“The Best” Thing I Have Learned In 2 Years?

I started Vacation Rental Marketing Blog about 4 years ago and it’s been a roller coaster learning curve for me.

You see, I have experience generating bookings for vacation rentals.

But I am NOT an expert in selling online products (that stuff was — and still is — pretty new to me).

So in a lot of ways, the evolution readers have seen with VRMB is very similar to the transformation owners and managers are personally experiencing with their vacation rental marketing.

We both started with very little information.

We both did lots of research and experimentation using trial and error.

We both identified things that worked and used muses to inspire new ideas.

So what you see before your very eyes is actually a parallel universe: it’s your learning curve in the works!

Now that you understand we’re very much in the same boat, I wanted to share with you one of the more powerful mantras I have developed from this process thus far (and something which I really think resonates in the vacation rental marketing world).

It’s only three words:

Help, Don’t Sell.

This is a concept that seems to be pervasive with today’s top marketers (can’t remember where I heard it first) but it took me almost 2 years to really understand it.

To elaborate, here are 3 facts that — if they’re not true already — will become more apparent with time:

> Our competitors will have nicer vacation rental properties (than we do)
> Our competitors will have bigger marketing budgets (than we do)
> Our sheer number of competitors will increase over time

This leaves us with a natural dilemma: with all this competition, how does our rental correspondence stand out from the crowd?

You’re probably thinking to yourself:

Yes, I have a great VRBO listing, I have a proper website, I have lots of Twitter/Facebook followers, I know how to convert inquiries into bookings…etc.

But here’s the thing: so will everybody else (if they don’t already)!

Sharing The Authentic Local Experience

This brings me to the pre-thesis statement of this article: the most successful vacation rental owners and managers in the world provide one priceless variable when guests stay at their properties and that is the authentic local experience.

So assuming you have already embraced this authenticity, the crux of your challenge (and mine in creating this blog) becomes abundantly clear:

In order to leverage that authenticity (perhaps the only true, defining variable in the vacation rental game) we must help travelers (not sell travelers) in the correspondence process in order to ensure their business.

Esthetically, the difference between helping and selling is no more than two letters. But in reality, the different is HUGE.

The best vacation rental marketers I have ever seen manage to “help” their potential guests far more bluntly than they do “sell” them.

They provide Insider’s Guide, they share links to blog posts that answer questions, they make videos, they answer questions free of charge or sales pitches.

They aren’t trying to sell you their rental – at least not up front – they are being helpful with useful, reliable and fresh free stuff!

These owners are informing, they are revealing, and they are educating.

Who Can I Help Today?

When you begin your marketing efforts by asking, “Who can I help today?” you enter into an entirely different mental universe than if you ask, “Who can I convince to reserve my rental today?”

Here’s the whole point: you may be fine right now, but the vacation rental market will get more and more saturated over time, making your property (no matter how shabby or chic it is) just another fish in the sea.

When this happens, HELPING is only one thing that will distinguish you from your competition: it represents the trust travelers have in your relationship.

When pitting you (the ultra-helpful owner) up against them (the profit-focused competitors down the street), who do you think most travelers would choose?

What Do I Do Next?

If you’re inspired by this idea, do the following:

Make a list of ways you can help potential travelers to your region.

Maybe this means designing fun interactive maps of your region.

Perhaps you can create your own infographic to educate.

Maybe you send out amazingly helpful newsletters every month?

Whatever you do, stick with this wholesome mantra – help, don’t sell – and your rental will be better for it in the long run.


About the Author Matt Landau

Matt Landau is the Founder of the Vacation Rental Marketing Blog and the Inner Circle, two online resources dedicated to helping vacation rental owners and managers generate more bookings. Google+ | More Posts (230)

  • Hi Matt! You know I read all your new posts even before you send out email blasts. I am with you that generosity is the best marketing strategy there is. You certainly live by those words, and this amazing community of VR owners you created is the proof. The more we share, the more we gain back.
    Before I came across your blog, I used to browse the Homeaway community for ideas and advice only to get depressed by the scores of angry, defensive, whiners.
    Your perspective and generosity brings out the best in people. Since I became a reader of the VRMB I had a a ton of AHA moments by putting together things I learned myself and your helpful insights.
    Hey, I don’t need a copy of the 100 True Readers, because I bought it already. Worth every penny!

