Archive for the ‘Advice & Tips’ Category

How to Boost Bookings for your Vacation Rental During the “Low Season”

Tuesday, September 30th, 2008

Even though the autumn is looming, you have to step into the scary low season fully armed with powerful marketing strategies which will help you attract travelers and keep your vacation rentals booked.

I believe one of the most important things to think about is your main audience during October, November and December. You need to answer yourself the following questions: Who are they? What are they looking for? And how can we meet their needs?

The “who question” is fairly easy as it’s proven that this slower travel season belongs to savvy travelers who love bargains, special deals and discounts. There can also be families with little children who want to avoid crowds and are not tied with any school schedules yet. You may also expect outdoor enthusiasts who find autumn the best season for hiking, hunting or fishing.

Knowing who you should cater for will help you define your marketing and action plan. So how can you entice all these audiences and make them want to spend vacation in your rental, even if it’s gloomy and rainy outside?

First try to think about possible upgrades of your amenities or new features that are especially great in autumn/winter time. It could be a hot tub or a Jacuzzi – travelers will love spending time with friends enjoying your beautiful mountain views. You could also offer a wide movie collection for long evenings. Ideas are simply infinite.

It is also equally important to communicate all those attributes to travelers. Remember to update your property listing. There are several options you could change.

Change your photos. Add seasonal pictures of your vacation rental during fall. Your house surely looks different covered in colorful leafs.

Update your property description. Highlight all the unique features of your place such as fireplace, central heating, cozy living room with DVD player, Jacuzzi and more.

Promote cultural events. Inform travelers about special events and festivals going on during this time of year.

Give them what they want. Make sure savvy travelers fishing for great deals find your property so add special offers to your Rentalo property listing. Maybe you could also run specials for families with young children.

Lure outdoor fans. Introduce travelers to your area at this time of year. Talk about great hiking trails, fishing ponds and golf courses.

Target history enthusiasts. Inform them about interesting sites in your area that are ideal for fall season such as museums and galleries.

Use upcoming festivities. Talk about Thanksgiving and Christmas to lure those who are planning their trip during this holiday.

I think there is a large room for creativity here and it’s actually fun to plan all this.  It takes your mind off the fact it’s not the best time of year for bookings and keeps you focused on the best results. If you have any other ideas on how to prepare yourself for the low season, I would love to hear your suggestions as well!

Marta

Mark your calendars… its time to book!

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008

As we have previously posted here, travelers need information in order to make an informed decision about what vacation rental to book.  Not providing important data upfront may discourage travelers from even contacting you.

One very important tool that many vacation property owners overlook is their availability calendar.

Travelers in Rentalo have the option to enter their travel dates right from the home page.  Properties that don’t have this information updated wont benefit from being displayed as one of the first options for the traveler.  Travelers NEED to know if you are available or not, otherwise, many won’t even take the time to contact you.

Over the years I have spoken to many property owners that have given me similar reasons for not updating their calendar.  Here are the top ones, and my thoughts on them.

1. I don’t have time to update my calendar every time someone books my property.  I understand we are all busy, but owners should create a habit of updating their calendar online immediately after a booking has occurred.  In Rentalo this takes no more than 2 minutes, and will help you get better inquiries and avoid inquiries for booked dates.
2.  I don’t want to show travelers that my property has very little bookings.  Again, I understand the reasoning behind this; however, travelers value information more than ambiguity.  Leaving your calendar open with no booked dates, looks worst, than having at least a few days booked.
3. I don’t want thieves to know when my property is empty.  I have heard this from more than one property owner in the past.  If you don’t have homeowners insurance, you shouldn’t be renting your house in the first place!

Owners that have their information up to date have higher chances of booking their vacation rental, bed and breakfast or hotel.

Update your calendar today and make a habit of keeping it updated.

Frank

 

What Travelers Want & Why to Have your Property Listing Fully Edited

Friday, September 19th, 2008

In the couple of previous posts we’ve been consequently pointing out the importance of having a fully edited property listing. We will continue to repeat it for one good reason: A complete property listing with a high quality description, prices and photos is absolutely necessary for you to receive booking inquiries. Although it may seem trivial, our internal analysis shows that a good number of our property owners do not have the minimum information provided in their property listings!

