Reviews

4 Comments

How to get reviewsElusive, like a prancing unicorn.
Slippery, like an escape artist.
Twinkling in the distance, like a little fairy.

You have heard tales about them.
Day dreamed about the day they will appear in hordes.
You may even consider them to be your Nessie.

And when you finally have a review appear, you float upon Cloud 9. A shot of adrenaline courses through your body.

Then, you resume your quest for another one.

If this scenario does not sound familiar to you, if you are inundated with reviews from each and every one of your guests, and if you simply do not care about new guests…

Stop reading this post.
It does not apply to you.
Here’s a link to some cute kitten videos on You Tube.

For everyone else, the vast majority of vacation rental owners (and businesses in general), you are not alone.

Three facts about reviews that you must overcome if your vacation rental or business is to continue to succeed:

  • Guest reviews are difficult to obtain.
  • Guests have good intentions to leave a review but do not follow through.
  • Guests rarely leave a review on their own accord.

Step 1 to get a review:

You must request one, and you must ask for it differently than all of the other places clamoring for a review.

Let me tell you about Jake.

Jake is a local high school student in my little town west of St. Louis, Missouri. His weekend job is to work the drive thru window at Sonic (an American drive-in fast food restaurant).

I had never met Jake before, but my encounter with him at the drive thru window made me want to leave a review for our Sonic. (Side note: I was so enthralled with writing this post for you that I forgot to leave that review. This is the part where you chuckle at me.)

By now, I am used to many businesses, both brick and mortar and ecommerce, asking me to leave a review of a product or fill out a survey for them. Some even offer a discount or a free item with my next purchase.

I have now mastered the smile and nod as I take my receipt and head to the parking lot, and my delete button reflexes are nearly world record. It is a little annoying to always be asked what I thought of the service or product that I have experienced.

But Jake did something different. He did not simply hand me my receipt and give me a rote speech that if I go to the site below, answer a couple questions, blah, blah, blah…you have heard it before, I am sure.

He asked me with enthusiasm.
He made me feel special.
He made me smile.

Here is what went down just before 11 am on a Sunday morning in January:

Jake: Hi! Your total is $2.15.
Me: <hands him $3>
Jake: Here’s your Coke, and…<looks down at receipt>…oh, wow! <smiles big> You get a free Coke!
Me: <perks up with a big smile> Thanks!
Jake: <hands me my change> You just gotta go to the website I circled on your receipt and tell them how I did this morning. <continues to smile> My name is Jake, and it was a pleasure to serve you! Have a great day!

Step 2 to get a review:

You must make it easy and convenient.

I like Sonic’s large Cokes. I will crave their Cokes. A Coke from any other place will not satisfy that craving.

Whether it is the little ice pieces that perfectly mix with the fountain Coke or because it is in a well-insulated foam cup, I will take a Sonic Coke over any other Coke every day.

Obviously I am happy with their product, so why do I not head over to their website and write a review about how addicting their Cokes are to me? Why do I not call the corporate office and tell them how their Cokes can make my day so much better?

Because it is inconvenient. I would have to stop what I am doing, search for the appropriate website page or the correct phone number, and then take my time to give a review.

Jake made it easy. Simple instructions, no searching for the right website, and he wrote his name on my receipt as well. He put a friendly face to the business.

Guest reviews are a hot topic for vacation rental owners. Lively forum and group discussions will reveal that owners have trouble getting guest reviews, some owners only want to give a handful of guests the opportunity to leave a review, and other owners are confused as to how or when to ask for a guest review.

Savvy owners have their tried and true buyambienmed.com methods of extracting buy phentermine reviews from guests (yes, it is like pulling teeth). Personally, I have garnered (as of February 2015), 110 reviews on HomeAway/VRBO, 71 reviews on FlipKey/TripAdvisor, 28 reviews on VacationHomeRentals, and 4 journals full of handwritten notes from my guests.

Here are a few of my secrets:

  • I do everything within my power to make sure my guests have a good time at my vacation rental properties.
  • I thank my guests for choosing my places.
  • I ask every single guest to leave a review. Every. Single. One.
  • I make it super easy for my guests to leave a review.

I am sure you are already doing what you can to make your guests happy. And I am sure you thank your guests. If you didn’t, I am also sure you would not be reading this post.

But, are you asking every single one of your guests to leave a review? Even the complained-about-everything PITA guests, the left-the-place-a-mess guests, the lost-their-deposit-due-to-damage guests?

