Author Archives | Matt Landau

Studies Find Short-Term Rentals Bring Enormous Economic Benefits to Chicago, St. Joseph, Michigan

Last week I received an email from Tim Doyle, who heads up the Short Term Rental Advocacy Center and who I met and had dinner with in Scottsdale…

Tim was about to release the results from a massive study (below) and he was kind enough to give my subscribers access first. What you see below is Tim’s press release with some pretty compelling stats… 

Screen Shot 2014-03-13 at 7.07.42 AM

Last year, short-term rentals in Chicago generated $108 million in overall economic activity and created 920 jobs; $24 million in overall economic activity and 300 jobs in St. Joseph

March 13 – In the Lake Michigan hamlet of St. Joseph, Mich. and Chicago—America’s third largest city—residents and local tourism economies are enjoying the enormous economic benefits of short-term rentals, according to two economic studies commissioned by the Short Term Rental Advocacy Center (STRAC).

In Chicago, short-term rentals generated $108 million in overall economic activity in 2013 with $70.6 million of that activity attributable to visitor spending on short-term rentals and related on food, recreation, transportation and other expenses, according to the study by TXP Inc. For every $100 a traveler spent on short-term rentals, they spent an additional $69 on food, $24 on transportation, $59 on shopping, and $48 on arts, entertainment and recreational activities.

The study also found short-term rental activity created 920 local jobs, primarily in restaurants and bars and in the arts, entertainment and recreation sectors. Beyond the $70.6 million in direct and indirect spending on short-term rentals, that activity has a multiplying effect on the local economy in the form of increased wages, which are spent in those local communities.

TXP’s study looked at short-term rental listings of Airbnb, HomeAway and FlipKey in Chicago. Those companies had a combined 171,000 nights booked in Chicago and surrounding Cook County in 2013 across 3,620 properties. While the average visitor stays in Chicago 2.4 nights, short-term renters stayed an average of 4.5 nights and had an average party of 2.5 people. Those figures, coupled with an all-time high hotel revenue and occupancy rate last year, suggest short-term rentals address a different market segment than traditional lodging options.

“Chicago’s hundreds of events, unique attractions, vibrant culture and nightlife attract a range of visitors with diverse interests and budgets,” said Jon Hockenyos, president of TXP and an economist that has conducted dozens and dozens of local economic impact studies. “While the number of short-term rentals pale in comparison to the number of hotel rooms and overall housing stock, short-term rentals provide important variety to visitors and play a key role in the future of Chicago’s future tourism growth.” 

 

St. Joseph

 

While the Lake Michigan destination of St. Joseph, Mich. has a population of just 8,311 compared to the 2.7 million residents of Chicago, its residents are nonetheless enjoying the benefits of short-term rentals.

According to a separate study conducted by TXP, an Austin, Tex.-based economic analysis firm, St. Joseph and the surrounding Berrien County experienced $24 million in overall economic impact from short-term rentals in 2013. Visitor spending on short-term rentals and related activities amounted to $22.2 million and supported 300 jobs. The higher overall economic impact figure reflects the multiplying effect short-term rental spending in the local economy, namely in the form of increased wages.

“Like in Chicago, short-term rentals in St. Joseph provide much needed diversity to visitor housing options and are key to the continued growth of St. Joseph’s tourism economy,” Hockenyos said.

Short Term Rental Advocacy Center member companies—Airbnb, HomeAway and FlipKey—listed in 695 properties on its sites, leading to 18,000 nights booked last year. This data also revealed that the average short-term rental party size was 5.7 people staying an average of 3.3 nights. Those figures, rising hotel occupancy rates and hotel revenue suggest that short-term rentals and traditional lodging sources are not in conflict with one another.

“Tourism is very important to St. Joseph and Southwestern Michigan. Visitors spend money at restaurants and they shop at our local stores thereby strengthening our local economy,” said Torrence Moore, a local homeowner who is part of a local group advocating for fair and reasonable regulations. Last year, the city passed a restrictive measure to forbid new short-term rentals in residential neighborhoods.

“St. Joseph needs to have an adequate number of housing options to meet the demand from families coming to St. Joseph,” Moore added. “Currently there are only two hotels in downtown St. Joseph, and short-term rentals offer a solution. However, we risk losing the strong economic benefits of short-term rentals and families will choose surrounding towns with good, fair and responsible short-term rental policies. We believe there’s a better solution for regulating short-term rentals in St. Joseph.”

The Short Term Rental Advocacy Center commissioned TXP to assess the economic impacts of short-term rentals attributable to STRAC members’ customers (termed “participating short term rentals” in the reports) in St. Joseph, Mich. and Chicago. The reports capture visitors spending on short-term rentals in those markets, as well as related spending and the broader implications on those economies, but not necessarily all short-term rentals.

