Tina Villis

HOW TO CONVERT GUEST SEARCHES INTO DIRECT BOOKINGS

For many holiday rental owners and short term accommodation managers their main source of booking generation is through listing sites and online travel agencies. The short term accommodation industry is becoming more lucrative than ever and competition is aggressive.

In light of the recent changes in booking sites such as Airbnb and HomeAway, many owners are looking to provide direct bookings via their own websites. There has been a shift in the way guests search by finding properties on the booking sites, and then searching on Google for the same accommodation at a better price.

SO HOW DO WE AS OWNERS AND SHORT TERM RENTAL ACCOMMODATION MANAGERS CONVERT GUEST SEARCHES INTO BOOKINGS?

  • MENTION YOUR BRAND ANYWHERE AND EVERYWHERE

You need a strong brand that is identifiable and easy to find – include it in your listing copy, watermark your photos with your brand, making it obvious to your audience who you really are.

  • OPTIMISE YOUR WEBSITE

Although guests are leaving booking through listing sites in favour of #bookingdirect they still expect their experience to be of a high-quality standard. When guests land on your website you will need to make sure it is perfectly optimised for booking conversion; this means a seamless experience, quick loading time, mobile-friendly, professional photography and most importantly a booking system that allows online payments.

  • GATHER GUEST INFORMATION

Capture guest contact information from guests who have booked via third party booking sites – you can attract repeat guests before the first booking is even over. This will allow remarketing to them via email campaigns and social media marketing.

  • OFFER GREAT BENEFITS TO BOOK DIRECT

Offer price match guarantees, discounts for booking direct, freebies on arrival, for example, bottle of wine, breakfast or picnic hamper, restaurant voucher, an early check-in or late check-out. This makes direct bookings much more worth it!

  • CREATE MEMORABLE GUEST EXPERIENCES

Guest who have a seamless experience when they visit your website are much more likely to convert. So, answer enquiries quickly and in a professional and friendly manner. Respond by email and if you really want to impress them and increase the conversion rate pick up the phone and speak to them directly.

Build a lasting relationship by personalising the guests holiday experience. This will encourage them to come back and book directly for their next booking or recommend your accommodation to their friends.

  • STAY IN TOUCH AFTER DEPARTURE

Promote special deals to gain repeat bookings by email campaigns. Another suggestion is to stay in touch via other means such as Viber, WhatsApp, Skype, Instagram and Facebook building closer relationship.

  • KEEP YOUR BRAND CONSISTENT

Ensure your brand is consistent across all sites, including third party booking sites, on your own website and on social media. This will help establish your brand, create trust and credibility. Just remember that guests will go to a competitor if you have a poor listing especially on the major listing sites.

  • ASK GUESTS TO BOOK DIRECT

Savvy guests are constantly comparing the market to find the most suitable and affordable offer. Every time you speak, email a guest or make contact on social media, mention your website and let them know that they can book direct to avoid fees. As the saying goes “If you don’t ask, you don’t get”

BY FOLLOWING THESE 8 STEPS WILL GIVE YOU THE BEST CHANCE TO CONVERT GUEST SEARCHES INTO DIRECT BOOKINGS.

 

Tina Villis

HOW TO #BOOKDIRECT AND AVOID THE FEES

The word is out about Online Travel Agencies – Airbnb, HomeAway, Stayz, Trip Advisor to name but a few OTAs – all charge fees to the consumer. These fees can be significant, anything from 3% to as much as 20%, often equating to hundreds of dollars on top of the nightly rate. So how can travellers and holiday makers bypass the fees and book directly with the owner or property manager?

So here are 5 ways to avoid paying fees when you book your next holiday:

  1. SEARCH GOOGLE LOCAL

    Scroll past the paid listings (they say Ad in small letters) and go to the local listings under the map. Click on the search map and up will pop a range of listings for you to choose from based on location. This can be an excellent way to discover local accommodation.

