The 10 WORST vacation rental marketing mistakes you can make
Do you know why most vacation rental owners struggle to get more bookings, no matter how many sites they list on?
- It’s because they make mistakes.
Everyone makes mistakes. That much is true.
BUT, these mistakes are different.
The mistakes we’re talking about are HUGE, fundamental mistakes that will literally suck the lifeblood right out of your business without you even knowing it.
And that doesn’t have to be you.
Some of you reading this might be brand new to the industry. Maybe doing some research before you get started? And some of you might be veterans, feeling pinched with no solution in sight.
Either way, it’s the reason we compiled this list.
Not only are these 10 mistakes absolutely detrimental to your potential success in this industry, they are extremely easy to fall into and tend to sneak up on you in the worst of times.
So if you aren’t already guilty of some (if not all) of them, at least you’ll be in a better position to protect yourself as you continue to master your vacation rental marketing skills.
Mistake #1. Underestimating the task at hand
Today, it’s become extremely easy for people to get into “the vacation rental game”.
With so many listing sites now offering commission-based or free-to-list options, all it really takes to advertise your property is a dozen pictures, a description, and a checklist of the amenities it has to offer.
At least, that’s what all the hype around this industry is leading you to believe.
The truth is; just because the free listing model makes it seem easy to “get into the vacation rental game”, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to get any significant playtime.
In fact, it only makes things more difficult.
The free listing model has created somewhat of a frenzy in our industry; multiplying your competition, and saturating listing sites to the point where it has become almost impossible to generate the same number of bookings with 5 listing sites as we used to see with 1. - Ask any successful vacation rental owner who’s been in the industry for more than 5 years, and they’ll tell you the same thing.
All sports metaphors aside; successfully marketing your vacation rental, in today’s hyper-competitive vacation rental market, has a lot more to it than just posting it on a few listing sites and waiting to see what happens.
Too many owners grossly underestimate (or maybe don’t know?) the importance of everything else that goes into a successful vacation rental marketing plan.
And not only is this mistake the most common we see, but it’s also the most important to avoid since it is the base of which all other mistakes will stem from.
Like it or not, this is the hospitality industry. And it’s a very competitive space.
Professionalism, organization, customer service, motivation, genuine commitment, a real strategy, etc… These traits, among so many others, are all absolutely necessary for running a successful vacation rental business.
Now, if that just isn’t you, and this is just a hobby for you, then reading the next 6 mistakes probably won’t do you any good and you might as well save yourself the trouble.
But, if you are willing to implement what’s necessary, then you’re definitely going to want to read on.
Mistake #2. Failing to properly understand (or acknowledge) consumer demand.
The most important factor that will determine whether a business will succeed or fail is consumer demand.
i.e. No consumer demand for your product/service = NO business
As vacation rental owners, our consumers are the travellers. And what they want goes. Never forget that.
All too often, owners and managers fall victim to their comfort zone. Forgetting, if not flat out refusing to acknowledge what the market is telling them.
But there’s a ton of research being done about what vacation rental traveller’s want, and if you care to look, it can easily be found with a couple Google searches and about 15 minutes of your time.
And what we’re seeing in the industry right now is a growing number of vacation rental travellers preferring to book with professional managers.
In fact, a recent PhocusWright study found that 31% of vacation rental travellers favour the perks of professional hospitality, with more than half of the industry’s revenue already going to professional management companies (on an upward trend).* Showing a growing trend of travellers preferring better amenities, better safety and security, better customer service, as well as a safer and more convenient booking/payment process.*
So that means that basically 1 out of every 3 travellers that stumbles onto your property(ies) won’t book from you unless you fit their standards for professionalism.
Bottom line: Vacation rental travellers know what they’re looking for, and a mediocre vacation rental experience just isn’t it.
Can you really afford not to give them what they want?
Mistake #3. Underestimating the true value of an updated interior design and a professional guest experience
Whether you’re offering a luxury ocean front villa, or $100/night bargain, the experience and comfort you offer your guests is - hands down - your most valuable marketing asset. - A factor too many owners tend to overlook.
We know now that travellers hold a lot more emphasis on professionalism, quality of service, comfort - value.
So filling your vacation rentals up with the leftover unmatched furniture you never wanted in your own home, or old linens, or the cheap towels that already look like rags after a couple washes, etc... We can go on. But the point is that kind of half-assed attempt isn’t going to get you very far in this industry.
We offer free consultations with vacation rental owners all the time. And it’s always so hard to tell people that their property itself is the main reason their bookings keep decreasing year after year.