About the Short Term Rental Advocacy Center (STRAC): STRAC was formed in early 2013 by a coalition of short-term rental marketplace stakeholders, working with local residents and short-term rental providers to share information, establish best practices and advance smart short-term rental regulation that safeguards travelers, alleviates neighborhood concerns and provides a framework for ensuring compliance. With 35 local groups across the country, STRAC is facilitating local advocacy efforts aimed at fair and reasonable regulations benefiting all stakeholders. Learn more and sign up for our monthly newsletter at www.stradvocacy.org.

Posted in PR12 Comments

Vacation Rental Marketing Makeover Session 1.3: 4 Changes That Generated 6 Bookings In 10 Days

If you haven’t heard, I am working to totally makeover one lucky vacation rental owner’s marketing portfolio live (and step-by-step) for my subscribers to follow. You can read all the prior posts here.

Amy Firmani - Palazzo ParaisoSo we are a little more than a month into my makeover with Amy Firmani and already, some things are starting to become abundantly clear…

In fact, in this short period of time, Amy confessed that she’s had four mini-revelations…

Perspectives or changes in opinion that she didn’t have before that have changed the way she looks at her marketing…

Now considering we have not even launched her new website, published her new photos, started her email marketing or made public any of the other items on our list, it should be clear that these mini-revelations came from what we were ALREADY working with (and at no monetary cost).

Here they are in no particular order:

 

1. Your Time Commitment Is Directly Related To Your Bookings

 

Amy is busy like every other owner and manager on the planet. And so the amount of time she was able to dedicate to marketing her property was (and still is) limited.

What she has discovered, however, is that “sheer time spent working on marketing makes a huge difference.”

“I have been working so much more on it now and that does pay off with bookings and good conversations.”

Matt’s Actionable Advice: This is not to say that you should all immediately abandon your normal responsibilities. But realize that if you want performance, you must take the time out of your busy schedule and give your marketing (think of it like a plant) the nourishment it deserves.

 

2. What Works For Others, Doesn’t Necessarily Work For You

 

I asked Amy to be totally transparent about everything we do…

And in a handful of instances, she felt like some changes were not her style…“too hotel like” in some cases.

In other cases, she used her family and friends as a research panel: getting a true gauge on whether or not a new description or email response sounded “like her.”

“I had a lot of my friends and family look at the changes we made and some did not care for them. They said it lost the personal touch and sounded cold. So I went in and added a bit of my comments here and there – building on what was changed and suddenly…WOW…I’ve already quoted a few bookings since the change last week!”

“So I do think that this process is about learning what draws the tenant in and I think the personal nature of it for my home works best.”

Matt’s Actionable Advice: Just because I say something works well for me or your neighbor says something works well for his property, does not mean it will work great for you. Be sure to match your marketing tactics with your own personality. Test it out on your circle of family and friends to determine whether it’s the right fit. If not, you’ve got incongruity which doesn’t help anyone.

 

3. Do Not Use Generic Responses

 

This is a topic that I featured front and center in my Email Correspondence Experiment

Generic responses are one of the fastest ways to kill a booking.

And while I touched on some of the more effective tips that were working well for Amy in VRMM Episode 1.2: Email Correspondence, when Amy took a 50,000-foot view of the situation here is what resonated with her most:

“Yes. Personalized responses to all inquiries take time. A lot of time. But it is fun and I truly have made fun friends in the last few weeks. I had no idea how important this would be,” she said.

In fact, when we last spoke (Friday, March 7th), Amy had converted 6 bookings in the last 10 days.

She’s on a roll!!!

I often ask owners “if I could guarantee that by spending 2x as much time on your marketing, you would increase your bookings by 200%, would you do it?”

This has a wonderful way of dividing people: those who are willing to commit versus those who aren’t terribly serious about improvements.

Matt’s Actionable Advice: Give yourself one month of responding to inquiries with personalized messages (yes, write every one from scratch). Sure, you can use templates or copy/paste for the details you find yourself writing again and again. But the mere act of sitting down to respond to an email personally has a way of connecting with guests: you read their whole message: you try to address their needs. After that month, I’d be surprised if you don’t sense an immediate difference.

 

4. Enter The Process With An Open Mind

 

Because many of us were not “business people” before we started getting serious about our vacation rental marketing, we have preconceived notions…

Because many of us did extremely well with VRBO in it’s early days, we tend to be critical or damning or even spoiled by any changes to the industry…

As it relates to mentality going into this process, Amy’s fourth and final mini-revelation was the following:

“Do not be afraid to try something. If it doesn’t work: read, ask questions and try again.”

To me, this is such an important attitude to take with regards to vacation rental marketing…

It is fearlessness, combined with calculated risk, combined with a desire to improve.

