How To Get More Direct Bookings in 202128 #BookDirect Tips From Short-Term Rental Industry Experts
Blogs • Branding • Content Creation • Credit Card Payments • Discounts • Diversification • Email Marketing • Expertise • Guest Experience • Legitimacy • OTA Optimisation • Photography • SEO • Social Media • Trust • USPs • Websites • YouTube
We asked some of the world's leading figures in the short-term rental industry for their one top tip to help you get more direct bookings.
Here they are...
SEO & Content
Next to all the SEM efforts, optimizing spend and key words, the content gets forgotten to have a better SEO performance.
I honestly think, that you can't spend enough time on creating unique, compelling and inspiring content for your properties. A lot of descriptions are automated from pre populated templates, which does not do justice to the quality of the property.
In addition, local attractions, restaurants and other great tips to guests should be included in the content, to provide real value and better SEO performance.
Good translations in other languages is equally important. Google doesn't do the job alone!
Offer guests 50% off their stay if they book direct. This works every time.
Get Email Addresses
Get the direct email address of every guest staying with you. Not just the main point of contact, but all the members of that party. That way you can keep in touch with them and you'll be top of mind if they are visiting your destination again.
Of course, our Hostfully guidebooks have a feature that allows you to collect email addresses of everyone looking at the guidebook, but there are other ways of doing that, too, such as simply sending a form to each guest before their arrival. If you want, you can make this mandatory before you send check-in details.
Website Brand & SEO
Your own website should be your most important strategic booking channel as a vacation rental host and entrepreneur. It not only saves you high booking fees, but more importantly, it reduces your dependency on OTAs and avoids the commoditization of your vacation rental.
Instead of being just an anonymous listing on an OTA, you can use your website to showcase how your vacation rental stands out from the rest.
The first key step is to choose a unique brand name for your vacation rental, and make sure that your website is optimized for your brand keyword. This is to ensure that you rank first on search engines thanks to your optimized website. So when guests discover your property on OTAs, they can Google your brand name directly, learn more about your rental and find a better price. What’s more, return guests won’t be charged the additional booking fees.
Branding & Chat Apps
Build a clear brand name, place it strategically in the OTA's listings (title, descriptions, captions, etc.) have your own fantastic looking website (e.g. https://twholm.com) then add both the whatsapp chat widget on the bottom left corner and an instant live chat widget such as Drift (drift.com) on the bottom right corner - this way you meet your prospective guests preferences -. Have Drift chat app on your mobile logged in and running in the background and be ready to answer any question in seconds. You'll stand many chances to win your next guest directly. See following examples:
SMS marketing, also known as text message marketing, is an underutilized communication medium that vacation rental operators can use to generate more direct bookings.
Compared to email, SMS messages have much higher open rates, are read almost immediately most of the time, and have higher engagement rates. Use SMS to quickly respond to and convert rental inquiries from your website and listing sites via custom messages or automated workflows. You can also use SMS to engage with guests during their stay, collect reviews, and promote special offers to previous guests. Given the intimate nature of SMS, you’ll want to be careful not to overuse this channel but it’s a great complement to email when deployed correctly.
Branding & Guest Experience
Brand and serve: standards required to just get bookings have increased and the customer has got more selective and powerful. So a strong brand is needed to stand out in an increasingly saturated marketplace and once you have grabbed attention, you need to offer above and beyond accommodation.
The guest experience has to drive your business and property managers should be looking at a recurring life cycle, rather than a book em and move on out mentality. From ease of booking to concierge services need to be the basis of every property management model.
The combination of a well crafted brand and guest experience will allow a professional PM to sharpen their edge and rise above the chatter.
Email marketing is one of the most productive and cost-effective ways to grow your direct bookings. Using both your database of past guests/enquiries and emails captured via your newsletter signup form on your website, you can create email marketing campaigns to keep holidaymakers informed about the area and your deals. Emailing around the time they booked or enquired last year, with an enticing offer, may be enough to persuade guests to re-book directly.
