In the past few months, I have had the privilege of sitting on industry panels with some very smart people who represent different approaches to success in the vacation rental industry. The most rewarding part about attending these events is speaking with hardworking people at different inflection points in their respective businesses. These companies reinforce the commitment that has built this multibillion-dollar industry.
For those just starting out or who have smaller operations, fear not. Whether you have two or two thousand properties, when it comes to the OTAs, you face the same challenges. There is one common thread that defines success: ability to adapt to market change.
Working with, not for, the OTAs
For years I have been advocating that companies use their distribution wisely, be it OTAs, listing sites, or any other partnerships. There are many points of quality distribution that serve our industry. It is important to understand (a) what the benefits are, (b) what goals are being accomplished, and (c) what constitute your trade-offs. Having this understanding will allow you to scale your business intelligently and adjust to any policy changes that could affect your business. For our vacation rental business, it is very straightforward: harness the power of distribution . . . but we always lead with our brand first.
As an established vacation rental business, we always favor sites that will promote our brand and are transparent with the traveler. This may not bring us as many bookings in the short term. However, it will bring us quality leads and brand visibility that we will convert to bookings in the future.
Goal: Reduce Dependence and Elevate Your Brand
For companies that are just starting out, you will most likely be OTA heavy. And that is the correct approach, as long as it is not the only approach. Be sure to keep track of any and all contacts with your business for the future. Acquiring new guests will be very expensive in the long run. Drive as much positive traffic to your business while building your brand.
At any stage of the business, it is critical that you have a retention strategy and the ability to measure the performance of your distribution. We measure not only OTAs’ performance but also any outbound touch points (for example, newsletters, social media, off-line communications) or inbound touch points (walk-ins, phone calls, website contacts, or chats) to our brand.
Take Advantage of the Chaos
For those who remain as independent operators, you have an excellent opportunity to grow your inventory (plenty of RBOs are getting out and looking for property management expertise), elevate your brand, and increase the value of your business.
Adopting new strategies and finding ways to work with other successful vacation rental managers is a solid formula to stay competitive and add value for the long term. There are powerful regional groups that are benefiting from their collective power, messaging, and sharing of data that will in turn benefit the traveler as well as their respective businesses, and elevate our industry. These groups include independent thinkers who understand the value of their collective strength.
#BookDirect Is Real and Growing
It’s not just hotels that can win at this game. We are witnessing solid momentum in #BookDirect initiatives. NorthwestStays.com is a perfect example of a marketplace that places travelers’ needs first. NorthwestStays.com and similar marketplaces coming online are driven by committed vacation rental professionals who see the value in a community approach, be it local firms, regional associations, or subject domain groups with vertical expertise.
When looking at the rising costs of OTAs and loss of ability to communicate with guests who want to book on these sites, these groups understand the cost of acquisition. Although OTA bookings are still (for now) booked directly through the VRMs, the brands are still losing value compared to organic bookings, where 100 percent of the revenue goes to the VRM. These groups understand that you can pay $1,000 in advertising to get $5,000 in direct revenue and brand visibility through OTA alternatives, or you can generate $5,000 in OTA bookings and pay $1,000 in commissions.
This by no means argues against using the OTAs. It indicates a level of awareness that using the OTAs can represent incremental growth for your business and that investing collectively in the group’s brands keeps the traveler engaged and informed by taking advantage of the brands’ collective strength.
Unlike OTAs, these marketplaces provide the names, email addresses, and history for recurrent marketing that benefits the brands—whereas the OTAs are retaining that information for their own marketing, phasing out your brand, rate parity, etc. Transparency on both ends of the transaction is what makes for a successful vacation rental experience.
Investment in these marketplaces is a great long-term strategy. Although the ROI is not immediate, it will prove to be a wise investment because travelers are already organically deciding to #BookDirect. These efforts are strengthened by customer excellence and messaging that reminds the traveler of the value of booking direct!