Vacation Rental Marketing Makeover Session 1.0

So today is the day I’m starting Amy Firmani’s vacation rental marketing makeover!

If you didn’t read about the amazing application process that brings us to this point, you can see all the posts right here

This is the totally transparent process of a vacation rental marketing makeover — starting from pretty much scratch, conducted by an expert, and available free to the public — on the journey for more bookings outside of listing sites.

Without any further adieu, let’s jump right in…


The Property Itself


Amy’s vacation rental called Palazzo Paradiso is a 5-bedroom, 3-bathroom villa in Bermuda Springs (a development) just a few minutes from the Las Vegas strip.

Palazzo Paraiso

Her pricing ranges from $250-$450/night and her ideal client profile is families, groups of women on vacation, and groups of people who want to be in Vegas for fight night.

Matt’s Tip: When I asked Amy about her guest profile, she had to think about it a bit. It is very important to have a precise idea of who is your ideal client demographic. That will act as a road map for your marketing.

Her property is one of 526 ‘Las Vegas’ rentals on VRBO and one of 471 ‘Las Vegas’ results on HomeAway (at the time of my research).

So considering all the competition, it’s really no wonder that her occupancy rate is less than ideal.


Amy’s Existing Marketing Efforts


Amy Firmani - Palazzo ParaisoAfter a few additional chats with Amy, I wanted to share with you what we are working with – in other words, the current marketing efforts Amy has in her portfolio:

–       A relatively new WordPress blog:

–       A Facebook fan page:

–       A VRBO listing (she uses the calendar for bookings):

–       A HomeAway listing:

–       A name and logo for her rental

–       What she calls “Snail Mail” or little email blasts she sends out to former guests that “tend to get bookings sometimes”

What you see in Amy’s marketing repertoire is a pretty common representation for most owners…

She gave AirBnB a try but didn’t get one booking so she cancelled her account.

She also was listed on a few other listing sites that didn’t send any bookings.

At a glance (and it doesn’t take an expert to come to this conclusion) it looks like Amy pretty much relies on her VRBO and HomeAway listings.

This means that practically ANY bookings that we generate on top of those results will be added profit to Amy’s bottom line…

And if you look at it this way, we have nowhere to go but up!


What’s Physically Missing From Amy’s Marketing Efforts?


So to sort of reverse-engineer things, let’s run through some of the vital marketing components Amy has been operating without (just to name a few):

–       A personal website for her property

–       A comprehensive email marketing strategy

–       A compelling listing description (preferably written by a professional)

–       Sharable content on her blog such as restaurant tips, travel secrets, insider access…etc.

–       An Insider’s Guide

–       Professional photos and/or video

–       Press release(s)

–       A Twitter account


So, Where Do We Start?


Because time is scarce (we want to increase bookings ASAP), here are my first orders of business:

1. Choose a domain and get Amy’s website under construction ASAP (as this process usually takes the longest, we’ll want to initiate the process with Villa Marketers yesterday)

2. Get professional photos taken immediately (more on this to come in a following blog post)

3. Create a compelling description for the property using vacation rental copywriter Christine Anderson

Some other important items soon to follow:

4. Begin stockpiling unique articles about her region, her property, and Amy’s family themselves (both collecting those that exist online and writing new ones). Also, create 1 (one) exceptional viral post that will start generating attention.

5. Setup an email marketing platform

6. Implement best correspondence practices and improve Amy’s “conversion” tactics to convert more inquiries to bookings

7. Setup a Twitter account with tool that automatically Tweets articles (#4)

8. Examine her listing site tiers and determine: Is upgrading is a sensible option?

Matt’s Tip: I find it much more manageable to set small goals for myself over shortened periods of time… instead of saying “I want to reach 90% occupancy by the end of the year,” we will consider the activities above as short-term (and totally feasible) indicators of success.


