Times are changing in the rental home and villa rental business, and so too are the profit levels for homeowners. Big business has decided that they'd like a bigger piece of the vacation rental pie, or rather, a bigger piece of your pie! This leaves most owners with three options:
1. Stay with the likes of Homeaway/Tripadvisor and accept a reduced share of the rental income and eventually lose control over who stays in your home due to the new Instant Booking process.
2. Hand over control of the home to a property management company and again accept a lower share of the profits.
3. Market your rental home yourself and seek cheaper ways to advertize in order to maintain, or improve on existing levels of rental business.
The very fact that you've visited this page probably means that we can ditch options 1 and 2 and concentrate on option 3.
Should I Market my Rental Home Myself?
If the next couple of sentences sound in any way familiar, then this article might just be for you.
You've owned a vacation rental home, or holiday villa, for the past few years and up until about a year ago, business was good. You've been advertizing with one or more of the Homeaway sites, or possibly a vacation rental listing site owned by Tripadvisor, and ironically your expenditure on these sites has dropped over the past couple of years, which is a good thing. But, what's dropped even more is the number of inquiries and bookings you've received from these sites, which is not such a good thing.
So maybe the time has come to start operating outside the box. What is it they say, "When needs must, the devil drives". So let's hand the metaphorical keys over to that odd looking guy you can see in the rearview mirror and start talking about marketing your vacation rental home yourself.
Actually, before getting into to it, let me start by getting a plug in for Tripelli.com and all the free sites like Tripelli that are out there right now. Before you do anything about marketing, you should sign up to every free or low-cost vacation rental home listing site that you can. If the worst thing is that you spend twenty minutes of your time setting up your home on each of these sites, then that's not such a bad deal. But let's be realistic, if you get just one booking as a result, then that has to be considered twenty minutes well spent.
Three Strings to Your Bow
Essentially, if we ignore the online listing sites, we're left with three alternative marketing options:
1. Email Marketing
2. Social Media
3. Local Cross Business Promotion
1. Email Marketing
So, probably the best way of marketing your rental home is in front of you at this very moment on your PC. But before we get to that, you're going to need to invest a reasonable amount time, but it's going to be your time and not somebody else's time that you'll have to pay for, so maybe the thought of not having to spend money might offset the boredom of what you're going to need to do.
Mining the Email Trail
Down the years, you'll have received large numbers of inquiries/enquiries and bookings that will have involved you sending an email to the person on the other end of the inquiry/booking. So, if you were to spend an hour or two, you should be able to trawl through the Sent folder in your email software, and as laborious as this might be, you should be able to build a spreadsheet which contains every one of those email addresses. When I say a spreadsheet, I really mean two spreadsheets; one for the inquiries that didn't result in a booking and a separate spreadsheet for those that did. You might also think about extracting the names from the emails at the same time. After all, nothing beats a personalized email.
The Big Bonus
Now you have two mailing lists which, depending on how long you've been in the vacation rental business, could well have hundreds, if not thousands of email addresses in them.
You've also got two things associated with those lists that marketing companies consider gold dust; firstly, you know that anyone on those lists is interested, or at least at some point has shown interest, in renting a vacation rental property, but not just any property, they were interested in staying at your property. And secondly, most of these people will have read or even replied to one of you emails in the past. That means that if you were to write to them from your email address, then your email would most probably be delivered into their Inbox rather than going straight into Junkmail. This will happen if their email software recognizes your email address as being a recipient of an email in the past. That won't necessarily be true of all the addresses, but I'm betting, it's most probably true for the majority. So, to summarise, you know that every one of these people have at some stage been interested in staying in your vacation rental home and also that if you write to them, that there's a good chance they are going to see your email, or should I say, your ‘newsletter'.
OK, it's now time to start planning what your email is going to contain. You're going to need two newsletters; one for people that have stayed in your vacation rental home and who you want to persuade to stay there again, and one for people who aren't intimately aware of its charms.
On the assumption that a picture is worth a thousand words, you should be thinking about a newsletter with graphics and or photos. You also should ideally want a newsletter that's reusable, something that three months down the track can be changed by you into a fresh newsletter. There are different terms for this, but essentially your newsletter needs to be an editable template.
‘Where do I get such a thing?', you ask. I would suggest starting by looking at Fiverr.com and typing in ‘newsletter design' into the search bar of the site. There are large numbers, probably hundreds of ads on Fiverr for newsletter design, so take your time and go through a few pages of them and maybe write off to a few of them explaining exactly what you're looking for.