In today’s world we business people and service providers have to deal with extremely demanding clients. In fact a group of brilliant trend spotters called our economy “an economy that is inhabited by well-informed and experienced consumers who have a long list of high expectations that they apply to each and every good, service and experience on offer”. Those new-age consumers don’t have time to waste and they DEMAND high quality information as soon as possible in order to purchase a product.

As a response to this new trend, countless services appeared to help consumers compare offers. Looking for good flight fares? Visit seatguru.com.  Want to buy a cheap digital camera? Try pricegrabber.com. Examples go on and on and every day include more and more services and products. Today we can become experts and find the best offer available within couple of clicks. Obviously we will choose the best described product with good pictures, reviews and additional information.

Now imagine an average Rentalo user, a young woman between the age 25 and 34. She logged on to our website to find the best deals in vacation rentals and wants to leave knowing which is going to be her next vacation home. This young traveler doesn’t have time to look at each and every property we have in particular location. She will refine her search and choose those vacation rentals that have the best description, high quality pictures, prices and updated availability calendar.

For those of you who have low quality photos, poor description, no prices and empty availability calendar (and believe me when I say, it’s the case of many), do you really think you can compete with owners who have fully-edited property listing, rich in information? As I mentioned before, in our business it’s all about good content. If your website, or in this case, property listing doesn’t have a high quality content, then do not count on good results.

Even though you pay a subscription fee on our site and others you advertise with, you shouldn’t expect your vacation rental to rent by itself. Vacation rental directories like ours provide you with the best tools to promote your property online. But to make sure you rent your property, it’s essential for you to provide the best possible pictures, informative and sophisticated descriptions, catchy titles and complete pricing information, not to mention special offers, excellent customer service and much more.Ask yourself: How do I keep my property booked? Make sure you provide your potential customers with complete and useful information! As simple as that.

Now, the only thing left for me is to invite you to edit your property listings.

Marta

How to Make your Guests Come Back to your Vacation Rental? – Key Points of Unrivalled Customer Service

Monday, September 8th, 2008

There are several small grocery shops on my street. All of them have very similar assortment of products and prices, however, only one of them, the shop on the corner has a long line of people every time I pass by. Many ask themselves, why is that? The answer is very simple. It all comes down to an excellent customer service. Owners of this lovely place know the names of each customer, are extremely nice and always have smiles on their faces. Why should I go next door, if here they know exactly what I want to buy and will make my day by having a nice chat with me?

I always repeat to people that no matter how many competitors their business has, they will always be on top of everyone else as long as they provide their clients with the best service there can be. It may sound as cliché, but I believe it’s true what they say that “good customer service is the bread and butter of any business“.

So, once you already got your bookings for the season, your job is to make sure your clients will absolutely love your vacation rental and will want to come back. As your “first buyers” come, you only have one chance to make a good impression on them. How to build a database of loyal customers who will return to your vacation rental?

In our business the key is in details and providing guests with an additional service that they cannot get anywhere else. Little touches can make a huge difference and distinguish your property from your competition. Here are some details that can make your vacation home stand out above others:

- Warm welcome. Be at your vacation home when your guests arrive. Help them with the luggage and show them around. It would be nice if you knew their names so that you can greet them personally. If you cannot welcome your guests personally, have someone you trust to do it or leave a hand written welcome note.

- Be their home away from home. Make sure all the appliances are working well (coffee maker, BBQ, TV etc) and offer as much as you can to keep their packing of the car to a minimum ( e. x.: pillows, bedding, towels). Offer a fully-equipped kitchen with spices and condiments, your guests might want to cook something sophisticated at times.

- Offer Extras. Be prepared for every kind of weather. Raining? Prepare board games, puzzles, books and DVD movies. Leave a bag of microwave popcorn in the kitchen as well. Time for the beach? Chairs, soft drinks in the fridge and beach towels are some ideas. Let your guests know what you offer.

- Show them around. Make a list of things to do in your area and share this information with your guests. Be sure to have itinerary of any special events happening in your area that your guests might want to take part in. Also, provide them with restaurant recommendations, maps and transportation information.

- Cater to all kinds of guests. Guests with children and large families? Be prepared and offer high chairs for kids, a cradle, even beach toys as well as big picnic tables with extra chairs for family meals.