    • loscuatrotulipanes

      Thanks Juliana! You definitely rank as one of my top-performing subscribers!

  • Mona

    Hi Matt- I’ve been faithfully reading your blog and posts becuase you give very helpful advice. Your post about ” Helping” rather “selling” is really true and spot on. Since most of my initial interactions with prospective guests are by email, what do you suggest in order to “help” rather than to sell?
    Thank you in advance for your thoughs and invaluable information.
    Kind Regards, Mona

  • Julie at Coquet Cottages

    What a breath of fresh air you are in this industry Matt! As Juliana observes, there are SOOO many people out there just whining about how bad the economy is and blaming that for their lack of bookings. One of the reasons we are successful in our business – as our guests tell us time and time again – is that we listen to our guests, we help them choose the right rental property that’s perfect for their needs, we give them lots of relevant information about the area, things to do, etc. to help them decide to book and then we give them lots of relevant information, recommendations, free-entry vouchers, etc. tailored to their needs once they get on holiday to help them get the most out of their stay. People rarely enjoy being ‘sold to’ as it’s often a one-way street with the seller working so hard on their sale they forget to ask about the buyer’s needs and they also forget how attractive and engaging a generous person or business is – making them FAR more likely to want to buy from that person or business! Our helpfulness and generosity is loved by our guests and they remain loyal to us as a result. I’ve only just discovered you Matt but I’m so pleased I did as your positivity is infectious and I look forward to keeping in touch.

    • loscuatrotulipanes

      Cheers to that!

  • Hi Matt. Looking forward to reading your free 100 True Readers. As always i enjoy reading what you have to say and as mentioned below you are generous sharing your knowledge, thanks you.

    • loscuatrotulipanes

      Your wish is my command! *POOF*

  • Jennifer

    Yes, I agree with the previous comments! Your blog and posts are a breath of fresh air. I have been in the vacation rental business since I was 15 years old (I’m now 40 : )! Last week I went with my gut and was trying to be helpful to a potential guest and got scammed! I can’t believe it happened when I knew better.

    That is not the point…just venting a bit.

    I too (like Mona), mainly deal with email inquires. Do you suggest giving all the free info about my area and property via email to all potential guests that inquire?

    Thanks for all that you do and I look forward to reading your EBook.

  • Beth

    Matt – do you make your insider’s guide available to prospective guests (and booked guests) and if so, how?

  • As I read your missive I was thinking “I really only need one bright idea” and then I came up with two.

    Firstly as both my properties are in the same town (Fuengirola), I thought “Why not let the Folks know what is going to be on in town when they want to be here?”

    We all live locally no matter where we are in the World and my apartments are local apartments. Why not provide activity information about the locality? It is easy to send the people off to nearby cities, golf courses, art galleries and so on but what is on locally for them to walk to? Now that´s local.

    I tune into the Townhall site and they usually help with the ideas. The local weekly newspapers tell us Whats On now.

    I have included a “The weather here now” link. Ok if they hit the link during the night and everyone is asleep then nada! But this public webcam is focused on the seashore and shows activity every two minutes.

    These are a couple of my simple efforts to give rather than sell my rental. You are right everybody elses apartment looks better, sounds better, is newer and whatever but very few are giving a better personalized service.

    Thanks for the Blog. Always check it out!

    The foto is of me taken outside Mijas 340TV and overlooking the coast earlier this week (Tuesday) by my wife Dolores.

    My properties: Home Away Fuengirola, Spain #300884 and #279752.


    See ya!

    Nice to be of help!