Matt’s Actionable Advice: Taking this into account, go through my article database [Link], and pick out one new technique or methodology to try per week for the next 4 weeks. Actually force yourself to do this. If you find it working well, continue with it. If, after giving it a legitimate chance, you find it doing nothing, ditch it and try something new. Your goal, like that of mine with Amy, should be to test out so many techniques, that in the end, only the crème of the crop is left to form a lean and effective marketing portfolio.

Posted in Makeover Series, Metrics, Opinion, Owners14 Comments

Here Are 7 Methods That Are Helping Owners Get More Repeat Guests

Screen Shot 2014-03-03 at 11.13.47 AMBen Franklin once said “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”

Ever realize that if only a tiny percentage of your past guests (the ones you’ve already got “in the hand”) came back to stay with you even just once…

They would effectively be worth double the value of a fresh lead (or “two in the bush”)???

Well I did…

Back in December, I predicted 2014 would be “The Year Of Guest Loyalty“…

And in The 80/20 Rule Of Vacation Rental Marketing (which has been Tweeted some 125 times — I seriously have no idea how that happened) I argue that 80% of a successful vacation property’s business should come from 20% of its clients…

Past guests are a VALUABLE group of people!

Among others, here are a few reasons why I love the topic of guest loyalty so much:

Loyal guests are predictable: both your expectations of the guest AND their expectations of your property are perfectly optimized

Loyal guests cost nothing to maintain: unlike the cost (both time and money) of acquiring a new potential guest, a repeat guest costs next to nothing

Loyal guests are sensitive: since you have done business with the loyal guest before, owners and managers can be much more understanding and pleasant to deal with, a very comforting thing

Loyal guests do marketing for you: There’s nothing better than third party promotion, and loyal guests love to toot your horn in their own social circles

Now, if you’ve been operating your vacation rental for more than a year or so, chances are you have had a loyal guest and you know what I’m talking about.

[Read: How To Churn Out Repeat Guests Like Butter]

And assuming everyone is on the same page about how wonderful repeat guests can be, I wanted to address 7 MORE keys to loyalty – in other words, a blueprint – or ways you can turn those one-time guests into life-long supporters:

 

Screen Shot 2014-03-03 at 11.33.53 AM1. Pass along information

 

Part of making past guests feel like friends is treating them like friends. And who hasn’t forwarded an interesting article, news brief, or photograph to friends they thought might enjoy it via email? Simply load up your email marketing campaign with up-to-the-minute links or tid-bits when relevant. Share stuff and keep the relationship rollin!

 

Screen Shot 2014-03-03 at 11.22.27 AM2. Turn the traditional sales funnel upside down

 

Most people view the sales funnel upright (lots of leads funneled into a few loyal clients), but in order to really build loyalty, you’ve also gotta turn it upside down. That means once you’ve captured a happy guest, you must open your arms, broaden your offers, and expand your horizons to give them plenty of room to connect.

 

Screen Shot 2014-03-03 at 11.40.54 AM3. Keep them along for the ride with a story

 

The road to building guest loyalty is paved through the town of Storytelling. Learn to stockpile funny, interesting, or inspiring stories about your vacation rental (or area) to establish personality, trust, and front of mine awareness. Sign up for my Free Storytelling Course here and get 5 brief emails with all my secrets.

 

Screen Shot 2014-03-03 at 11.27.24 AM4. Solicit their feedback

 

There is no more powerful way to tie someone into your cause, than to have them actually take part in your cause. Ask former guests how you can improve, survey their opinions on that new Jacuzzi you’re gonna buy, take a poll as to what color the kitchen should be painted…etc. Those guest who contribute have gone the extra mile — they have proven their allegiance — and should be treated with white gloves.

 

Screen Shot 2014-03-04 at 5.56.03 AM5. Provide a reason to return

 

If you thought I was gonna recommend a “loyalty card” like the Marriott, you are wrong. It’s easy to say, “come back soon now, ya’hear!” But offering a concrete reason to return (apart from just a discount) is imperative to building that long-term relationship. In our case, it is to see how this stupid highway has progressed and to meet our new amazing employee Humberto. Maybe for you it’s soft shell crab season or a special festival or simply a new sunset deck!

 

Screen Shot 2014-03-03 at 2.15.54 PM6. Social Media

 

It’s rare that you hear me trumping social media on this blog, simply because – based on time budgeting – I have not found it to be as effective as other techniques. But social media can be leveraged when talking about brand loyalty and keeping in touch with your former guests. Start a Facebook page, Tweet, maybe even run a little promotion like the following suggested by my subscriber CJ Galbraith from Colorado Cabin Home:

“I plan to send an email to previous guests offering a Vacation Photo Contest.   Send me your favorite shot from your vacation with us (giving us permission to use it, with credit, on our website and social media) and if your photo is one of the top 3, we’ll offer you an extra day gratis on your next booking.  Besides the plus of having pictures of happy previous guests, or perhaps awesome nature photos that they took, it will get them looking through the photos, reliving the memories, etc.”