- Go an extra mile. Keep a register of all your guests and send them a nice message before the next season starts. There is large room for creativity here. You can offer special promotions and discounts as well as send your guests Christmas wishes.

How can you know your guests enjoyed their stay and found everything perfect? At the end of their stay, it’s an ideal time to ask for feedback. (Although I think a guestbook is the subject of a separate post, I will just mention it.) If you do not have a guest book yet, make sure you start one and have guests write down their experiences. It’s a good thing to make it easily accessible for guests to leave comments at anytime and not to pressure anyone. If they are satisfied, you will hear about it for sure. Make sure to let your guests know their review might be posted online to help other travelers.

Finally, when you send your guests away happy, they will most likely pass positive feedback along to others and WILL come back next year. Although great customer service is supposed to be part of every business, it is really hard to come across unrivalled services these days! The clue is wanting to go that extra mile. Can you?

Marta

It Pay$ to have FRIEND$

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2008

Have you heard the buzz about Social Media?  If you haven’t, you are probably living under a rock!  Just what is Social Media anyways and how can a vacation rental owner or manager benefit from it?

The most basic description of Social Media is the use of technological tools to facilitate the interaction between humans.  In other words, Social Media helps connect people from all over the world in a way that was not possible even years ago.

Some example of Social Media sites are Facebook, Youtube and MySpace.  There are thousands of  social media sites out there that have niche sections of the internet population, some cater more to younger crowds, some to young adults, single mothers, etc… 

All this is pretty new to most of us, and the idea of this post is not to go to deep into details about social media, but to spark your curiosity to explore and look for ways to book your vacation rental more using new tools that are at your disposal. 

Lets start with the most basic Social Media tool that has been around for quite a while, the good old Blog.  A blog is a webpage were you can post information, including text, images, videos, etc.  There are tons of free blog sites and getting started only takes a few minutes.  A good place to start would be http://blogger.com .  Once you get your blog started, you can place a link from your website or ad on rentalo to your blog.  On your blog you can write interesting things about your vacation rental such as special amenities, things to do, or even tips about what to look for when traveling to your destination.  Another thing that you can post in your blog is guest comments or experiences as well as pictures and videos from guest that have stayed.  Imagine that a traveler can see your blog and hear about the experience of other travelers that have stayed in your place.  Whether you have your own personal website or not, a blog is a great idea to give your vacation rental business a warm human touch. 

Facebook is a great site to connect with people and spread the word about your vacation rental, bed and breakfast or hotel.  All you have to do is visit http://facebook.com and create an account.  You should take a few minutes to go through your privacy settings and your profile.  Upload pictures, write a description, have fun with it!  Now here you also have a few choices.  You can create a profile for yourself, you can create a separate account for your vacation property or you can create both.  After you create your profile, you can start looking for friends.  It would be a good idea to get your guest, past and present, to become your friends.  By having your guests as friends through a site like Facebook, you could communicate things like vacancies, special offers, or simply remind them that it’s that time a year to come back.

If you have noticed, Rentalo has already added social bookmarking links on all our Smart Search pages, so travelers can remember the page for the future and also let others know how useful the page was for them.

I would like to recommend a book called Groundswell by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff from Forrester Research.  Great book about Social Media for those of you that would like to dive deeper into the subject.

Whatever you do, look to incorporate social media strategies in your plan to increase your client base and your return bookings to your vacation rental. 

By the way, we are on Twitter, Youtube and Facebook.  We would love to be your friend, look for us in Facebook by Rentalo Rentals. 

http://twitter.com/rentalo
http://youtube.com/rentalovideo

Frank Suarez

Making an Investment Decision. Where to Promote your Lodging and How much to Spend on Online Advertising

Thursday, August 28th, 2008

Life is about decisions. From everyday ones that do not involve any risk, to the more meaningful ones that make us wonder if we just made the right investment. In the vacation rental industry decisions can revolve around whether or not to install the Internet or if it is a good idea to invest in a swimming pool.

Once we already invested in all the features and extras that make our vacation rental more competitive, then comes the biggest question of all: where should we advertise to get a desired return on investment? Some would say it’s a matter of trust and they would go with the companies they have been referred to or ran into on Google. But in marketing however, there is no space for guessing, it is all about facts.

