These Vacation Rental Managers Are Winning against the OTAs!
Nancy Fox and Larry Synder have a strong sense of their brand, their guests, and what they need to accomplish their business goals. Nancy opened Your Friend at the Beach in 2005 with a handful of condos that she owned. Over time, she and the team grew into a vacation rental management company with over 30 properties.
About Your Friend at the Beach:
- Brand: Grounded in friendliness
- Destination: The Gulf Coast of Florida (Destin and 30A)
- Demographic: Caters to visitors who seek an upscale, high-end, and family-friendly condo with unparalleled customer service and attention to detail
- Goal: Growing revenue while reducing dependence on OTAs
The result after eight months of strategic, integrated marketing?
- Percentage of OTA bookings reduced by 52 percent
- Direct bookings increased by 121 percent
- Overall revenue increased by 21.44 percent
Here are the steps you can follow to do the same for yourself:
Understand Where You Are Today
It’s time to dig into your data. Determine what percentage of bookings comes from third parties. You’ll need to get those revenue dollars from other sources. Find out what your top-performing channels are and how much revenue you get from each. Typically, the top five sources of website traffic and revenue are Google organic, direct traffic, Google AdWords, email marketing, and referral traffic. After identifying the top sources of traffic, look at the conversion for each. From there, it is a matter of simple math to understand that if you assess traffic from each of those sources and multiply by conversion, you’ll see how much activity you need to do to replace the traffic from the OTAs.
Set Your Goals
What percentage of bookings do you want to be direct? Be realistic. It’s easy to say 100 percent, but is it easy to accomplish? Most people will still rely on OTAs for some shoulder season or weekday bookings. What do you want your ratio to be? A good goal is 70 percent direct and 30 percent from OTAs. Now, what are you willing to invest to achieve that? Keep in mind that you will likely have to invest in OTAs and marketing at the same time until you turn the tide in favor of direct bookings! Look for the areas in which you can grow: More repeat guests, average daily rate (ADR), and actual numbers of bookings are a great place to start.
Fix Your Website!
Your website isn’t a business card, it’s your number one tool to drive direct bookings. Don’t let it be an afterthought. The website should tell your unique story and set you apart from your competitors. A fresh design that captures your brand is essential. Make sure you’re encouraging the desired next step. If you want them to look at properties, create a pathway. If you want them to book direct, ask for it, and support it with the necessary promotion. Bookings from mobile devices have doubled in the past year, so make sure your website is designed for mobile first.
Increase Organic Search (Google Traffic)
Remember that research you did at the start? You probably noticed that Google Traffic is a major contributor to your overall direct online bookings. So go after more of that! For Q4Launch customers, we see 40 percent of traffic and 50 percent of direct bookings originate with a Google search. Think beyond “your destination vacation rentals” in your SEO efforts. Are you located in an area with great hiking? Have content about the top 10 hiking trails in the US and make sure the trail near you is on the list! In addition, there are variables that help your quality score with Google and thereby help your rankings. One of those variables is when a person fills out a form on your website; how can you take advantage of that?
Invest in Google or Bing Ads
We have a kind of love‒hate relationship with AdWords. We love it because our customers see 10x‒20x return on ad spend. It offers predictable results, and you can turn it on/off as needed. However, it’s not long-lasting like an investment in SEO and a content strategy. So know that when you turn off the funding, you turn off the traffic. In contrast, strategic content can drive traffic to your website for years to come. Still, Google Ads is a valuable weapon in your arsenal for driving direct bookings.
Make Repeat Guests Your Favorite Guests
We hear all the time about how people don’t want to pester their past guests with emails. We don’t think you need to worry about that. If you’re emailing your database too frequently, the unsubscribe rate will let you know about it quickly. We send thousands of emails on behalf of our customers and don’t see the unsubscribe rate spike. So let’s look at this another way. Past guests already know how amazing your properties and service are, and they’re highly likely to book again. You can reward those individuals with special offers to encourage them to return. At the end of the day, email produces the highest ROI, but it’s the most underutilized. If your goal is to reduce dependency on the OTAs, email marketing will be a powerful and cost-effective tool!
Use OTAs for Guest Acquisition and Develop a Direct Rebooking Path
If you must use the OTAs, you may as well get something out of it. You can create a rebooking special offer or value-adding offer at checkout. Create an OTA rebooking life cycle email campaign. Finally, always signal the benefits of booking direct on your website and any communication with a guest who booked via an OTA.
This is about turning unknown website visitors into known visitors who can be nurtured for a future booking. Consider the Five Stages of Travel:
DREAMING | PLANNING | BOOKING | EXPERIENCING | REMEMBERING
How are you engaging the folks who aren’t ready to book? Think about why they aren’t ready. Maybe they don’t know the size of their bonus or their kids’ travel schedule. For some reason, they simply can’t book yet, but they are interested in your destination (if they weren’t, why would they be on your website?). Don’t let that website visitor go away without getting their email address and a chance to stay at the forefront of their mind so that when they are ready to book, you’re at the top of their inbox! You can use valuable content that is gated (that’s how you get their email) and then create a nurture campaign of three more emails over the next 10 days that are designed to get the booking for your property and not someone else’s! If you do this right, you will start to develop trust with the prospective guest and establish a nice digital relationship where you are providing useful and helpful information. Your Friend at the Beach had 165 Vacation Guide downloads in 2018. That translated to approximately 30 bookings it might not have gotten otherwise!
In summary, if you start with data and realistic goals, there is a proven pathway toward more direct bookings and less fees to the OTAs. Contact us at Q4Launch if you want us to help you increase your direct bookings!