A guest’s memories of a vacation can be different from their true experience and are sometimes shaped by a single event. That is why it’s critical to understand the guest’s journey and how you can help shape it.
Daniel Kahneman, Nobel laureate and creator of the theory of behavioral economics, spoke in a TED Talk about the riddle of experience versus memory. Mr. Kahneman tells the story of a lecture attendee describing his experience of listening to a symphony recording. It was glorious, but at the end there was a dreadful screeching sound. The person said, “It ruined the whole experience.”
But it hadn’t. It ruined the memory of the experience. He’d had 20 minutes of beautiful music, but because he was left with a ruined memory, they counted for nothing. “The remembering self is a storyteller. Our memories tell us stories, that is what we get to keep from our experiences,” Mr. Kahneman said.
UNIQUE AND DELIGHTFUL MEMORIES FUEL GROWTH
Vacationers want to have a happy experience on their trip, and vacation rental management companies want their guests to have happy experiences during their stay. This seems like a perfect match, right? Well, experiences and memories can be a funny thing. Marcel Proust wrote, “Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were.”
Simon Lehmann, one of the foremost experts on short-term and vacation rentals, said in a Slick Talk podcast with Wil Slickers, “30 percent of US travelers rent a [vacation rental] property for their vacation.” He goes on to say, “Uniqueness needs to be lifted. If we want to address the 70 percent of US travelers who don’t rent, then we need to deliver something better than just a furnished place.” That means a unique property and an experience that you will not get anywhere else.
What can you do to help your guests have great experiences and make great memories? As you think through the guest’s journey, examine each of your interactions with them, and consider how you can minimize the screeches and maximize the glorious music.
HELP YOUR GUESTS CREATE GREAT MEMORIES ON THEIR JOURNEY
THE RESEARCH AND BOOKING STAGE
The study, “Vacationers Happier, But Most Not Happier After a Holiday” in Applied Research Quality Life found that vacationers experience a significant boost in happiness during the planning stages of their trip because they’re looking forward to the good times ahead.
As travelers research, they are deciding between different locations through a mix of big-listing sites and local property managers. They are researching pricing, excursions, attractions in the area, and flight or driving information. How can you delight guests at this stage? Provide engaging images and content on your website and listings that make future guests feel as though they’re already there. The customer journey and the overall experience with your brand begins here. Start building your rapport now.
Feed their enthusiasm with honest information. “What’s it like during Christmas?” is surely a common question for vacation rental managers (VRMs) in Florida. Confidently describe the good and the bad: say, “Yes, Christmas is the best time to come, everything is decorated, and you’ll have an amazing holiday experience. But a lot of others are thinking the same thing. We can give you advice on how best to manage the crowds.” Feed that enthusiasm, and make the inquiring traveler feel that they’re making a great decision by staying with you.
BEFORE THEIR ARRIVAL
In the Netimperative article, “Consumer frustrations with travel marketing: Gen Z want more tailored offers,” 25 percent of consumers said they would be more loyal to travel experience providers if those providers understood consumer needs.
Lauren Boyer, marketing manager for Holiday Beach Rentals, personalizes the guest experience, in part with prearrival emails that get their guests excited and ensures they know about the special things that will make up their experience: “7:00 p.m. on your balcony you’ll see an amazing sunset” and, “Don’t forget the wet bar.”
Get your guests excited as their vacation draws near. Boyer says an open line of communication for last-minute questions is important. There are so many common questions that guests have: “Do I need to bring my hairdryer?” “Do you provide sunscreen?” “How deep is the pool?” “How far is the beach? I want to know if it will be a problem for my elderly mother.”
Determine the best way to communicate with your guests. At Holiday Beach Rentals, for example, Boyer explains, “Guests don’t want to talk live with anyone. They’re used to texting or online chats.”
Matthew and Angela Tesdall, owners of Family Time Vacation Rentals and Sisters Vacation Rentals, have almost 200 managed properties. Their motto is, “Family memories made here.”
Matthew says, “Guests want to spend time as a family or as friends. They want an experience that’s solid, with easy arrival instructions, a door code, someone to provide support if needed, a clean and sanitized place that is CDC compliant. Otherwise, they just want to enjoy their time.”
