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How To Get More Direct Bookings For Your Holiday Rental

(co-written with Katie)

With most of the dominant listing sites shifting to a commission based, online booking only model, holiday rental owners are worried about lower occupancy, profits and communication with guests being prohibited.

Although listing sites provide excellent exposure for your rental, encouraging guests to cut out the middleman and book with you directly means they get a better deal, and you get to keep the full payment with no commission, booking fees or subscription charges deducted.

But how do you get holidaymakers to book directly considering the huge marketing budgets and aggressive marketing campaigns used by booking sites? It’s not impossible, as proven by Premier Inn who reported that in 2016 87% of their bookings where direct.

Whether a single property owner or a manager of several properties, here we outline several simple strategies that you can implement to encourage guests to book with you direct.

Create an email marketing campaign

Research shows that the cost of acquiring a new customer is anywhere from 5 to 20 times more expensive than retaining an existing one. Email marketing is one of the most productive and cost-effective ways to grow your business.

If you have historically used listing sites like HomeAway and OwnersDirect to generate leads, you should have a database of emails addresses for people who have previously stayed with you or enquired about availability.

Use these details to create an email marketing campaign to keep holidaymakers informed about your rental. These contacts are likely to be familiar with your rental and area, therefore they will be more inclined to engage with your emails.

Try to email at noteworthy times. Emailing around the time they booked or enquired last year, with an enticing offer, may be enough to persuade guests to book. Within that email include any new features at the property, upcoming events or attractions that are new to the area. Again, this may encourage them to stay again – and book directly.

Here is an example of a reminder email that you could use to re-engage:

Subject: (insert guests name), treat yourself to another stay at (insert property name) – Get 10% off.

Dear X

This time last year you were booking/enquiring about (insert property name e.g. our luxury cottage in Windermere).

We would love to welcome you back again, so here are the details of our exclusive special offers for repeat guests.

(offer details)

We look forward to seeing you soon.

Make sure you segment your database and send personalised offers for the guests’ profile e.g. free bubbly and chocolates for couples, doggy goody bag for dog owners, visitor attraction discount vouchers for families. Special occasions, such as Christmas and on a guests’ birthday is also a good time to connect.

Capture information

If you are just starting out, you’ll need to find other methods of building your contact database, as the major listing sites restrict direct communication between host and guests.

The best way to build your email database is to capture contact information from travellers who visit your website. If you have an enquiry form on your website then it’s easy to collect their personal details, like email and phone number.

For those visitors that aren’t ready to book or those who are browsing your website because it’s a useful resource on the local area, make sure your website is set up to capture their contact details.

Email marketing software makes it easy to embed a form, or show a pop-up on your website where users can opt-in to your emails.

Make sure you demonstrate the benefits of opting-in to receiving your emails. Is it a discount? A special guide? Latest news and events in your area? Try offering an incentive to subscribe, such as a discount on their next booking.

If you can’t get your guests email before their stay (because the booking site has restricted direct communication), make sure you get it during.

Ultimately, an email campaign gives past guests and holidaymakers a friendly reminder about your holiday home. Whilst also giving you the chance to provide useful information and encourage them to contact you directly to make a booking.

Build a brand

Did you know that more than half of holiday home guests don’t remember who they stayed with! And the chances are if they don’t remember you, they won’t book with you again.

To become listing site independent and stand out, you need to turn your holiday let business into a memorable and recognisable brand.

One way to promote your brand to guests is to create a logo for your property and incorporate your property name. This should feature on your website, emails, welcome book and photos. As a special memento, you could leave useful branded merchandise that guests can take home. Pens, notepads, a torch, postcard or trolley token keyring. Everybody loves a freebie!

Be as creative as you like. You want your guests to be reminded of the fantastic holiday they had with you every time they use these items.

Also, make sure your any guest who booked via a listing site know you have a website. Do this by advertising the link on your stationery, marketing material, social media, and on all the freebies you leave in your home.  You could also leave guests a flyer or business card inside a handwritten card, thanking them for booking with you and wishing them a lovely holiday. Adding a bottle of fizz or chocolates is also a nice touch to make it memorable.