 

Screen Shot 2014-03-03 at 11.44.05 AM7. Show appreciation


It’s easy to forget that being appreciative is integral to guest loyalty. If you’ve ever felt that a business was into you just for the money, you’d most likely ditch them quick. So be grateful for their business, send hand-written notes, reminisce about their past vacation. Show that you care and they’ll show you allegiance in return.
Unsurprisingly, many of these business habits are true about life and relationships as well.

 

I’d like to ask all my subscribers to comment below if they have any good guest loyalty tips to share…

 

Posted in Email Marketing, Guest Interaction, Owners, Vacation Rental Marketing16 Comments

Vacation Rental Marketing Makeover Session 1.2: Correspondence

If you haven’t heard, I am working to totally makeover one lucky vacation rental owner’s marketing portfolio live (and step-by-step) for my subscribers to follow. You can read all the prior posts here.

Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 5.10.09 AMIn this edition of the Vacation Rental Marketing Makeover, watch as we increase Amy’s inquiries to bookings conversions by almost 600%…

One of the most universally challenging components to vacation rental marketing, for owners or managers, big and small, is the correspondence or “sales” process of getting a guest to book…

In other words, what is the most efficient, frictionless, and compelling way to turn inquiries into actual bookings?

And perhaps more importantly, how can we automate or streamline that formula to make our lives easier?

Now, when I started with Amy Firmani, I asked her one simple question which she (and many of my subscribers) had trouble answering:

“What is your conversion rate?”

Amy’s response was “somewhere around 20%.”

 

Which for me, wasn’t good enough.

If any owner or manager is to improve, she must hunker down and be statistical about her progress…if nothing else, to see what is working and what’s not.

And calculating this metric is soooo simple: divide the amount of bookings into the number of inquiries. Example: if you “convert” one out of every 10 bookings, your conversion rate is 10%.

[Read 6 Better Vacation Rental Metrics]

So we calculated Amy’s conversion rates historically and they came out like this:

2012: 19 bookings divided by 196 inquiries = 9.7% Conversion Rate

2013: 36 bookings divided by 299 inquiries = 12% Conversion Rate 

Now if you think about it, simply improving by a few percentage points like Amy did from 2012 to 2013 can mean tens of thousands of dollars in annual profit margin (in this case, comprised of 17 additional bookings)!

So for 2014, I asked Amy to start bcc’ing me on every inquiry correspondence so I could pinpoint areas for improvement in order to bump up that Conversion Rate.

[For Tips On How To Do This, Read: The Great Correspondence Experiment]

Here are a couple of the things that we started addressing with Amy right off the bat:

 

1. Assume Your Message Will Be Read On iPhone

 

One of the first mistakes owners make is to try and squish every bit of information into the first email correspondence, thinking that if they can anticipate every question under the sun, the guest is sure to book. Not so fast…

Here was an example of Amy’s long-winded correspondence (click to enlarge):

Screen Shot 2014-02-27 at 9.40.16 AM

Within a second’s glance, we can see that this message is far too long…

Realize that 65% of all emails first get opened on a mobile device and remember to keep your emails short and to the point.

I asked Amy to include ONLY the most essential information and delete from her template anything that didn’t absolutely positively need to be there.

This is obviously not easy, eliminating information from your template response. But in the words of Mark Twain, “If I had more time, I’d have written a shorter letter.”

The trouble is worth it.

 

2. Make Paragraphs Shorter, More Digestible

 

This one’s an old copywriting practice: try to stick to one-sentence paragraphs.

Remember in school when the worst books were the ones with big page-long paragraphs? Big paragraphs are just daunting!

Here’s the next message Amy sent out with this in mind: looking much better on that front (click to enlarge)

Screen Shot 2014-02-27 at 9.48.08 AM

3. Inject Personality & Stories

 

If you notice in the example above, the guest was coming for a wedding and so Amy uses some personality and storytelling to connect with the guest:

“My husband Johnny and I were married in Vegas many, many years ago and it was wonderful!”

That is a GREAT way to form a bond: after all, what traveler wouldn’t want someone just like themselves to play host? Amy could add value by recommend wedding a photographer, tux rentals…etc.

 

4. Refer Leads To Friends/Competitors

 

The good news is that Amy was starting to get inquiries for booked dates (turning away clients is great!).

The bad news is that she wasn’t really leveraging those leads at all.

After all, Amy had spent money to acquire every single inquiry (whether she can host them or not).

And so, when she sent a response like this one, I sorta cringed (click to enlarge):

Screen Shot 2014-02-27 at 9.54.37 AM

As a remedy, I recommended she simply connect with another rental in the area via the Vacation Rental Referral Pledge and start forwarding these leads their way!

