An article titled “Being Extra-Ordinary” in the Summer 2020 issue of VRM Intel shared photographs of clean, open interiors with decluttered surfaces and white bedspreads. Its purpose was to provide guidance amid COVID-19 concerns on how to communicate cleanliness to potential guests.
These tips, it turns out, might not be so temporary.
According to an article from USA Today published August 26, 2020, “STR and Tourism Economics said recently that it expects average hotel occupancy of 40 percent this year, slowly climbing to 52 percent in 2021. That’s down from a healthy 66 percent in 2019.”
Meanwhile, some vacation rental companies in beach locations are booming at 80 percent occupancy during a shoulder season where they would normally be at 50 percent on a good year. In fact, one vacation rental company reported being at 140 percent of revenue from 2019 by mid-September. There doesn’t appear to be the same “slowly climbing” trend for property managers.
Best practices in photography and descriptions took a back seat to last-minute bookings, hard-to-find cleaning crews, chargebacks, and the sunsetting of V12 (which probably felt like the cherry on top of the apocalypse). And who could blame property managers for this when many of them spent their nights and mornings Cloroxing toilets and sinks themselves?
For those coming up for air, right now is a great time to think ahead and employ these best practices to stay ahead of the curve.
Best Practices in Photography
In one sense, best practices for property photography haven’t changed and won’t change even in this strange new world. If anything, these recommendations will continue to be emphasized in the future:
Clarity: Crystal-clear photographs that plainly show details within the room and clear views out the windows convey cleanliness and transparency, which builds trust—and trust wins bookings and increases revenue. It also prevents misunderstandings. This type of quality can be achieved using HDR photography and DSLR cameras.
Color: Hues and saturation within a photograph must be consistent, and that consistency ideally should continue throughout the property/properties. Imagine ordering food based on photos where the rice and chicken looked grimy. That’s the same visceral response guests have when they see yellowing tile in a kitchen or dark gray in a bathtub when those colors shouldn’t be there.
Composition: Although nicely framed-out shots are always important, one slight change recently has been to angle the camera’s view to capture how it would look to actually be there. In other words, take photographs where the viewer can easily imagine sitting at the kitchen table and admiring the views out the window. Instead of just photographing objects within the space, trigger an emotional response that transports the viewer into that space.
Best Practices in Descriptions
People who had never (or rarely) booked a vacation rental property were suddenly searching feverishly online for any with availability within a five- to eight-hour drive of their homes. There was such a spike in demand that most TruPlace tour analytics saw a 25 percent surge in view counts during May. One property manager advertised a $40 discount for first-time Airbnb guests.
“Drive-to” traffic wasn’t just a thing, it was the thing in May and June as families who were quarantining together wanted to escape their homes without getting on an airplane. Savvy PMCs, like one based in the Florida panhandle, increased their digital marketing spend by double last year’s amount. They bought Google Ads, boosted Facebook posts, and added specific keywords to their emails and website pages that helped their SEO.
On a Super September Florida VRMA panel discussion, Brian Hamaoui of Love Rentals recommended optimizing property titles for OTAs that feature amenities that draw in guests seeking a reprieve rather than factual descriptions like “Two Bedroom, Two Bath with Pool.” He advised leveraging the property’s unique aspects at the first opportunity.
Separating the Wheat
During times of crises (or chaos), it’s not uncommon to see ambitious business owners jump on opportunities while others take cover; not many managers can stomach doubling their marketing spend while the economy is crashing. Historically, though, those who do usually gain an advantage.
What has changed during the COVID-19 pandemic thus far is that some companies have improved their brand equity and competitive position by prioritizing quality photography and updated property titles and descriptions, while others have struggled, having been swamped and short on workforce.
Property managers have had 99 problems since COVID-19 hit, but photography wasn’t one. As competition increases next year because more properties were purchased and brought online, it will be interesting to see which companies are smart enough to reinvest in these visual marketing tools.
Vacation rental companies in drive-to locations without a heavy dependency on foreign travel (sorry, Orlando) will look back on 2020 and see it as the Gold Rush. The trick for 2021 will be keeping that momentum going, which can be easily fueled by quality visuals and smart descriptions.