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Build Your Vacation Rental Business With A Clear Path Strategy
An effective marketing plan for your vacation rental business is the most important part of your overall business plan if you aim to achieve long-term success. The best property management business in the world would fail without leveraging the power of marketing and in the tourism industry a good marketing plan is at the heart of any successful venture. In the past, marketers relied on traditional media in the form of print, radio, and television advertising to reach the masses.
When you are just starting out, a marketing plan has yet to form. But as you scale, marketing becomes a key focus to keep growth going.
These outlets, while important, offer limited options to refine your marketing plan and ensure your advertising dollars are being optimised.
By taking advantage of digital marketing options it is possible to specifically market to your target demographic, track return on investment (ROI), and direct funds to only those efforts that prove successful. This guide is designed to help create a starter digital marketing plan specifically for your vacation rental business.
Digital marketing is far more than just launching a website and encompasses a wide range of topics from proper use of distribution sites, effective photography, search engine optimization, lead generation and much more. Every business’s needs are different and it should be easy to customize a marketing plan specific to your needs.
Listing Sites & Online Travel Agencies (OTAs)
It goes without saying that great pride has been taken in the presentation and preparation of each aspect of your vacation rental properties. That is a great first step for an amazing marketing plan. The location, look, and feel of each property will help to determine some of the choices you make while formulating your customized marketing plan.
Now that you have a spectacular product it’s time to find guests and luckily, there is no shortage of distribution websites (also called listing sites or OTAs) available offering a variety of options in pricing, standards, demographics, and policies. Choosing one or multiple distribution partners is a key element to getting your product on the market and generating revenue.
While there are endless options and methods of advertising your properties online, for the purposes of this tutorial we are going to specifically focus on three types of distribution sites; big name distribution partners like Airbnb, TripAdvisor/Flipkey, Vrbo (and the recently sunset HomeAway), and Booking.com, smaller niche sites, and of course your own website.
While researching distribution partners it is a good idea to consider some factors about each listing site. For example:
- Do they take a credit card processing vendor you’d work with?
- What are their software requirements: do you need to distribute inventory through a property management software (PMS) system?
- Are guests who travel to your market using this website to find other properties?
- What’s the policy around cancellations and can you set your own rules?
- Who is the “merchant of record” and handles the money between the guest and you (the manager or owner)?
- For smaller sites or niche sites, are they actually producing high quality and relevant traffic? A site can get less traffic and still be productive for you if that traffic is relevant to your market (example: FLARBO for vacation rentals in Florida)
- Find a list of alternative sources to platforms like Airbnb and Vrbo to make sure you’re listed on the best emerging channels.
The location of your rentals, size of average group, amenities, minimum and maximum lengths of stay, price point, is the property better for a family or would it be more suited to a business traveler or couple are all important factors in deciding which distribution partners will work best for your specific needs.
The larger distribution sites cover a diverse demographic and often do a great job of driving traffic to all of your property listings to match you with guests. These larger partners spend a great deal of time and money on advertising and promotion generating an endless supply of clicks. Booking.com, for example, spends almost $11 billion per year on marketing and advertising (source).
Choosing one or more of these partners has become a necessary element of any successful marketing plan. Even among these larger full featured distribution partners there is not a one size fits all formula. You will want to research each company’s policies and fee structure to make sure that you choose a plan that will work for your business.
While the larger big name distribution channels are very important you don’t want to overlook niche or boutique distribution channels. These websites offer a smaller, but far more focused audience. This is especially important if you have a unique property or if you are located in an area offering popular attractions or activities. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Does your property offer a unique experience?
- Is your property located on a golf course?
- Is fishing or boating available?
- Is there beach access?
- Is your property pet friendly?
- Are there popular attractions nearby?
- Does your location attract yearly visitors like snow birds?
Answering these questions will help you find niche distribution sites that will increase bookings and take full advantage of all the amenities you have to offer. Just like the big name sites make sure to review any policies and fee structures to ensure that each site you choose to work with fits your specific business plan.
It’s difficult to list every possible niche listing site out there – we recommend you first research in your destination like a guest would to find “possible winning sites”.
For example, if you managed 25 vacation rentals in Miami Beach, Florida, a simple Google Search reveals a lot of information about who’s advertising in this market and which listing sites are getting organic traffic.
Your own website is always your best distribution channel. A guest that books directly through your website saves you money on fees and commissions to distribution partners and allows you to set all the terms of the transaction.
You want your website to work seamlessly with your distribution partners, and most make it very easy to integrate your reservations system with the use of a tool that allows for the instant communication between your reservation system and the distribution partner called APIs. It is important to find a web designer that is familiar with reservation systems and API connections. If you have a large number of properties or plan to work with a large number of distribution channels you may want to consider integrating channel management software into your reservations and listings system.