    • loscuatrotulipanes

      Attaboy Roger! Keep up the good work (and check your inbox for some help along the way)…

  • Kristen

    Once again you have helped us improve our vacation rental business! Thank you for being so generous with your knowledge. I always look forward to reading your posts.

  • marilyn

    I am a huge fan of yours, Matt, and I just wish more of my owners took the time and trouble to act on some of your suggestions – I find them very useful, personally. Keep up the good work.

    • loscuatrotulipanes

      Compliments go a long way 🙂 Check your inbox!

  • MontrealMadame

    Matt – you are the cool cat on the block. So I too have a blog – but not vacation centric – check it out MontrealMadame.com – like you – I believe that being helpful is better than selling, being fun is better than being demanding, and having fun is best of all.

    Hugs – Leslie

    • loscuatrotulipanes

      *POOF* Your inbox is waiting with a little gift…

  • Shannon

    Hey Matt: I know just what you mean!! I recently “helped” an elderly couple who wanted to be closer to a church convention than 43 minutes and 27 miles. I showed them how to easily find his way around town via mapquest. How to easily find the locations of closer rentals. I spent 25 minutes with him on the phone. He ended up booking with me. 10 days !!!

    Big Smile

    • loscuatrotulipanes

      Way to go Shannon! Check your inbox for some email karma!

  • phoenixvacationcondos.com

    Hello Matt, Thanks again for sharing all those Great Marketing ideas with us. I love that mantra; Help do not sell! Lucie

  • Kyla Kutch

    Great info. Love your blog. I’ve just recently started out on the vacation rental marketing journey, so trying to learn as much as I can. Have you found that you get better success in turning an email inquiry into a booking if you email them or call them back (if they leave their phone number). I haven’t figured out yet if people would rather receive an email (which has the listing info, since they likely inquired on several properties) or a phone call to discuss all the details. Thanks again for all the great info!!

  • Yes, I’ve been working on this. I spent the first six months getting all my marketing going, and focusing on sales. I realize that I sound too salesy in my literature sometimes, but now that plenty of people are actually contacting me I’m able to be a resource for them with information about Costa Rica travel and what to do in Santa Teresa, etc. Most people that contact me have never come here so helping them plan their adventure has become the fun part of the job. Facilitating their fun, and helping them find their way while they are here is great too.
    I just found these resources too in the last couple of days, so I haven’t tried them yet. I think they could help vacation rental owners get the word out about why their destination is cool, and can be a kind of simple way to create a form of insider’s guide while increasing their web presence: http://www.worldnomads.com and http://www.tripzaar.com/planners/

    • loscuatrotulipanes

      Great suggestions as always Joe. I’ve found that offering third-party travel insurance is the best way to counteract cancellations: “Well, did you sign up for the travel insurance we suggested?” usually quiets the guest really fast…

    • Matt

      Hey Joe, It sounds like you offer an awesome experience in Costa Rica! We’re always looking to help out vacation rental owners who are looking to branch out and create a full adventure experience. There has been significant developments on the site since you found us two months ago, I would love to get you hooked up and planning trips in Costa Rica – it’s heating up! matt{at}tripzaar{.}com

      • loscuatrotulipanes

        Matt, looks like Tripzaar also works with a tour guide named Kevin O’Brian here in Casco Viejo, Panama. I can verify that Kevin is the top dog when it comes to insider’s tours. Tripzaar has good taste!

  • I just join your group and I love it, Giving and getting a return is a principle that has always worked in my life. I am looking forward to also being able to give you advice to you can share,
    Thanks Fred

  • Jody

    Hi Matt, I agree! My philosophy is to do business from a place of love. If I focus on what is good for the traveler, whether staying in my vacation rental is a good fit or sharing the extras, it makes me feel like I’m making a difference. I read something called “Blue Ocean” strategy (when you identify and communicate your strengths and advantages, you make the competition nonexistent) which helped me in positioning and I believe, be more successful in my business. Many of your blog posts promote this strategy. Thank you for all that you share! Regards – Jody http://www.TremontVilla.com

    • loscuatrotulipanes

      Amen to that Jody! Check your inbox!

