Booking season is coming!

Did you know that 42% of all vacation rental bookings are made between January and April of each year? Yep, that’s right. According to our friends at TripAdvisor “millions of travelers will soon be planning their 2018 trips.” At Lodgable, we’re always looking for ways to help our hosts receive more bookings. Here are some tips to help you profit from the busy season.

Of All bookings made Jan - Apr

#1. Advertise on more channels

According to HomeAway Software, one rental seen by 10,000 travelers only needs a 0.0001% conversion rate to generate one booking. Lodgable currently works with over 40+ channels that average over 1.08 billion total monthly visitors, based on SimilarWeb’s analytics. The potential for new bookings is huge! List once on Lodgable and then we’ll do the legwork to publish the listings on your behalf, where travelers book most.

#2. Make sure you have great photos

Having good photos just might be the most important selling tool for your vacation rental. TripAdvisor and FlipKey discovered that travelers are 83% more likely to inquire or book your listing if it contains at least 20 high-quality photos. Having more pictures will also help you rank better in search results.

So what makes a good photo?

Upload large photos:

Your photos shouldn’t be pixilated or blurry. Channels like Booking.com and AirBnB display large photos, sometimes over 2000 pixels wide or more depending on the device. If your photos are old and small, take new ones. Most new Android or Apple phones take photos at 8 megapixels or larger. Make sure to upload the highest resolution photos when you’re creating your rental listing. Avoid sending the photos through email before you upload as it may compress the images.

Rental photo comparison

Don’t use dark images:

Make sure that your images are well lit and not dark. Your photographs should reflect when your space looks the best. This is typically when the most sunlight enters the room. Avoid taking interior pictures at night and avoid using camera mounted flashes at all costs. Flashes can distort the perspective of how your place actually looks. Whenever possible, use natural light. Don’t take exterior photos at night unless you have a DSLR camera, tripod, and are experienced. If in doubt, hire a professional. It will be well worth the investment.

Take landscape photos:

When you take a photo of a room travelers want to see the entire space, not just a section of it. Due to this, hold your camera or phone sideways, level with the horizon. Landscape or horizontal photos give a much wider perspective.

Consider staging your photos:

Help travelers connect with your place by telling a story with your photos. For example, consider preparing a wine and cheese plate for an outdoor space, present your bathroom towels folded creatively, light your firepit and display roasting sticks and smores, make sure that your bed is clean and immaculate, and add some photos that you took of your biggest nearby attractions. The better the story, the more your picture will connect with the guests.

#3. Speed up your response time

Most travelers are shopping multiple rentals at once. If you fail to respond to them quickly, you may miss out on new business. According to HomeAway, 57% of travelers will look to book elsewhere if they didn’t hear back from you within  24 hours. AirBnB believes travelers will look elsewhere just after 6 hours. TripAdvisor has also observed that hosts are 2x more likely to secure a booking if they respond within 6 hours.

In addition to affecting booking conversions, your failure to respond quickly will actually hurt your placement in search results too. Most channels expect you to maintain a response rate of at least 90% when determining premium listing placement. Research has also shown that prompt responses correlate with positive guest reviews. It pays dividends to answer quickly.

#4. Keep stay requirements short

If you require a minimum night stay of 7 nights or more, you’re likely missing out on a plethora of bookings.  The average American only gets 10 days of paid leave per year, but most don’t take it. This means whenever they do vacation, they require flexibility. According to HomeAway and AirBnB, 99% of all guests worldwide will stay less than one month and 72% of travelers will stay less than 7 days, with the average guest staying 4 nights. Lower your minimum night stay requirements today to attract more travelers and lift your potential.

% Guests That Stay Less Than 30 days

99%

% Guests That Stay Less Than 7 Days

72%

#5. Enable instant booking

Allowing guests to book instantly, online, using a credit card is the new standard for vacation rentals. There’s always been a level of uncertainty, when it comes to booking requests, for travelers. Travelers want to know that their stay is confirmed the moment they enter their payment info. According to a HomeAway study, 92% of travelers prefer to book online. Nearly all major channels like HomeAway and AirBnB have embraced this change and have seen outstanding results. Hosts on average can expect a 60% increase in bookings when they start using instant book, according to AirBnB.

Channels have also begun filtering out rentals that opt out of instant bookings in their search results. So with a flick of a little button, that means if you don’t have it enabled that a traveler may never see your rental at all. Lodgable will help you to keep your calendars in sync and navigate the ever-growing changes of channel management. Now more than ever, it’s important to use tools like Lodgable to stay on your “A” game and maximize your occupancy.

#6. Keep your calendars up to date

Not only do travelers expect your calendars to be up to date but channels do too. The frequency of how often you update your calendar is directly correlated with your listing placement in search results. Calendars that are updated hourly or daily always rank higher than those that get updated weekly or monthly. Some channels will even remove your listing if your calendar is 30 days old. Stop manually updating calendars yourself or relying on faulty iCal calendars. Instead, start using Lodgable’s direct API integrations with channels like Booking.com, AirBnB, VRBO, HomeAway, FlipKey, and others. We use the latest technologies so your calendars will be updated in the fastest and most reliable methods available to the industry.

#7. Request reviews, get rewarded

This is the era of reviews. When it comes to making a purchase decision, most people won’t buy a product without consulting Amazon, try a new restaurant without checking Yelp, or try a new service without researching Google reviews. A vacation rental is no different. 95% of travelers confirm that they read reviews before booking. TripAdvisor, the leader in travel reviews, reported that 72% of travelers also said that they wouldn’t book a short-term rental without a review. Review company, Trust You, also confirms that 76% of travelers are willing to pay more for an accommodation with a higher review score.