A website that is controlled and owned by your property management company will help your marketing efforts scale and create a very successful vacation rental business.
Photography & Descriptions
Everyone has booked accommodations that didn’t live up to expectations. There is nothing more deflating than reaching your hotel room or vacation rental and finding out that the pictures you saw online look nothing like the actual property or that the game room is a repurposed linen closet with some board games. Honesty is always the best policy when it comes to any business and the vacation rental business is no different.
Taking great photos that represent your property is not as easy as just snapping a few photos on your phone. Proper lighting, use of space, angles and small details make the difference between good photos and great photos. Staging the home before taking photos is important but you want to make sure to convey an honest example of what your guests can expect. Unless you have the proper equipment and expertise it is highly recommended that you hire a professional photographer that is experienced in photographing homes.
The written description of your property can be even more important than photographs. After all the words you choose when describing your property will not only paint a picture for your potential guests but will help search engines lead users to your website and partner channels.
Take your description beyond the mundane 2 bedroom 1 bathroom generic listing and use this opportunity to really give the potential guest an idea of what they can expect staying in your rental. It is one thing to say you have a kitchen, but it’s another to mention that your space has a perfect kitchen for family time.
Be sure to include any pertinent information about unique features and amenities or make suggestions (Great for families, or weekend getaway). Always try to use words that someone would use when searching for the perfect vacation rental. By choosing your words carefully you are not only helping your guest decide but through the magic of search engine optimization you will be helping those guests find you on the web.
Lead generation is the actual process of getting eyes on your advertisement or listing and turning eyes into leads. Generally speaking, the more potential guests that see your vacation rental website or listing the more bookings you can expect. By taking advantage of modern marketing tools you can optimize the quality of leads that you generate, with the ability to constantly tweak your marketing and promotions based on your current needs as well as accumulated data from past campaigns.
By targeting specific demographics you can ensure that a high percentage of visitors to your website or property listing will be a good match, increasing the chances they will book your property. It is pointless and a waste of money to market to those that either can not afford or have no interest in your property. Many beginner marketers make the mistake of focusing solely on broad reach and don’t narrow down their targeting on platforms like Facebook Ads to hone in on the ideal guest.
It’s more effective to generate 10 new email addresses of subscribers for your vacation rental newsletter that have a high chance of booking than to get 100 low-quality subscribers that have no booking intent.
This type of customized marketing allows for a higher return on investment while spending less money. Four key elements make up a good online marketing plan: SEO (search engine optimization), PPC (paid search), email and social media campaigns.
SEO is short for search engine optimization and it involves many aspects that all have a direct effect on search engine placement. Good search engine rankings makes the difference between a website that generates revenue and a website that is just taking up space on Google’s servers.
A properly optimized website starts with relevant content that describes the service or product being offered but this is just the tip of the iceberg. Organic traffic can often be the highest converting traffic of any source that visits your website directly, so it’s a key area to improve on as you focus on your marketing plan.
We created a three-step framework for understanding the most important pillars of SEO strategy. You can read our full TLC framework here.
Technical: the underlying code that runs your website: is it crawlable by Google, easy to index and check all of the key areas like page speed and usability? Search engines take visible website content into consideration and some of the data used to determine where a page will rank is found on the page itself in the code. Meta tags (like title tags and meta descriptions) tell the search engines specific information about your website and individual web pages including a title, description and keywords. Other meta tags act as instructions for search engines and can affect many aspects of how different search engines view and rank your website. The proper use of meta tags is essential for users to be able to find your website and listings.
Content: the best way to build content for your website is by performing detailed and through keyword research. This can be accomplished by including a blog on your site or creating a directory of information pages about your location. Some popular topics include local specific information about attractions, activities, festivals, history, restaurants, nightlife and more. Broader topics can also be great sources of traffic but even these topics should be kept in the context of your vacation rental business.
Links: the best website in the world that’s never been linked to won’t earn much traffic from search engines like Google. Google uses links as one of their primary ranking factors, so it’s imperative that your SEO strategy include a focus on building high-quality links to your website.
Taking into account each core area of TLC will lead to the best results. Ignoring one pillar (for example, a website that’s technically sound with content but has no links) will not produce true SEO success.
Targeted email marketing campaigns are very effective at converting both past guests and interested future guests into bookings. Direct communication with past and potential guests is an excellent method of offering great last minute deals, conveying important information, and giving those on your email list access to preferential treatment regarding your promotions.
