There is one market that many vacation rental owners and property managers aren’t making the most of – repeat guests. Tapping into your existing database and getting some repeat visits on the books is not only a great way to boost rental income, but it’s also an important method for increasing word-of-mouth recommendations and knockout reviews that will help grow your business.
We spoke to 13 successful vacation rental businesses to find out what makes their guests come back year after year. Take a look at what they had to say!
1. “Without a welcoming property, no amount of discount will bring guests back”
“We have plenty of repeat guests and this is due to a number of factors, but the key is how the property is presented i.e. personal touches that make them feel that you have truly thought about them. We offer a 5% discount for returning guests or local cheese and wine platter. At Cicada and Hunter Moon Country House, we run Facebook promotions and ads and this seems to remind people that they wanted to come and they rebook. We also try and post something once a week to jolt their memory, and that also helps sometimes to obtain our returning guests. We sometimes put packages together such as a wine tour, personal chef experience and yoga that makes it easier if they are doing a group booking. They generally return one to three years later.
I just want to reiterate if you don’t make the property welcoming, i.e. flowers, wine, artisan soaps/shampoos/conditioners, coffee, array of teas, all cleaning products for a group, leaving it clean and tidy and with everything working – then no amount of discount will work to bring them back if they never had a good experience in the first place.”
2. “A quality facility backed by good service”
“We have several customers who continue to come back. Some of these are work-related (i.e. we have a cardiologist who comes roughly every five weeks and provides a clinic in our rural area for patients who would otherwise have to travel 2.5 hours to receive the same care); other guests are institutional (for example, the local School Division uses our B&B for any administrative or training people they bring in to town); and the rest are recreational (for example, a couple from England have now come five times simply because we all enjoy each other’s company.)
The motivation for returning guests at Noble House Suites has clearly been their response to what we like to believe is a quality facility backed by good service. We enjoy what we do and I believe people enjoy coming here. No special offers.
Apart from that, we have several guests who return annually for special events in the town, i.e. the city’s International Baseball Tournament; the annual car show (Park in the Park); our annual Rock Concert (Canafest). As well as parents of hockey players who play for the local Junior B team.
We always encourage direct booking from our repeat customers, but as I think about it, I cannot recall somebody booking through a booking program (i.e. Booking.com or Expedia) subsequent to their first visit. Again, with no incentive from us.”
3. “The key is doing the work the first time round”
“We have a lot of repeating customers every year. We have been in business since 2008, renting houses and apartments in Phuket on our website husikamala.se. The key to attracting repeat guests? You have to do the work while they are staying the first time. Always be aiming for 5-star reviews and of course, make the customer feel comfortable from day one.
From there, you can keep in contact with the guest through newsletters and emails. Remind them of the reasons why they will want to come back to you. And if necessary, let them have some returning discount, or a free airport transfer or something else that makes them feel truly special.”
4. “An unbeatable place, a personal touch and free wine & croissants”
“Since we started renting holiday apartments at Villa d’Arnaud, several repeat guests come here every year. Though we haven’t had to do much to get them to come back. It’s not so much persuading people – they return here for several reasons. They love the place; that’s the first and most important thing. And then there is the personal touch. I offer them a bottle of wine and serve them fresh croissants from the bakery. Then there’s the moment I’m having a chat – personal contact is established, and we tend to have a drink together some day during the week. Villa d’Arnaud feels like a second home to our guests.
We keep in touch by newsletter, Facebook and very personal – if the click is there – by WhatsApp. Mostly they come once a year. Some of them twice a year. We have a small and very personal accommodation, so freebies or activities don’t suit us very much. Though returning guests do get a discount and more free bottles of wine!”
5. “Find out about guests during their stay and ask them outright when they are coming back”
“Hawks Landing Resort has only been open for two years, but over 75% of our summer guests have opted to return to our resort the following year. For us, it isn’t “persuasion” – it’s creating a relationship with our guests. Throughout their week we find out about them, add them to our Facebook Page, make sure they are enjoying their stay and at the end of the week, ask them when they are coming back and look for them to commit.
Usually, they are set up for the following year. If they enjoyed a weekend stay, we’ll ask if they want to come back later on before the fishing season is over/it gets cold/etc.
We generally tend to create a sense of scarcity to draw more repeat bookings in. If they don’t book almost six months early for their summer vacation, they probably will not get a room.”
6. “A unique location and competitive rates”
“We have many returning/repeat guests. Many of them are snow birds and stay for long periods of time, i.e. more than one month.
Our resort is quite unique in that it is the most spacious and private resort in the heart of Poipu (it has seven acres of botanical gardens with only 30 units on it), and very close to all beaches. Once people have stayed here, most do come back on a regular basis. During the low-season periods we usually offer a 10% discount for returning guests. During the winter months and spring (high-season & mid-season) we maintain our regular rates, which are quite competitive in the Poipu area in the first place and do not offer any discounts.
Other than during the low-seasons, we usually do not offer any extra discounts because we already have enough returning guests. We do not offer any incentives other than that all our guests will find a bottle of good, cold white wine and two glasses in their fridge upon arrival (as a freebie). Furthermore, all units also have their own parking spot next to the condo and a WiFi Internet connection – there is no charge for that.”
7. “Treat guests like family”
“At Boleros Alto Vista, we have hosted several repeat guests. They are not much yet, but to mention most of them:
- A young couple with their two-year-old daughter from Venezuela, came twice two years ago. They loved the safety and amenities of the place. They appreciated us inviting them for local activities and organizing at home social activities.
- Another couple, more middle-aged, also from Venezuela. They love to be here during the Christmas season. They also visited us twice, and loved the tranquility and peace at our place. Also the experience we provided, such as the chance to participate in the festivities with fireworks and our traditional dande are key elements. They also fell in love with our dogs!
