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!