Palazzo Paradiso’s Occupancy Statistics


One of the last things I asked from Amy was that she go into her records (since she uses the VRBO calendar, all the data is sitting right there) and calculate her past year’s results so that we can see (apples to apples) how much of an impact our work has…

July: 15 nights booked* (50%)
August: 8 nights booked (27%)
September: 13 nights booked (43%)
October: 13 nights booked (43%)
November: 17 nights booked (57%)
December: 14 nights booked (47%)
Total Nights Booked in 2012: 80 (Average monthly occupancy rate: 44.5%)
Average Estimated Income in 2012 (using $350/night rate): $28,000
*Amy began renting in July

January: 21 nights booked (70%)
February: 22 nights booked (73%)
March: 16 nights booked (53%)
April: 15 nights booked (50%)
May: 16 nights booked (53%)
June: 20 nights booked (67%)
July: 21 nights booked (70%)
August: 16 nights booked (53%)
September: 11 nights booked (37%)
October: 9 nights booked (30%)
November: 18 nights booked (60%)
December: 6 nights booked (20%)
Total Nights Booked in 2013: 191 (Average monthly occupancy rate: 53%)
Average Estimated Income in 2013: $66,850

January: 12 nights booked (40%)
Total Nights Booked in 2014 :12 (Average monthly occupancy rate: 40%)

Matt’s Tip: If you have never created this sort of simple chart, it is essential. There is practically no way to improve if you aren’t acutely aware of your current (and past) performance. This could be something as simple as a Homemade Excel document.

This leaves us with a great starting point for Amy’s rental.

My ultimate goal is to increase both occupancy AND income: while you may be thinking “Aren’t they one in the same?” I firmly believe that having guests in your rental can alternatively be used as a branding mechanism and should not always been solely about the bottom line.

I hope everyone is excited to see all the improvements, tests, and probably failures along the way.

I will be sharing these posts exclusively with subscribers to my Free VR Marketing Newsletter.

Please stay tuned and feel free to use the comments section below for any questions/comments along the way…

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)

  • Tyann Marcink

    Matt, I am excited to watch this process. Thank you for your time and transparency. Your insight will help not just individual owners but the vacation rental industry as a whole, and it is much appreciated.

    • loscuatrotulipanes

      Thanks Tyann!

  • SarahE

    Looking forward to the journey!

    • loscuatrotulipanes

      Thanks Sarah!

  • Amy T. Firmani

    I feel very lucky to have been chosen — but I also have to say that this process is so important and so valuable to learn… that I too cannot wait to watch and learn from Matt’s expertise! This is going to be amazing for us all! Thank you Matt!

    • loscuatrotulipanes

      Thank YOU Amy for being the guinea pig! Like I said in the first article, there will be successes, failures, and learning curves. Psyched to be doing this with such a proactive owner like yourself!

  • Larry Meyer

    OK, two things right away. The photographs, if done by a professional will be properly lighted and show off this fabulous place for what it is….you can pay the photographer in one booking, but trust me, new photos will dramatical increase the bookings.

    Secondly, the copy needs some pazazz, it is a nice compilation of what the house has, but that is it. Also the reference to the dogs is a turn-off if you do not own dogs, have allergic children ( as I do) or worry about whether the dogs were actually in the house at some point rather than on the run.

    HomeAway and VRBO has a PET FRIENDLY icon, and you could put some wording on that , and if you clean the pet odors and dander from the house each time, no on needs to know or worry about the pets being in the house, but don’t bring it up in the lead-in copy.

    • loscuatrotulipanes

      Great points Larry. We’re on top of photos already. We’ve also got Christine Anderson doing the copywriting. Please stay tuned…

  • Anna Maria Island Home Rental

    So interested to watch Amy’s business transform. There are definitely a lot of positives to work with and it is just a matter of time before Matt provides his input to get it optimized. Vacation Rental Geeks like me love this stuff!!!

    • loscuatrotulipanes

      Vacation Rental Geeks Unite! Please stay tuned!

  • Larry Meyer

    we should also talk about what Amy is doing right….she is doing a good job of soliciting positive reviews. One technique I use is to send a thank you letter with a direct link to either TripAdvisor/FlipKey’s review form or HomeAway/VRBO’s review form or sometimes both, it makes it easy and quick for the traveller once they get home.

    • loscuatrotulipanes

      Great tips Larry!

    • I would like to learn more about designing a logo/brand

  • Barbara Lau

    Am eagerly awaiting to see the results of everyone’s of everyone’s work and the increase in business. Matt, you are always very informative.

    • loscuatrotulipanes

      Sure thing Barbara!

  • Rex Brown

    This is a groundbreaking milestone in the vacation rental industry.

    The paradox is that it will be devoured by those who understand how valuable it is and who are probably doing well already. The folks who really need it will not understand that it is pure gold!

    I’d suggest a few things:

    1 Immediately get listed in google Local Business/ Maps. Free. Takes a while to be validated by Google, so do it now.

    2 Check out Flipkey and list and get some reviews which will flow through to Tripadvisor, and then automatically to Google Local Business and push up the ranking in Google SEO / Local Business/ Maps.