Don't assume that past guests will simply contact you direct to re-book. I've had many repeat bookings from past guests via listing sites, even though they have booked before. The key is to keep connected and inform them of the benefits when booking directly.
Identify Your Uniqueness
Winning direct business via search (whether paid or organic) is a tough task. Certainly possible with the right niche and patience, but tough. If you have niche location or type of business then you have a much higher chance of standing out, and sometimes winning, the search game.
So I would focus on what makes you truly unique. There will be something that clearly differentiates you. If not, trouble looms large! Then focus on ensuring you execute on that: does the home meet the standards you claim?
As a guest there is nothing worse than getting excited about what you saw and read, then finding the actual experience falls short. Clearly standing for something, then executing, will result in strong reviews, word of mouth referrals, repeat business, and lots of "buzz". This full circle helps your search presence.
Your Website, Content and Professional Photos
Create a high-quality website that has a real impact on visitors and adds genuine value for potential guests.
If you're looking for direct bookings, you most probably have your own website. If not, that's the first thing you should setup. Your website should be the central hub of your online marketing efforts. It's where you'll drive traffic from other channels such as Google and social media.
The best way to create an impact with your website is to include professional-quality photos of the property and surrounding area. If photography isn't your thing, you should seriously consider hiring a professional photographer. Professional-quality photos can have a dramatic impact on your direct bookings.
Add value by producing lots of high-quality content that your target market will find useful when planning their trip. It goes without saying that you should include information and photos related to the property itself, but the property is only one part of the guest's holiday experience. What does your target market want to do when they're on holiday? At a minimum, you should include content about the local area, attractions and activities. But think about any areas where you can add real value for potential guests. As an example, you could use your local knowledge to produce a list of your favourite restaurants and explain why each of them made the list. Similarly, you could do the same thing with activities, such as local walks etc.
And finally, be patient. Your website will help you achieve direct bookings, but you will need to spend time promoting it. It does require a bit of time and effort, but you get out of it what you put in. Many property managers give up too early and never get to reap the benefits.
Write a personal note to every guest and thank them for staying with you on the day they conclude their stay. The personal touch will increase the probability of them reaching out to you directly for their next stay or of them recommending the stay to their friends.
Local Expertise & Seasonality
Be the expert in your market. Have searchable content via blogs, social media posts, etc where guests can find you in ways they may not expect.
Any seasonal trends like leaves changing, snowfall levels, surf reports that you can repeatedly produce can be picked up by local/regional media can really help your brand.
The best part about it, it's free to do!
Embrace the OTA's
As odd as it may sound, making sure that your listings on OTAs are optimized can actually help with getting direct bookings. Usually, your prospective guests will find you through an OTA, impress them enough that they will visit your site.
Get Creative to Beat the OTAs
All too many property managers give up on SEO before they have even got properly started.
It can be quite deflating to see the number of OTAs dominating the top results of Google SERPs for your ideal keyword search queries.
However, there are abundant content opportunities where you can quite easily position your website organically above OTAs and large listing sites.
- Things to do in...
- Best restaurants in...
- Events / Festivals / What's on in...
- Train timetable from ... to ...
- Getting from ... airport to ...
- How to get to...
- Beaches near...
- ... at Christmas
- ... markets
- ... walks
One of our rental website pages receives an average of 140 clicks per day from visitors to the area checking out the local bus timetable. One guest came to us via this page and booked over 12 months over the next two years!
Optimising your content to answer questions like 'How to' and 'Where is' can also result in Featured Snippet positions on Google which can increase your traffic significantly.
Don't just chase keywords like Vacation Rentals in (location).
Be creative. #BookDirect
Guest Experience & Incentives
Direct bookings are a sign of success and esteem in the vacation rental business. It signifies the fact that your guests don't need to browse, they know your product and they want it.
Direct bookings can be achieved for all businesses by following two principles: Providing an excellent guest experience and providing incentives.
Returning visitors will remember a good stay at your property whilst an incentive such as a discount or a free night, will provide that extra push. Returning visitors will build a chain of referrals that will book direct for a guaranteed product.
