stay rules apply…etc.

 

Results: Of the 1,000 former guests on my email blast, 28 of them took us up on the offer! I was so excited about this! We brought in $7000! On a Tuesday! In low season! My business partner and I were literally doing the happy jig every time a purchase came in! And the best part? The guests were getting a great deal!!! All we did next was create a document with the buyers names and email addresses so that when they are ready to redeem, we’ll have them on record.

 

Here’s why I believe this voucher offer is such a good tactic:

 

  • First off, we LOVE repeat guests because they know what our rentals are like, they know us personally, they like our neighborhood…etc. Which is to say, we always offer discounts to them anyways and while 50% off is pretty generous, they deserve it!
  • Second, it was a great way for us to boost cash flow in the middle of low season.
  • Third, we generated new (albeit discounted) guaranteed bookings.
  • Fourth, most of these guests will almost certainly spend more than $500 during their stay with us.
  • Fifth, sure 50% OFF is a lot but in reality, owners can make any offer appropriate to their situation.
  • Sixth, Panama is a far destination for most of our guests but most of you guys have clientele in just the next town/state over which leads me to believe that weekend jaunts are MADE for these kinds of promotional deals.
  • And lastly, if my Groupon friend is right, some of them will probably never even use the credit which means free income (this is evil thinking. Evil thinking, but true thinking).

 

Here are the downsides:

 

  • (…crickets…)

 

This exercise worked out great for us. (I’d trademark this concept if I wasn’t basically stealing it from every other coupon site that ever existed.) And I can pretty much guarantee no other vacation rental owners are doing it, which of course means, we can start a revolution! I may be overlooking some downfalls of this offer, but we haven’t encountered any of them yet. I’ll post any updates below…

 

- Matt

http://www.vacationrentalmarketingblog.com

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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

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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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submit.jpgEveryone wants to improve their vacation rental’s online presence, but not everyone knows where to turn. In addition to spending your valuable marketing dollars on annual memberships, here are 8 cost-free online hotspots where you can submit your vacation rental website – whether it’s a listing page or your personal homepage (preferred) – and see immediate results. I like to suggest owners spend one hour every month searching for (and applying to) new sites like these. They are worth their weight in gold...

 

1. Dmoz:  The Open Directory Project (ODP), also known as Dmoz (from directory.mozilla.org, its original domain name), is an open content directory of World Wide Web links. It is constructed and maintained by a community of volunteer editors and it’s the database from which hundreds of thousands of other directory websites draw their data. Which is to say, once you submit your vacation rental site to Dmoz (and get accepted) the amount of residual links to your property will increase monumentally.

 

2. Google Places: Google Places is a free web mapping application and you may have seen it pop up on your Google searches or perhaps embedded in other websites. Once you submit your vacation rental company to Google Places through Google’s Local Business Center, your contact information (email, phone number, address, etc) will display on all kinds of hyper-local searches meaning, if someone is looking for a place to stay in your area, they’ll be presented with your information almost like a phone book listing.

 

3. Yahoo! Local: Much like Google Maps and Google Places, Yahoo! Local is a platform that’s still worth your vacation rental site’s inclusion. With their free basic listing, you can submit your contact information, select 5 categories in which to list your rental, as well as list any services you may offer on top of a traditional nightly stay.

 

4. Purple Roofs: Gay travel is an ever-expanding industry and lots of vacation rental owners report tremendous results when posting on sites like Purple Roofs where your free listing submission will most likely make you the only “gay friendly” accommodation in your area (a huge boost for bookings). The only requirement is that you are actually friendly towards gay travelers: easy enough!  

 

5. Gay Journey: The gold-standard in gay travel sites, Gay Journey is the go-to site for many gay travelers and posting your rental on their site is guaranteed to bring in good new traffic. They even give you the option of registering as gay owned (in addition to gay friendly). Gay owner listings are highlighted with a rainbow flag and tend to get extra clicks.

 

6. TripAdvisor Forum: TripAdvisor is the world’s largest travel review site so it’s not a surprise that their massive traveler forum is frequently crawled by tourists looking for new accommodations, especially alternatives to traditional hotels. By creating an account on TripAdvisor (if you don’t have one already), browsing the discussion threads in your area, and anonymously recommending your rental with a link, rental owners have reported huge upticks in bookings. 

 

7. LinkedIn: One of the most direct and no-nonsense ways of getting the details of your vacation rental in front of potential guests is using one of LinkedIn’s Groups. Joining groups like travel agents, tourism boards, specialty travel, etc and posting a simple introduction message to its members about you, your rental and your excitement to host new guests can do wonders to generate new bookings.

 

8. Thorntree: Imagine taking Lonely Planet’s loyal traveler following and consolidating the individuals who have area-specific travel questions all in one place. There might be no better place to plug your vacation rental as an authentic/private/alternative place to stay than Thorntree, Lonely Planet’s uncensored traveler forum. Thorntree also tends to be very easy on moderation, meaning as long as you’re not overly promotional in your posting, the advertising is free! I also recommend offering advice in your area of expertise as this tends to garner much more traffic. 

 

Matt is the author of the Vacation Rental Marketing Blog where you can find lots of juicy free tips for generating more bookings as well as his $77 report, which on average increases owners year-round occupancy by 10%. When he's not marketing his vacation rentals, Matt plays soccer with members of the US Men's National Team.

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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!