Getting Creative During The Coronavirus Crisis
What can we do right now to ensure we come out of this stronger?
These are unprecedented times. Many of us are going to go weeks and months without bookings or revenue. Some of our businesses will sadly not survive.
However things will change. Guests will return.
Don't sit on your hands and wait it out for the bookings to drop into your inbox.
Now is the time to get proactive.
Use the downtime. Pivot your marketing efforts and shift your strategy to focus on direct bookings.
Here is our guide to what you, as a short-term rental accommodation provider, can do to get more creative and generate your own bookings.
In no particular order...
Have a Website!
Your own website not only allows your guest to find you and book direct, but adds a level of credibility and trust which is not afforded to more anonymous OTA listings.
If you don't have one, now is the perfect time to get creating one.
Book Direct Show Confirmed Presentations
1. Anatomy of the perfectly optimized vacation rental website for increasing booking conversion
Dennis Klett, Lodgify
2. How to build your own direct booking website for less than $100 - no coding required
Alexander Caravitis, Syncbnb
Your Direct Booking Proposition
Does your website have a succinct offer to encourage travellers to book direct over using an OTA?
- Best price guarantee
- No booking fees
- Free early check in
- Free late check out
- Free breakfast
- More flexible cancellation terms
- Upgrade requests
It may sound obvious but ensure these are clearly displayed on your website.
Book Direct Button
Akin to the hotel industry, short-term rental guests now expect to be able to book instantly and not only make enquiries.
Ensure you have a clear BOOK DIRECT button to encourage your guest to book with you.
Your Booking Process
Do you know how easy or difficult it is for guest to book on your site?
Be honest! Can you say with certainty right now how many clicks it takes from start to finish to complete a booking through your site or PMS?
With every extra click, you are more likely to lose prospective bookings.
Now is a great time to ask family and friends how easy it is to book with you.
- Are you asking for too many guest details before a booking is complete?
- Do you unnecessarily require guests to register prior to making a booking?
- Does your booking page have a coupon/discount voucher which may encourage visitors to leave your site to find a code?
- Are you upselling before the booking is complete?
One of the more frustrating areas of our industry is to see visitors drop-off the booking funnel and even book the same property elsewhere.
Do yourself a favour and take some time out to perfect your booking process.
Without branding we have little way to promote our identity, attributes, values and unique selling points.
Will your guests remember your brand after their stay? Or are they more likely to remember Booking.com, Airbnb or HomeAway?
Check out this fantastic presentation from Louise Brace delivered at the More Bookings Direct Conference in February about developing your brand.
Do you upsell extra guest services? Many shrewd property managers we work with are earning up to 25% of overall revenue from selling guest extras.
- Early check in
- Late check out
- Welcome hamper
- Luggage storage (see Stasher, LuggageHero)
- Airport transfers
- Local tourist attraction tickets
GetYourGuide and Viator have affiliate programs for tourist attractions which you can embed on your site and earn referrals.
If you don't, this is a good time to consider what you might be able to offer.
Re-evaluate your Property Management System (PMS) / Channel Manager
If you are finding your current PMS or channel manager to be problematic, now is a great time to consider your options. There are several providers out there offering deals over the coming few months to help property managers.
Lodgify are offering up to 50% for new subscriptions up to March 29th.
Hostfully Use coupon code 'needmorerentals' and get a $10 discount per month over the course of your first year.
BookingSync - Get a 50% discount upon onboarding until the end of April 2020 by mentioning "BookDirect.Show".
Trust and Credibility
Are you doing everything to prove to prospective guests that your website and brand are completely trustworthy so they don't leave and book on an OTA?
Include your accreditations and memberships
See Chris Maughan of I-PRAC (host verification platform) talk about credibility.
Now is the perfect time to be publishing new content to your site.
Without adding regular quality content to your site there is little chance of your site ranking high on search engines like Google.
Aim to build your site into a platform with displays Expertise, Authority and Trust (EAT).
If it's been a while since you have added any new post/pages to your site, or if you struggle for ideas, start by going over the questions you inevitably get regularly asked by your guests pre-booking and what information you always share.
- Travel information
- Best restaurants
- Local attractions
- Local events
Search engines tend to reward pages with more words. Aim for a minimum of 500 words with some being 1500 words plus.
Check out the excellent Rental Tonic for copywriting advice.
SEO (Search Engine Optimisation)
Search Engine Optimisation is the on-going technical process to improve the visibility of your short-term rental website on search engines with the ultimately aim of driving more ‘organic’ traffic to it.
Unsurprisingly there no quick-fix with SEO as the likes of Google reward regular maintenance of a website with increased authority and ranking.
However here is a very simplified list of some steps you can take to improve your SEO and organic (natural) search engine rankings.
Some ways improve your SEO
- Ensure you have an SSL security certificate (https).
- Ensure your site is mobile responsive.
- Reduce your page speed loading time by compress high res images. Use GTmetrix, Pingdom and Google Page Speed Insights for analysis.
- Conduct thorough keyword research, especially long-tailed keyword searches. Free tools include Google Keyword Planner, Answer The Public, Ubersuggest, Google Autocomplete, Google 'Searches related to'. The Keywords Everywhere Google Chrome extension is also very useful for search volume data.
- Add keywords and synonyms to your title tags, page content (don't stuff), urls, header tags, internal links and images.
- Keep your content unique - try not to copy and paste property information to property listings on OTAs.
- Optimise your images with alt description and geo-tags.