  2. TRY GOOGLE IMAGE SEARCH

    If you find the perfect property on one of the OTA sites, try copying the image into Google Image Search; this may reveal the original source of the property.

  3. USE TOURIST AND VISITOR INFORMATION CENTRES

    These centres provide a portfolio of short term and holiday listings, are funded by the local councils therefore the guests can be assured that rental companies and owners are legitimate, licensed and reputable.

  4. SEARCH DESCRIPTION CLUES

    Look for clues in the description on the big sites, check the photo captions and the reviews for any information that can lead you to the direct booking source.

  5. LASTLY – SEARCH ON FACEBOOK

    Most owners and rental managers have Facebook pages. You will then be able to communicate directly with the owner or manager, saving you both time and money. They also have intimate knowledge of their properties and the local area – use this direct connection to your advantage!

 

The final twist in the #bookdirect saga. Most of the finest homes are not even listed on the big websites. I encourage every holiday maker or traveller to find ways to book direct. Aside from saving money, you will have an all-round better experience. More and more of the big sites are preventing contact with the guest prior to making a booking. This lack of ability to communicate directly can be a precursor to a bad experience for both the guest and the owner or property manager.

#bookdirect #bypassbookingfees #australianluxurystays

Tina Villis

#BOOKDIRECT – What’s this all about?

The #BookDirect campaign started Tuesday February 7 2018
– so  what is this all about?

The #bookdirect Movement aims to show travellers booking online that hefty booking fees are avoidable if they book through the owner or property manager’s website. February 7 was Guest Education Day, with the objective to let guests know that it pays to book smart, book local and book direct. There are many advantages to bypassing third party channels like Airbnb, Stayz, Expedia, Booking.com, HomeAway, Trip Advisor and Flipkey. These Online Travel Agencies (or OTAs) are almost entirely removed from the hosting experience. They do not own or manage any properties; they won’t meet you at the property when a possum is running amok in your suitcase. Their business model is limited to connecting travellers with hosts. My aim for this post is to continue spreading the word to the general public; I am concerned that the majority of travellers may be unaware of the fact that when they book through these sites they are paying a higher rate for a lessened accommodation experience!

SO WHY BOOK DIRECT?

  • You save by booking direct – OTAs add hundreds of dollars to your booking total; often as a percentage so the longer the booking, the greater the fee.
  • When you book direct you have direct contact with the manager or owner. Managers and owners have intimate knowledge of the property and destination – you can find out more about the property and location; if you have special needs (say family or a pet), your host can work with you directly before you commit to booking.
  • The best price isn’t on the OTAs, and OTAs can’t negotiate.
  • Many of the best holiday rentals are not listed on the major sites.
  • During non-peak periods managers and owners can offer special deals for you to consider.

Much of the push for #bookdirect has come for VRM Intel in the US, where the trend to remove interaction between owners and guests has already taken hold; OTAs and third party booking sites have made recent changes to their business models that have been detrimental to both guests and accommodation providers (including managers, owners and hosts). Guests who insist on having a more direct relationship with their accommodation providers are reinforcing an important baseline for the industry – one built on open communication between hosts and guests.

#bookdirect #bookdirectmovement #australianluxurystays #propertymanagers #homeowners #airbnbhosts #savehundredsofdollars #saveonaccommodationbookings #avoidbookingfees

Tina Villis

6 SUGGESTIONS TO INCLUDE IN A HOLIDAY RENTAL WELCOME PACK

Following on from last week’s post and my comments relating to lack of information available to us, when we stayed at a holiday house managed by a real estate company recently. So I decided to list some essential content to include for guests prior to or on arrival.

One thing to bear in mind is to include every point that a guest would require who is brand new to the area and the property. Leaving comprehensive instructions is the best way to avoid panicked phone calls from guests. Sending an electronic copy of the Welcome booklet prior to arrival is a good idea. A Welcome booklet is an attractively presented, well-structured and friendly manual that makes your make guests stay as comfortable as possible.