Sometimes creating positive memories means avoiding negative experiences. The most common complaint in negative reviews is a dirty property. Another problem can be finding addresses in rural areas where Google Maps doesn’t work. In these cases, you need to provide specific driving instructions. They may be nervous if it’s really dark in the surrounding area, so let them know in advance, and make them feel comfortable. Making sure lights are on, for example, provides a welcoming introduction to the home.
DURING THEIR STAY
Albert Einstein said, “I love to travel, but I hate to arrive.” Unfortunately, that might be true for many travelers. Once they arrive, the exciting expectations during the research and booking phase collide with reality and don’t always match.
But you can help. A guest’s overall first impression is the first memory of their vacation. It can set the trajectory of the rest of the stay. If it’s negative, it’s likely to linger and affect the impression of everything else. This may be reflected in a lower rating or negative comment in a review. You need to find out if there are any problems by reaching out shortly after they’ve arrived, whether through an email, text, phone call, or greeting in a digital guidebook. A negative experience can be turned into a positive memory if you take care of it quickly. Combine that with a personalized greeting, and you’ve really created a great first memory.
Guests don’t always know how to find or use everything on your property, they don’t want to call or text with every question. But even if they do, trying to explain an issue on the phone isn’t always easy. They want to know there’s someone there if they need help, but they’d prefer to be self-sufficient, troubleshooting issues on their own. Provide information on the property and the local area to make them feel at home and capable of finding what they need. More and more vacation rental managers are turning to digital guidebooks like the wall-mounted GuestView Guide interactive concierge from Sharp NEC Display Solutions.
Tim Justynski, director of business relations for Kissimmee Guest Services in Florida and a former board member of the Florida Vacation Rental Management Association, has a great hospitality approach. His company doesn’t just provide a great deal on tickets to attractions, it provides the road map to great memories. This includes ways to avoid traffic, the best strategy to navigate your park visit, how to cool down on hot days, and more. Tim says to always smile when talking with guests whether in person or over the phone.
Tim also talks about the importance of providing recommendations to guests about restaurants and activities. There are 240 restaurants listed on Yelp near or on International Drive in Orlando, Florida. Of those, 115 have 4.5- or 5-star ratings. How does a guest decide? A list of your recommendations with short descriptions can make the selection process a lot easier and guide your guests to the places you know will create a great experience. Which places are best if your guests have young children? Or are they looking for a fun Thursday night happy hour? How about celebrating a special anniversary? It’s all about the memories!
Another way to help create a great guest experience is by offering services that enhance their stay. These can be services you control, such as late checkout and mid-stay housekeeping, or third-party services such as boat charters, personal chefs, yoga classes, and more. By offering a variety of services, you’re helping create more experiences and memories that guests are happy to pay for.
Take advantage of these memories to build your brand. No, they’re not staying in an Airbnb! They’re staying at one of your properties. So continuously brand your company before, during, and after the stay. Once at your property, this can include digital signage.
DEPARTURE AND AFTER THEIR STAY
One of the best ways to create a memory for your guests is to take advantage of that last impression. Amber Carpenter, co-owner and chief marketing officer of ACME House Company, is in the process of creating gift baskets for departing guests that will include allergy-friendly road snacks, bottles of water, and hand wipes, all packed in a branded backpack. The backpack is especially important because it keeps their company name with the guests until they’re ready to book their next vacation or share their experience with friends. That last positive impression as they’re leaving is likely to create a memory they won’t forget.
Following up after the stay via email or text message is a sure way to stand out from many of your competitors. Travelers want to be heard, whether their experience is positive or negative. And if it’s negative, this is another chance to turn a bad memory into at least a neutral one. It’s also a perfect time to emphasize the value of a rating and a review. Positive reviews build your brand.
GUESTS REMEMBER YOU AND COME BACK
Studies have shown that less than 20 percent of travelers remember the company they stayed with 60 days after checkout. If a guest feels they were taken care of and listened to, you increase your chances of being in that 20 percent and building a relationship. As Amy Hinote says in a recent VRM Intel Magazine article, “In 2021, rebooking is vital. Strategize incentives and messaging—like locking in rates or creating reward programs—and create a foolproof plan to ensure guests who booked on third-party sites book directly with you in the future. Set a goal to increase rebooking by X percent, and track progress weekly.” Some of the most successful vacation rental management companies have rebooking rates of 30 percent or more, which helps lower marketing costs. It’s often the least expensive way to grow.
Remember, it’s about the memories as well as the experience.