But in this industry, your property and guest experience is your product. Investing into that is how you build value into your product, and it will always yield a positive ROI.
We’re talking updated electronics, quality matching furniture, hotel quality bed sets, quality towels, etc… You want people to actually be impressed when they see the pictures of your property. – Quick tip: If you’re not impressed, travellers won’t be impressed. Don’t be afraid to hire an interior decorator or a home stager. The investment will not be in vain.
For behind the scenes; a fully stocked kitchen (appliances, pots, pans, dish soap, that sort of thing…), quality coffee, new toiletry/soap kits, etc..
Personalization goes a long way. Things like complementary chocolates or wine, welcome gift baskets, etc... Maybe even a hand-written thank you note, or a greeting call to make sure everything is to their liking. Things of that nature… - Ask yourself; Is a $35 welcome gift worth a 5 star review that helps to convert your next 10 bookings?
And it should go without saying, but towels and linens should be fresh ALWAYS, and rooms should be in pristine condition for guest arrival.
The truth is a beautiful and comfortable interior with a great guest experience will actually do a lot of the marketing for you.
It will attract more travellers, generate referrals, spark repeat business, and not to mention help to build a solid online reputation with positive reviews.
You've got to think long term here.
For years, top vacation rental owners have been charming their guests with quality rentals and customer service that their most loyal guests value and have come to rely on.
There’s absolutely no reason you can’t do the same.
Mistake #4. Publicly mishandling your online reputation
Although this one might not be the most common of mistakes, it’s still very much a doozy.
As volatile as the vacation rental industry can be, you need to expect that complications and inconveniences are going to be a part of your life.
Overcoming obstacles is what being a business owner is all about.
One of the worst mistakes you can make is to get caught up in the cesspool of negative reviews & online complaints, because it can often escalate to an over the top response that ultimately tarnishes a reputation.
It’s so easy to fall into the trap, and it can literally crush your bookings.
Believe it or not, but a negative review can actually be turned into a positive.
If you respond just right, it can be a great indicator of your credibility, professionalism and customer service etiquette. But it’s all in how you respond, even if it’s fake. – Yes, this sort of thing does actually happen, and in fact, it’s becoming more and more common…
If you mess it up, don’t be surprised when your bookings get cut in half. (Learn more about handling negative reviews here.)
Complaining in online forums is another disaster you need to avoid.
So many of the complaints we see in online forums are about listing site policy changes, price increases or deteriorating results, unwanted sales calls, bad guests, payment processing companies charging 3%, etc..
Basically all of the normal things that come with being a business owner. And it’s just too much negativity. Not to mention, it can make you look extremely unprofessional.
Your professional image is so important in this industry. And tarnishing all of your hard work because of some stupid comment you posted online out of frustration is the last thing you want to do.
As a vacation rental owner, your time is extremely precious as well. And it’s crazy to waste it on something so counterproductive.
Even if your complaints are valid, your time would be much better spent focusing on positive things like finding solutions to your problems, refining your marketing strategy, or creating referral partnerships with the other local owners.
Mistake #5. Misunderstanding the proper use of vacation rental listing sites
So many vacation rental owners completely misunderstand how they should be using listing sites.
Part of the reason for this is because of their misguided and completely outdated belief that confuses simple advertising for a real marketing strategy.
No matter how many you advertise on, listing sites alone do not constitute a real vacation rental business.
A little harsh? Probably. But also very true.
This very common misconception often causes owners and managers to see each individual site is a different marketing source, when in fact, they should all be grouped together as one diversified advertising portfolio, that's part of a larger and more diverse marketing strategy (which should include a professional website, SEO, some local PR, etc...).
Diversify your portfolio
Individually, each site is just another piece to diversify the advertising portfolio within your marketing plan.
They all have their strengths, and their weaknesses. Some get more traffic with a wider audience, others get less traffic with a more niche audience. Some cost more, while other charge less. Some perform better, others worse. - Anyway, you get the idea…
In the end they’re all the same.
They all showcase your properties almost identically; with headline, pictures, descriptions, reviews, etc…
You just need more. - As long as you have the time and the budget…
Optimize your portfolio
When treating your portfolio as it should be treated, it's important for your listings to be properly optimized with professional pictures, strong copywriting for headlines and descriptions, and not to mention, completely up to date and consistent across all channels.
Don't kid yourself. People know when a listing has been neglected.
Neglected listings only get bookings when everyone else in the area is full.
So do yourself the favor, and optimize your listings to be the absolute best they can be before you go spending any more money on upgraded visibility packages or expanding your portfolio. You'll just be wasting it.