Here are the 6 top sections to include:

1. WELCOME INFORMATION
Commence with a few words welcoming the guests to the property, a phone number so that you (owner/manager) can be contacted easily, the property address and some numbers for emergency services which can be accessed in a hurry.

2. ARRIVAL & DEPARTURE INFORMATION
Details such as arrival and departure times, meet and greet procedures, access to keys or a key safe, car and street parking, security alarms, intercom procedures etc., will all assist in a smooth transition for both arrivals and departures.

3. ABOUT THE ACCOMMODATION
This section is the perfect place to include instructions for using amenities like Wi-Fi, television, sound system, barbeque, swimming pool, spa, appliances, etc. as well as setting out House Rules clearly. House Rules stipulate instructions on what is expected of the guests during their stay, including noise levels, party restrictions, non-smoking, security, laundry and linen guidelines, rubbish disposal and collection, reporting breakages, pet rules, water and septic systems if applicable, and any bi-laws or community etiquette.

4. PRACTICAL INFORMATION
Details of where to find ATMs, pharmacies, medical and hospital services, super- markets, shopping centres, car rentals. A section needs to be dedicated to the attractions and activities the location has to offer plus a list of local cafés and restaurants, bars, hotels with phone numbers and website links to help guests find them easier and make reservations if needed.

5. INVENTORY
Let your guests know what is provided – anything from a ‘starter pack’, linen supplies, a hair dryer, laundry detergent, dish washer tablets, tea, coffee, paper products, salt & pepper, etc. plus any perishable items they are free to use such as herbs & spices.

6. EMERGENCIES
Instructions in case of emergencies can prevent guests panicking – include what to do in the advent of a fire, location of fire extinguisher, fire blanket, first aid kit and evacuation plan. In case of a power failure the location of the meter and fuse box can be useful, and instructions for specific seasonal weather conditions, for example a pending cyclone, can allay fears.
This is a minimum list of contents – use this information to provide to all your guests making their stay as hassle-free as possible. This will save you many headaches including your precious time, in trying to rectify any issues. With comprehensive instructions these situations may not havae occurred.

#australianluxurystays #welcomebooklet #shorttermrentalaccommodation #holidayaccommodation #southaustralia #fleurieupeninsula #welcomebookcontents #luxuryaccommodation #bookdirect

admin

#BOOKDIRECT

We here at Australian Luxury Stays value the exposure provided by our third-party Online Travel Agency partners, but the seasoned traveller will know the benefit of coming directly to book!

Aside from saving potentially hundreds of dollars, direct booking allows the guest to interact with the team actually familiar with the property and locale – we’re charming people with a vested interest in providing our guests with the best possible experience!

#bookdirect !

#bookdirect

Tina Villis

HOLIDAY RENTALS MANAGED BY REAL ESTATE COMPANIES

MY RECENT EXPERIENCE

I stayed over Christmas and New Year at a property down on the Fleurieu Peninsula in South Australia with my family – luxury accommodation with fabulous sea views. The property was advertised as Holiday Accommodation and managed by a Real Estate company. As the owner of a portfolio of short term and holiday accommodation for over 15 years I believe I have the background to make comment.

This is what I found:

  • There was no BBQ – a must for a holiday at the beach.
  • The house was not clean – on the surface it looked fine but moving some furniture to accommodate guests on Christmas Day revealed some gremlins! Cutlery & glasses needed to be washed prior to use.
  • No hair dryer.
  • Wi-Fi was available but could not be used as the password had obviously been changed.
  • Instructions for the property were hand written on three small white cards.

