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.
The 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Photography The best method always is to hire a professional photographer.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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!
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
Is it possible to have a successful vacation rental property without being on a listing site?
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.
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.
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?
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:
This step is where it can get a little stressful, and this is what we are going to dissect for you…right now.
You have two main choices for website hosting:
Route A – you use a service that includes website building, management tools, and hosting in a bundle Route B – you set up the site yourself and install the tools you want
There are definite pros and cons for each route. Good news, though…either route will work. You just need to decide which route works best for you.
Route A – service with bundled tools and hosting
Sarah Brubaker from WebChalet laid out the top 5 reasons why a vacation rental owner would choose a website builder service that includes hosting, templates, tools, and more:
1. Ability to change and upgrade your content at any time
New and fresh content has become more and more important in the digital age. You need to be able to edit and change your own website at any time, from anywhere.
A vacation rental website builder will give you this control through a full-featured content management system, without having to call up a designer or developer to make a change. You don’t need to have any technical knowledge.
Plus, search engines like Google are always looking for the most current content. If you want your website to stay relevant, you need to have new content frequently.
2. Awesome, ready-to-go, professional website design
Your vacation rental website needs to inspire trust and credibility. The first way to do so is with a professional, welcoming website designed to convert website visitors to bookings.
If you choose to work with a vacation rental website builder like WebChalet, this is our specialty. Vacation rental websites are ALL we do and think about, all day, every day.
You can choose from a set of beautiful templates designed for vacation rentals that are ready-to-go today. Save time and headaches by partnering with a company who specializes in vacation rental website design.
Using a website builder doesn’t mean that you can’t work with your favorite designers and incorporate the very specific look and feel that you want.
Most web builders, including WebChalet, now allow you to take your own design and skin the builder to look exactly as you please, while maintaining all the benefits of the website builder’s tools.
This brings us to the next point…
3. All-in-one solution with management and booking tools
One of the biggest benefits in choosing a vacation rental website builder is that you get everything you need to run your vacation rental business – a website plus the software to manage bookings.
You can easily set up a merchant account and start accepting credit cards directly through your website. Plus, you can manage all your reservations and set up automated emails to go out to your guests.
Many vacation rental software companies also offer a channel manager, allowing you to easily manage multiple reservation calendars by synchronizing your website with calendars across HomeAway, Airbnb, VRBO, FlipKey, and other listing websites.
All of these tools are designed to save you time and grow your business. You don’t get all these tools packaged together if you do it on your own.
4. Mobile friendly and search engine friendly
Websites and website jargon can quickly become overwhelming. Let us help you out.
It is imperative that your vacation rental website looks good not only on a computer, but also a mobile device.
Most, if not all, vacation rental website builders take care of this for you by automatically making all the website templates mobile friendly through a mobile version of your website or using responsive design.
This means that your website is automatically optimized for a smaller screen, enabling guests to easily browse photos and info and ultimately book.
A good website builder will also support SEO best practices, like title and meta tags, to help potential guests find your vacation rental website.
5. Clear and affordable pricing with no surprises
If you choose to work with a local graphic designer or developer, you will likely get a great looking design but at what cost? You would be hard-pressed to find a website design firm that is going to charge you less than a website builder.
And if you want to make a change on your website a month from now? Your designer is going to charge you to make any updates.
With a vacation rental website builder, everything is included in the monthly or annual fee – everything from hosting to tech support and product upgrades.
It’s a no brainer to start out with a low monthly plan from a website builder.
I am going to add a number 6 to Sarah’s list. One that she mentions at the end of the previous point, but I think needs its own line:
6. New software features and updates are done automatically
Any new features that the service’s creative and technical teams devise will be magically available to you without you having to do any installations to your website.
Granted, there may be services that you will need to enter info and the like for the feature to work like it is designed, but you won’t have to worry about updating a program and messing something up in the process.
When you host your website independently from a vacation rental software company, you own the files. If you own the files, you own your website…and if you own your website, you own your vacation rental business.
When you host your website with a vacation rental software company, you don’t own “your website” – the software company does. The website is actually their intellectual property, not yours.
That means you are building your business on someone else’s land in the internet world.
Building and hosting your website yourself is like claiming your plot of land on the world wide web.
2. Freedom to control and customize
Do what you want with your vacation rental website. Take your VR business anywhere you want it to go, without the shackles.
These days owners are “waking up,” understanding they need to be freed from their listing site dependency, mainly because they feel a lack of control in their business.
At any time, a listing site like HomeAway or FlipKey can raise their rates and owners have to pay those rates or lose everything if the owner doesn’t have another piece of internet real estate.
Companies offering an online template builder can also raise their rates, refuse service, get bought out, change everything, shut you down for violating terms, or even go out of business…then what?
It is their business, not yours. It is out of your control.
With your own VR website, no one has that control over your business…except you, of course.
All the way down to the deep, dark recesses of the server. You have direct access to your website server files, the top secret, classified level. Pretty cool, huh?
When you need to make a quick change or a modification to your own website, there are no third party restrictions to block you from doing anything you want to do, either now or in the future.