You should. You might be surprised with a 5 star review from the mom who may have left your place with Cheerios under every appliance and piece of furniture throughout the house. Or 4 stars from the patriarch of the family who was never satisfied with the temperature in the condo (some people just do not leave 5 stars, ever).

Thank those guests anyway for staying at your place. Grin and bear the extra sweeping. Make sure your future guests have clear, simple instructions on how to adjust the thermostat.

And if the guests leave a 3 star or below review, do not panic. Do not take it personally.

Take a deep breath, type out a nasty reply email, and then DO NOT send the email. Just get it out of your system, and then sleep on it.

The listing sites do not post these reviews immediately, so there is no need to have an anxiety attack.

If the review is blackmail for a refund or violates the content guidelines of the listing site, then contact the listing site to discuss having the review removed.

If the review is within the content guidelines, and it is scheduled to be posted, you can choose to reply to the review.

When you reply, though, you are not writing to the guest that left the review. You are writing to your future guest who is reading the negative review.

Choose your words carefully and seek help from a vacation rental owner support group (aka community forums).

Making it easy for your guests to leave a review is actually very easy. My method is to use the custom thank you message that the HomeAway Hospitality App sends to my guests. Before using an app, I would send my guests a thank you email.

This thank you message contains more than a “thank you” and a review request with a link that takes them directly to a page to write a review.

I take this opportunity to do two more things:

  • ask my guests what would have made their stay better
  • give them a strong idea of what to write in a review

This method has worked tremendously for me. Those picky guests who complained about everything? I received a laundry list of complaints of what would make my place better and then was notified of a beautiful 5 star review later that afternoon.

Earning the 5 star review does not begin with the guests’ departure. It does not begin when the guests arrive. It does not even begin when they make the reservation with you.

Capturing the unicorn and riding to the end of the rainbow to snag the pot of gold begins with the guests’ very first impression of you – your vacation rental property listing or website.

Grab the traveler’s attention with your listing photos and description. Then hold your guest’s hand from the time they inquire, through the reservation process, through the planning-the-rest-of-the-vacation time, throughout their stay, and then give them a big hug and heartfelt “thank you” as they return to their daily life.

Yes, you should do your best to give them warm fuzzies. Because it's not what you say that people remember - it is how you make them feel.

What do you do to get the coveted guest reviews?
Will you share your wisdom in the comments below?
I am always looking for new ideas to improve the experiences of my guests.

By the way, the best way to stay on top of all the good stuff is to get on my vacation rental marketing email list.

You can sign up right here:


Tyann Marcink
Create Killer Vacation Rental Property Photos - eBook now available
The Ultimate Guide to Vacation Rental Photography - coming soon

18 Comments

15 Hacks for the HomeAway Hospitality AppBy not making their newest tool optional, HomeAway’s release of the Hospitality app has been met with quite a bit of backlash from vacation rental owners.

I’ve read the comments of disgust from my fellow owners, including conspiracy theories about HomeAway taking over the world (okay, so not the entire world, but taking a bite of every piece of the proverbial pie).

Although an owner cannot opt out of the Hospitality app, there are a few hacks that owners can use to make this tool work for their property.

Note that no one is forcing you to fill in property information or to give explicit directions to your property through this app. And certainly no one is holding you down until you cry “uncle” and give in to using it.

However, as time passes, travelers will continue to become more tech savvy and begin to expect a custom app for nearly everything they interact with. Look at your own smartphone, and you might notice that there is an app for nearly everything around you:

  • bank
  • grocery store
  • pizza
  • coffee
  • radio station
  • pharmacy
  • gym
  • doctor
  • newspaper
  • movie theatre
  • photographer
  • police department
  • accountant
  • as well as many others, especially in the service industry.

As a vacation rental owner, you are in the service industry, whether you like it or not. So why shouldn’t you have your own custom app for your property, one that enhances your guests' experiences?

Better Experience = Warm and Fuzzy Feelings = Happier Guest

Following are fifteen hacks to make the Hospitality app work for you:

1. If you want the app to disintegrate.

If you don’t want to utilize the app for your guests, then don’t.

There are two ways not to use the app:

First, if you don’t use Reservation Manager or input your guests' emails into the calendar on HomeAway/VRBO, then your guests will never receive an invite to the Hospitality app.

Second, if you do use Reservation Manager, then simply let your guests know that you are not using the app for your property.