We can find these facts easily on the Internet. We read testimonials, we do our research in search engines by keywords to see which directories come up; but once we have a good number of alternative scenarios to spend our marketing dollars, how do we know which way to go?

This is where we can help. We have prepared an extensive market study where we tried to answer these two core questions:

- How much to spend on advertising online?

- What are the main marketing Internet sources in the lodging industry?

For this analysis we used Hitwise, the top online measurement company that provides great insights on how Internet users interact with websites. After watching closely consumer behaviors in the lodging industry and after running several reports, we are now able to invite you to read the full marketing study. Once you follow this link you will be asked to register. If you are already our client, we will send it to you in an upcoming email.

In this marketing study you will find out about the main players in the lodging industry and about their market shares. We also provide you with a list of the top ten sites in the industry that receive the highest traffic and explain what the most prominent sources of Internet traffic for vacation rental directories are. We thought about all of you who own different kinds of lodgings, so we prepared three separate studies for vacation rental owners, bed and breakfast innkeepers and hotel managers.

We hope you will find this study useful!

Marta

The Power of Video and YouTube Community Building

Thursday, August 21st, 2008

Easily accessible economic cameras and video phones have recently replaced camcorders and film roles from the last century. With these new products, entertainment and businesses stepped into the new multimedia dimension. What’s the impact? If the picture says more than a thousand words, video without doubt says more than a thousand pictures.

From movie trailers and interviews to “home-made” cooking tutorials, all this and everything else imaginable can be found on YouTube. During the past three years this powerful broadcasting website created a community of 200 million unique users and has the 6th largest audience on the Internet. With the audience that closely mirrors the demographic of the US online population and with monthly unique visitors of 71 million on YouTube, you don’t have to be a genius to figure out that opportunities for advertisers are just enormous.

The best of all is that YouTube makes room for everybody, from amateurs to video gurus. You don’t need a professional footage to draw visitors to your YouTube profile. For you – property owners, it can be a pretty useful channel to target travelers. From our internal research we know that the majority of travelers that visit Rentalo are between 25 and 34 years old and over 55. Main YouTube’s audience belongs to the similar age groups as well.

Uploading a video to YouTube is simple and doesn’t require any special skills. The most important thing to remember is to assign as many tags as possible to your video (tags are keywords people use in their search). You should also include keywords in the description of your video. When writing a compelling description, you can refer to my previous post about how to create a copy that sells.

Your opportunities with YouTube, however, go far beyond uploading a video of your vacation rental. There is always a larger picture and here it’s about using YouTube as a great tool to build your own community. There are countless videos of users who share their own tutorials, travel guides or hidden talents. Some of them have built huge communities just by catering to the right audience with the right product. They encourage comments, invite subscribers, belong to certain circles and what’s the bottom line, they link to their private websites where they usually sell their products or services. Great example of a successful “you-tuber” is your fellow property owner from Amsterdam ” PhilDutch.

As YouTube says, “Online Video isn’t the future, it’s the present”. The fact that 75% of Americans watched a video online last month is enough information for you to act! At Rentalo we decided to go with this fast-growing trend last year when we introduced a video inclusion option. Since that time property owners can link a property video to their Rentalo listing for free.

We also prepared a mini tutorial for owners providing technical tips, giving advice on what to capture and finally teaching how to upload a video to YouTube and then include a link in Rentalo. If you have a video of your vacation rental, it’s about time you shared it with Rentalo’s audience. If you don’t have one yet, you definitely should think of making one. Video can be as simple as a slideshow of your finest pictures put together by a Windows Movie Maker (a program that every computer has). You can also add music and put subtitles.

Just one last thought. Remember that today consumers have turned into Trysumers, people who enjoy full access to information and reviews and who like unconventional ways of “trying” new services. They want to taste and “touch” a product before they purchase it. Do you think video will influence their decision about booking your place? I think that chances are pretty high.

Marta

Don’t hide your vacation rental prices ” Show Travelers the MONEY $$$

Wednesday, August 20th, 2008

I went on a date once and I made the novice mistake of allowing my date to choose the restaurant.  Everything was going great until I opened the menu and noticed: NO PRICES!!!  I was a rookie at the dating game, but it didn’t take rocket scientist to figure out there was only one reason why the prices were not in the menu.  You guess it, the food was very expensive.

