The third Annual #BookDirect Guest Education Day, recurring on the first Wednesday in February, is set for February 5, 2020. With a multitude of new travelers searching for vacation rentals, vacation rental managers and homeowners are yet again joining forces for one day with a singular message to let travelers know that there are many advantages to bypassing third-party channels and booking directly with management companies and homeowners.
What Is #BookDirect Guest Education Day?
The idea for the campaign originated three years ago in a webinar discussion with several large vacation rental management companies located across the United States exploring ways to educate consumers about the value of booking vacation homes directly instead of on third-party channels. The urgency for education increased with the guest/traveler fees—and the consequential confusion among guests—that were added to Vrbo and TripAdvisor.
After the conversation, we did a little research and quickly realized it only takes a few thousand tweets on a single day to create a “trend.” In addition, vacation rental travelers often have stayed in several vacation rentals in the past and would be likely to get email messages from multiple VRMs in a short amount of time if a large number of VRMs initiated email messaging at the same time. As a result, #BookDirect Guest Education Day was born.
The campaign’s goal is for vacation rental shoppers to see multiple messages across social and email channels on the same day promoting the many reasons to book their vacations directly with managers or homeowners. With frequency as a driver, we believe that guests will understand why they should #BookDirect.
#BookDirect Guest Education Day is a collective education effort, and VRMs are encouraged to leverage their own brands in communications. The idea is to use your own graphics, customer list, and benefits and to direct people directly to your company’s website and/or social pages.
“I think the timing of this campaign is impeccable,” said Tim Cafferty, president at Sandbridge Blue Realty Services and Outer Banks Blue Realty Services and cofounder of the popular podcast Sarah and T. “The message has resonated with consumers and vacation rental managers alike.”
April Salter, chair of the Association of Vacation Rental Operators and Affiliates said, “[Vacation home owners and managers] are a creative and determined group, and they’re excited about putting advocacy into action. #BookDirect Guest Education Day is a chance to shout out to the world that booking direct is better for owners and managers and for guests. This is a chance to work together to get out the message.”
Campaign Performance (2018 and 2019)
Over the past two years, VRMs delivered creative social media posts, videos, landing pages, how-to instructions, emails, and promotions from both managers and homeowners. The independent boutique hotel industry joined the effort last year, expanding the overall reach.
Last year’s #BookDirect Guest Education campaign was able to directly communicate with over seven million travelers through email messages to past guests and prospects (reported by VRMs) and resulted in over 60 million impressions on Twitter and Instagram (Keyhole.co).
As a non branded, grassroots effort—with a zero dollar budget—the campaign trended on Twitter in both 2018 and 2019, and we hope for an even larger reach in 2020.
How to Participate
We are asking all vacation rental managers and homeowners to do the following on Feb 5, 2020:
- Use the hashtag #BookDirect on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn to bring attention to the many advantages of booking vacation rentals directly with managers or homeowners instead of on third-party channels.
- Send out an email campaign to past and prospective guests with a message about the value of booking direct, booking local, and booking smart.
- Work with local and feeder-market media sources to educate consumers about the best ways to book vacation rentals.
- Encourage local destination marketing organizations (i.e., CVBs, chambers of commerce, and state tourism organizations) to join in promoting their direct connections to lodging providers.
- Create a landing page on your website about the value of booking direct and instructing guests how to book direct.
Using #BookDirect Guest Education Day as a Catalyst for Year-Round Education Efforts
For most vacation rental managers and owners, the #BookDirect movement is not a one-time pitch. Instead, it is a launchpad for an ongoing campaign to let travelers know the following:
- When travelers book on large vacation rental websites like Airbnb, Vrbo.com, and TripAdvisor, they are paying substantial fees to use these sites.
- Many of the best homes are not listed on these third-party websites.
- Local managers and homeowners know the properties and the area better than anyone and can better match travelers to homes and help plan better vacation experiences.
- Travelers can find out about special offers that cannot be found on the big websites.
- Managers and owners can better help guests optimize dates and budgets to fit their needs.
- Travelers with special needs and requests can work directly with owners and managers in a much more personalized way to guarantee an amazing vacation for their family or group.
Mike Harrington, former president of the Vacation Rental Managers Association (VRMA) and founder of Carolina Retreats in North Carolina, has been a longtime advocate of industry-wide education. “At VRMA’s educational events, finding new avenues of marketing—both direct and through listing and third-party sites—have been some of the most requested topics at any event,” Harrington said. “With our industry now squarely in the spotlight of the mainstream travel sector, continuing to market your local brand and what makes each location and company unique is becoming more and more of a challenge. Finding ways to highlight and educate travelers of the intimate knowledge that you offer of a unique property and area is something that everyone in the industry should want us to promote in order to elevate the guest experience that is so important to the long-term health of the vacation rental industry.”
Vince Perez, vacation homeowner, property manager and founder of Fetch My Guest, agreed. “Guest education is important because travelers appreciate and expect transparency when making important vacation decisions.”
Perez added, “We believe it is important that travelers get the best value for their vacation dollars. We don’t believe charging them hidden fees on vacation rentals that will drive up their cost by hundreds of dollars is the answer. This effort gives the vacation rental professional community a voice in educating the travelers on what is taking place and how it impacts the market—and their pocketbooks.”
According to Steve Milo, founder and CEO of Vtrips, “Vrbo and Airbnb will soon realize they do not have the power in the vacation rental space they think they do. Given the dynamics of far more demand than supply, the power in this relationship is with owners and property managers with exclusive inventory.”
Heather Bayer echoed Milo’s sentiment: “Demand for vacation rentals is rising as this type of accommodation becomes a mainstream choice. Supply is critical to this trend, so it’s important for travelers to know that the OTAs don’t show the entire inventory. Giving them the information on where to find the best accommodation at the best prices and with the best people—the owners and managers—is what they need to create the best vacation experience.”
As investors and analysts examine the vacation rental industry, it is worth noting that the supply is controlled by individuals and local, independent property managers who are capable of and accustomed to voting with their feet.
“It’s been exciting to see the newsletters, posts, images, and tweets that they’ve developed and are sharing across their networks,” Salter said. “I think the message to OTAs is that vacation rental owners and managers have a voice, and they intend to play a major role in shaping the future.”