By Doug Kennedy — More so than any other segment of the lodging industry, vacation rental companies have been able to count on a solid base of business from loyal, repeat guests. Often, it is the same family calling to book the same home or condo for the same week as the previous years. Many of my clients report repeat bookings as comprising 65 percent of their annual bookings, with some clients far exceeding even that percentage.
With this level of return guests calling in, it is easy for reservations sales agents to become complacent. Being in the reservations mystery shopping business, my staff of mystery callers hears this playing out every day. When we sign up new clients whose agents have not yet been trained, and when our KTN mystery shoppers reply “No” when asked if they have stayed with us before, we nearly always hear disappointment in the agent’s tone of voice.
Also, most agents send our mystery shoppers back online to view property photos and virtual tours. It seems clear to me that most rental sales agents are biased towards the repeat callers and therefore have an “order-taking” vs. “order-making” paradigm.
Reservations sales agents in the vacation rental space need to be trained to know that the first-time caller is thebest opportunity to truly impact the long-term viability of operations. Sure, these callers require more assistance and it takes more time to convince them to book, but the ability to close sales from new guests is truly the lifeblood of the vacation rental industry.
Unlike the Baby Boomers and Gen X-ers before them, Millennials, in particular, are fond of seeking new adventures when they travel. This is why they are the most likely age group to utilize traditional travel agents. According to the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) President Zane Kerby, “Millennials are leading the way in travel agent usage” and “30 percent have used a travel agent in the last 12 months.”
These days, all generations seem to be increasingly interested in trying out new vacation experiences.
“In 2015, only 26 percent of U.S. leisure travelers chose their destination based on a prior experience, down five points from 2014,” according to the U.S. Consumer Travel Report Eighth Edition, a new report from travel industry research authority, Phocuswright. “This dip means travelers are looking for new places to visit and unique experiences to check off the bucket list. This shift can be attributed to several factors, like bigger budgets, traveler age, and the impact of social media on trip motivation.”
Therefore, as our existing guests move on, our challenge is to convert more bookings from first-time guests. While those guests might not come back the very next year, they will be making social media postings while visiting that will influence their friends and family. Even if these trends are not yet showing up in your company’s booking patterns, the time is now to prepare for the inevitable changes in traveler interests.
Here are some training tips:
- Train your reservations sales agents to be on the lookout for these first-time callers. Emphasize how important they are to the future of the company.
- Consider an incentive or contest for converting first-time bookers.
- Provide destination training on local area attractions, restaurants, excursions and entertainment so that the agents can sell the authentic and genuine local experiences that today’s travelers covet.
- Today’s consumers love “local insider’s tips.” Often the competitor is not another local rental property, but instead in a completely different destination.
- Encourage agents to ask more and better questions rather than reading off the same list of features that callers have likely already seen online. The most important question is, “As I’m checking rates, are there any questions I can answer for you about the location or amenities?”
- Having used investigative questions to discover “the story” behind the caller’s plans, direct your sales agents to use needs-based recommendations, suggestions and endorsements to help callers commit rather than to go back online.
Doug Kennedy is President of the Kennedy Training Network, Inc. a leading provider of customized training programs and telephone mystery shopping services for the lodging and hospitality industry. Doug continues to be a fixture on the industry’s conference circuit for hotel companies, vacation rental management companies, brands and associations, as he has been for over two decades. Visit KTN at www.kennedytrainingnetwork.com or email him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.