How to Get More Holiday Home Bookings in the Low-Season
November to February is typically a quiet period for UK holiday cottage bookings. At this time of the year, the occupancy calendar can look depressingly empty. Although the inherent seasonality of the travel sector in general means there are fewer people looking to go on holiday during this period, with a little creativity there are still plenty ways to increase bookings during the low-season.
Define your low–season
Take a look at your occupancy rate over the last couple of years to determine when your low-season is. If you’re a new owner and don’t have this information, look at the availability of other holiday lets in your area or pick the brains of a local letting agency. Ask yourself why bookings are low? Is it school term time or is it because of cold/wetter weather? Once you’ve identified when and why – it’s time to turn this around.
Build a profile of your typical low–season guest
You probably have in mind the typical guest who stays at your holiday cottage. For example, a family of 4 (plus their pet dog) who want to explore the local tourist attractions, restaurants and beaches. This may fit the profile of your typical guest for the high season, but are you sure they fit the profile of your low-season guests?
Analyse your previous booking data for shoulder season bookings and build a profile of your perfect low-season guests. You might find it’s retirees who want to avoid the high-season crowds or couples looking for a cosy weekend away.
Where did most of those low-season bookings come from, Airbnb, Vrbo, your website or previous guests?
Also, look through both yours and your competitors’ reviews from guests who visited in the quiet season. Who were they and what did they like and do? Crisp winter walks, pub lunches, snuggling by the fire or a soak in the hot tub after a day walking?
Once you understand who your past guests were, it will help you define who your ideal low-season guest is – now you can adapt your holiday rental marketing to capture more bookings.
Adjust your price… only if it makes business sense!
Make your low-season prices attractive and affordable. Low enough to appeal at lean times of the year (e.g. just after Christmas) but high enough to cover your costs and make a profit. Take a look at your direct competitors (including hotels) who are doing well with bookings the quiet season and see how they are setting their low-season prices.
Avoid under-pricing dates that are in high demand e.g. valentines. You only need to lower your prices when the demand drops.
Use a dynamic pricing tool which use market data to build an automated pricing strategy.
Not only should your price be competitive, but it should also cover your expenses to help your business to stay profitable.
Create packages and special offers
In off-peak seasons most holidaymakers will be seeking a deal. The best way to entice people to book your rental is to offer an incentive.
Rather than discounting your rental rates, an alternative strategy is to offer more value at the same price to boost the appeal of your holiday cottage.
- Think about the market you’re trying to attract and what appeals to them. For instance, you may attract couples looking for a relaxing holiday and spa visit. How about offering them a special discount for a nice spa near to your rental? Or what about offering them a discount voucher for a meal at your favourite restaurant?
- Weekends may still be in high demand, but it can become harder to find guests looking to stay during weekdays. How about running special offers for weekdays, for instance by offering 4 nights for the price of 3?
- You can also include a percentage discount such as “save 30%” so travellers know they are getting a deal. Research found that hotels who offered a 5% or 10% discount rather than no discount, increased their conversion rate by over 10%.
- If there are some local events taking place in the low season, you can also create a package including 2 free (or discounted) tickets to the event.
- Establish partnerships with local businesses to create special offers and discounts for your guests. By offering your guests added-value deals you might find you’re able to fill much more of your calendar. After all, everybody loves a bargain!
- Don’t ask for a damage deposit– this reduces the perception of the overall cost. Most cottage owners don’t deduct from damage deposits anyway.
Upgrades your amenities to make your rental more appealing
How can you improve your property features to make it more appealing to winter guests?
- There is nothing better during the winter months than escaping from the cold outdoors and snuggle next to a log burner.
- Underfloor heating and a large dryer for wet walking clothes are nice additions.
- Add a hot tub … especially if you are targeting families and couples. Few things are more relaxing than hot tub under the stars.
- Provide a spare pair of boots/wellies and walking guides for walkers.
- Winterising your welcome pack too. It could be a nice touch to include some hot chocolate sachets/chocolate bombs, cosy blankets and fleecy throws, a hot water bottle and snuggly dressing gowns.
Make it a real treat to stay at your holiday cottage in low season.
These little things could really be game-changers during the booking process and could really give you the competitive advantage you need.
In the quieter winter months, you may find that being flexible with your arrival/departure days, check-in/out times and lowering your minimum stay generates more bookings.
Update your seasonal photos
Images are one of your key marketing tools. Capture images that set the scene for out-of-season guests. Such as outdoor photos that show golden autumn leaves on a crisp winter morning, mountains capped with a light dusting of snow or the local Christmas markets. Your garden in bloom with spring flowers or leaping lambs in a neighbouring field.
Miserable weather may keep guests from exploring the great outdoors, so show them what they can appreciate if holed-up indoors. Photos showing a selection of board games and books, a delicious winter warming stew on the stove, mugs of hot chocolate and homemade cookies that guests can indulge whilst relaxing by a cosy log fire.
Have a hot tub? Then show how it can be a soothing retreat after a busy day with a glass of something special.
If you aren’t confident in your photography skills, consider hiring a professional photographer to take amazing photos.
Once you have a selection of photos, update your website, listing site ads and social media accounts, showing how nice your property is during the low-season Conveying your holiday home as a homely, warm and cosy place to retreat to will be a huge incentive.
Update your listings and website
To attract guests looking for a break in the low-season, whether it’s a post-Christmas break or a valentine’s day treat, you need to make sure your accommodation stands out from the competition.
