I think your upgrade plan is a good one to get reviews in place. You will also need to get bookings with no cancellation or declines along with page views to up your metrics. Have you check t see where you come up in a search using different filters? It may be higher in the sort than you think. Would you considered offering past guests the opportunity to book this property with the free upgrade through HA/VRBO to get your metrics up? I believe it is all about the metrics at this point.
Thanks ohst8er for your helpful comments and indeed those of others.
Until now the only "views" were mine as we continued to edit the listing!
We have regular contact with previous guests who have been made aware and offered a discount.
We have multiple subscriptions (HA/VRBO/ Owners Direct etc) so we can try different headlines and thumbnails. Generally in our market outside pool photos work better than anything else - the exception can be a "striking" or "unusual" outside front shot taken at a weird angle or at twilight. We have a fraction of a second to hook the prospective guest into viewing the listing.
The point I am trying to make is that if those of us with multiple properties and some experience find it hard to kick start a new place on HA then the way the HA site works provides a huge barrier to market entry for new participants. In the long term this is unhealthy.
planthealth hits the nail on the head in saying "I nearly BEGGED guests to give us a review and explained how important it was to us. It was HORRIBLE until we got our first few, so horrible it is almost enough to keep me from buying a 4th property."
At least in my non HA armory I can :
1. Via a high commission rate to booking.com ( with a corresponding price adjustment - e.g 20% commission / 25% price hike) I can guarantee placement (already in top 5%) - but may be priced out of the market - although with other homes we have secured reservations through booking.com with some eye wateringly high rental rates.
2. I can offer Airbnb guests an "upgrade" and shift the reservation from one property to another using a simple process which just needs the guest to agree by pressing a single button.
3. Again via Airbnb I can allow the offer of a 20% rate reduction for the first three reservations ( and again will adjust the gross price) and Airbnb will e mail all those who have been looking in the same area in recent times and draw their attention to the listing - 2 reservations so far.
As margaret has said its now "all about the metrics" , not so long ago it was all about "best match", so savvy owners are now behaving in a way that is designed to "protect their metrics".