 

Turning a corner and thinking about the vacation rental market, I often find many property owners that do not post their prices.  After working for many years with vacation rental property owners, I have pretty much heard all the flavors of reasons you can think of.  I want to go ahead and look at some of those reasons and hopefully convince some of you out there that posting your prices is the best way to go.

 

The number one reason I hear from property owners is that their prices are too high and they don’t want to ‘scare” possible travelers.  Now let’s think about that for a minute.  Say I”m a traveler looking for a Breckenridge vacation rental.  After taking a few minutes to define my needs I finally have 7 properties to choose from.  They all have attractive pictures and enticing text.  I notice that 2 of the properties don’t have any prices in the ad, while the other 5 have their prices clearly defined.  The chances of that traveler clicking on the properties without prices are lower than the chances he or she may click on the vacation rental ad which has all the information they need.  Besides, think of the restaurant example; the first thing that will go through the travelers mind is “Why don’t they have their prices posted?, they surely must be expensive!”  So in trying to “not scare” the traveler you are doing just the opposite. 

 

A few things to consider if this is your case.  First of all, the most important thing to take into consideration is VALUE versus PRICE.  If your property offers better value than others in your area, then it is important that you communicate that well right from the beginning.  No one knows your property more than you, so if you have decided upon your prices and you are sure of them, then don’t be afraid to post them.  Travelers will be more enticed and may be willing to pay a bit more if they realize your vacation property offers more value.  In some cases some property owners may need to do a more in depth market analysis to compare their property and what it has to offer, with similar properties in its area.  Maybe your property is over priced and you may need to lower your prices to be more competitive.  What ever the case, post your prices, it will at least show travelers you have nothing to hide.

 

Some other property owners have expressed that their pricing structure is too complex and they rather not post it online.  If your pricing structure is so complex that you cannot post it online, you may want to consider revising it and making it simpler for travelers to understand.  If you cant explain it online, then its time to make it simpler.  Travelers should be able to see at a glance how much it will cost to stay in your property, without having to make too many calculations in their head.

 

I know, I know, it takes time to update my information, specially my prices because they change all the time.  It’s a good thing that Rentalo has a very powerful and flexible pricing table for you to use.  You have unlimited ranges that you can ad, even if you have multiple room types.  This is especially helpful to Bed and Breakfast and Hotel owners and managers, who need to display multiple room types during the same time period.

 

Whether you have a vacation rental, bed and breakfast, hotel, or any lodging posted on Rentalo or any other service, posting your prices is one of the most important pieces of information you must post.

 

The beauty of the internet is that it allows its users to gather a large amount of data in a very short period of time.  This is great when you need to make a decision, because you are able to see all your options without having to spend days gathering information.  Do us all travelers a favor, post your prices and make the decision making process smoother for the entire industry.

 

Frank

Writing a Copy that Sells – How to Create a Good Property Description

Thursday, August 14th, 2008

In the online industry it is all about content. High quality and relevant content that entices readers and makes them visit our website and buy our product. This simple rule also applies to the vacation rental industry where the more captivating description of your property you provide, the more attention you will get.

As Frank pointed out in the previous post, the first step to get visitors to your property listing is by uploading high quality and professional pictures. We all judge by the cover, so you should make sure your “cover” sells. After viewing your photo gallery, travelers usually want to find out more about your place by reading your description.

How to make them read it all and how to convince them to book your property? It all starts with a powerful title that just cannot be missed. Take some time to look at the competition in your location and make sure your title is original and stands out. Try to avoid generic titles and think of features that distinguish your vacation rental from others (For ex.: Affordable Beachfront Italy Villa Ideal for Family Getaways).

Now comes the toughest part, writing a compelling description. I gathered some tips that might be useful for you during the process. Remember to aim for 400 words or more, it’s the optimal length for a description.

1. Think of unique features of your place and use them as your most powerful weapon. Is your villa waterfront and offers gorgeous sunsets? Is it spacious and sleeps large parties? Write down all the attributes and elaborate on them in separate paragraphs.

2. Use details. Travelers like to picture their future vacation house and plan what to pack and what to leave behind, so be specific and provide a short description of each bedroom, amenities and extras (ex.: beach towels, bikes, linens).