- A couple from the US who came for the first time early last year for a week, they enjoyed it so much that less than three months later
they returned with their two pre-teen sons for another week. They enjoyed the sea water sports and off-road/exploring around the island.
- An elderly couple who are here this year for the third time in a row, staying each time for two months. They are from north Florida, but found us and are coming this time with one of their grandsons. The period is usually mid-February until mid-April. They appreciate the beaches, the weather, the amenities-tranquility-safety of the place, and a good conversation with us.
- A mid-thirties couple that came twice during the Christmas period, 2014 and 2015. In 2015, they brought their parents who stayed at another unit of ours.
The most important factor in persuading guests to return has been treating them as part of the family, hosting them the way you would any close friend. Those who book for the second or third time are offered a special discount. We also recently started experimenting with Google Ad Words and the use of Facebook and Instagram to tell our stories. From the reviews we receive, we can confirm that cleanliness, accuracy, communication, check in and amenities are keys.”
8. “Personalized incentives to make repeat guests feel special”
“At Maha Bali, We have some repeat guests and we usually offer them incentives like a special price (a 15% off discount when booking direct on our website). Otherwise, we provide them with free airport pick-up and offer them a complimentary spa massage or free one-day tour. This condition generally depends on the type of accommodation they book. To attract these guests to return, we create Facebook ads and post messages to our fan page. We also allow early check-in and late check-out (when available) as an added extra.”
9. “Our repeat guests love the service, value and no booking fees!”
“We host repeat guests on a regular basis. Some guests stay with us every year or sometimes even a few times a year. Many guests come back because they like the service and value. We do sometimes offer discounts, but most of the time they pay the same price. Most guests also like the fact that they don’t have to pay any booking fees on our website, stayinchiangmai.com, as opposed to most online portals like Airbnb and FlipKey.”
10. “Understanding guests and providing good old-fashioned service”
“The key to repeat business for Book Twizel has been based around CRM (customer relationship management) and making sure we understand our guests. The vast majority of our guests will only ever be staying with us once, due to their travel distance from New Zealand and/or Twizel.
However if you identify which guests could revisit, you can focus your resources on building a relationship with them. Establishing what is important to each guest, e.g. do they have a preferred payment method? Is there a particular property that suits their needs? (And what do they like most about that property, so if it’s not available you can offer alternatives!) How do they like to complete the check-in processes? For each guest there is usually a key, you just have to take the time to ask the right questions and understand their needs. I know it sounds cheesy but actually it’s all about good old-fashioned service! Depending on the size of your business you may need to have a system of storing this information.
We have never offered discounts or giveaways. If you start down this road, you set a level of expectation and I believe the guests will always be looking for “deals”. I’ve found that actually people will always be happy to pay the standard rate if you make them feel valued and provide a personalised service. This is proven by the fact we now have guests who stay regularly bi-monthly for up to a week at a time.”
11. “Personal relationships and ongoing communication, long after the stay”
“We have hosted plenty of return guests at SurfLodge Limasan and I would say the key factor has been forming a relationship with these guests, through personal service and ongoing communication through sites like Facebook (to send birthday wishes, for example). Our guests usually have recurring travel patterns, so most of them come back a year or so later, and we always give our returning guests a 20% discount.”
12. “Returning guests are pure gold – VIPs”
“We’ve had the pleasure of hosting a number of repeat guests and their friends at BudaHome.
I believe that the key factor in persuading someone to return is the human touch. Discounts and special offers are important too, but if you haven’t established a personal relationship with your guest the first time around, it’s unlikely they’ll come to you again. For me, this relationship-building starts the moment they make the booking, and it continues throughout and after their stay.
I want my guests to think of me as more than a faceless receptionist. I want them to know that whatever they need (no matter how strange the request), I’m there to help. Usually when they start calling me Kati instead of “Dear Sir/Madam”, “Hello Staff” , “Team” or even “Mrs Ruotolo”, I know I’m on the right track. I firmly believe that in this technology-driven world, where all major companies use standard one-size fits-all message templates, people really appreciate being able to talk to another human being. Someone who will actually bother reading and understanding their message and give a pertinent answer.
My staff are also crucially important in establishing this relationship. One of the older ladies that works for me is known for her motherly attitude towards our guests. She waits for them with a cup of hot tea in winter and cold beverages in the summer. She offers them cookies, rushes to fix things if there’s a problem and is never shy of giving them a hug. Needless to say, guests love her and she’s frequently described in our reviews as lovely, kind, helpful, etc.
Our rentals are in a big city so we don’t have the same type of seasonal guests a beach or mountain resort might have. However some of our most enthusiastic guests have sent us their friends in between their visits. Typically, returning guests in our city are either people who have family or friends here, or travelers who have come to appreciate the local way of life either by working or studying here. Our most loyal guest has a brother who lives in the city. After finding us on Airbnb, she came back (booking directly with us) about four times in less than three years and she also sent us many of her friends.
A returning guest who books directly with us is pure gold and should be treated as such. So of course we do offer them discounts and freebies. To me, everyone who books directly with us is a VIP guest.”
13. “Reasonable prices and a great view”
“At A Vista d’Mar, I am lucky to host a lot of repeat guests. The key factor in them deciding to return is the value they find here… not only do we have really reasonable prices, there is also a great view and of course, very clean condos. Our first guest returned within two to three months. Since then, I have begun offering 20% off weeknight stays during the months of April – June, and Oct – Dec, in order to fill up my weeknights. Weekends are ALWAYS booked out.”
It’s clear to see that key factors in attracting repeat guests are creating lasting personal relationships, providing outstanding service during the stay, and sometimes (though not always!) offering tempting incentives.
What do you think encourages your guests to return? Get in touch to let us know in the comments!