In an age of online marketing, must vacation rental owners rely on listing sites for their success? In this third instalment in our series ‘An independent vacation rental owner’s guide to listing sites’, Homes and Rooms considers the alternatives.
First stop for any guest seeking a vacation rental is likely to be the internet. And whether they’re making their enquiry via a desktop computer, laptop, tablet or mobile phone, chances are they are visiting one of the major listing sites.
Responsible for millions of bookings
It’s true that between them, the listing sites are responsible for millions of bookings around the world. And it’s easy to see why. Often, potential guests can quickly call up and view properties online, check availability and compare options before moving on to book and confirm. All in a very short space of time.
And from the owners’ point of view, their property can, potentially, be presented in an attractive way and be seen by millions. Even booked as a result.
Exposure does not guarantee reservations
There are, however, costs to consider. Plus the crucial fact that mere exposure on a big listing site does not guarantee that reservations for a listed property will follow.
Chosen carefully and used skilfully, listing sites can play a big part in a successful marketing mix.
Some vacation rental owners, blogger Matt Landau of VRMB included, take a more extreme view of listing sites activities. It’s worth checking out Matt’s well-argued piece: Why I Don’t Believe In Vacation Rental Listing Sites.
While here at Homes and Rooms we believe that listing sites have their role to play, there are alternatives.
An owner website is essential
First off, every vacation rentals owner needs their own website. No question. Homes and Rooms founder and CEO Barry Sacks, himself an independent owner, feels passionately about this as you can gauge from this post on his personal blog and his top 10 tips for self-managing a vacation rental property.
Without their own websites, owners are at the mercy of the listing sites and if, for any reason, that link is removed, they are left without any shop window and any source of bookings. Or, if the listing site decides to change terms and conditions, the dependent owner may have little choice but to play along.
This happened in September 2015 when HomeAway changed its call centre protocols to the anger and annoyance of many subscribers. And as HomeAway announced on 4 November that it is being taken over by Expedia.com in early 2016, further changes can be expected. Already it has confirmed that guests as well as owners will be charged for using the services of HomeAway (or will it be Expedia?).
The power of the big listing sites over the owners was again illustrated by a controversy over rate parity which highlighted the control that major sites can have over the actual rental rates set by owners, although in this case it involved hotels.
Having your own website allows you to take bookings direct and to advertise on multiple channels rather than via a single listing site. It also gives you an unfettered opportunity to present your property in the way you want to present it, using as many images and descriptions of the property and its locality as you choose.
Retaining your independence is key
Internet tools to help you run your business are readily available via software as a service providers (SaaS). You could have your own sophisticated reservation and payment management systems totally independent of any listing agency.
With this independent scenario in mind, Homes and Rooms provide all subscribers with their own free, professional website plus a range of powerful internet tools that enable them to run their business successfully. Owners choose how much and when they use the listing sites.
Email previous guests
Former guests are a vital resource to be farmed and cultivated. Depending on how long you’ve been renting out your property, you should have a significant list of previous guests and prospects that you can market to by email. This inexpensive approach can be an effective way of attracting customers back and converting prospects as well as keeping your property to the fore in their minds.
Investigate Google Remarketing
Google Remarketing allows you to show ads to those who have previously visited your website while browsing. It works by tagging pages of your site corresponding to those categories you want to promote.
For example, you could use it to highlight features in high demand on your property: a swimming pool or air conditioning. You can then create an AdWords campaign to show highly relevant messages (such as ads highlighting these features) to people who’ve previously visited pages as they browse sites across the Google network. This will help to attract more visitors to your website.
Remarketing can be a good way to stay engaged with your target audience – presenting them with relevant ads and offers across the Web – and making sure your brand is at the top of mind when they’re ready to buy.
Get into social media and blogging
Creating and sharing content on social media channels is an increasingly important way of growing your online following and as a tool to attract more visitors. For many vacation rental owners, it has become a major source of reservations. If you’re not already signed up, join the big players – Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and consider starting up your own blog. The content creation and sharing process can even help with any SEO (Search Engine Optimization) efforts on your own website.
You need more than one basket
When deciding on your mix, remember the words ‘eggs’ and ‘basket’! Never rely entirely on a single listing site for your marketing. Those who relied on Dwellable for their bookings felt a chill wind when it was summarily swallowed up by HomeAway in October 2015.
If you go the social media route, the same applies. Always use more than one channel. Also in October 2015, worried vacation rental owners woke up to find that Google+ was being ‘broken up’ and they had lost another source of potential bookings in which they had invested time and energy.
There is a clear and worrying trend among listing sites eager to gain as much control of their featured vacation rentals as they can. Even when it’s wrapped up as a benefit to owners (and it generally is) this is not a good thing. While owners need not necessarily cut out the listing sites (and the benefits they do offer) from their marketing mix, those who want to retain their independence and decide how their rental will be presented and managed should be exploring and using all the alternatives they can find.