All it takes is an additional, “Oh and by the way, my dearest friend Kim owns an equally gorgeous villa right down the block. Email her and say you’re friends with me :)”

Karma is a good thing in the vacation rental industry.

Amy is sure to be on the receiving end of this favor in the future.

 

5. Pick Your Call To Action & DRIVE It Home

 

When we first spoke, Amy told me she liked to talk to all guests on the phone before confirming a booking.

This, because she likes to make sure they are upstanding citizens, they aren’t impostures or scam artists…etc.

I have no problem with this (in fact, according to a travel agency CEO friend, if you can get clients on the phone, you generate 4x as many bookings).

And so we decided to try and get every single guest that inquired to either a) provide a phone number so Amy could call or b) call Amy themselves.

As you can see below, this (and our trial and error process as a whole) is starting to work pretty well…

Screen Shot 2014-02-27 at 10.04.18 AM

When we are ready with Amy’s website, we will try to drive ALL the visitors towards this call to action: the phone call…

And now for the big reveal…

Using all these sorts of improvements, 2014 has seen Amy’s Conversion Rate skyrocket:

2014 (thus far): 19 bookings divided by 28 inquiries = 67.9% Conversion Rate

Disclosure

Realize that this number is extraordinarily (and most likely luckily) high and of course, it’s not just these 5 tips that led to its success. But for hypothetical purposes, if Amy were to keep this rate up throughout the entire year, assuming the same amount of inquiries (which of course will be much higher now that I’m working with her), we are looking at roughly 200 potential bookings per year!!! That would be an improvement of almost 600% from 2013 and enough bookings to fill Amy’s rental and several others on the block!!!

Of course, I don’t expect these numbers to hold up (and the data sample size is quite small — we’ll need a full year to really gauge the success). But if we were even to improve her 2013 Conversion Rate by 5 or 10%, we’d be making serious progress. Lots of owners like Amy improve organically on their own. We’re looking to accelerate that process…

Important Note: Conversion Rates vary on the location, amount of competition, and quality of actual leads (which is to say, 2 super qualified leads from VRBO are far more valuable than 10 unqualified leads from some random classified site).

Conclusion

I don’t want to mislead anyone here: these results (to date) are unusually good. But as a general theme, it’s important to realize that by calculating your Conversion Rate, anyone can gauge which tactics are working well and which ones are not, thus begin to improve. These 5 tips are only a few of the many I will be addressing with Amy. But so not to overwhelm subscribers, I think it’s best to take them bit by bit.

Please use the comments section to share your own correspondence tips and advice below and share in the learning process…

 

Posted in Case Studies, Guest Interaction, Makeover Series28 Comments

5 Instant Ways To Convert More Inquiries Using “Price Anchoring”

Screen Shot 2014-02-25 at 9.39.23 AMEver wish there were some little adjustments you could make to convert more inquiries into actual bookings?

Well, I was in the supermarket yesterday when I saw some cans of Panamanian soup on sale:

“Limit 10 Per Person” said the neon sign above the display.

This strategy is known as price anchoring.

When they see it, most people conclude this is a technique used by the store to avoid running out of an extra-special deal (in this case soup)…

But in truth, the limiting is a marketing technique that forces the brain to “anchor” at 10 and then adjust downwards.

This is to say, the average amount of soup sales with the “Limit 10 Per Person” sign is always higher than the amount of soup bought with no sign at all (under the exact same pricing) simply because the “10 cans” amount has been established as the starting point.

Anchoring as it relates to marketing can also be seen at used car dealerships, where the price etched on the windshield in white soap “anchors” or sets the standard for the rest of the negotiation…

Think about it: any price lower than the original anchor on the windshield seems more reasonable…even if it’s more than the car is actually worth!

So I’m thinking,  how we could use this in vacation rental marketing?

I came up with the following ideas (please use the comments section if you have ideas of your own):

1) Multi-Night Pricing

Screen Shot 2014-02-25 at 8.59.18 AMConsider this ad I saw for various types of iPads…

To drive guests to stay for longer (or specific) periods of time, what about offering different pricing based on the amount of nights? For instance, if you want guests to rent for one week, make the price of one night significantly more expensive than the price per night of a 5-night stay. Then, make the price for 7 night nights the exact same as the price for 5 nights (making the 7 nights look like a much better deal).

2) Slash Competitors Pricing

Try to advertise the price of your closest competitors and then SLASH it to make yours look, by comparison, like a much better deal.

3) Decoy Pricing

When Apple first released the iPhone, it was $499 (which established the “anchor” of what the product should cost). They then dropped the price by $200 a few months later creating an apparent bargain and stimulating sales. An anchoring model for vacation rentals could be to place a higher-than-desired price on your rental and then chop it down when corresponding with guests to make them feel special. This could also be articulated in the form of a “Special Offer” or “Special Discount” at the time of booking.