  • Ray

    Help don’t sell! I found this to be true through a realator years ago. She told me that her job was to provide me with all of the info I needed in order for me to make the best educated descision I can (I found this to be odd at first). There was a lot of cut throat realitors out there. She only said that at that time when you are ready to buy I would like you to use me. I never used another realator, refered her to many peple and adapted her mindset in my property management business. Cool Concept!!

  • janstevens55

    You are so wise!! I whole heartedly agree. I just had the opportunity to “help” a guest this morning. I promised her that I would find out the time it takes to Kayak from my place at Eagle Cliff to Snug Cove. Since I am not a paddler I made a phone call to the expert and <> I had the answer…..just delivering friendly service and doing what I promised will make our vacation rental stand out from our competitors.

    • loscuatrotulipanes

      Great job Jan! A little help goes a long way! They surely won’t forget it.

  • James

    I end up seeing the word “rental” tossed around on the consumer side of things as if it is appealing to holiday travelers. It’s a “trade” word continually reminding guests that they’re on the far end of a chain of businesses all feeding off of their vacation. Good marketing needs to disguise that fact. If your site is trying to appeal to both vacationers and property owners/managers, it better put the vacationers first. It doesn’t take a property manager long to figure out if your site isn’t delivering them.

  • what I love most about reading your blog is that is makes me sit down and think about things . . strategize, think out the box, etc, etc . too often we all get stuck dealing with all the daily tasks and do not have time to breathe or think big picture, forcing myself to not only read your articles but to also create action items is huge!!

    • loscuatrotulipanes

      That is EXACTLY my goal Brad. Keep up the great work!

  • Paula

    Excellent advice yet again, Matt. We just booked a rental that was referred to us by some youngsters who inquired about our property but never rented with us — this is because we “helped” them find a more suitable vacation rental property for their group of 8 party-goers. Instead of our home, located in a quiet residential neighborhood, we recommend they stay closer to the “nightlife” and all the action they could find in a downtown property. I worked out well for everyone — we avoided the type of guests that aren’t suitable for our house, the youngsters partied somewhere else – and we still got a great booking from their parents a few months down the road.

  • Debi

    Hi Matt:

    I read recently that 1600 people are turning 60 every minute for the next 16 years. These boomers are looking at their lives and asking questions regarding what they have accomplished in their lives and looking towards how they want to live for the next 25 years. The focus is shifting to being of service, of giving back to the planet and to society. I have been holding these thoughts and asking myself … how can I align my business to also be one of service (I’ve turned 60 too.) “Help. Don’t Sell” is in accord with this attitude. I am hungry for more ways that I can do this. Keeping in mind that I am offering a service… we help folks create happy and hopefully lasting memories of sharing and caring. What more can we do? So far, offering excellent service and a personal touch garner feedback that I must be doing some of this right. I would love to see some brainstorming about more little things that we can do for our guests and for general humanity that enhance but don’t come off as a persuasive selling techniques (also without breaking our own piggy-banks.)

    • loscuatrotulipanes

      Great statistic Debi! Check your inbox!

  • Della

    I am new to your blog, but I am really enjoying all the ideas that you suggest and coming up with how I might be able to use some of the ideas myself.

    I completely agree that we need to be “Helpers” and not sellers, and I think that’s the main reason we are fortunate enough to have repeat customers!

    Thanks again for your blog, I look forward to future posts!!

  • Hey Matt, once again very thought provoking! You made me think of that Green Day song, Nice Guys Finish Last. There’s a line: “You’re kissing up and bleeding all your trust, taking what you need”. It’s all about authenticity these days, you can’t fake it, people see through that very quickly. So I do agree, you need to help and not sell, but you need to do it from a genuine place. Keep it real! Thanks for reminding us all!

