July 25th and 26th Barefoot attended VRM Intel Live in Denver, CO. The theme of this series is the Tech-Enabled Vacation Rental Manager. The show had many great education sessions, and panels discussing how the Vacation Rental Manager needs to approach the industry and their market to have an advantage over their competition.
I did attend sessions that featured three of our web partners, Inter Coastal Net Design (ICND), BlueTent, and Blizzard Internet Marketing. I thought it would be interesting to see what these internet marketing leaders had to say and how much was the same message. Here are some of what they presented on website elements, trends and observations:
- Keep it simple. Clear and easy search capability preferably across the top or “above the fold”.
- Make sure there are calls to action to enable the guest to do something. For example, during the search results let the guest know that there are only five two-bedroom units left or 50% have booked already.
- You must track how guests are searching on your website. Do you have this in place and are you utilizing it?
- Refine this data for tracks of how guests are searching for properties so that you can understand what is or is not working.
- It is a best precatice to utilize data driven popular links, such as “Cheap Deals”, “Specials, “Recently Viewed”, or “Related Items”.
- Give guest some access to social media. Let them do the work for you. Utilize, “Send to a Friend” on Facebook for example. Social Clicks are trackable.
- When doing discounts or specials, make sure it is visible from the start. A lot of times if there is a discount you don’t see it until you are getting ready to check out.
- Checkout page – strip out navigation so guest cannot go back.
- Consider chat or even Facebook Messenger as an option to communicate with potential guests.
- Keyword Search – It used to be that “Vacation Rental” was the word people would put in to search for a rental. Then the common search was “VRBO”, recently “Airbnb” passed “VRBO” as the most popular VR search. Kind of like how we all refer to tissue paper as Kleenex.
- OTA’s are trying to stop the “leakage”. Leakage is guests getting around sites like VRBO and booking directly with the Property Manager. That is why VRBO and Airbnb are now limiting so much guest information until the time of the booking.
- Don’t forget to market to owners as well. People that are renting also may buy or have vacation homes already. Having an owner area that has critical information is very valuable.
- Diversify – Don’t put all your Channel Partners in one basket. Like investing you want to make sure that you are spreading your inventory around to multiple channels out there. You must stay on top of this and manage well though. If one is not working for you get out and try something else.
- Expectations are rising – must increase experience based reservations.
- Closely related it the user experience on website and during reservation process. Simplify, make it flow, and content architecture.
- There is a cost for first time acquisition, but the key is retention. How do you remarket to your guest that you had to pay to get either as a direct reservation or through a channel partner?
- Share your local knowledge during the reservation process.
Another session I went to was a session called “Unfiltered: The Real Cost of Working with OTA’s, Presenter – Steve Milo, Owner of Vacation Rental Pros. Steve is a very passionate vacation rental management owner. Over the last few years his company has been acquiring multiple vacation rental companies throughout the United States. His presentations are based on his company’s current data and offers a pro and con with each of the OTA’s (Channel Managers) that he has worked with or is working with. The clear message was that you must diversify your inventory! This was echoed from the presentations I attended with the internet marketing professionals. Don't rely on one or two channels. If they are not working for you then stop using them. Constantly evaluate their performance.
Steve also talked about looking at the channel partners as a way of business. He suggested no looking at the fees that are being added or the restriction of guest information as being a negative thing but simply as a cost of business. The more important thing is how are you going to retain or remarket that guest that you paid to get through your website or from a channel like VRBO or Airbnb. I really like this approach and agree with Steve that if you are not adapting to the way this industry is going someone else will and will leave you behind.
Overall, I thought VRM Intel Live was very informative and recommend you attend a show if it comes near where you live. If you have attended other conferences, there are similarities, but it also offers a different perspective that might be refreshing for a VR Manager.