Some helpful hints for real estate companies managing holiday/short term accommodation – how to remedy a similar situation in the future:

  1. Providing a BBQ is essential – entertaining guests around a BBQ is part of Australian
  2. A hair dryer is a must (you do get one supplied staying in a hotel).
  3. Functioning Wi-fi is mandatory. Guests check access to Wi-Fi before they check to see if there is running water!
  4. Cleanliness is one of the biggest pain points and is one of principal reasons that lead to guest complaints. Lack of cleanliness can ruin a guest’s stay before it begins and for managers it can ruin their business reputation. Working closely with your cleaners to ensure the highest standards goes hand in hand with pleasing your guests and maintaining business credibility.
  5. Provide a Welcome Book of comprehensive instructions is essential, anticipating any problems or issues before they arise. It needs to be tailored to suit the individual property, including arrival and departure information, rubbish disposal, instructions for using amenities like Wi-Fi, television, sound system, BBQ, swimming pool etc., as well house as rules regarding things like smoking, guest behaviour, parties, breakages, parking, security, pets – to name but a few.

I am an advocate for the holiday/short term rental industry and therefore encourage all management companies and owner/operators to provide the ‘best’ for their guest’s stay… and roll out that bbq!

 

Tina Villis

7 STRATEGIES TO GROW YOUR SHORT TERM ACCOMMODATION RENTAL BUSINESS IN 2018

I am an avid podcast listener particularly in relation to the Short Term Accommodation Rental Industry with the majority of the content coming from the US. I spent sometime over the festive break to work on my growth strategies for Australian Luxury Stays for this year and sharing the ideas with you will make me more accountable to follow through.

Being in the Short Term Accommodation business becomes more challenging every year with increased competition, rising guest expectations, the need to keep abreast of technology and the rate of disruption is not going to go away.

1.   CONTENT IS KING

Create more content – this is one thing the OTAs (online travel agencies such as Airbnb, Stayz, HomeAway, Trip Advisor etc.) cannot do. This provides us with a uniqueness by focussing on content. Guest usually focus on location before making abooking so why not attract them to your website with your content which will encourage them to make a booking directly with you.

So I am up and running creating content adding blogs to my website, www.australianluxurystays.com.au, creating a Youtube channel, pushing content through LinkedIn, sharing on Facebook groups, and utilising Instagram more. Content can be really about anything but needs to be relevant and current, well optimised to drive traffic back to your website.

 

2.   INCREASE SOCIAL MEDIA ACTIVITY

Choose a site a become really active on it. Depending on the target audience you are trying to attract, you may prefer Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and so on. As I am trying to target property owners, investors, mortgage brokers, real estate agents, to name but a few, I am choosing LinkedIn as my preference as I am looking for high end properties to grow the Australian Luxury Stays portfolio.

 

3.   MAKE VIDEOS and MORE VIDEOS

I am determined to make 2018 the year of starting to do videos. I hesitated due to fear – what will I look like on camera, what will I sound like. Apparently I will have to put all this aside and just do it, no more excuses as it supposedly works.

A good place to start is with something that you are familiar with, so I plan to do a short video of each property we have on our website and an introduction video introducing myself as the owner of Australian Luxury Stays. Other suggestions can be ‘how to videos’, interviewing owner’s with their stories and tips for choosing the best property management company for short term accommodation.

 

4.   MAKE NETWORKING AN OBSESSION

I am to committing to a least two networking meetups per week in 2018. Yes, you can do it via social media however ‘face to face’ is so much better, so take every opportunity to do this. I plan to a coffee with other short term Property Manager’s and individual Accommodation Operators as it is amazing what you can learn by sharing knowledge particularly on how to tackle the growing challenge of regulations.

I already attend local business breakfasts on a regular basis but I will endeavour to join more associations. Attending industry workshops and at least one conference this year is also high on my agenda. The cost to attend can be claimed as a business expense and the value can be measured by the growth in your business after the event.