Common email marketing strategies include:
- Pre-arrival information for incoming guests
- Post-checkout review request emails to generate more positive reviews
- Frequently (monthly or even bi-weekly) newsletters (featuring local information, new listings and promotions)
- Triggered emails based on website or inquiry behavior (for example, sending messages to guests who’ve opt-in and visit your website’s booking page)
Email is effective, but you should caution against over-using email marketing send frequency. You never want to send unsolicited emails and it would be a good idea to keep the number of emails low over a monthly basis for non-engaged leads.
A weekly or even monthly newsletter with fresh relevant information is more than enough of this type of communication to keep your readers interested while not crossing the line of being considered spam.
Of course periodic last minutes deals or promotions are always acceptable. Keep these emails friendly, informative and to the point. By sticking with these simple rules you can build an extensive email list that is sure to generate revenue.
The size of your list matters too. Make sure you are building your email marketing list with all of your guest data (that have opt-in) by ensuring that real email addresses are collected at the time of booking or stay. Many sites (like Airbnb) used “hashed” emails like firstname.lastname@example.org instead of a real email that you can market to.
Collecting emails of other guests in each booking is an effective way to grow your list with very relevant contacts too. A guest booking a 5 bedroom property may have 9 other adults in their group – and all of them are possible candidates to return and book again! Making an effort to collect their email addresses means you can turn 1 email from a stay into up to 10 emails, growing your list more quickly.
No matter the size of your email marketing list however, don’t be afraid to trim off inactive email addresses. Once a year or even 18 months, you can cull back and remove inactive emails that are not opening, clicking or engaging with your email marketing. A healthy list is an engaged list — no need for vanity numbers of having a “100k list” if only a few thousand are actually likely to book again.
There’s dozens of email marketing platforms in the marketplace, many with overlapping features. For many vacation rental managers, platforms like Mailchimp, Active Campaign, Campaign Monitor, Constant Contact and GetResponse offer the features they are looking for.
PPC or pay per click advertising is exactly what it sounds like, you are playing a certain amount of money each time a person clicks on your link.
These links are the ones that appear before the organic search results on sites like Google and Bing but can also appear as text or graphics ads on other websites. PPC scares a lot of new vacation rental marketers because if not set up properly it is a marketing strategy that becomes expensive very quickly while producing poor results.
This does not have to be the case as PPC services like Google Ads or Microsoft’s Bing Ads allow for almost endless customization and refinement of exactly who will see these ads. Getting lots of visitors to your website is great but you want to ensure that these visitors are actually interested in your product.
A solid PPC strategy for any vacation rental businesses focuses on terms with high booking intent – ideally terms that have a low cost-per-click, but the most critical piece is understanding how you can convert a search into a lead → then a booking.
Bidding on very broad and generic keywords like “rentals in Miami” is often a losing strategy in PPC barring an extremely high budget and lots of inventory. However, finding a specific niche and grouping inventory together — for example — targeting “oceanfront villa rentals in Hilton Head” can produce profitable results.
You should target PPC results of $5 – $10 in bookings for every $1 that you spend with Google. No matter if you have a budget of $100, $1,000 or $100,000, producing a ROI is key to continuing to invest in new campaigns.
All PPC strategies should start with a detailed analysis of keywords that have volume in your destination, their average CPC and highly converting landing pages to send paid traffic to. In addition to structuring the campaigns correctly, your PPC strategy should also include highly advanced tracking (ecommerce tracking, lead tracking and phone tracking) to measure the number of conversions you earn for each dollar spent.
One of the most clear benefits of PPC campaigns is their speed. Starting quickly (within a few days) of launching a vacation rental website, you can start to see traffic coming in. While SEO can be more effective over the long term, PPC can drive results nearly instantly. As a result, it’s a preferred marketing channel for new companies.
Social media plays an important role in lead generation for your website and listings.
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and Snapchat are popular social media platforms and most people are familiar with the user interface on at least one of these services. Just like search engines, social media works both organically and with paid ads and just like with an email campaign you want to be careful to keep your audience engaged, but not overwhelmed with your content.
Over-posting on social media with ads and links is sure to produce the reverse of your ultimate goal of driving more bookings. While each social media platform is different there are some common rules that should be followed as best as possible.
Keep your posts relevant, post on a variety of topics, post different things on different social platforms, not everything has to be an advertisement. A common industry accepted ratio is 1 advertisement for every 5 informational or just fun posts.
A picture says a thousand words! Some of the best performing posts you create on social media may in fact be photos of important landmarks of your destination. For example, a photo of the Grand Canyon for managers in Northern Arizona can be a highlight of your page.