4) Cheap-By-Comparison Shopping

Screen Shot 2014-02-25 at 10.59.43 AMThere’s a reason that Rolls Royce promotes their cars not at car shows but at lear jet and yacht conventions…If you’re advertising only on VRBO, chances are, your rental is the same price (if not a little more or less expensive) than all your competitors. But what if you started advertising in luxury spaces or real estate platforms? My mom always told me that you never want to have the nicest house on the block because, by comparison, you always want to be able to go “up.” And I think she was on to something.

5) Contextual Pricing

If you have multiple rentals, this one is for you. There’s a reason why travelers send inquiries to multiple vacation properties before choosing which one they will rent. It’s because they want to be sure they are getting a fair price: not spending more than they should. To combat this, in your correspondence, present multiple pricing options: offer related rental prices so the guest feels comfortable making the decision. With 3 different options (all under your control), the guest is much more likely to choose one of yours than one of your competitors’.

OK that’s enough from me.

Do you have any other ideas about how we can use this concept of “anchoring” to psychologically make guests realize our rental is better than everyone elses?

This is entirely new territory for all so please share via the comments section below…

Posted in Guest Interaction, Owners17 Comments

Is This The #1 Most Delicious Way To Increase Your Bookings?

Screen Shot 2014-02-20 at 10.17.39 AMAre you a foodie?

Do you have a particular food or dish that so wonderfully flatters your vacation rental?

Part of my mission is to help vacation rental owners and managers capture what it is they love about their property, and then package it in a way so that potential travelers can envision themselves enjoying it too!

And in this piece, I’d like to focus on food.

It’s no big surprise that cooking and enjoying meals together are part of what make vacation rentals great…

After all, no hotel mini-bar or suite hot plates could ever provide the comfort or completeness that a fully equipped vacation rental might offer to a group of family or friends.

And to take this theme a little further, it’s also no secret that most destinations of the world have some sort of authentic or iconic dish unique to their region…

Screen Shot 2014-02-20 at 10.16.24 AMKey lime pie in Key West.

Crawfish boils in Mississippi.

Chicago’s Italian beef.

Shrimp and grits in South Carolina.

You get the idea.

So…chances are, everyone reading this piece is blessed with two untapped resources (a kitchen and a unique dish) that could be leveraged into a brilliant marketing campaign.

Why?

Because food connects people!

There is simply no better way to conjure up a wonderful memory or get excited about a trip than through authentic flavors (or the merely the description of them)…

If you’ve ever seen a TV show or come across a recipe in the newspaper and thought to yourself, “Gee, I’d love to hop on a plane and go taste those…caipirinhas in Brazil” or…”that ceviche in Peru,” you have felt food’s magnetic pull as it relates to marketing.

Or consider my new web addiction Eat With: http://www.eatwith.com/

It is essentially the AirBnB of authentic dining experiences.

How could you not want to visit some of these places and try some of these foods?!?!

So here’s where to take it next:

1) Choose an iconic recipe special to your region (heck, as long as it’s delicious, it could even be a recipe unique to your family)

2) Type it up and install in your vacation rental’s kitchen using a simple plastic display case

3) Drop mentions of the dish in your marketing verbiage (ie. “Enjoy our secret recipe for a Maryland crab boil with cold beers on our porch overlooking the bay” or “Replicate our family’s time-tested borscht recipe after a day of skiing.”)

4) If you want to take it one step further, provide the guests with a gift basket including all (or most) of the ingredients necessary when they arrive. Note: One of my subscribers, Don with Super Suites Vacation Rentals, gives his guests a jar of homemade tomato sauce along with a bag of pasta to cook up on their first night. He’s in a secluded beach and it makes for the perfect arrival meal. Love that idea!!!

Throughout all my research, learning to leverage food – especially the food that you love – has emerged in my eyes as one of the most under-utilized techniques in vacation rental marketing..

Which is to say, chances are, very few (if any) of your competitors are doing anything of the sort.

If the way to a traveler’s heart is through her stomach…

What are you cooking up at your rental that might inspire those of us reading this post?

 

Posted in Guest Interaction, Opinion, Vacation Rental Marketing27 Comments

1 Simple (But Forgotten) Image You MUST Include In Your Gallery

I was driving my friend’s truck because he’d just gotten laser eye surgery and the topic of vacation rentals came up…

Now I should warn you that he is the type of guy who typically prefers hotels to vacation rentals…

He likes knowing exactly what to expect, using his reward points, the room service, the concierge…etc.

And considering I am everyone’s “fearless vacation rental leader,” I felt obligated to argue the point and open his eyes to the potential of our burgeoning industry.

I reasoned how rentals are more economical, private, and authentic than traditional hotels…and he got all that.