  • Greg keyweek

    Hey matt, greg here your number 1 european fan! This is the most powerful article you’ve ever written and i believe this is the one think everyone should focus on !
    Help your guests !!!

    I have speng almost 30% of my time builiding homebooks, customs maps, guide books, insiders guides etc… since i started following your blog and my annual revenue has more than doubled in less than a year!
    Coincidence? I don’t think so..

    Thanks matt!!!

  • Hi Matt…love your blog, I have been with you from the beginning and have implemented many of your tips. With your info I had the courage to let my Island booking agent go and do it all on my own…my bookings increased and I am getting return guests! You are right, the more you can establish a relationship with a guest the better the experience is for them! All I want is for my guests to love my house and the North Shore of Kauai as much as I do!
    Mahalo for all the help!

    • loscuatrotulipanes

      Awww so great to hear Liz! I LOVE hearing this kind of news!

  • Thanks Matt, some good advice here

    keep up the good work!
    apartment rentals nerja

  • Karen Fehrmann

    Hi Matt! Your information has been invaluable to me so far. I have already went back and calculated my occupancy rate for the past 3 years and have my current year calculated as well. That is something I should have been doing all along but didn’t think about it until reading one of your newsletters. I absolutely love an value the information you give to us. We have always prided ourselves on being helpful to our renters (right down to changing flat tires for them or helping to launch their boats). So we are at least on the right track with something… Thank you so much for all that you do in helping us all out!
    Karen Fehrmann

  • Winnie

    Great post Matt! I really like this article and especially the title “Help, Don’t Sell” — which will help remind me on how I should act when dealing with potential buyers. 🙂

    Your article really reinforces the importance of customer service, personalization in service, and the human side of vacation rentals; rather than trying to hard sell our properties. I think this personalization will really help too when they end up
    renting with us because they will likely take better care of it.

    By the time they rent, they would feel like they know us, and have pitied us (the ultra-helpful owner) by renting with us instead of large hotels. 😉

    Your article also serves to remind us that it’s a tough marketplace out there! So we should do everything we can to gain an edge.

  • “Help, Don’t sell” – expect me to remember these three words each time I’m working on any SEO-related tasks.

  • Glynda McCollum

    Hi Matt! Love your blog and your info is right on. I am 72 years old female and handle my rental property at the beach all on my own. I have found that the personal touch with my clients has yielded great results. I have even become great friends with most of them and they want to meet me and visit their homes. This has resulted in repeat rentals and it certainly works for me to Help. Don’t Sell. Thanks and keep up the great help-line.

  • Pingback: Vacation Rental Marketing Odds Against You()

  • Adnan – Villa Aida

    Matt, I’m relatively new in vacation rental marketing and your blog really helped me in a lot of ways. “Help, don’t sell” is a moto that I use in life too, and guess what – it works. Thanks and keep up the good work.

    Adnan from Slovenia, Europe

  • Raz @ PleasantAccommodation

    Hi Matt. First time I read your blog, a client showed it to me. Indeed, I totally agree with you. Nowadays many are more focused on grabbing more and more new clients than trying to increase their returning clients. Also people pay more attention to their COMPETITORS compared to their CLIENTS. In my opinion competitors are your past, but your clients are the future! Still, you cannot win a battle if you don’t enter the ring… so even if you are the kindest owner in the world, if you don’t expose your property/properties as needed, you won’t go far. That’s why good marketing should go hand in hand with great services & kindness. My 5 cents idea… Raz @ http://www.pleasantaccommodation.com/

  • Great reads, in such a competitive market, it is so difficult to find great resources that are actually free and offer excellent advise. Thank you.
    I did not use my Google log in as others follow us and copy our efforts.

    Survival of the fittest, small town, too many rentals.

  • Mike Ross

    I think that this is some of the best advice that I have ever gotten about apartment rentals in Toronto. I am pretty new to the renting game, so this was great for me. Thanks.