Be sure to include an About Us page on your website. Outline your story, why you chose the property, what your perfect day is when you stay there. You might even want to include images of yourself for added personalisation. This is a great way to build trust.

Finally, make sure your brand is dominating the Search Engines should someone search for your property name, address or similar accommodation in your area. Holidaymakers start their holiday research on listing sites, but then they search Google to find the same accommodation at a better price.

Make it obvious that you’re an independent owner and guests should book direct for the best deal.

Loyalty schemes – everyone wants a deal

Offering past guests a discount, promotion, and rewards is an easy way to encourage repeat bookings. Big hotel chains have been doing this for years because it works!

Unlike listing sites, you have the opportunity to give guests a discount, freebie or offer concierge services – all incentives to book direct. This could either be 10% off, an extra night free, exclusive discounts at local restaurants or attractions you partner with. Further incentives might be a lavish welcome basket, a free bottle of wine on arrival, complimentary use of the local health club or first refusal on dates that always get booked up way in advance.

Try to give guests something you’d know they’d appreciate. If a family, dog owner or couple are looking to book, then personalise gifts and discounts around their interests.

Your loyalty scheme is not only for your past guests, but their friends and family also. Plus, if your guests friends whom they’ve recommended your property to, book it, they also get a discount off their next stay.

Another method, that may be more expensive, is direct mail advertising. With a card, letter or flyer you can send out personalised discounts for special occasions (valentines day, Christmas, Easter, birthdays etc.).

Give your guests an incentive to book with you instead of your competition.

Use paid marketing strategies

Google Adwords

To drive users to your website you will want your website to appear at the top Google should someone search for your property name or similar accommodation in your area. Investing in Google Adwords (PPC) allows you to bid to show at the top of the page when someone searches for keywords you bid on e.g. ‘dog friendly cottage in Padstow’.

A PPC campaign doesn’t have to cost a fortune, but be warned that unless your account is well structured (only bid on relevant keywords and exclude irrelevant), you will blow your budget quickly!

Once your campaign is fine-tuned, the cost per acquisition of a direct booking can be just a few pounds.

Facebook ads

Social media marketing is one of the fastest growing digital advertising methods.

With Facebook ads, you can target a certain audience based on their interests or their demographics. Review your past guest database to create a profile of your typical guest. Their average age, sex, occupation and location. Factor in whether they have a dog, a family or spouse. Use all of this data to create an advertisement that reaches the right audience.

For a more advanced option, you might consider using Facebook Custom Audience Advertising. If you’ve got a large enough list of past guests/enquirers details, you can upload this to Facebook ads. Facebook will then match those names to their Facebook profiles. You can then create tailored ads that only show to those people.

You could even create re-marketing ads that are only shown to those who have visited your website.

While fine-tuning your targeting may reduce the number of people seeing your ads, you are more likely to be reaching out to people who are genuinely interested in your property and location.

Use paid marketing to increase brand awareness and remind those who have stayed or shown interest in your property about your deals.

Create a content hub

Blogging

Many holidaymakers take it upon themselves to research a place before visiting, to get the answers to any questions they have. For example, which is the best pub in the village? Are there any family walks under 1 hour nearby? Which is the best beach?

It’s your job to create detailed blog posts to answer these questions. Because of your informative resource, the readers are more likely to remember the source of the answers, revisit and potentially book.

Also, regularly posting blogs gives search engines more content to index. As your website becomes a source of information your website visitors (potential guests) increase.

Social media

Social media is also an excellent tool for generating content. You can give travellers an insight into your rental and location by sharing images and videos of both the area and your property. You can also advertise your latest deals, local events and attractions

You could even take it a step further and have guests share images of their holiday on social media, particularly on Instagram and Facebook. Encourage holidaymakers to do this by running a competition to win 10% off their next stay if they tag you. You get free promotion and a booking with very little effort.