But then he asked the following question, which kinda took me for a spin:

“Since the range of vacation rental properties is variant, why don’t any owners or managers show the floorplans of their property? That would, at least, help me decide whether this random home would be a good fit for my family.”

I was bamboozled!

In my 8 years of experience, I had never given decent thought to this idea (much less offered floorplans at my own properties).

And in some quick research, I found that only about 1 in every 30 properties I looked at on VRBO had floorplans!

So let’s backtrack a bit here…

When I conducted my last survey amongst vacation rental owners and managers, one thing was clear:

My subscribers want more insight about vacation rental travelers!

Now because this is such a new industry, very very little intel exists about what our past and future guests want…

And so I hope to start peeking inside the mind of the vacation rental traveler a little bit more for the following reason: if we can identify precisely what they want, we can serve it to them on a silver platter.

To get started, I ran a Zipinion poll, asking travelers “When choosing a vacation rental, would architectural floorplans of the property help make your decision any easier?”

Screen Shot 2014-02-15 at 10.15.07 AM

Not surprisingly, 71% of travelers said “Yes” citing reasons like: I have a large family and want to make sure there is plenty of room for all of us (ie. is the common room big enough for group activities?)”

And “floorplans would be helpful because some properties say they are suites when they’re really just a large room with a king bed and sofa bed and kitchen with no dividing walls.”

And “Sometimes photos of a place can be deceiving in terms of size (make things appear larger than they really are), and so the floorplans would be an objective piece of information that couldn’t be altered to deceive me.”

So that much is clear: posting floorplans is a great way to give your rental the marketing edge it deserves…

But what if the floorplans for your home aren’t readily available or in digital format?

Not to worry, because one of my subscribers, David Angotti of SmokyMountains.com has the solution on every single property page of his site!

Check out the 3d renderings he had commissioned on the cheap:

Screen Shot 2014-02-15 at 11.06.54 AMScreen Shot 2014-02-15 at 2.57.52 PM

When I first asked how he thought of using floorplans in his marketing material, David said this:

“When we would speak with potential travelers on the phone it quickly became apparent that they want to dream about their upcoming trip and that dream includes visualizing where people will sleep, eat, and be entertained. And so floorplans answer many of the questions in a graphically appealing way that makes the guest want to visit the property. Whether the guest is a mother wanting to know where her children will sleep or a travel coordinator trying to figure out the number of people a dining area will seat, the floor plans will answer those questions. We have found that the 3d floor plans boost conversion rates by approximately 7% and attribute that to answering questions that many times a guest might not even know to ask.”

This goes perfectly in-line with my Zipinion survey results above…

But I so loved David’s reasoning that I wanted to know how he had these floorplans made (so the rest of us can do the same thing)!!!

“We spoke with several US design agencies who wanted between $1,000 and $3,000 to design a 3D floor plan for an average property. While this might make sense for a hotel with hundreds of rooms using several layouts, each one of our units is unique and requires its own design [And not to mention a limited marketing budget]. Next, we began to scour freelance sites and ultimately found several talented designers on www.oDesk.com that were willing to design the floor plans for around 10% of the US agency price (that’s $100!!!). However, it is important to note that specific instructions including a hand-drawn floor plan with measurements as well as photos will be needed to get a final deliverable that is high quality. Once you create the job on the freelancer site, interview five to ten talented freelancers (look at their portfolios) and choose one based on experience and price.”

Further, David has offered up precisely what he posted on oDesk as the sample job in order to get the right result:

“We have a 2200 Square Foot, three-story cabin that we are needing a 3D floorplan created for. This is the property:

http://smokymountains.com/cabin-rentals/smoky-mountain-sunrise/

We will provide a similar 2D floorplan, notes, and a hand-sketch of the floorplan complete with the walls, doors, furninture, appliances, etc. In addition, we will provide a creative brief.

We want 3D renderings (not 2D). We only want to work with contractors capable of producing this quality level.

At a minimum, the project deliverables will include a high quality jpeg.

Thanks for taking the time to apply for our job — we look forward to working with you!”

So there you have it!

Including floorplans is not only what travelers want. It’s what they need!

And getting them done for less than the price of one night’s rental?

Well that’s a hands-down no-brainer in my book!

Thanks to David for this awesome insight that we can all use to generate more bookings!

 

Posted in Photography, Tools29 Comments

Who Is The Real Matt Landau?

The following piece was written by Rex Brown, a subscriber of mine who, while stopping through Panama on his way back to Australia, emailed me said he wanted to meet “the real Matt Landau.” This is Rex’s account of his visit:

Screen Shot 2014-02-15 at 10.28.00 AMAs a Vacation Rental owner in Melbourne and a long term fan of Matt’s blog, I’ve often wondered  - what is the real Matt Landau like?

What really happens in Panama City?

