1. Build a Strong Brand
Whether you’re in a popular year-round market or a seasonal destination, your listing has to be found and viewed on Airbnb or any other travel website in order to get booked. Having a strong brand, no matter how small you think your business may be, is the key to winning in this increasingly competitive vacation rental game.
A brand is how others perceive you and your business. In our competitive marketplace, with so many properties vying for attention, it is vital that your listing stands out from the crowd. To do this, you’ll need to control the narrative around your brand.
Proper branding not only helps with leaving that lasting impression on travelers searching but also gives those potential guests some insight into what is unique about your listing and who is making that difference. Branding sets you apart and makes it clear why your listing is the best choice.
Below, learn about some of the most important traits of strong brands:
Your listing, whether it appears on Airbnb, Vrbo, or other OTAs, is all a traveler has to go by. From the title of the property to the listing description, you have an opportunity to let that potential guest know who you are and why you are the best choice for their upcoming stay.
Your listing should have quality photos that show your property at its best. If you use a host photo on your Airbnb host profile, be sure that it exudes warmth and friendliness. It should show that you’re helpful and knowledgeable and that your property is welcoming.
Consistency instills trust and adds credibility. Your listing, your property, and everything in between all must have a consistent message, promise, and point of view.
All the amenities listed need to be available and in good working order. The bed count, recreational equipment, televisions, and in-home entertainment should align with your online description and photos. What they see should definitely be what they get.
If you earn the traveler’s trust, you may end up with a solid advocate who will sing the praises of your property and brand all day, to anyone who will listen.
Successful hosts focus on the areas unique to their niche and that set their property apart. Travelers choose vacation rentals over hotels for specific reasons, including access to a kitchen, extra space, and privacy. Smart hosts focus on those areas.
A well-equipped kitchen separates you from any competition. Emphasizing the added space found in vacation rentals — about four times the size of the average hotel room — along with that fabulous kitchen lets many family travelers know they have made the right choice.
More business travelers are choosing vacation rentals for similar reasons. They crave more space, as it allows them to meet as groups easier and bond more readily in a larger shared space. To continue, for both family and business travelers, nearly 50% choose vacation rental because of the increased privacy.
For these reasons, space, privacy, and kitchen access should all factor in how you inform your brand.
As a vacation rental host, you are providing a valuable service to the community. Don’t be afraid to recognize and promote that.
Be a part of the community you serve. Join the chamber of commerce, as well as local business and industry associations. Participate in community events as a business. Offer discounts to local businesses; many have families and friends visiting that need lodging.
Let your local youth sports and recreational organizations know you have lodging available for tournaments and other activities. All of this increases the visibility of your brand and drives more business your way.
Your goal should always be to offer the best stay for your guests. You can’t always be perfect, but you can always strive to make your guests happy and satisfied with their stay.
As a host, you should always be thinking of ways to improve the guest experience. That is the core of your product — making folks feel at home away from home. Your ability to do that will say all that needs to be said about your brand.
2. Know Your Market
To beat the competition, you have to know your competition. To understand your competition, it is imperative that you know your market.
Know everything you can about trends in the local market and the vacation rental industry at large. Understanding the dynamics and attributes of your market will go a long way in helping you develop strategies and practices to beat your competition.
Free data about the vacation rental industry is all over the internet. The best sources for national data and trends are tourism and vacation rental industry trade association websites; travel and vacation rental business websites and blogs; and government websites.
Some helpful examples include:
Local market and statewide data are available from multiple sources, including Destination Marketing Organizations (DMO) and Convention and Visitor Bureau Websites, state tourism boards, local news outlet websites, and government websites.
These sources can also be great for visitor data. They often have detailed information about the demographics and psychographics of the people visiting your market.
Here are a few examples of local sources for California:
Similar data is available for every area if you do a little hunting.
Also, don’t be afraid to track the competition directly. To get a handle on who is in the market, directories are a reliable source. For rate, revenue, and occupancy data, there are good paid sources such as AirDNA, Transparent, LSI Tools, and Key Data Dashboard.
The key things you should know are:
- Who are the key players
- Who are you competing with for bookings
- What are seasonal occupancy patterns
- What room types are moving
- Rates, rates, rates
Create your own competitive sets in your market and secret shop the travel websites, like Vrbo and Airbnb. Develop a list of competing homes in your market and track their rates, occupancy, and features on Airbnb or Vrbo. OTAs all have special pages for destinations that show rates, occupancy levels, competitive listings, and more.
Short-term rental service providers also provide comprehensive market reports with up-to-date market data and trends. For example, RedAwning and Evolve have some of the most detailed reports across a broad number of markets. Knowing your market and knowing the facts will help set you up for success.
3. Know Your Business
From using an effective business suite like Quick Books to manage the dollars, to using every partner dashboard available to you, it is imperative to know where you are with your key performance indicators, rates, occupancy, reservation volume, and revenue.
Use your hosting sources like Airbnb for performance data, and use the dashboards provided by any service vendors you use. These may include property management software, other OTAs, or full-service providers like RedAwning. Most give you access to real-time data 24/7.
Part of knowing your business is knowing your guests. It will give you a better handle on how to attract more and keep them coming back.
Visitor profiles with demographic and other data are available from local market sources, like tourist bureaus, which we discussed in the last section. However, the best data — primary data — comes from you. Get to know your guests.
Here are tools you can use to gather more data about your guests:
- In-depth interviews can be used to gather detailed insights directly from guests about their stay, your business, and the unit before they leave. It can be a phone call before checkout or a few days after they have checked out. Many guests are more than happy to share their opinion
- Surveys are the most effective way to gain specific insights because they give you information from your visitors that you can quantify. They can be done by email after the stay. Online tools like SurveyMonkey are easy to use and help you analyze results.
- Focus groups can be held with a small group of past guests using Zoom or another video meeting app.
Social media monitoring can also help you keep tabs on candid conversations about the vacation rental industry, your rental property, and your competitors.
How are your competitors portraying themselves on social media? What does that say about their strategy? Take time to visit their Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter pages. You may learn a lot.
While you are monitoring, be sure to spend time on your listing pages and tracking reviews. A vast collection of 5-star reviews will beat the competition every time. Work with your travel partners like Airbnb to help you manage your review scores and, of course, encourage guests to write them.
At the end of the day, your primary goal should be converting first-timers to repeat visitors. That is the best way to stave off the competition. Be sure they only have eyes for you.
4. Win Over Your Guests
As we have mentioned, repeat guests are your best competitive advantage. Loyal guests know and love your brand. They recommend you to others and they ultimately spend more because they trust you.
The best way to win over guests is to beat their expectations and go that extra mile. One way to do this and set your property apart from the competition is with a guidebook. Have a published guidebook available on your listing, in your rental, and on any app that you share with the guest. It is the guests’ passport to a good stay and your built-in concierge for the local area.
Another thing that can set you apart is to have a welcome package. This is where knowing your guest comes in. Single people often appreciate wine and water. Families love a welcome kit that included breakfast and snacks. All of these types of key features make a guest feel special and more likely to book again.
Thank you notes and follow-up emails with a special discount for a repeat visit will also increase guests’ satisfaction.
Knowing Your Guests Leads to Success
New hosts are entering the vacation rental market at an unprecedented rate as the multi-billion industry takes flight. The excitement is real, the potential is real, and the dollars are real. It’s up to you whether this becomes a hobby, a vocation, or a serious business.
Either route you take, you are going to face serious competition — a competition that you can beat. You just have to build a brand that you can be proud of, know your market, know and love your business, and most importantly, get to know your guests.