Optimise Images For Search
Image search is a massively under-utilised tool by short-term rental property managers to get more guests to #book direct.
Not only do many people use image search nowadays but search engines like Google will now often display images in the top SERPs. This is a relatively easy way to get found as well as more traditional published website content.
Ensure your optimise the images for search engines with your key words in both your file name and Alternative Text description. Also, compress their size for quick loading.
If the images are appealing and professional, this can result in lots of clicks to your site and increase the potential for enquiries/bookings.
Blog! A lot. Blog about what's on in your area. Blog about things to do. Blog about the history of the local attractions. There is no point competing for keywords relating to the accommodation in the location. Catch the guest when they're researching the destination, what to do there, getting into town from the airport, etc.
Or if you do want to try to hook them for the accommodation, make it very specific (long tail keywords), with something very specific that a guest may be searching for that your property offers.
Also have your property or business name in/as the title for your property/ properties on the OTAs. Clued up guests are now realising they can search you and book direct.
Engage with YouTube
One thing everyone should do and can do today is start a Youtube channel for your brand. Let me break down some key reasons why this should be the next thing you do:
- It costs you NOTHING to create a basic channel and even if you don't have time or no one on your staff does you can hire that out very inexpensively, just the channel creation alone creates a valuable backlink to your core site and creates an indexable bit of 3rd party content about your company when prospective clients search your companies name
- Google owns YouTube and if you are the only one with video content in your market then you have a great chance to come up on the 1st page in video search results which are constantly growing more popular
- Having a video walkthrough or even just a simple slideshow video of the homes pictures creates a much more engaging listing and pre-answers many questions a potential guest might have
- You can also leverage videos to help promote your management and sales services, gaining more rental inventory is also a vital part of growing more bookings
- You can promote local attractions and fun things to do about your area, most people make their decision to go somewhere based on what they are going to do, not where they are going to stay, have some cool videos about your area that someone might find and then promote your rentals at the end of the video
- YouTube videos do not have to be perfect, great production helps but even simple cell phone videos can gain a lot of attention and come across "real" instead of "produced"
Leverage voice technology to allow your guests to check-out using their voice.
When they say "Alexa, we're checking out", they will be asked 3 quick questions in a conversation with Alexa.
One of those questions is "Are you interested in rebooking?". Typically guests are still feeling the 'warm glow' of their vacation as they are leaving.
Capitalize on that and get them on the calendar for next year as a direct booking. This capability is available along with many other uses of voice tech in your vacation rental.
Website Brand & Dynamic Content
In our opinion the key is a well-positioned website to create and strengthen a brand over time, followed by direct marketing activities to encourage direct bookings.
To improve website positioning we also suggest including additional products such as activities or tours.
This strategy will result in increasing overall quality of the offer and increase the probability a client lands in the website, thus positively affecting your website position.
Finally, although it certainly does take effort and time, what best helps positioning is dynamic content such as having a blog.
Proactive > Reactive always wins
Us hospitality owners wait for that email notification to pop up "Booking confirmed".
When that email slows down, or stops altogether the first thing we do is complain that "This website I am advertising on isn't working!"
Instead, blame yourself
We are all guilty of being reactive.
Instead, be proactive.
I have a method called "The Daily Dentist Chair"
That is quite simply, doing one 'sales' activity a day. No one likes doing sales, but it is essential for your business to grow.
Daily Sales Activities could include
* Calling/Emailing a regular who hasn't booked for the year yet
* Posting in a Facebook/Linked Accommodation Group that you haven't done yet
* Emailing out a 'special offer' to your list
* Emailing a guest who has recently stayed with you and ask if they 'know anyone' they could recommend.
Contact Previous Guests
The best leverage that the majority of owners and managers have is the power of their past guest list - particularly those who've booked twice already.
Using simple automations or email marketing tools to get in touch with past guests is often a great path to driving more direct bookings from past guest.