If your complete portfolio of listings is large enough, and managed properly, it should generate a sizeable portion of leads/bookings that could warrant a healthy 5-15% increase in your nightly rate.
Don't rely on them
Make sure that your portfolio of listings sites isn’t the only tool in your toolbox. As our industry becomes more popular, it also becomes more competitive, and in return, listing sites will become eve less effective.
A strong vacation rental marketing plan includes many other pieces. Most of which will not only help to both support and improve the results generated by your advertising portfolio, but they’ll also generate more bookings independently and without having to pay commissions.
Ultimately, listing sites are really just the advertising piece of a more complete strategy.
A very significant piece, yes. But not the whole thing.
Mistake #6. Marketing your properties without professional pictures
Marketing a vacation rental property without professional pictures is like offering a bowl of cereal but without the milk. - Just don't do it.
Your property pictures are the lifeblood that feeds your whole marketing plan. And professional pictures should be the absolute first thing on your list of priorities, before you even invest a dollar into advertising your property.
Pictures are the first thing to catch a travellers’ eye. The better they look, the more attention you’re going to attract, the bigger the impact will be, and the more click-throughs you’re going to get.
They make all of your marketing materials look better (your listings and website included), and even more importantly, they actually give travellers a more realistic view of your property.
Professional pictures establish a precedent of value, credibility, and professionalism that can literally double your bookings*. Some have even seen increases as much as 800%*.
Hiring a professional photographer can cost as little as a couple hundred dollars. And the return on investment is probably one of the highest, and quickest you’ll ever see in this industry.
It’s absolutely crazy that owners still refuse to acknowledge their importance, blindly missing out on thousands of dollars in bookings year after year.
So please, PLEASE don’t make the same mistake.
Make it a priority.
Mistake #7. Trying to build a vacation rental business without a professional website
Would you believe us if we told you that the vast majority of travellers that find your property on a listing site like VRBO, FlipKey, or Airbnb will actually perform individual research in Google before contacting or booking a particular property?
Well, it's absolutely true. And whether you believe us or not, it doesn't change the facts.
Scam listings, mismanaged properties, and horrible vacation experiences have got people spooked. Word of mouth has spread fast and travellers have already started digging a heck of a lot deeper than they used to.
What would they find if they were to Google you or your property right now?
If your answer is just a few other listing sites, or even worse; nothing… then you’re missing out on a ton of bookings.
In fact, a recent study found that owners who support their advertisement listings with an independent website, have occupancy rates as much as 40% higher than those who only use listing sites.*
Keep in mind, it’s not just any web design that’s going to make the impact you need. 94% of people cite poor design as a reason for not trusting a website.*
So that old website you got built ten years ago isn't going to cut it anymore. And that new one you might be thinking of getting built overseas for $250 probably won't either.
It’s extremely important that your website design makes a real impact on your visitors. Sharp, professional, branded with your own real domain (www.yourcompany.com), etc... Not some mal-formatted template with a subdomain off some other company (yourcompany.othercompany.com).
It takes some time for a website to start picking up traffic in Google, so time is of the essence here. Every day you put off getting a website, is just another day of lost bookings down the road. The sooner you get it done, the sooner it’ll rank in Google, and the better off you’ll be.
Mistake #8. Having a website with poor (or without) any search engine optimization
Even though inquiries that come directly from your own personal website are usually more qualified and easier to close than those coming from listing sites, so many owners come to us and flat out admit that their website has never gotten them any bookings.
There are only two reasons why this happens:
1) You're in serious need of a complete overhaul in web design and structure so that your website can actually convert visitors into leads and/or bookings.
2) Your website needs the right SEO strategy that will increase your rankings in search engines and send qualified traffic to your website
Most often we see a combination of both scenarios.
It's really unfortunate, but true.
Your vacation rental website isn't just a support system for your advertising portfolio. And while that support alone can create a significant impact on your bookings, your vacation rental website is also an extremely powerful tool to convert bookings independently.
And yes. It's true. Search engine optimization does take a little longer to provide a return on investment than advertising on listing sites (it usually takes a couple of months to start seeing significant progress). Which makes it scary to even think about.
But that does not make it any less important.
With the right vacation rental SEO strategy and a little patience, you can help to secure a strong independent presence that will not only feed your vacation rental business for years, but it can also be your saving grace when your favorite listing site decides to change its terms of service out of the blue and stops feeding your listings any bookings.
So don't make the mistake of thinking just any old website is going to get visibility and convert more bookings. But if you invest as much into your own website as you do in all of your advertisement campaigns together, it should bear just as much fruit. Sometimes, even more.