The original invite email that HomeAway sends out is not editable at this time. However, that doesn’t stop you from telling your guests that an automatic email will arrive shortly, and that they will be receiving your property’s sensitive information by another method.

Then, don’t forget to drop a quick note in each required info block instead of leaving it blank. A simple sentence will suffice: “Please refer to our welcome packet for this information.”

2. Change the font formatting outside the app editor.

You can create your text in a Word doc, changing the font and size to what you want, as well as the color of the font, and then copy and paste the text into the area you want it in the app.

Hospitality Hack - Use your Word doc to control font, size, and color.
Hospitality app Hack - use your Word doc to control font, size, and color.

3. Edit the Welcome message.

Use the Welcome message to remind your guests where they will find property information, whether you are using the app, you have already emailed the info to them, or the info is in a welcome book at the property.

Hospitality app Hack - Edit the Welcome message.
Hospitality app Hack - edit the Welcome message.

4. Give the guest secure information when you decide, not when the app says so.

The Hospitality app will never reveal the top secret info more than 14 days from the arrival date, even if you unlocked it as soon as the balance was paid in full a month earlier.

If you are more comfortable granting access 3 days before arrival, then set a reminder on your calendar and click the red unlock icon on your scheduled day.

Hospitality app Hack - Unlock security info when and if you want.
Hospitality app Hack - unlock security info when and if you want.

5. Deny access to the map and door code.

The app can still be used even without the door code and map unlocked. Fill in only the blocks you want your guests to have information about and relax.

6. Use the portions you want to use.

If you want to utilize some of the app, like recommending grocery stores or restaurants, but there is info that you don’t want to give in the app, then don’t give it.

A simple note stating where the guest will find the information is all that you need. Here is a sample one for the wi-fi:

“The wi-fi access information will be at the property. You will find it posted on the refrigerator as well as in the information book on the kitchen counter.

7. Build your guest email list.

Save the names and emails of additional guests that are invited to the app. Simply add them to your MailChimp list or other email list manager or place in a spreadsheet document for later use.

8. Directions when the guest gets lost.

Be hospitable and remind your guests that the app will work with their smartphone’s map app to give them directions to the property no matter where they currently are, even during their stay.

So if your guests get a little lost after dinner one evening, they can simply access the app, tap the map icon, click the “open in maps” button on the bottom, and let their device take over the navigation.

9. Use the Hospitality app offline.

Tell your guest to access the app while they have wi-fi access or cell phone service, and their phone will automatically download the information when they first open it, making most of the app accessible, even in remote areas.

The offline info does not include the map or any other portion that must access the internet, but your guest can still browse through the app for the door code, the heat and AC controls, the wi-fi code, the check out instructions, and more.

10. Save the map for use offline.

To save the map, buy viagra tell the guest to grab a screenshot from their computer, tablet, or smartphone. Instructions on how to take a screenshot for different devices are here.

11. Top secret info for just one guest.

Add any sensitive guest-specific information under the “access my rental” area.

For example, if they paid an additional fee for use of the golf cart, note the access information in the notes section under the door code area. This information is shown only to the guests on the particular reservation.

Hospitality app Hack - Special instructions for just one guest can go in the Notes section below the Door code.
Hospitality app Hack - special instructions for just one guest can go in the Notes section below the Door code.

12. Edit the Thank You message.

This email is usually sent 12:00 pm local time the day your guests depart. You can take advantage of this email to thank them for choosing your property, to ask them if there is anything that would have made their stay better, and to even request a review if you are comfortable doing so at this stage.

Note that the Hospitality app will soon send a push notification requesting the guest rate your property and leave a review. The notification will be unobtrusive and pop up the evening before the guest is scheduled to depart.

Owners that were in the first release of the Hospitality app should note that the app no longer sends a review request email with the owner’s name in the sender field.

13. Tweak the app.

If you think the app needs a tweak, or you want an information widget added (i.e. hot tub, zip lines, guided tours, farmer’s market, local shortcuts), simply tell HomeAway by using the feedback button on your Hospitality dashboard.

The app team reads every single email and notes each enhancement request. If enough owners request the same enhancement, the app team will eventually make it happen and then email the group that requested the tweak that it is available.

Keep in mind that the app team is unable to respond to every single email, but they do read all of them. I have been promised this.

Hospitality app Hack - send requests to the product team through the feedback tab.
Hospitality app Hack - send requests to the product team through the feedback tab.

