Our industry is rapidly changing. With changes to Google’s algorithm, which gives established brands more credit, competition via online searches is becoming a losing battle. As a result, OTAs are becoming more prominent than ever before. They simply have the budget and the presence to dominate certain markets. How often have you searched “New York vacation rentals” only to find that the large vacation rental portals dominate paid and organic searches?
In the past, this may have been a good thing. As a property manager, I can remember the days when we could not keep up with incoming leads from VRBO and HomeAway. Every year the number of leads seemed to grow exponentially.
Yet, in recent years, I have come to the realization that leads from these large rental sites have been drying up. Property managers everywhere are justifiably concerned about the current shift and feel as if they are scrambling for solutions, creating a situation that is forcing property managers to get extremely creative with their marketing. Fortunately, creative marketing isn’t as impossible as it may seem at times.
Sometimes, all it takes is a guest/visitor mobile app with a visitor’s guide and some free pizza.
A Different Approach
Why pizza? Like it or love it, pizza is truly one of those quintessential “vacation meals” and one that guests almost certainly will seek out at least once during their stay. Now, what if you were to make that pizza absolutely free, no strings attached, for any guest who stayed at one of your rentals? As you might expect, this small kindness, though imposing no huge cost on your behalf, gives renters just one more reason to love the vacation they booked with your rental. Not only does this make your product more memorable, it puts your services in an even better light than ever before and can leave a lasting impression, something that is absolutely necessary for guest retention.
Obviously, there are many questions that need to be answered before putting this plan into action. After all, that free pizza is only free to your guests, not to you. Fortunately, it’s quite easy to perform a cost-benefit analysis to make absolutely sure it is worth the time, effort, and money.
Just ask yourself the following questions:
- How much does each lead/inquiry cost you today?
- How well does each lead convert?
- How likely would it be for someone to get a free pizza during a vacation?
- How likely would it be to work out a great deal on free pizza with a local vendor?
- How much money are you putting into other marketing efforts and organic search engine optimization?
Let’s take these answers and keep them in our back pocket.
The Guest/Visitor App
Of course, simply offering pizza won’t be enough to improve profit and rental rates; you need a creative and interesting way to offer the deal in a manner that promotes the entire area, as well as your free pizza coupon. This is where the guest/visitor app comes into play.
Oftentimes used to improve guest experience in a chosen area, guest and visitor apps give renters the ability to learn more about their vacation destination, find out what’s nearby, and even get some choice coupons for their stay. But, before we utilize this app in conjunction with free pizza, it’s important to ensure that your app is actually worth using. In many cases, there can be hundreds of travel apps for any given destination, so how could you make yours unique and profitable for your company?
Let’s take a look at a few things that can make you stand out from the competition:
- Personalize the App
Did you just throw in every local restaurant or take the time to provide your honest feedback? Who is your favorite server in town? In other words, are you putting in the effort to educate your guests?
- Make Sure Your Logo Implies Vacation Guide
Your app’s logo is much more important than you might think. You need people to see the logo in the app store and understand immediately what its use is. This will help draw clicks and ensure high download rates. It also helps avoid confusion.
- Make Your App Easy to Find
The surest way to get low download rates on your app is by making it difficult to find on the app stores where it’s available. Refer to your app by its proper name in all your promotional materials and make sure it’s available on all major app stores, not just the Apple store.
- Keep Your App Small and Useful
Some people want to save space on their phones, so you want to make your app as small as possible. Still, make sure you are providing all the information you need. Just make sure it’s optimized nicely and is not bogging down anyone’s limited memory.
Once you have all this in place, it’s time to market your app on your website, in your local visitor guide magazine, and everywhere else you can, all with the promise of (you guessed it) a free pizza with download!
At this point, if we are extremely successful, we have negotiated 100 free pizzas per month from our local pizza parlor, our guest/visitor mobile app is in app stores, and we have created a creative and compelling reason in the local visitor guide magazine to download the app for a free pizza. (This is the most critical component to being successful.)
Hopefully, by this point, hundreds of people are downloading the app with the hope of a delicious free pizza and more information about their vacation destination of choice. Finally, this is where the marketing spin comes in.
Marketing With Push Notifications
When people download your guest/visitor app offered by Streamline, they will be asked if they would like to receive mobile notifications on their phones. Once this is approved, the property manager has the ability to send push notifications to each phone. If you don’t abuse this and use this marketing avenue to send specials for future vacations, then you are now exposing your property management company to guests who visited that destination in the past.
This, obviously, has a myriad of marketing uses. Let’s say you promote a last-minute 40 percent discount to fill up rooms via the app’s push notification system. The people who see this discount are almost always going to be past renters in the area who would probably come back for a visit if the price was right. Best of all, because most of us have our phones attached at the hip and rarely ignore notifications that we receive, push notifications have a much higher chance of being noticed, especially when compared to something as innocuous (and annoying) as a spam email. Because of that, the number of people in this marketing list who will see your special will be astronomically higher than any email campaign that you send out. Add that visitors to the area who downloaded your guest app are the most likely to take the offer and it’s easy to see why this could become your most valuable marketing strategy.
Using Your Creative Side to Increase Conversion Rates
As mentioned at the beginning, we have to get creative with our marketing strategies to survive in the cut-throat world of vacation rental management. But, that doesn’t always mean marketing to outside parties. Targeting past renters that have already had a great time at your rentals with the strategies outlined above is the ticket to increasing conversion rates, filling your rentals, and improving your reputation in the vacation rental community. This is precisely why guest retention should always be your number one priority.
Just remember, if the pizza is good, your vacation specials are the best in town and you utilize your guest/visitor app to the best of its potential, you may find a loyal guest—or ten—for years to come. This is an asset that will always be more valuable than attracting a new guest via conventional means. Be creative and see where that takes you; you’ll certainly be happy you did!