So when travel plans offered a stopover in Panama City, I jumped at the chance.

I booked in to one of Matt‘s apartments at  Los Cuatro Tulipanes.

We might even hang out and swap ideas.

My welcome and arrival was coordinated seamlessly by the efficient Ivana (Concierge).  Separately Paula (Manager) helps with enquiries…

Yes, Matt does delegate.

On arrival it was hot, and humid.

Very humid.

7V8A1154The arranged taxi took me through the new city where 40 skyscrapers were under construction, and beyond  to the historic part, the old city.  I was shown over my apartment Monjas 3B by the charming Ivana:

“Here is a local mobile phone. Call me any time if you get lost.”

Nice touch.

The apartment was a mix of modern and  ancient.

Modern kitchen with all the gadgets:  Wifi that worked seamlessly:  Tastefully decorated, including some paintings of the Tulips that gave the apartment its name.

Lots of little touches to make life easy.

The apartment  looked out on to a courtyard with 300 year old stone walls, multicolored with the patina of age that sparkled when it rained.

I asked Ivana, “Where is Senor Matt?”

I was to learn that when I mentioned Matt, the staff person’s eyes would light up.

“Ah, I think he is here today.  He comes and goes.”

The place ran seamlessly without him, outsourced to the efficient staff.

We arranged to meet at 9am next day…

So, 9am. Was Matt a late riser?

We met in the foyer at 9 am.

He was slim and relaxed.

The welcoming face from the blog.

“There’s a few places I’d like to show you.”

Screen Shot 2014-02-15 at 10.30.35 AMWe had breakfast at a cafe called Super Gourmet nearby.

Matt’s influence was here:

A mouth-watering menu item was “Los 4 Tulipanes Breakfast.”  Hmm.  What else was Matt doing in the local community?

We compared notes on the current state of the vacation rental industry.

Matt was planning to risk his reputation and help one owner set up their marketing from scratch (you can see it here http://www.vacationrentalmarketingblog.com/renegades/) and readers would like that.

He explained that Los 4 Tulipanes had been #1 in Tripadvisor for all of Panama city, including the monster new hotels.

He also found Google Adwords useful.

We know from the blog that he has many other important parts to his marketing, but readers will already know that.

Matt was interested in my reply process that was converting most enquiries to bookings.  He also liked my marketing map that shows most occupancy for the least effort.

We went on like this, back and forth, sharing ideas for helping VR owners.

I mentioned that I’d been a speaker  in Sydney at the Stayz conference…

Stayz is the leading Australian Holiday House listing website and Matt asked, “So you heard that Stayz were bought by Homeaway?”

This guy knew more about what was happening back home 14,000 km away than I did!

I noticed that the café staff refused to take payment from Matt.  I have a hunch they have  a lot of visitors from Tulipanes.

Everywhere in the old town there was building activity as the crumbling ancient buildings were being restored.  Matt is part of a push to keep the character of the old city.  “It may not succeed but we try.”

Screen Shot 2014-02-15 at 10.29.08 AMSoon we came to a large abandoned school…

One day it would be a hotel…

Behind a gate was an area for a painting class, another area for propagating vegetables, another where a dance class was in progress.

There were a dozen different areas where the local community could come for activities that keep kids off the streets.

All coordinated by one of Matt’s associates, KC Hardin.

As we continued the tour Matt explained that it was part of their work to help local youth (their gang reintegration project for instance: http://www.globalgiving.org/projects/from-street-gang-to-service-industry-in-panama/).

Turning a corner, Matt stopped at the sight of a slender teenager…

photo(37)“Hola! Rex, meet Humberto.  He is very helpful.  He works for us at Los 4 Tulipanes.”

Matt later explained that Humberto was at risk of being drawn in to a local gang and now with a job and school, his life is on a different path.  The gangs are gone. Matt and KC have had a big part in the change.

We also visited The Canal House, where Matt had recently taken over the management.

Daniel Craig, a famous actor, stayed there for 3 months filming a James Bond movie, but that is another story.

All too soon we were back at Los 4 Tulipanes…

That afternoon I would see The Panama Canal up close and the new Frank Gehry Museum of Biodiversity.  Next day I was gone.

I’d had a glimpse into the real Matt Landau.

So, is Matt Landau really a late riser?

It turned out Matt met me at 9am because he was on a training run at 5am, and early is when he writes his blog posts.

——————————–

I wanted to give a shout out to Rex Brown who wrote this lovely piece, and who, himself, runs three holiday/vacation rentals in Australia: Alto in Melbourne and then Seazen and Treetops on the Great Ocean Road (all of which I have promised him I will visit in due time).  Rex will be launching a website aimed at helping mainly Australian owners of holiday houses increase their rentals in February 2014. www.holidayrentalmastery.com

Posted in Owners6 Comments

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