14. Deny a guest access to the app.

Delete a reservation from your Hospitality dashboard if you no longer want a guest to have access to the app.

15. Use your email instead of a guest email.

I know owners who do this so they can filter the emails that the app sends before forwarding the emails to their guests.

Personally, I would not use this hack. My primary reason is that I really don’t want the extra work of forwarding emails to my guests.

I first started using the app (when it was Glad to Have You – read my original review of it here and then follow up review here) to speed up my workflow, to cut down on manually sending emails that could be automated, and to give my guests warm fuzzies.

But the primary reason for not using this hack is that if you do it, you will end up with an app that doesn’t work correctly. Then, you have the pleasure of spending time on the phone with HomeAway Customer Service, trying to figure out what went wrong.

The Hospitality app dashboard is a sleek machine that will deliver warm fuzzies to your guests daily, but you have to use it properly.

Your guests should receive only five emails from the Hospitality app:
- the Invite (a few hours after you accept the reservation or manually enter your guest’s information)
- the Reminder (6:00 pm local time, 2 days before arrival)
- the Welcome (4:00 pm local time on the day of arrival)
- the Check Out (4:00 pm local time the day before departure)
- the Thank You (12:00 pm local time the day of departure)

HomeAway knows that many owners have been using this hack to circumvent the few app emails being sent to guests. So I asked Ryan Turner, Senior Product Manager at HomeAway, if there are any consequences from owners tricking the system.

Ryan told me that using the same email address for every reservation will hinder an owner from using new features that the team plans to roll out soon.

So my advice? Don't use the same email address for every single reservation.

Should you create a reservation with your own email address to test the app and see what a guest sees? Yes, absolutely!

Which, brings me to two little features you may not have noticed...the reinvite button and the preview button. You can easily send another invite to a guest in case they mistakenly deleted the original one.

And then you can click on the preview button to see exactly what your guest will see in the Hospitality app at different stages of their stay at your property.

Hospitality app Hack - see what your guests will see in the preview and resend an invite.
Hospitality app Hack - see what your guests will see in the preview and resend an invite.

Share these hacks with your vacation rental owner friends. I’ve got the handy shortcut widgets to your favorite social media sites on the left and below this post.

Do you have another hack that you like to use to make the Hospitality app work for you? Or maybe one of the above hacks made you feel as giddy as a schoolgirl.

Please tell me about it in the comments below.

#vacationrentalmarketing #marketingtips #hacks #creativesolutions #homeaway #hospitalityapp

By the way, the best way to stay on top of all the good stuff is to get on my vacation rental marketing email list.

You can sign up right here:


Tyann Marcink
Marcink Designs
Create Killer Vacation Rental Property Photos - eBook now available
The Ultimate Guide to Vacation Rental Photography - coming soon

20 Comments

Have you taken the leap into online booking and embraced it for your vacation rental property yet?

Online Booking Widget Comparison - Vacation Rental Property - www.marcinkdesigns.com/blogThis month I had a website client, we will call him Mr. H,  request that online booking be added to the website that I had designed for his properties.

So, I delved into researching the best options that would work for his booking process and his website design.

My first stop was to look at WebChalet.com and MyVR.com. I already knew that both of these platforms had excellent online booking platforms and were easy to use.

However, both of these sites required that the property website be hosted on their server, and they did not offer a widget that I could simply install onto Mr. H's website. So, unfortunately, these two options, and others similar to them, would not work for him.

So I settled in for some nitty gritty research on a lot of options...eek! After sifting through the multitude of booking software available, I narrowed it down to the top 4 possibilities that would work for Mr. H.

Honestly, every single one of the options would work for Mr. H as far as online booking capabilities go. The goal, though, was to figure which ones would not just work, but also integrate with his current booking process while streamlining his workflow to save him time.

A few things about Mr. H and what I was looking for in the online booking widget:

- Booking requests cannot be automatically confirmed but have to be accepted by Mr. H after he gets a chance to look over the request. His properties are also listed on HomeAway and FlipKey, so he doesn't need a chance of accidentally double booking his place.

- The calendar must sync with his listings on HomeAway and FlipKey so that it all stays current with minimum effort from him.

- The booking request process must be easy and intuitive for the traveler entering their desired dates, seeing a total cost, and completing their info to make a booking request.

- The program must process payments safely, securely, and with current industry standards.

- Payments must have PayPal integration, Mr. H's preferred method of payment.