The best marketing campaign is all for naught if you can’t close the sale and secure a booking. Many guests will book through a distribution partner or directly off your website, but there will always be guests that have questions or want to call you to learn more. With a proper marketing campaign most if not all inquiries should be from guests that are already interested in your properties. Communication is the key to successfully closing the guest.
Questions and emails need to be answered quickly and accurately and there is no better time to show off your great guest service skills. Just giving the answer to questions is not the only purpose for communicating with your guests. This is a wonderful time to gather as much information as possible so you can make suggestions and better assist your guests.
Pay careful attention to everything your guest asks so you can be sure to answer all their questions in the first email, phone call, or chat. Take note of anything that can be used to help your guest make the decision to rent with you.
Using an automated email response is acceptable, but only to inform the guest that you have received their email and will be responding shortly. If many emails come in outside of normal business hours it may be worth considering a more customizable service that can respond personally to your guests 24/7.
Earning Repeat Bookings With Past Guests
Remarketing starts at the moment a guest books one of your properties.
An automated email should immediately go out thanking the guest for booking with you and informing them of any pertinent information they may need regarding their stay with you. This is an excellent time to sign them up for your newsletter, text alerts, or direct them to your social media pages.
It’s a good idea to send multiple emails leading up to your guests arrival. Be sure to inform your guest that they can expect these emails in the very first communication. This is another situation where less is more. You don’t want to fill up their inbox with pointless emails. Two or three emails should be more than sufficient to convey any information, offer addons, and pass along deals or promotions that may fit the guests profile.
Continued emails after your guest checks in welcoming them to your rental and passing along information, tips, or vital communication will keep your guest informed and the lines of communication open.
After your guest checks out make sure to send them a thank you email, this is a great time to offer any repeat guest deals or referral programs, encourage them to leave a review, and once again remind them to sign up for your newsletter and to join you on social media.
An effective marketing plan is essential to making your vacation rental business a success. Modern marketing campaigns encompass a wide range of tools and methods of reaching potential guests. By taking advantage of targeted advertising in conjunction with organic search results, social media, traditional media, word of mouth, and direct marketing, return on investment can be optimized for just about any budget.
While some of these tactics will remain relatively static it is important to remember the dynamic nature of marketing in general. What works today won’t always work tomorrow and it is important to stay on top of current trends and maintain fresh up to date content.
Results do not happen overnight. If implemented properly you will be seeing a great return on your investment quickly.
Continuing To Improve The Marketing Plan
Executing on the above core areas (listing sites, direct bookings, closing sales & rebooking past guests) will likely earn you hundreds if not thousands of bookings.
But, it doesn’t stop there!
The vacation rental landscape is as competitive as ever: any company resting on their laurels will quickly be passed by from newer, more aggressive competitors. The VC (venture capital) community has taken a special interest in the vacation rental industry and have poured hundreds of million of dollars into companies like Vacasa, Sonder, Stay Alfred, TurnKey and many more.
No matter if you manage a handful of rentals or hundreds, many of these companies would love to take your market share and put you out of business.
Continually investing and improving your marketing can not only stop that from occurring, but will actually allow you to flourish in today’s marketplace. We’ve compiled a list of ways that you can improve your marketing plan even more as we head into 2021 and beyond.
- Consider joining VRMA or other local trade associations. VRMA holds annual events multiple times per year where you can learn more about every aspect of running a successful business.
- Research your market and rates often! Using resources like Transparent will help you to find the right occupancy and
- Test more advanced strategies around pricing like dynamic pricing tools and adjust rates more frequently to help increase occupancy rate. Often called revenue management, the most successful property managers understand that occupancy rates can be a misleading figure if you don’t take into account the REVPAR.
- Make sure to invest in recruiting more homeowners too — any vacation rental company needs a balance of both new guest acquisition and also new property owner acquisition too. Finding vacation rental owners who are self-managing their own property are often solid targets to talk with if you can provide superior results and charge low commission rates.
- Talk with other vacation rental managers (in markets you are not in) to learn more about their effective marketing strategies. They may also have real estate brokers or a division in their company – can this be a logical expansion for you too?
- Stay up to date on the vacation rental industry on the whole, this will help you grow. Resources like VRM Intel offer newsletters that stay on the cutting edge.
- Understand the benefits of long-term investments like effective content marketing and how short-term thinking can harm you (look beyond just next quarter).
- Chief above all, never forget about the core guest experience when a booking (and subsequent stay) actually occurs. Many of your future reservations will be influenced by word-of-mouth, online reviews and even repeat guests. An amazing guest experience will help you to spend less on advertising and marketing and earn the opportunity to build your brand as a local expert.
We hope our vacation rental marketing plan guide has been helpful to you! Our team can help you take your marketing to the next level. Get in touch with us today.