3. Write about nearby attractions as well. Most travelers like to plan their vacation activities and they greatly appreciate such information. Provide them with a mini guide of things to do in the area. How close it is to the beach/hiking trail? What other great attractions can be found nearby? (Ex.: Amusement Parks, nature trails, museums and art galleries).

4. Add a personal touch to your description. Don’t be afraid to show emotion and inject a little feeling to your text. Let travelers know who you are and how long you own the house. Also, relate to the experience of your previous guests, for ex. “Our guests love watching sunsets from our lakefront deck and watching movies from our wide DVD collection”. Emotion sells.

5. Last but definitely not least. Keywords, keywords, keywords! Think of the keywords that travelers use to search for vacation home in your area. What would you put in search box when looking for a vacation rental? You can also use numerous keyword research tools that are available on the internet for free. Make your list and try to insert keywords to every paragraph of your description. This will help travelers find your property better in search engines. Examples of keywords are: Orlando vacation rentals, Orlando condos, Orlando accommodations.

I hope that you found my mini guide useful. Remember that the bottom line is to convince travelers that your place is the one they are looking for. With this in mind, the creativity will follow.

Marta Olszewska

Below you can see our friendly and easy to use Edition Page.

A picture is worth a thousand dollars $$$

Wednesday, August 13th, 2008

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Example of a great vacation rental picture gallery

You”ve heard the old proverb “A picture is worth a thousand words”. Simply put, you can communicate in 1 picture what it would take pages to describe. A picture has the power to communicate large amounts of information in a very short period of time through visualization.

According to online research, the average Google user takes about 7 seconds to decide were to click. Google displays mostly text in its search result. Now lets think about a traveler that searches for vacation rentals in lets say Orlando Florida through Rentalo.com. They are going to be presented with a list of properties to choose from. What do you think it’s the first thing that catches their eyes? Your picture of course.

Too often I speak with property owners that complain that their listing is not getting enough attention. In researching most cases, I find that the problem is not traffic to their location, but traffic to their specific property. 9 out 10 times I”m able to determine the culprit by simply going to their location and comparing their ad to the others they are competing against. Usually the pictures are not too appealing.

Now being married to a professional photographer, I can tell you that not most of us know what it takes to get a great picture taken; however, most of us are sure able to stand in awe when we see a great photograph. Pictures sell. Period!

Great pictures of your property are worth their weight in bookings. Some property owners want to get bookings with scanned pictures taken from a brochure. This is just not going to work for savvy travelers that are accustomed to high resolution images of the products they are about to purchase. This is even more true now that we offer high resolution slide shows to every property owner. The time is now, update your pictures and make sure they are high quality and crisp.

Here are a few tips that we highly recommend:

‘?¢ Hire a professional photographer to take excellent photographs of your property. This may not be the cheapest solution, but you may recuperate the investment in just a few bookings. Look at options before you commit to a photographer. Look at their portfolio and go with the one that has the pictures that impress you the most.

‘?¢ If your budget is restricted at the moment then get a digital camera if you don’t have one already, besides it’s the year 2008! You don’t need to get a fancy and expensive camera. Any camera with a resolution of 3.0 mega pixels or more would be great for the job. With this option you have no time restrictions; you can take as many pictures of the property as you want. Remember Rentalo gives you unlimited space for images and you can upload them yourself.

‘?¢ Look at other properties in your area or in other cities and see which ones catch your eyes first. Try to emulate that in your pictures. Look at the angles from which the pictures were taken, look at the lighting, etc. Small details go a long way.

‘?¢ Use free software to enhance your picture. Nowadays you don’t need to be an expert at Photoshop to retouch your pictures. There is a great free program by Google called Picasa which allows you quickly organize and make simple changes to your images. You can download it at http://picasa.google.com/

‘?¢ Ask other people you trust to tell you what they think of your pictures.

I would recommend to all our property owners to take a few minutes to look at their images and determine if they need to be changed or modified. If you need help with this and are not sure what to do, remember that you can contact us via our help page and we will gladly arrange a time to speak with you and go over the listing with you at no extra cost.

Until next time’?¦ say chee$$e

Frank Suarez

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