    3 check out competitors in the area. Who is doing very well and what are they doing differently?

    Love your work Matt

    • loscuatrotulipanes

      Thanks so much Rex! I love your suggestions. Will submit to Google ASAP!

    • We have our new home listed by our Property Management company on FlipKey via HA’s I personally plugged our home into Google- I was not aware the FK would do that as well. I am also very aware of the value of reviews. My question is- since the HA listing has our only cherished review listed why does it not transfer over through to the FK site?

    • Brecken

      Hi Rex, When trying to register on Google Local Business/Maps they ask you what category your business is (and you have to pick one of the options they provide), I am not seeing an obvious category (like vacation rental home). What category did you pick?

      • Rex Brown

        The catagories are poor. I ended up with ‘family accommodation’, and ‘accommodation pet friendly’.
        Obviously ‘vacation rental’ would be a better category, but for some obscure reason google won’t allow it. This is clearly a weakness in the categories.
        However, for every problem there is an opportunity. If you persist in finding something that works eg ‘family accommodation’, you’ll be ahead of those who give up.

  • Tanya Gutenmorgen

    I decided to simultaneously do the same things Matt is doing, but for my property. Since our marketing efforts up to now are almost the same as Amy’s (we also don’t have our own webpage and rely heavy on HA and VRBO), I will just follow Matt, and whatever he will do, I will do the same, at the same time, so it is almost like he picked our property… I will report improvements…

  • Maesywerngoch

    I too am going to try and do the same things that Amy is doing. We have a few of the same marketing things that Amy has but none of them up to scratch properly. What a fun project. I have a whole folder of all of your tips as well as your posters below. I hope I get it right! Thanks Matt, so glad I found you on Twitter.

    • loscuatrotulipanes

      Alright!!! Welcome to the club!!!

  • Fran Maier

    I bought my Santa Fe vacation rental about a year ago. Nearly cash flow positive with 70% occupancy – that would have been higher but I like to visit! Airbnb accounted for 20% of the bookings, had a faster close, and only cost me 3% (no listing fee). I really would encourage this as part of the mix especially given the fast growth.

    • loscuatrotulipanes

      Thanks for the idea Fran. Amy tried listing with AirBnB and didn’t see any bookings. But we’ll definitely consider it as part of her new portfolio…


    Really like Rex’s suggestions about checking out the competition – what are they doing that works. Put on your Pretend You Want to Rent in Las Vegas Hat and see what moves you. Also, great job getting those reviews up, but you need more ‘punch’ in your owner responses. We really don’t want to read how much you loved your guests and how easy they were to work with, would rather read about some detail of their visit, perhaps some place local that they visited with the kids, how great it was etc. Be specific!

    • loscuatrotulipanes

      All great ideas. Amy is listening!!!

  • Marc Ribail

    Hi Matt, excellent show case!

    We also recommend our clients to create a Google + and a Flickr or Instagram account which can be connected to their web site. The aim is to increase the chance of having the social medias coming up high in search results pages along, in time, with the web site.

    We also ensure consistency of look and content is strong between web site, FB and G+ to maintain a good brand identity.

    Curious to see your results and best of luck 😉


  • This is a great idea, Matt. I guess it’s your first case study. As a vacation rental interior designer, the only other suggestion I’d have is to make the bedrooms a bit more romantic. Couples frequently go to Las Vegas and romantic bedrooms go a long way in getting clicks.

    Good luck! I’m watching it all unfold with great interest.

    • loscuatrotulipanes

      Thanks Mercedes!

  • Well, it finally happened. My VRBO and HA listing inquiries stopped showing the prospective renter’s email address. I have to go to my dashboard and look for the inquiry to access their email address. Very AirBnBish. We all know what’s next!

    So about this marketing thing without having to rely on paid ad sites… The big 3 just thumped me on the forehead one more time.

    Off to read about website SEO. 🙂

  • Suzie Sunshine

    As a newbie in this vacation rental business I am somewhat astonded in how well I am doing when I read all of your great ideas. I think my advertising links such as homeaway, VRBO and Flipkey….are a good example of what not to do. Scratching my head wondering why anyone would book their vacation with me. The only thing I can come up with are price in the market (set low as it was my 1st year), Quick Replies, and keeping my calendar updated. Thank you for all of your great info–knowing all i can do is go up from here.