When your vacation rental website is hosted with a VR software company, you’re not allowed to access the website files at the server level. This will inevitably become a problem at some point for every owner as you want to grow.
Vacation rental website builders use a very buy cialis structured template system, resulting in various restrictions imposed on you as the user.
If you want to make a customization, you may not be able to because it conflicts with their rigid website builder platform or policy.
Sure, you can make some changes through the software company system with some kind of user interface, but you can only make the basic changes that they allow you to do.
If you want to add something to your site that’ll give you an edge over your competition, maybe a new widget or a cool feature you want to use, you won't be able to do it.
Unless, the software company decides to add that feature…for everyone. Or, you first ask the software company for permission, and if they agree to what you want, you have to pay the price they tell you in order to get it implemented.
Not having full control hinders the ability for owners and managers to move their business forward.
Install a database, free tools, widgets, plugins, modules and marketing applications that result in your ability to crush your competitors in the vacation rental marketplace.
When you have a site of your own, the sky is the limit when it comes to improvements and increasing results.
3. Save money
When you create your own website, you also control your costs. You have the option to either do it all yourself or to outsource tasks.
You’re the boss. Hire whomever you want for whatever task you want, for as much or as little as you want to pay. Your development team should be the best you can get, not the one you're stuck with.
You don’t need to worry if you will have a mediocre designer or held back by the limitations of a certain development or search engine optimization team.
If you have a website conversion expert you'd like to work with (like yours truly Jay William), you can use them.
If you have a website developer you want to work with, or killer marketing team (like Villa Marketers), you can utilize all of their talents to work for you.
When your website is hosted through a third party VR software company, you’re forced to use their staff to make any internal changes.
You can host your website for less by unbundling your hosting from other services you may not need or can even get for free online.
Website hosting alone is cheap, as you only pay for what you really need and use.
When you design a website of your own, you pay for it once, and then you own it forever.
You can save money on updates, maintenance, and upgrades through your ability to control those costs.
Eliminate the fees for certain software features that vacation rental website companies charge for by installing modules and widgets.
For example, when property managers add more properties to a website built with a service, there is a fee for each property every month, which really adds up. You can't eliminate these fees if you can’t access the server.
Instead, property managers can add a property management listing module to their own website and never pay to add a property on their site again…this is a big savings for owners with many properties.
When you use a vacation rental website builder or similar type of software, it's a “rent to never own” option. Paying forever will end up costing more than paying a one-time development payment for your own website.
4. A/B website testing
For those owners who want to squeeze more visitors into bookings, proper A/B testing is required.
Without the ability to freely make improvements to your website, using the data you get from your A/B testing results, your site will be at a huge disadvantage.
Having your own VR website allows you to test different versions of your website layout, positioning, and a ton of other things that you just can’t do with a website builder.
The purpose of A/B testing is to test these design elements against each other, in order to accurately tell which design elements deliver the most inquiries.
This type of testing helps you perfect the design of your website, boosting conversions and turning more visitors into reservations.
5. Power of the blog
Owners need a blog built within their site to help them market their vacation rentals for free, especially considering many owners have modest marketing budgets.
When you have your own property website, you can access the server and add a WordPress blog, as well as other blogging software, to help you build up your blog and bookings.
A blog is at the center of any successful online marketing campaign. In my opinion, a website is not legit unless it has a blog installed, period. That’s why Villa Marketers implements a custom vacation rental blog in almost every site we develop.
A website needs to be fully optimized to become the booking magnet you want and need it to be.
Search engine optimization is more than just popping in a few keywords in a widget, like some software companies offer.
If you want to truly optimize your website, you will need access to the entire site, not just an administration panel.
When you own your VR property website, you will be able to improve on all of those key elements that will pull up your site rankings, including the speed of your website load time for both your desktop and mobile site versions.
First step down Route B is to get some hosting. I suggest BlueHost (affiliate link), and then it’s a simple click to install WordPress, and you are on your way.
Now what about the cons, the downsides of Route A and Route B?
Route A, the vacation rental website builder service, has the downside of less control and limited choices for the owner. Yet, sometimes you need to just hand over control in one area so you can focus on another area that you excel at.
There is also no blog built into the website with Route A. To work around this, you can link to an outside blog. However, you do miss out on the bonus SEO and ranking that comes with a built in blog.
For Route B, self hosting your website, it’s not all rainbows and unicorns. There are some challenges that may feel like crap when you are working through them.
Route B can be expensive up front, versus paying a small amount over the years with a website builder service.
And your own website also takes time. A lot of time. No matter what the flashing Google ads may tell you, good website development will take time.
Steve with VR Owner’s Guide also notes that you can’t always integrate calendars, booking, and management tools with the big listing sites on your own.
You will need to either go for Route A for that…or even hit up Route C.
Of course there is a Route C. A beautiful blend of the professional help of Route A and the ultimate control of Route B.
Route C – self hosting your website with professional help
There is no army of sword wielding knights to stop you from outsourcing what you can’t do on your own.
If you have the budget, get professional help for your website design and SEO. Add in tools like an online booking widget (see some of the best ones in this post), custom pages for area information, and links to your social media so guests can build a relationship with you.