What do guests want from a holiday? What problems can you solve for them?
Update your listing ad descriptions to highlight why the off-season is a good time to getaway. Writing “take a snooze in the glorious sunshine” in your description won’t be relevant to those looking for a winter break in the Lake District.
Create a series of blog posts: how to spend the perfect day, the top places for afternoon tea or a Sunday lunch, the best local spas or list 10 things visitors must do during winter. There are a surprising number of events that occur in winter to keep guests entertained. Christmas markets, pumpkin picking, Oktoberfest celebrations, sporting events, concerts and food festivals, to name a few.
Use this to your advantage by promoting such events. If people find out about these events from your blog, they’re more likely to remember you and maybe book your rental.
Emphasize how your rental can keep the kids entertained, for example, board games for the whole family, a games console, a heated hot tub, cooking books and baking utensils.
Some guests simply want to get away without having to queue, cram, or plan (as in the summer). It’s about getting some much-needed rest and relaxation. Set the scene so potential guests can picture themselves lounging by your log burner or unwinding in the local cosy pub.
Your social media accounts are also the perfect platform for sharing content and images that appeal to potential guests. Feature photos of special winter menus at the local pub, scenic views or a dog snoozing by the fire.
If you struggle with creative writing, then hiring a travel copywriter to write enticing copy could be a wise investment.
Make booking easy
A spontaneous getaway in winter is a growing trend, so you need to be capable of pulling off a quick turnaround. Make it easy for travellers to book at the last minute. Your property should be bookable online with an option to pay via credit card – 24/7.
Also, make sure your availability calendar shows 12+ months ahead to encourage early bookers to get the best deal.
Reach out to previous guests
When the low season is on the horizon, send out emails to your previous guests and newsletter list. Let them know about your winter special offers and remind them of their loyalty discount. Add an incentive by offering an extra discount to the first 5 guests who re-book, telling them that this offer is exclusive to them as a valued past guest.
A ‘Black Friday’ offer sent before Christmas could help those of us who struggle for present ideas – a winter weekend away in a cosy cottage sounds perfect.
Also, let them know about any improvements you have done at your cottage and focus on the various local events taking place. Such as Halloween, Bonfire Night, Christmas markets etc.
Offering past guests a discount, incentive and rewards is an easy way to encourage repeat bookings. These guests already know what to expect when staying with you, an exclusive, tailored offer can be enough to get the booking.
This could be a discount when they stay in the low season or something free such as a luxury welcome pack. Another idea is to send a discount voucher on their birthday or on the anniversary of their booking.
Your loyalty scheme and discounts are not only for your past guests but their friends and family also.
You could also contact people who enquired about your holiday home in the low season, did not book because your rental was full, but mentioned that they would maybe book in the future. A reminder about your great holiday rental and a special offer might be enough to entice them to book.
Special deals are a great excuse to contact past guests or follow up inquiries that did not turn into bookings.
Widen your market
One of the best ways to generate interest is to target niche markets and opt for multiple promotional channels to broaden your target audience.
For those who don’t allow pets, you might consider changing this for the winter period and advertise on pet-friendly listing sites. Tell potential guests why your holiday let is the perfect dog-friendly destination for them, do you have an enclosed garden? Walks they can go on in the local area with their dog, dog-friendly pubs and beaches.
Is there a market for people who are looking for long-term stays?
Would your property suit families with toddlers who can take advantage of the shoulder months when prices are lower and crowds more dispersed. Highlight everything you have in your cottage for their children, so they don’t have to unnecessarily load up the car. Tell them where to go and what can they do with their children.
If you have good cycling or walking routes near your holiday cottage you should target walkers, hikers and cyclists. Include information on routes (and the best places to stop for food and drink) on your website and promote them through your social media. Could you attract those training for a triathlon?
If you have a 4-bedroom family holiday home, but want to attract couples during the low season, consider closing off bedrooms, then re-advertise it as a one or two-bedroom home at a more appropriate price.
Can you advertise your property on niche holiday rental sites which have a different target audience?
Show off your reviews
Endorsements from past guests who stayed in the low-season help get bookings. They show why your property is a desirable destination in the winter and what made their stay special. Did they enjoy the local markets, your cosy log burner, the welcome pack on arrival, crisp morning walks from your doorstep or the winter menu at your local pub?
If you find that some travellers ask the same questions before booking e.g., what’s the weather like? can you still get there if it snows? Make sure any reviews that address these queries are promoted on your website. For example: “The sunny terrace is the perfect spot to gaze at the mountains in the distance” or “We arrived during heavy snow but all the paths had been cleared for us, the kids enjoyed a day of sledging and building a snowman”.
Feature winter testimonials on your website, emails and social media so guests can visualise what to expect.
Promote Christmas and New Year
Although your Christmas and New Year dates are likely to book up, there are still lots of people looking to get away both before and after Christmas. Your rental rates in December and early January are probably a fraction of the cost compared to the festive holidays, but guests can still experience the festive activities.
Here are some tips on how to create a Christmas cottage guests will love.
Finally, don’t fret about the low season
Holiday letting is competitive and you need to stand out amongst the competition, even more so when targeting low-season travellers. Hopefully, these tips will help.
However, don’t obsess over filling winter months if it doesn’t make sense financially or if there simply isn’t enough demand. Use this time efficiently to undertake essential maintenance, create next year’s marketing strategy or simply enjoy the time off.
If you have any tips to boost bookings, please share them in the comments so other holiday rental owners can benefit.