Mistake #9. Neglecting your booking process & payment acceptance procedures
Not all vacation rental owners accept payments directly from their guests. Today, most of the advertising channels will do that for you (Airbnb, FlipKey, etc…).
But when you build your own independent online presence, you’ll have to set up your own booking/payment process that travellers will feel comfortable with. That is unless you don’t mind losing out on bookings…
One of the biggest reasons travellers prefer to book with professional managers is because they feel more comfortable with a professional booking/payment process. Which tends to be safer, more convenient, and more familiar.*
What this really means is that travellers don’t want to have to jump through hoops to pay you, and they don’t want to have to question whether or not they’re getting ripped off.
Don’t kid yourself, there’s a ton of mismanaged properties and scam listings out there to keep travellers sceptical. So the last thing you want to do is give them something to question your credibility when it comes time to pay.
Asking your guests to pay by check is not only super inconvenient for everyone involved (trips to the bank, waiting for checks to clear, the constant back and forth, bounced checks, etc…), but most people find it pretty sketchy too. - Checks offer absolutely zero payment security. Once the money is gone, there’s no way to get it back if you get ripped off. Unless you go to court.
Requesting a check for a security deposit is one thing. But if you’re asking for the whole stay, you’re most likely scaring people off and losing the booking without even knowing it.
On the other hand, credit card payments are instant. The transaction is protected. Travellers can earn rewards and pay off the price of their trip later. The money goes right into your bank account within a couple business days instead of weeks. And ultimately, it’s what they feel most comfortable paying with.
So if you aren’t already accepting credit cards, you should get on that as soon as possible. (Learn more about that here)
Now, even once you start accepting credit cards, there are still going to be some travellers who are reluctant to give you their private payment information. Even despite the transaction being 100% secure.
It’s actually the most common hurtle we hear from owners who reach out us about our payment processing solutions, and it’s why using a professional e-invoicing solution like FreshBooks is key.
Sending professional e-invoices with FreshBooks allows the traveller to securely enter their credit card info without giving it out to you. – Problem solved!
You can also brand your invoices with your own logo. You can attach your complete rental agreement (no more faxing back and forth). You can easily pull up reports for accounting purposes. And you can even track them to see when the person opened the invoice.
Just don’t make the mistake of thinking that accepting credit cards doesn’t matter. Because it really does. In fact, accepting credit cards, if you don’t already, is proven to increase the average business’ revenue as much as 30%.*
Finding a trusted service that will help get you great rates and service should be a top priority if you plan to build an independent presence. And we can help you with that if need be.
Mistake #10. Trying to do everything yourself.
Most day jobs hold nothing in compare to the responsibilities of a vacation rental business owner.
And sometimes, that makes it seem overwhelming.
But it doesn’t have to be.
Part of being a good business owner is about good management. And often, that means taking a more strategic approach and delegating.
You can’t be afraid to let go of certain tasks, or projects. Especially when it comes to marketing.
Real professional web designers design great websites. Expert copywriters write awesome copy. Professional photographers do their thing. And interior designers do theirs too. The list goes on…
If you have a knack for some of those things, then great! But if not, why would you think it’s a good idea to take on that role?
You don’t have to do everything yourself. And in retrospect, you really shouldn’t.
For example; By the time it takes you to learn all of the ins and outs of real estate photography, you’ll probably spend days, probably weeks, months even before you get to the point where your pictures will actually have a positive impact on your bookings. Trying to learn how to build a website is even worse!
So instead of wasting all that time trying to learn what is basically a whole new profession, take a couple of hours and find the right person (or company) for the job.
Your time as a vacation rental owner is so precious. And could be much better spent following up on inquiries, or strategizing other projects or promotions; moving your business forward.
Our industry is moving fast, and you’ve got to stay on top of it.
So don’t lose sight of the big picture and don’t be so afraid to delegate.
Otherwise, you might just end up overworked, underpaid, and find yourself falling behind the curve.
Ultimately, these 10 mistakes can easily be avoided.
The trick is to understand that your vacation rental property is a business. Not a hobby.
There’s no magical key that’s going to solve all of your marketing problems and skyrocket your bookings overnight.
It’s going to take motivation, strategy, and lot of good decision-making.
The good news is VacationRentalPartners.co can help you every step along the way. And if you’re one of the many owners that need help handling the load, we can most certainly help with that too.
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* Dunn & Bradstreet study: http://www.forbes.com/sites/moneybuilder/2010/11/12/credit-card-tips-for-holiday-shopping/
* Visa Canada Handbook: Best financial practices for Canadian businesses, May 2007