So what does this mean for you?

  • Positive reviews can increase your rental’s value

  • Positive reviews will draw more customers and bookings

  • Negative reviews can destroy your business

How do I get my first reviews?

Lower your rates to build reviews:

You need bookings to get your first reviews. Typically only 28% of travelers are willing to try out a place without reviews. However, most people are willing to try new things in exchange for value. One way to provide immediate value and get more bookings is by lowering your rental rates. Not only will this make you stand out from the competition, but it may also help you appear higher in search results. Look at it as in investment. Losing a little money now will help you to make up to 76% more long term.

Send a personalized message requesting a review:

Even if a channel requests a review for you, sending a friendly reminder to a guest can increase your likelihood of  1) getting a review and 2) getting a positive review.  Some host’s find great success mailing hand-written thank you notes and including a review request. You could even email them something like this:

“We enjoyed hosting you and wish you safe travels. If you enjoyed your stay would you mind leaving us a review or feedback? It helps us to keep improving the experience for our guests. Thank you!”

No matter what you do, let them know how important reviews are to the success your rental. Don’t forget to let them know how to leave a review.

What should I do after getting a review?

Respond to your guest reviews:

Some channels allow you to post a public reply to a guest review. Responding to online reviews can be equally important, whether positive or negative. It helps to show travelers how attentive and welcoming you are to guest feedback. It also validates how effective you are in addressing customer issues and concerns. Whenever you do respond, make sure to stay polite, be professional, and avoid technical jargon. The simpler the better. Remeber, your replies should build up your reputation and help to attract potential guests.  If you respond irrationally, not just one, but multiple people will see your review. Make sure to keep your cool, no matter what a guest may say.

#8. Offer key amenities

Maximize amenities for search results:

When travelers are searching for a place to stay they use filters to narrow their results. Due to this, make sure to include all of your amenities in your listing, even the most noticeable ones. If you don’t, your rental may never show up in their search results.

Offer popular amenities:

The Huffington post and HomeAway recently surveyed thousands of travelers, in independent studies on hotels and vacation rentals, to ask about what amenities drive a booking decision. You’ll discover the top 20 vacation rental amenities below.

Both hotel and vacation rental travelers:

  1. Free Wi-Fi
  2. Free parking
  3. Air conditioning
  4. Non-smoking rooms
  5. Complimentary breakfast
  6. Swimming pool
  7. Complimentary tea and coffee
  8. Bathroom/shower
  9. The size of the space
  10. Large TVs
  11. Premium bedding
  12. 24/7 host availability
  13. Optional daily housekeeping

Unique to vacation rental travelers:

  1. Full kitchen with fridge and microwave
  2. Entertainment options (i.e Netflix, DVD, or Blu-Ray Player)
  3. Large comfortable sofas
  4. Towels and linens
  5. Toiletries provided
  6. Washer and dryer machine
  7. Family amenities (i.e a crib, highchair, etc.)

If you’re missing some of these, consider adding them to boost your booking potential. At minimum add Wi-Fi.

#9. Keep your headline brief and highlight amenities

When travelers browse search results, you may only have a split second to grab their attention. Use these techniques to make your rental stand out!

  • First, invite the traveler to picture themselves at your place by highlighting top attractions, amenities, characteristics, or the mood of your rental. For example, if you have a high-end  place in Pigeon Forge, TN near major theme parks you could use “Luxury Condo 2 Miles from Dollywood and Splash Country.” If your place is on the beach and large enough for families you could try something like “Sunny & Bright, Large Family Space, Steps Away From Beach.” The idea is to summarize the best of what your rental has to offer in 50 characters or less.
  • Next, your featured image should deliver and restate what you promised in your headline. So if you used “Sunny & Bright, Large Family Space, Steps Away From Beach,” consider featuring a photo of the entire living room (and balcony if you have one) overlooking the ocean. To emphasize on the “Sunny & Bright,” take the photo when there is a blue sky and lots of natural light entering the room.
  • Lastly, avoid abbreviations and slang words in the headlines. Both domestic and international guests should be able to clearly understand your message to have the best impact. Using complete words may also help you to rank higher in search results.

#10. Offer flexible cancellation policies

Travelers are demanding more flexible cancellation policies as they take less time to plan their vacations. The average booking window, for vacation rentals, decreased from 80 days to 60 days between 2015 to 2017 and is on a downward trend. Research has shown that rentals with more flexible cancellation policies on average get more listing views and place higher in search results. Rentals with cancellation penalties, that begin 60 days or more prior to check out, are less popular with travelers. Since channels know this, listings with strict cancellation policies are starting to get buried in search results.

HomeAway recently did an experiment, with cancellation policies, working with 7 property managers representing over 1,000 properties. They tested the effects of offering free cancellations up until the 60-day mark, prior to check-in. What they found was staggering.

“All participating managers saw an increase in reservations. The average increase was 40%, while the lowest increase was 21% and the highest was 163%. Managers in seasonally active booking period saw the highest increases.”
– HomeAway Software

Offering a flexible cancellation policy also increased bookings for stays less than 60 days out, even though no added benefit was provided to the travelers. There were also very few cancellations that actually occurred. The overall result was a significant increase in revenue. Most travelers also booked more than 60 days out with a more flexible policy.

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