- Add plenty internal links to pages (especially important pages) throughout your site.
- Add at least one or two external links from each page.
- Delete 'thin' pages with no traffic or limited value to your readers.
- Recycle older pages with updated information.
- Increase your click throughs with carefully constructed meta-descriptions.
- Use Schema mark up. What is Schema?
- Explore 'Featured Snippets' and how you can rank for them.
- Work on your content to encourage others to link to your site. Links to your site are still one of the most important factors in SEO
- Make sure your business name, address and phone number (NAP) citations are consistent across your website, Google My Business profile and various business directories. WhiteSpark and BrightLocal are helpful
- Optimise your Google My Business profile (verify business address, images, categories).
- Implement Google Search Console - submit sitemap, see website errors, page speed, links, view search queries and much more.
Free SEO Consultation
Do you need help with your SEO?
For March/April 2020 I am offering completely FREE consultations to help you with your SEO.
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Google My Business (GMB)
If you haven't already done so, make sure you claim your business on Google. Or if it's been a while since you visited your page, do so now as a lot will have changed.
This is essential for your local SEO.
Make sure you add lots of high resolution geo-tagged images, service areas, categories, services offered, phone number, hours and amenities.
Analyse searches used to find your listing, click conversions, requests for directions, photo views and call tracking.
Respond to reviews and messages.
Get your Google business profile short name for your review requests. It makes the whole process much easier and cleaner.
Tip - Add a tracking code to your website link to check traffic from your GMB listing.
We should all be checking over our Analytics every few days at least. There is so much invaluable free data here. Do it, now!
On the subject of data, we should all be looking at wider industry-specific data on occupancy rates, pricing and revenue.
There are several providers. They may not be cheap but the data is gold.
Have you ever thought of selling Group-on style vouchers? This could be a great opportunity to raise cash in these uncertain times.
An easy way to promote these are to send a newsletter to all of your previous guests with an offer (e.g. buy $200 credit to stay with us for just $100).
Often such vouchers go unredeemed. Free money!
Re-engage with your followers on social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter.
Let them know you are thinking of them and their well-being whilst also being completely transparent and explaining that this is a tough time for you and your locality.
Join Facebook Groups like the Hospitality Community to learn how to deal with this unprecedented situation. It helps to know you are not alone.
If you are not using video to market your properties, you're missing out.
Video search is a huge opportunity. Not only do many travellers use YouTube as a search engine for their trip but these videos are often picked up by Google for top page results.
What's more is that embedding video on your website is a great way to increase the 'dwell time' which Google loves. How many property managers out there have videos of guest reviews on their site? These are much more effective than standard text.
Start creating your YouTube channel and videos today.
Tip - Make sure you include your keywords to your titles, descriptions and tags.
See Tom Powers of Abodeca here who is one of the leading advocates of using video for short-term rentals.
Do you have relationships with your local community and even competitors?
If not, use the time and get collaborating.
There are so many benefits to partnering with businesses in your area but something that is often neglected by short-term rental managers.
Links - an easy way to get links to your site from fellow business owners. This is especially easy if you massage their ego with an interview or inclusion in a 'Best of' guide.
Referrals commissions - promote your local cafe/restaurant/tourist attraction and arrange a referral agreement for any business they pick up on a monthly or quarterly basis. This can be either tracked online or through coupons redeemed onsite.
Book Direct Offer - If you're struggling to offer an incentive to book direct, think of how you might be able to a local perk. We offer our guests a free daily coffee in a local café. Inexpensive for us plus the guest will purchase more there and possibly return for other meals. Guests love local familiarity.
Join forces - In a time of huge uncertainty about the future, could you even consider building a collective destination management platform alongside your short-term rental competitors? Or simply pass on enquiries which you can't accommodate to other property managers in return for a commission (e.g. Have You Got Network).
NEW: Yvonne Halling has just launched the BookDirectlyClub with a free 100 day new era programme worth checking out.
Have you made sure to send review requests to all of your guests in the last 6 months? If not, do so now.
Get your Google My Business shortname and use it when requesting reviews. In our experience Google reviews help significantly with local SEO and ranking in the local map.
Check over your guest reviews in the last. Have you replied to all of them? Offer a discount to stay again.
Update Your Database
This is a great time to go through your customer database for future guest newsletter communication.
If you use a CRM or marketing platform like Mailchimp this is a perfect opportunity to clean up your database and remove anyone who does not interact with your newsletters.
Here is clip of Mark Simpson speaking at the More Bookings Direct Conference about using newsletters, databases and GDPR.
Whilst nearly all events in the vacation rental industry are being cancelled over the next few months due to the Coronavirus crisis, there are still many to look forward to later in 2020 and 2021.
Based upon events we regularly attend, we recommend checking out VRWS in France hosted by Antonio Bortolotti, HOST in London, The Short-Stay Show and the new Shortyz Awards. Sadly the Host2Pros event in London was cancelled but I'm sure Robert and Sean will rearrange a date soon.
The Book Direct Show
After a very successful More Bookings Direct conference in February, we have increased the team to work on a global online/virtual conference coming later in 2020.
Again this will be dedicated to short-term rentals and how we can generate direct bookings in 2020 and beyond.
Do you listen to podcasts about the short-term rental industry?
What better way to educate yourself about the state of our industry than sit back with a cup of coffee and listen to experts interview experts?
Whatever you decide to do during this time, keep safe and let's see each other on the other side.