  • Pingback: Vacation Rental SEO Search Engine Optimization()

  • Tracy

    Brand new to your blog — I have been in the VR biz in Orlando for 20 years. Small biz owner for 15. I look forward to becoming familiar & reading your info. Business in Orlando similar to everywhere is becoming extremely competitive and we small biz owners are constantly spinning the wheels trying to come up with that next idea that will move our businesses in the right direction. Kind Regards,

  • James


  • Paula Sociedade

    Hi Matt…you have the gift of words…when you write I underand the message…the importance of clear, consise statements on how to make yourself/your product better and therefore more lucrative. As a psychologist and rental vacation home owner, I too believe what home owners who rent their properties can provide that big establishments can not is personalized, authentic connections with guests…and this comes about in the relationship and the level of trust between owner and guest. This is a unique luxury I provide to my guests…a helpful connection to benefit both parties…The more helpful I am with prospective guests the more business I have…Thank you for being our fearless leader…
    Your Fearless Follower,
    Paula Sociedade, Ph.D.

  • Mary Ann Everitt-Gutchigian

    HI Matt,
    I used to “just rent” our house on Long Beach Island, NJ. I had some issues due to living in a “Lock Out” in the upper portion on the house with my husband and 2 kids and doxie weiner dog, Oscar. Some renters got turned off by the “owner” being on the premise. After time I asked the renters to post a review for us. They were happy to do so after meeting us and enjoying the great house and location on LBI.
    Then I decided to book for small wedding parties that need a house for their wedding family or party guests, not the wedding reception. They like what we offered and I helped them figure out their plan for their weddings. I was married on our beach with the boy that grew up next door at the very same house at the beach (3 renovation) as children, we didn’t see each other for over 25 years, they love our story! The next thing I thought of was why not be a event planner as well? Renters that are vacationing or having a wedding some don’t want to cook. come up with fun things to do, so I added that to my offerings. Now when they realize we live in the house they hear we are here to plan events for our tenants if they would like and they like that idea.
    I also decided to try my hand at off season retreats and made a ton of new connections that would consider partnering up with me with their offerings. I offer: Surfing Lessons, Kayak Tours, Geocaching Weekends, Spa/Massage, Bachelorette Weekends, Scrapebooking, Arts and Crafts, Plein Air Painting, Business Networking Workshops, you name it, I’ve advertised for it.
    I gained several reviews last year due to asking and telling them the Hurricane Sandy stories we had on the island. They were happy to post and review up and neighboring businesses. Now being sorted by reviews I blow the competition away. We now look for things to share with the renters of things to do with or without them. Moon rises are a hit it seems, and they love seeing pictures of snow in the winter on their beloved beaches! I FB like crazy info for myself the areas businesses and keep engaged as much as possible daily with followers who may just rent someday.
    Thanks for the great info on your site, I am new here and love reading your tips.

  • Pingback: Dude, Stop Interrupting My Busy Day!()

  • Matt, you helped me today! I have been reading your blogs, posts, etc…. and came across The Distinguished Guest. I have been looking for a special token to leave my guests and the bath amenities were perfect! Plus I got 20% off for mentioning your coupon! Thanks so much for “Helping”!

    • loscuatrotulipanes

      My pleasure Roslyn! Alanna, the owner of TDG, is great!!!

  • Michael

    Great article.
    Any thoughts on the emergence of vacation rental franchises that are popping up? They seem to have some interesting systems, that could shave several years off the learning curve for $50,000 or so. I’m looking at one now at a ski resort.
    All the Best

  • Guest12wer

    This was very helpful. Thank you.

  • Andrew

    If You Really Want to Know, Look in the Help Market and Sell

    We Do Help Marketing Your Business Right


    Tips for small or medium businesses online.

    Business Tips for Success.

    How can you sell anything if customers can not find you?

    I will help market and sell your goods.

    Market Your Message Your Brand Your Business.