 

5.   PUSH EMAIL MARKETING

Receiving more emails in my inbox almost puts me into overwhelm! Automation of emails seems to be the trend however this is difficult to do without losing a personal touch. Emailing the owners on a regular basis with an interesting article just keeps them in touch with you and similarly emailing past guests with just a brief on a new property keeps you on their radar. Encouraging guests to come back and book directly with you rather that through the OTAs is a financial saving to them. Email marketing is definitely on my radar for 2018.

 

6.   MEASURE TRAFFIC TO YOUR WEBSITE

Google Analytics is an amazing tool and it is free. It registers the traffic to your website, how your content is really doing, measures page views and provides simple statistics which can assist in the management of your website. My key focus will be on the listing pages, where prospective owners visit to find out information about joining Australian Luxury Stays.  To date it has not been a priority however to grow my portfolio of properties it needs to be monitored, reviewed and adjusted accordingly.

 

7.   USE VIRTUAL STAFF

Running a small short term accommodation business is labour intensive with the owner on many occasions left to do many tasks even after staff leave for the day. I realise that at times I am not the best person to do the job and my time could be better spent on work in my areas of expertise and interest. Outsourcing is going to be on my agenda this year as my time and staff time can be better spent on the tasks that are best done in the office and use outsourcing services such as Fiverr where tasks are performed in a fraction of the time, response is within 24 hours and is very cost effective.

So there it is for this year – I could add more to the list but I think I would put everyone including myself into overwhelm. I hope some of these strategies will help you compile your list for 2018.

 

Tina Villis

Five tips for Success in the Short Term Rental Accommodation Industry #5

Tip 5. MARKETING AND CUSTOMER SERVICE

Achieving success in this industry is far more than jumping on the latest bandwagon and listing in a ‘scattergun’ fashion. Smart owners know exactly what their return is on marketing trends. There is much more to marketing than creating a listing. However, no amount of marketing and advertising can beat the success of word of mouth endorsements. You want your guests to be raving fans – they are walking bill boards for your business.

Listing your property on the various third party booking sites has positives and negatives. You do get more exposure, however it come at a cost either to the owner or the guest. Your website is your very own marketing tool so make sure it is a true reflection of your business. It should be easy to navigate and responsive, so intending customers do not get put off and jump to one of your competitors!

The best web listings and sites have only the best photographs. The old saying ‘a picture speaks a thousand words’ is never truer. Fabulous quality photographs taken by a professional photographer tell the story and paint the picture and should be so good that words are not necessary. Bedrooms showing bare mattresses, uneven and crumpled linen on beds, kitchens with dishes and empty beer bottles, outdoor images with junk lying around are not acceptable. Once you are on the internet whether on another site or your own, your property is exposed to the rest of the world.

Keep your branding for your business consistent, that is the same colours, the same fonts, consistent logo imaging. Your signature branding needs to flow through not only your website, but your business card, templates, email signatures, brochures, any advertising, sign boards and so forth.

When managing a short term accommodation business there are two types of customers – guests and property owners. It takes time to build a relationship with a property owner who have entrusted their property to your management. They are often concerned that everything will move forward as planned and may become ultra-sensitive and worry over trivial matters (at the time they do not think they are trivial matters of course). Communication is essential in these early stages & regular updates on their property, guest feedback and reviews are high priority. They also need to feel comfortable to pick up the phone and talk to you. There is so much more meaning in a conversation rather than a black and white email. Understanding their individual requirements is essential, for example, if they would like to use their property from time to time, or would prefer a more regular income and so may like the idea of a longer term guest. Over time, strong trusting relationships are built and through that connection, these owners are great ambassadors for your business and are a great referral resource.

Some guests will seek interacting personally with you, from the initial enquiry, to the ‘meet and greet’, to their departure. Appreciating the different needs of guests and treating them as individuals goes a long way toward having the guests repeat their business with you. Guest love customer service that is responsive and personable.