Now, Route C may be a luxury lane that smells like roses, but the roses have thorns.
Jay notes that the big challenge of Route C is the difficulty in finding good help.
What happens when an owner does not outsource wisely? You may get ripped off, pay too much for poor quality work, find a lack of industry/marketing knowledge, have no real business support, and end up with crappy customer service.
Route C has the possibility to eliminate the problems owners encounter with Routes A and B, while helping them secure more bookings.
So a good choice for help with Route C? Jay has heard all the horror stories, and that’s why he developed Villa Marketers – so that owners can have a trusted, top-notch, talented team that gives full flexibility to the owner.
With a billion-jillion shiny programs and thingamajigs vying for our budgeted spending dollars, how do you decide what is not just worth the expense but what will be a good investment?
Vacation rental owners run into a multitude of choices and money spending dilemmas on a regular basis, and arming yourself with a plan of how to determine what is important, before the money flows, will increase your bottom line.
There are two important questions to ask yourself to determine if you should fork over the dough for a service, renovation, or a shiny whatnot:
Is this a deal breakerfor my guests?
Is this a deal maker for my guests?
Before you can answer those questions, though, you have to know what the deal breakers and deal makers are.
What is a deal breaker?
This would be an item or service that a guest desires in a vacation rental, but you don't have it, so the traveler moves on to another property.
Note here that the deal breakers will be greatly determined by your location and the type of traveler you cater towards. A deal breaker could be a service like wifi, an amenity like a walk in shower, or even a location such as being on the beach.
The big deal breaker for my family when we look for a vacation rental is a king size bed in the master bedroom. If there is not a king size bed for us, then we will not choose that property.
How do you figure out the deal breakers for your guests?
First, listen to their questions.
Many guests will ask their deal breaker questions in their initial inquiry. They want to verify 100% that you have their deal breakers, even if you have already talked about them in your listing and even shown them in your photos.
Don't get upset that the guest did not read the listing or carefully look through every single photo. Remember that they are searching through several listings, and not everyone enjoys making a spreadsheet to document what each place does and does not have.
We once rented a property near Gulf Shores that was wonderful, and I thought it had everything we needed. But when we arrived, there was no wifi for the property.
I wasn't too happy with the owner until I realized that I had confused the property with another similar place. I survived the week without the wifi and also learned that I probably should have double checked the listing or asked the owner about it, just to verify I was booking the place that had everything I wanted.
Second, listen to why they did not choose your place.
Sometimes guests will tell you your place was lovely, but they chose your neighbor because of "xyz" amenity.
I know I have lost a handful of guests for our Branson homes to our neighbor because we do not have a private hot tub.
If there is a specific thing that travelers are asking for, and you are losing the bookings, and have holes in your calendar because you don't have that thing, then open your wallet and get the thing!
If you can't spring for it immediately, plan it into the budget to get it as soon as possible. The thing may or may not be expensive, and it may or may not be easily purchased or set up, but the deal breaker is worth the money or headache buy valium because of the additional bookings it will result in.
Now, am I going to be getting a hot tub for my places since I know the hot tub has been a deal breaker for several potential guests? No, I am not.
"Gosh, Tyann, you are losing bookings because you don't have one! Didn't you just say that the deal breakers are worth the investment?"
I did say that. But, the other factor of deciding if the deal breaker is something you really, truly need is if you have holes in your calendar. We don't have room for additional guests, as we are booked solid for the high season and highly booked for the rest of the year.
We have enough deal breakers that I now concentrate on the deal makers.
What is a deal maker?
A deal maker is that little extra push for a traveler to choose your property over another property, especially when the properties they are deciding between are very similar.
Last summer when we were looking for a beach house, one of the things that sealed the deal for our family was the master shower with dual shower heads. Who wouldn't want that extra luxury while on vacation?
But the deal maker doesn't have to be big or expensive...even a small appliance in the kitchen like a waffle maker to make breakfast time more fun for your guests is a good deal maker.
Seriously, who doesn't love being able to quote Donkey:
"...and in the morning, we'll make WAFFLES!"
The deal makers get your guest excited about your place. Last year I had a guest who was such a K-cup fanatic that she brought her Keurig with her to my place. This year when she called to book her girls weekend, I mentioned that we added the Keurig at the house, and she was over-the-moon happy.
Once I realized how addicted our target guests are to their K-cups, I made sure to mention the Keurig machine in every single inquiry reply, making it even easier for travelers to choose our property.
Once you have the deal makers, though, don't assume that a traveler will scour your listing and see every single awesome point about your property.
Point the deal makers out. If you've got it, flaunt it.
But the absolutely biggest deal maker, which can definitely be a deal breaker if you don't do it right, is your hospitality, your customer service skills. Simply treating every single traveler with kindness, respect, and enthusiasm, making a personal connection with them, will go a very long way.
Whether you communicate by phone or by email or whether you are able to greet each guest personally or have a little gift on the table for when they arrive, you are a major deal maker yourself.
Tell me, what are your guests' deal breakers? Do you have any deal makers that seal the deal with your guests? Let's talk in the comments below.