The key rule here is that whatever newsletter template you choose has to sell your property, so you should ask yourself, ‘If I received this, would I be impressed and think the email was professional and also would I like the look of the property?' Remember, you're contacting these people cold and so you've probably got one chance at catching their attention.
The wording is obviously critical, but staying factual is also important. So, don't go overboard with your prose. And don't tell outright lies! So, if your home was refurbished five years ago, don't say ‘Recently Refurbished' in your text. You know the sort of thing I'm getting at.
If you've chosen wisely in your purchase of a newsletter template, you might also find that the author has done something like this before and may even have some examples that you can plagiarize.
On Tripelli, we always advise that you should invest in having professional photos taken of your vacation rental home. This is one occasion where that will pay dividends, because a professional photo edited down to fit into the newsletter is going to look a million times better that an old photo that you took with your phone five years ago. So, the professional advice is, if you don't have (very, very) good photos of your home on your own site (I'm assuming that you do have a website), or on Homeaway, then pay a couple of hundred Dollars to have some taken. It's also tax deductible, so the IRS is also going to be footing part of the bill.
Note. If your home is in Hawaii or somewhere equally exotic, then you can also use photos of sunsets or local beaches rather than just your home. So, be adventurous, be creative.
Sending the Newsletter
It depends on how many emails you have in your spreadsheet; if you have less than 250, then depending on what sending limit your email provider sets, you may want to send the newsletter out from your own email address in batches over a couple of days. This is arguably, the best route, as I stressed above. But, if you've got more than 250 addresses to send to, then you'll probably want to sign up to an email service such as Sendgrid or MailChimp. But search Google first, as there a large number of companies who'll send out your newsletter and who also might better meet your personal requirements, than the two I mentioned. Also, it's worth noting that if your volumes are comparatively low, then you can sign up to a Free Account with a lot of these companies.
The Costs Involved
It's worth stopping at this point to bear in mind that even if you do have to pay for a newsletter template and professional photographs to be taken of your home, and possibly even someone to send out your newsletter, then if you get just one booking out this exercise, your costs will have been more than covered.
The Ongoing Process
Sending out you newsletter should become a regular part of your rental home maintenance schedule. You should be looking to send out a fresh new newsletter describing what's happening with your home, or advertizing local events, on a quarterly, or at the very least, half yearly basis. But it will also pay you to keep an eye on the returned email you receive. If people have deleted their email account, then you need to remove them from your mailing lists. If you don't and you build up quite a few of them, then you risk email providers flagging your emails as spam. This means your precious missives won't be delivered to the recipients inbox, instead they'll end up in Junkmail, or worse still, not be delivered at all.
2. Social Media
Social media can be an effective tool for promoting your vacation rental home. As well as getting your home in front of prospective guests and converting them into bookings, social media allows you to build relationships and even establish a brand. But there's downside to marketing your home on social media and that is time. Using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, to name but a few, has to be an ongoing process, it's not a post it once and forget it deal. So, if you are going to use social media then be prepared to invest the time.
So, here are a few ideas for using social media to market your home:
Set aside a couple of times each day to log in and respond to comments, or thank people for Retweets, and Likes, etc. Try and stick to the same times each day and make it part of your regular daily schedule.
Unfortunately, you can't just share a few (good quality) photos of your property or post obvious rental information to attract guests, you'll need to be creative and interact with your audience. Also, try posting eye catching photos. These are more likely to persuade people to read your posts as they scroll through their newsfeed. And most importantly, always like and respond to everyone's responses to you.
It's a given fact that the majority of people follow brands on social media so as to get access to discounts and promotions. So think about whether those empty three weeks you've got in October might suit a 30% social media promotional discount. Try it out and see what response you get.
Know Your Audience
The chances are that if you own a vacation rental home that you're not a Millennial. However, just under a third of all leisure travellers are Millennials. So, you might want to think about targeting this segment of the market. Something like a third of Millennials use Instagram, so if you haven't already, you should investigate this platform.
3. Local Cross Business Promotion
The opportunities for cross business promotion with businesses in your local area should be extensive for most rental home owners. After all, any guest that stays in your home will most likely visit nearby restaurants, bars, retailers, parks and tourist destinations, so there's an incentive for these businesses to want to speak to you. So, use this fact as an opportunity to work with these local businesses to reach a new audience through them, and give your renters insight into the local area and even possible discounts to some of these local facilities.
If you put time and effort into one or more of these three methods, then you'll see results, you'll get bookings, but like all good things, it takes time and effort and it's not going to be an overnight success.