An email campaign, Facebook Custom Audience ad filled with past guests and triggered emails based on checkout date can make direct bookings come easier in the future.
In today’s world of short term rentals and direct booking legitimate property owners don’t put themselves in the position of potential clients.
Confidence is key to increase Enquiries to Bookings. One of the main reasons property owners conversion rate is so low is because the consumer talks themself out of the booking.
If you can show your potential clients you invest in their experience by showing you are a legitimate operator you will see a dramatic increase in your conversion rate bringing in more direct bookings.
Don’t assume your potential clients trust you just because you know you are trustworthy. It’s why I-PRAC approval is a key tool to bridge the gap of confidence between new customers. Ask yourself if you could book the same style property at the same price, same location, but one property was verified, the other was not - who would you book with?
Direct Marketing, Future Incentives & Guides
Start collecting contact details for your guests, then stay in touch. Let them know what's happening in the area, new attractions, events and special offers. If your visitors come via non-direct bookings, leave contact details and an incentive for them to connect with you during or after their stay.
Reach potential future guests by offering downloadable PDF guides or itinieraries for your area in exchange for their email address.
Website, Guest Experience & Target Market
First of all be prepared: you should have your own website.
Second improve the guest experience and guest communication with automated tools in order to covert guest coming from OTAs in returning customers: they are going to love your hospitality.
Third, differentiate yourself for competition by offering a unique experience to a specific target market, such as families, couples, solo travelers, etc (and nationality).
Forth, combine the third point with the unique essence of your destination.
In the end you need to stand out from the crowd, and find your way to offer a unique service to your niche target market that will love your accommodation.
Professional Website & SEO
These day's its absolutely essential for anyone with a private rental to have their own website. This provides you with a central 'go-to' location, which with the right optimisation and content can put you far ahead of your competition on search engines.
It also shows potential customers that you are serious about your business, and have gone that extra mile to show it.
Social Media, Instagram & Inviting Websites
Think about tomorrow.
It's all about Branding, and understanding your future guests and where they get inspired.
Instagram is a great tool if you are busy with Luxury and have great pictures.
This generation is being led by influencers and plan their vacation accordingly :
- Creating boards in Pinterest
- following beautiful pictures on Instagram
- becoming a fan of your brand on Facebook
In Smiling House we are using social Media in order to spread the word. We make it possible for future guests to reach out directly, the opposite of most OTA's.
Let's not forget that all this Social effort needs to be directed to a welcoming Website.
Work on your brand, make it accessible, beautiful and remarkable.
Remember, it's not only about the price. Even in today's world, the personal touch makes the whole difference.
Accept Credit Card Payments
Having an online payment facility like Paypal or Stripe which accept a credit card payment is essential. It amazes me but so many people struggle to even make a deposit payment until they receive their fortnightly salary payment so having a credit card facility is the difference between getting a direct booking or not.
This is the one crucial thing that advantages the major listing sites. People do not like giving their card details over the phone so it has to be a secure online facility.
The credit card provides peace of mind for customers because of the charge back facility if they have been sold a lemon. Many credit cards offer fee travel insurance & rewards. I am not sure that I would trust that compared to paying for travel insurance but people love free (never mind that you mostly only get what you pay for!)
Diversify Your Listing Site Portfolio
A stronger #BookDirect vacation rental structure is to diversify your marketing portfolio by listing on multiple direct booking travel agencies and advertising sites.
Think outside the box and list your vacation rental properties on regional and niche listing sites that may not be part of the top “Big 3” OTAs but that garner great results.
Regional location - state-wide, country or area-specific
Niche targets - snowbird, condo, beach, pet-friendly sites
Local tourism websites - usually free or low fee
Your own VR website
The traveler fees charged on the “Big 3” is driving travelers away from their platforms in search of alternative ways to find rentals and save hundreds of dollars. These regional and niche listing sites are the way of the future for the #BookDirect movement and perfect for owners who don’t have time to actively market on their own.
This will ensure that your business is bulletproof and you’re maximizing your ROI.