- The program must be geared towards small owners and not be too expensive, as Mr. H only has 4 properties but on 3 different websites since his places are in different locations in the world.

- Bonus would be to have the  ability for the guest to sign the rental agreement online during the booking process.

So here we go with a visual comparison chart of important features and then just a few points highlighted and summarized for each system (click here for a larger image). Note that each site has their own comprehensive description of several pages about their abilities, so it is not possible for me to go over all of the information and still keep this post a reasonable length.

Online Booking Widget Comparison Chart
*Features as best as I could research - note that the companies are always adding new features and improving current ones. Click here for a larger image.

Bookerville.com

This one has everything my client needs, plus several other cool features like a mobile friendly calendar. The best features are in the Pro version, and that is what Mr. H will need to get all of the capabilities that he wants.

With 4 properties, the Bookervillesystem would cost him $17.50 per month, or even less if he subscribes for two or more years at a time since they give a discount for advance payment.

Bookerville supports collecting a security deposit or damage insurance, or even giving the guest the option of choosing which method they would like to do.

On the automated emails, it is capable of sending everything from guest balance due, cleaning crew reminders, and arrival instructions, like the other three systems, but then you also receive a summary notice each night of what emails went out to your guests and support staff.

If you have buy doxycycline multiple properties, you can set up the automated inquiry response email to include your other available properties besides the one that a guest is inquiring about.

The Bookerville FlexMin is a valuable feature that will override your minimum night stay if there is a hole between bookings that doesn't fulfill the minimum night requirement.

There is even a housekeeping module for your cleaners to let you know from their smartphone when they have finished a property, as well as even upload photos of any damages.

More on Bookerville here.

Lodgix.com

Everything needed by my client, and it has an especially easy and clean back end user interface for the owner.

Lodgix also offers integrated accidental damage insurance and all seasons travel insurance with TravelGuard for your guests.

Other optional features for an additional fee include email marketing, employee tracking, and QuickBooks integration.

And another bonus for Lodgix is that they list your property for free on VacationRentalDirect.com ($99/year value).

More on Lodgix here.

MyVRZone.com

Fulfills all of Mr. H's needs, and it has a mobile version for Mr. H to utilize to respond to inquiries from his smartphone or tablet.

It also has email tracking built into the the dynamic templates to track if an email is opened and which links the guest clicks on within the email, which is pretty cool.

They also have a feature called the Guest Zone for your guests to log into to view their reservation status and payment information, as well as to download any documents you may have uploaded for them.

More on MyVRZone here.

VacationRentalDesk.com

This is the most expensive option of the four systems, but that is because it does include a snazzy property website, along with free web hosting and search engine optimization.

This is the only system I found that gives the option of using either their website or an embeddable widget on your own website.

It also has the mobile friendly calendar, which is a huge plus when so many travelers are using a mobile device to search for a vacation rental property.

In addition, VacationRentalDesk has a built in virtual terminal for you to manually input the credit card info if you have taken the payment information by phone or need to charge the guest's card. The receipts can be automatically emailed to the guest as well.

More on VacationRentalDesk here.

What about customer service with each of these companies?

When I called or emailed them, the owners themselves answered my questions.

As a small biz owner myself, I especially appreciate working with other small businesses.

As you will see when you check out each of the booking software options yourself, any one of these will be an excellent choice for the vacation rental owner with just a single property or a couple properties.

And, they all four expand their capabilities for owners with multiple properties so that an owner will have no issues adding to their inventory of properties in the system.

One more option I thought of...what if HomeAway made their Book It Now and inquiry forms available as embeddable widgets for owners to use on their personal websites?

What do you think?

What if HomeAway promised that the submitted information stayed out of their marketing system since the info was not collected on their site?

What if they promised that they would not recommend other properties to a traveler through this inquiry method?

What if HomeAway wanted to make both the owner and traveler experiences better overall to help further the vacation rental industry as a whole?

What If HomeAway Created a Better Experience for Both Owners and Travelers

Tell me your thoughts in the comments below.

Note: To help me to provide you with valuable information and my kids with socks (my boys are hard on their socks), the links to Lodgix and Bookerville are affiliate links, and I appreciate when you use the links. For VacationRentalDesk, please put my name in the referral field. Thank you!

Tyann Marcink
Marcink Designs
Create Killer Vacation Rental Property Photos - eBook now available

P.S. Get my cool email newsletter with exclusive vacation rental marketing tips by signing up right here: