Tag Archives: homeaway

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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

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My eyes drooped constantly.

It was the first class after lunch, and the one in which I learned how to fake taking notes while I was really taking a nap: Intro to Logic.

Seriously, I took a Logics class in college.

And at some point in your life, you end up using what you learned in college, right? So here is my vacation rental logic for 2015:

Time is money.
Faster workflow with your property and guests saves time.
Save money with a more efficient workflow.

Therefore, I am declaring 2015 the Year of the More Efficient Workflow.

Top tools for your vacation rental workfowThe vacation rental industry has literally exploded in every which way, and a part of that explosion is in both new tools and improved old tools that help vacation rental owners with their properties and their guests.

Here is a good list of the top tools for 2015 to make your workflow go smoother, more efficient, and much faster, all from setting up, to marketing, to taking care of your guests throughout their stay with you.

Because time is valuable – for both you and your guests.

Property set up and design

When setting up a property for guests, it may at first seem just like setting up another home for your own family. But it’s not.

My two favorite sites to get the quick lowdown on what you need when setting up your vacation rental property are The Distinguished Guest and One Chic Retreat.

Before you set up the master bedroom, I suggest you read this post first.

Cleaning

Not everyone enjoys cleaning. I sure don’t. But if there is a gadget or a method to help me make it go faster, I am all for it.

Gadgets

Check out the Dyson DC44 Animal Handheld Cordless Vacuum. Makes cleaning under couches and all those baseboards a breeze. Definitely an investment of money, but it saves you time.

Communication

To make communication with your housekeeper more efficient, try creating a Google calendar with your reservations, color coded for each of your properties, and then privately share it with your cleaning team.

You can even add notes for each reservation and have Google send auto reminders.

Checklists

Not sure if your housekeeper always gets every one of the myriad of tasks done on the turn over days?

How about providing a cleaning checklist for your team to mark off tasks to double-check that all is taken care of…The Distinguished Guest and I created one for you – check it out here.

Marketing

Photography
The best method always is to hire a professional photographer.
Hands down.
I promise you.
Cross my heart.

But if that isn’t possible, you do have other options to hold you over until you can get a pro to your place.

- Host a Pro. Check out ShootStay to trade pro pics for a stay at your place.

- Shoot better photos yourself. You can pick up my eBook Create Killer Vacation Rental Property Photos – a Step-by-Step Guide for Owners at my site here.

Then also follow me to get tips (sign up here). Right now, you can read my tips so far here.

Copywriting

Mesmerize travelers with the description of your property…in a way that nearly hypnotizes them. Check out Heather Bayer’s eBook on how to do this.

Social Media

It’s here to stay and ever evolving. Whether you choose to interact with guests and travelers on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, or Instagram, just note that it is time to interact with them somewhere.

Learn the best practices in social media, along with how to boost your reach, with Alan Egan and his social media course Bookings Plus 4G.

Blogging

Have you started a blog for your property yet? There are two undeniably big reasons for vacation rental owners to blog about their property and the general area…here’s the logic:

Number one:
You create fresh content with a blog.
Google search engines like fresh content.
Google serves your blog to travelers searching for information on your area.

Hey – you got found!

Number two:
You provide extensive knowledge about your vacation rental property’s area.
Travelers search for information from an authoritative source.
Travelers trust you as a source.

Hey – you’ve gained authority (and got found again)!

Blogging builds your credibility as an owner and increases your authority on the area. What traveler is not attracted to an owner and a property that provides the information and service that creates a memorable experience?

Want to learn more about awesome blogging? Follow the great Ramsay at Blog Tyrant.

Video

Have you noticed that people in general would rather watch a video than read some text? Or maybe it’s also easier to explain something in person instead of writing it all down.

Myself, I made a quick video about how to use the Schlage lock on our front doors. (See it here.)

The lock is simple to operate, but I had found that guests would have trouble unlocking the door because they didn’t read the short buy phentermine directions I gave them. Now, I don’t get anymore phone calls about getting into the house.

And did you know that YouTube is one of the top search engines? It would be a very good marketing move to have a presence there.

Short videos with info about your property, the area, and you, the owner are another way to market your vacation rental property.

Guides

Whether you print and send it or have it hosted on the world wide web, a guide about your area and your property is another method to woo a traveler to become a guest.

Get some help to create a professional guide from Vacation Insiders.

Education

Blogs and podcasts

If you don’t already follow these vacation rental industry experts to learn from their experience, I highly encourage you to do so. Each leader has a different style of sharing, so enjoy their various approaches.

Summits (aka Conferences)

Whether you prefer to immerse yourself in front of your laptop to gain knowledge or to attend a gathering in person, vacation rental summits are an excellent way to further your business.

The Vacation Rental World Summit is an online summit with recorded presentations that you can view on your own time. Check out the VRWS site here for information on getting the 2014 videos and for when the 2015 Summit is announced.

The HomeAway Summit has grown over the last couple years into intense gatherings in various locations. You will find nuggets of information throughout the sessions, but what I enjoy the most is meeting other vacation rental owners and swapping stories, tips, and tricks.

Listing sites

Is it possible to have a successful vacation rental property without being on a listing site?

Yes.

However, there are many advantages to having your property on at least one listing site. This is another blog post in itself, so I’ll touch on only one big reason right now…

Your property is seen by more travelers (aka potential guests) if you are on a big listing site versus attempting to compete with other area properties with only your own website.

The big guys are:

Besides the big guys, check to see if there are any local area listing websites that travelers might come across during their travel search.

The easiest way to do this is to simply search for a vacation rental property like a traveler and then pay attention to what websites appear on the first page of your search results.

Personal Property Websites

Your own website is important in that you not only have your own piece of internet real estate, but that you also have a place to direct travelers to for additional information about your vacation rental property and the area.

Read more about setting up your own site away from the big listing sites at my blog post here.

Booking widgets

With the big push for travelers to be able to book vacation rental properties online, have you thought about the same feature for your own website?

See my blog post here about several options available.

Mobile apps

Not every guest uses apps, but every guest that does use apps will most likely appreciate an app from the vacation rental property they reserve.

But honestly, the main reason I began using an app for my places was to make my own guest workflow more efficient. The bonus side was that it highly increased my guests’ perception of my hospitality to them.

My New Year’s Eve guest this week specifically made a point to tell me how much he loved the app that I use for our place – that it was easy to use, made the property information convenient, and it was just awesome.

The apps available to owners currently are the following:

Save time with the tools I have listed above, and use that extra time to do something you love.

Maybe even go on a vacation yourself. You are in the business of selling time, you know, but you can enjoy time, too.

Time is something that is gone once it passes…you can never get it back.

Do you have a tool that increases your workflow efficiency? Fancy sharing it with me in the comments below?

I am always looking for ways to improve my workflow so I have more time to play laser tag with my boys or sit on the beach with a good novel in my hands.

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

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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