From changing business models and technology to evolving consumer behavior, vacation rental marketers are challenged with keeping up, learning new skills and monitoring shifting trends in the industry to understand what’s important about what’s next.
The 2014 VRMA Annual Conference provided meaningful insight into new developments in marketing strategies for professional vacation rental managers. Attendees saw the advancement and launch of several marketing products designed to increase bookings and revenue.
Here is a look at five of the marketing tools and tactics that generated buzz at this year’s conference.
1. Revenue Management Tools
With advancement in software integration, the idea of automating dynamic pricing for vacation rentals has gained recent traction. As a result, a number of revenue management software tools have popped up in the vacation rental industry with several others in development.
According to George Volsky, “Pricing has two components. First, it requires us to determine the highest rent that can be charged each season without losing an interested renter. Second, rents must be adjusted for changes in supply and demand.”
These revenue management technology solutions are designed to automate the setting of rates based on supply and incorporate occupancy rates, ADR, and booking lead time based on property types. In 2015, vacation rental managers can expect to see these platforms allow for more complex algorithms, include competitive analysis and provide evaluation metrics.
2. Smart Home Technology
Using smart home technology to improve guest services, create operational efficiencies and market vacation rentals was a significant part of the conversation at the 2014 VRMA Annual Conference. The use of keyless locks which are integrated with property management software provides security and enables guests to bypass check in and go directly to the property. In addition, energy savings by controlling thermostats, pool heat and refrigeration improve customer service response time and are attractive to homeowners and enhance inventory acquisition initiatives.
Steve Trover, CEO at All Star Vacation Homes, implemented smart home technology for all of their vacation homes. “At All Star, we’ve been very focused on hospitality for 16 years. Using smart home technology, we can ensure security and provide a superior guest experience,” said Trover. “For example, we can more quickly respond to guests being locked out and generate a code to get them in within seconds. In addition, we now know when the HVAC has problems before the guest does, and we know when the pool heater is not heating the pool properly so we can deal with things in a more rapid fashion, providing a better guest experience and increasing repeat business.”
3. Autoresponder Technology
Another popular tool being promoted at the VRMA Annual Conference for 2015 was autoresponder technology which allows vacation rental mangers to instantly respond to inquiries from distribution channels with branded emails, online booking options, and next-best property suggestions. In addition, autoresponders tackle repetitive inquiries, and some providers are utilizing artificial intelligence to generate automated responses which address common questions that guests ask in their inquiry comments.
Matt Landau, founder of the Vacation Rental Marketing Blog, gives tips on getting the best results from autoresponder technology, “Always address guests by their name (using the name fields). There’s no worse turnoff than inquiring to a vacation rental and getting back an email that starts with ‘Dear guest.’”
Landau also added, “Ask questions. You can’t expect guests to book room nights talking to a robot so a great way to engage them is to ask questions. Emails starting with questions statistically elicit higher response rates, so always make sure to include questions like ‘where will you be visiting us from?’ or ‘have you been to our town prior?’”
4. Website Property Page Elements for Improved Conversion
According to Priceline CMO Brett Keller, at Priceline and Booking.com they spend considerable time and effort testing their listing pages for better conversion rates. “With as quickly as the environment changes, sometimes aggressive testing is necessary just to maintain current conversion rates,” said Keller. “And if you can’t afford to test, copy.”
He explained that distribution channels are spending a ton of money testing and optimizing pages for conversion. Booking.com, FlipKey, HomeAway and Airbnb have all made recent and significant changes to their listing pages to improve conversion rates, e.g. interactive floor plans, improved calendars, mobile-friendly multi-tab and one-screen layouts, advanced amenity search functionality and neighborhood guides with images, mapping and a “what’s nearby” feature.
By monitoring and emulating the changes distribution channels make on property listing pages and in the booking path, vacation rental managers can implement these strategies on their own websites without breaking the bank.
5. Lifecycle Email Messaging
Lifecycle messaging tools are being offered by several VRMA supplier members, and property managers have been working to test and refine the process in 2014.
Lifecycle email marketing helps vacation rental managers build deeper relationships with guests and encourages future stays by sending relevant, useful and timely information based on customer behavior. By utilizing technology and creating an integrated email communications strategy with meaningful messages vacation rental marketers can reach the customer at critical points in their booking and re-booking path (i.e. research, planning, decision, reservation, stay, rebooking, and re-engagement).
The technology tools for generating lifecycle emails work with or within property management software to automate this process, allowing vacation rental managers to pursue leads and generate more repeat bookings based on timing and behavior.
As vacation rental marketing evolves at breakneck speed with changes in distribution, technology and consumer behavior, the 2014 VRMA Annual Conference provided a terrific place to get a bird’s eye view of innovative developments designed to increase bookings and provide a competitive advantage in 2015. Vacation rental managers can expect to see further advancement in these tools as well as new marketing products at the VRMA regional conferences in Portland and Norfolk this spring. We hope to see you there.
By Amy Hinote