With the vacation rental industry now bigger and more lucrative than ever, competition is growing even more fierce. In particular, for those using OTAs and listing sites as their main source of booking generation.
In the light of recent changes from sites like HomeAway, VRBO and so on, many owners are looking to take more direct bookings via their own channels. For example, by way of their own professional vacation rental website.
It’s no secret that listing sites offer loads of exposure to get your rental offerings seen. Yet interestingly, increasing numbers of guests are wising up to the “window shopping” phenomenon – that is, checking out what is available on OTAs such as Booking.com, then searching Google to find the same accommodation option at a better price.
So how can you do your best to ensure these window shoppers convert into bookings? Read on to find out!
1. Mention your brand wherever possible
In order to point these potential guests in the right direction, you’re going to need an identifiable brand so you’ll be easy to find. For example, you could mention your home’s brand name in your listing copy, watermark your photos with your brand’s logo – plus anything else you can think of to make it obvious to your audience exactly who you are (and what they should search for!).
2. Optimize your website
Although guests these guests are looking to leave OTAs behind in favor of booking direct, that doesn’t mean they expect the experience to be any less perfect. In order to turn guests into bookings once they land on your website, you’ll need to make sure it’s perfectly optimized for booking conversion. That means having a seamless user experience from start to finish. We’re talking quick loading times, mobile-friendliness, high-quality images and, perhaps most importantly, an integrated booking system that allows you to accept online payments for your rental business.
3. Gather guest data
Just because a guest has booked via an OTA in the past, it doesn’t mean their details are defunct for you. In fact, you can use this experience to attract repeat guests before the first visit is even over. Do this by capturing guest contact information, such as a personal, primary email address when they check-in. This will give you the opportunity to remarket to them and target them for future promotions, such as personalized email campaigns or social media marketing.
4. Offer unbeatable benefits for booking direct
While they may not mean to be, guests are selfish – and rightly so! They want the best deal for themselves, so they get the most out of their well-deserved vacation. That’s why the more value you can put forward to your direct booking guests, the better they’ll feel and the more likely they are to convert. Have a think about offering a price match guarantee (or a 10% discount for direct bookings); freebies upon arrival (e.g. bottle of wine, breakfast hamper, local restaurant voucher) or even a late check-out option for those guests who book directly.
These types of benefits can really demonstrate to indecisive bookers that a move away from OTAs to direct bookings is much more worth it!
5. Create unforgettable guest experiences
Travelers who have a great experience with your brand from the moment they touch down on your site are much more likely to convert. Make every experience count by answering incoming inquiries quickly and in a professional, friendly manner. That way, you’ll already be one step ahead when it comes to exceeding expectations throughout their guest journey.
Get to know something personal about them to tailor their vacation experience, and build a lasting relationship that doesn’t simply end as soon as the guest hands back the keys. This will encourage them to come back to you directly for their next booking in the future, or to recommend your home to friends.
6. Keep in touch after check-out
A big part of delivering exceptional guest experiences is making sure it doesn’t end when you wave your guests out of the driveway. Staying in touch with guests (both those who come through OTAs and those who book direct) provides an opportune moment to promote a special deal and garner repeat bookings.
Sending out email campaigns a few months before guests’ booking anniversary might just trigger them to book again – this time, they’ll know to do it directly. Another great tactic is to collect guest cell phone numbers and social media handles so you can stay in touch via other means such as Whatsapp, Skype, Instagram and Facebook. This will further reinforce that the relationship you built with your guest is closer to friendship than just “business”.
7. Optimize your OTA listings
Though it seems counterintuitive in the space of this article, making sure your OTA listings are optimized and complete can actually do a lot of good for your direct bookings. Having consistency across the board – on your own website, on social media and on all listing sites – will help unify your brand, create credibility and gain you trust online.
Potential guests will skip straight past a poor OTA listing onto the next competitor, so they won’t even have the chance to find your brand for themselves elsewhere. Keep OTA listings appealing and of high quality to increase your chances at converting window shoppers into bookings.
8. Just ask them to book directly!
“If you don’t ask, you don’t get” – or so the saying goes. Why not follow this advice for your vacation rental business? Each and every time you speak to travelers and potential guests, be it via email, over the phone, on social media or anywhere else, name drop your website and let guests know they can book direct with you to avoid fees. Due to increasing user charges on platforms like HomeAway, more owners than ever are plastering their social media sites with banners to promote “booking directly to save money”. There’s no stopping you from doing the same in your groups and friendship circles.
Now being charged more to make a booking themselves, savvy guests are constantly comparing the market to find the most suitable (and affordable) offer. Make sure it’s yours they go for by asking them personally to book direct. Not only will it be one extra direct booking for your calendar, but they’ll also likely save some money or reap the benefits in another way with your freebies or similar perks.
Follow the eight tried and tested steps above to have your best shot at converting any OTA window shoppers into direct bookings. Is there anything else you do to increase your conversion away from listing sites? Let us know in the comments!