Reviews

Nearly everyone reads reviews before booking accommodation. Reviews are one of the most important assets that can be utilised to influence a potential guest’s booking decision. Therefore, your best reviews should stand-out on your website and social media posts. These provide social proof that you are genuine, and guests enjoyed staying at your property. Which, in turn, could encourage holidaymakers to make a booking directly on your site rather than on a listing site.

Make it easy for guests to book

Make sure that it is easy for guest to complete the booking process. An overly complicated process will infuriate customers and they’ll be less inclined to complete the booking process. This could lead to them going to a listing site and choosing a different property.

Your website should be mobile friendly, load quickly, have high-quality images and a booking system that is simple and accepts secure online payments.

Use time sensitive offers to make the guest feel like they are in danger of missing out if they don’t book now.  For example, “Only 1 week left at this rate“ or “10% off offer ends today”. Remember to say that this offer is only available to those who book directly.

Respond to guests quickly

When you receive an enquiry, you are competing with several other rentals who have also been sent the same availability request. You need to be on the ball and reply quickly to seal the booking before your competitors do.

If you are unable to respond immediately (e.g. it’s the middle of the night), it’s worth setting up an automated email response, confirming receipt and that you will reply shortly. This email should cover all the frequently asked questions that enquirers tend to ask and details of how to book.

Alongside email, you might consider live chat on your website. This way you’re actively engaging with your guests and can answer their questions immediately and encourage direct bookings. Live chat also builds trust because guests can see that you are legit.

Promote the benefits of booking directly

If you are asking guests to book directly, they need to understand why.

  • Firstly, you’ll want to offer the best rate by booking direct. If holidaymakers can get it cheaper elsewhere then are unlikely to make a direct booking. Explain that guests don’t have to pay a listing site booking fee when booking direct. Which means your direct price can save guests £100’s compared to booking on a listing site.
  • Offer guests additional benefits that are only available when booking direct. This could be a discount, gifts upon arrival, shopping delivery, discounts at local businesses, a late check-out, free wifi and local calls, airport pickup & drop off etc. A small gesture can make all the difference.
  • Unlike listing sites and OTAs which usually restrict communication, when guests book direct they can speak directly with the owner/manager. Human interaction means guests questions can be answered by someone who really knows the property and area. Having this contact builds trust and reassures guests that yours is the rental to book.
  • It’s more secure. Given the rise in online scams that have seen many victims fall foul to bogus holiday rentals, travellers are wary when booking. Many listing sites hide the details of the owner so it’s impossible to do any research on them. When guests know who they are booking with they can do their own research, read reviews, and book securely online.

Key takeaways

Securing direct bookings isn’t easy, especially given the listing sites popularity and their huge marketing budgets. However, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. It takes time and creativity, but it’s so worth it to maximise your profits and be listing site independent.

To successfully entice direct bookings, you must offer an amazing guest experience with your brand from the beginning.

To summerise:

  • Make sure potential and past guests know that booking directly with you guarantees the best possible price.
  • Ask travellers to book direct and highlight the perks they will get by doing so.
  • Answer incoming enquiries quickly. Be one step ahead of your competitors.
  • Show off your best reviews, make it easy and secure to book. Create a sense of urgency by telling users that the offer is time sensitive or that there is only limited availability left.
  • Promote loyalty programs, special offers and discounts that aren’t available on listing sites.
  • Create email marketing campaigns to engage with past guests and those who have previously contacted you.
  • Build a brand and use paid marketing to promote your website and content.
  • Don’t ditch listing sites entirely. Despite taking a commission, they do generate bookings because they have huge exposure. Travellers tend to browse listing sites, find the property and area they like then search around for a cheaper rate. Make sure you convert these lookers into bookers when they are searching around for the best deal.
  • Utilise other channels where guests can find you. Some of the smaller, niche listing sites can perform very well.

Ultimately, if you want your guests to book with you time and time again, make sure you go out of your way to ensure every part of their holiday is perfect – and give them incentives to book direct.

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