Responding to guest enquiries is the cornerstone to beating the competition in an overcrowded market. People will remember you and your property if you are quick to respond. If there is a delayed response, guests will have already moved on to another site or listing. Respond to emails within 24 hours, and that means answering enquiries daily. If there are vacancies, rather than email, pick up the phone and you will be surprised how this will increase your booking rates. When the response to an enquiry comes back instantly, it creates a positive perception within guests’ minds, particularly if it is friendly and personal reply rather than canned or generic.

Despite your website, third party booking sites, marketing and promotion material, advertising and social media, it is important to remember that owners and guests are still the greatest ambassadors for your business.

The end of the five tips in the series for creating success in the Short Term Rental Accommodation.

admin

Accommodating Refined Experiences

Allrealty Pty Ltd is a property management & real estate company operating out of Adelaide, South Australia. Specialising in furnished accommodation, we also operate short-term luxury accommodation management under the banner of Australian Luxury Stays.

Founded, owned & operated by Tina Villis, Allrealty & Australian Luxury Stays manage property across South Australia & around Darwin in the Northern Territory.

Questions about how Allrealty can turn your property into a revenue stream? Contact us today for a friendly discussion.

Tina Villis

Five tips for Success in the Short Term Rental Accommodation Industry #4

TIP 4. KEEP PACE OF INDUSTRY TRENDS

You cannot afford to be stuck the present and be solely focused on the day-to-day. It’s crucial to keep one eye focused on the future, including upcoming movements in the industry. If you are not anticipating the next big thing, you are destined to fall behind. Successful business owners study trends and anticipate what’s coming around the bend. As accommodation rental owners, you need to stay ahead of trends and ride the wave – maximising returns and the sustainability of your business.

There are a plethora of ways to maintain current in the industry: by joining relevant associations, forming local groups, forums on social media, researching on line and reading magazines and books, listening to podcasts and webinars, attending conferences and networking are all excellent ways to learn more about the industry you are in and the trends from overseas which we usually follow.

Some associations and groups worth considering are:

  • Bed & Breakfast Association
  •  Farm Stay
  • Holiday Rental Industry Association
  • Tourism Associations
  • Business Networking Groups
  • Local Chamber of Commerce
  • Networking groups with local owners

Our industry is consumed by the huge world-wide online booking agencies and that is all they are, purely bookings only. They are not accommodation managers, and their primary goal is to make bookings and take a commission. Yes, they serve a useful purpose, however the ideal is to have guests making enquiries direct to you or through your own website.

Airbnb is creeping into all parts of the world and the public often refer to our businesses as ‘Airbnb’. One of the main concerns is the public believe that anybody, anywhere can rent out a room. This has hidden risks involved as some homeowners do not understand the need for appropriate insurance cover, are not aware of safety and security issues, and have little understanding on how to vet their guests appropriately. Unfortunately, this affects the credibility of our industry.

There have been court cases in the Eastern states in relation to properties illegally being offered for accommodation (sub-letting) through Airbnb and high court cases involving local councils and governments on the use of high rise apartment buildings being allowed to holiday let. There are moves in some localities where owners are being asked to register with council for approval to run an accommodation business as it is deemed a commercial operation. It would be advisable for all short-term rental operators to accept and endorse the Holiday Rental Industry National Code of Conduct with House Rules to help maintain standards and to sustain self-regulation.

The current consumer market is choosing fully furnished and self-contained accommodation as an increasingly popular alternative to hotel accommodation. Space, comfort, facilities, amenities, cost and the chance to soak up the ambience of the locality are the main reasons for choosing this type of accommodation. The hotel industry has become concerned with this trend and are involved in the investigations into the short term accommodation industry in most states of Australia, pushing for regulation of our sector.

Holiday rental businesses have not been historically known to work closely together, however if this industry continues to come under attack around the world it is imperative that operators work more closely together and unite against regulatory and community adversity. The more universal version is that short term rental professionals the world over need to find each other as a support network both for our individual well-being and the well-being of the greater whole.

Stay posted for TIP 5. MARKETING AND CUSTOMER SERVICE