Insider Advice for Marketing your Holiday Home


   
David Prescod has a Masters degree in marketing, and lectured in tourism marketing at the North Warwickshire & Hinckley College. In 2006 he and his brother fulfilled a lifelong dream of buying a holiday house in Barbados, in memory of their parents who originated from the island.

Since they began to rent it out, David has applied various marketing techniques to promote his property to the public, at great success. Here he shares some professional marketing strategies owners can use to get more business for their holiday rentals.
 
   
 


Q: You have a Masters in marketing, and used to lecture in tourism marketing. It goes without saying you know a thing or two about advertising holiday lettings. How do you define the main target audience for your properties, and who do you think will be your future guests?


You’re correct in what you say; I spent quite a few years in the industry, ten of those as a college lecturer in tourism marketing. The practical experience I have of applying marketing strategies that I’ve found most effective is marketing my holiday home through HomeAway.co.uk. I base my marketing strategy on what’s called The Seven Ps of Marketing, it used to be referred to as The Four Ps of Marketing: Price, Product, Place, and Promotion, but I think it is increasingly important to look at the last Three Ps which are: People, Physical Evidence and Process. I have particularly focused on those three to really maximise the effectiveness of my marketing. It’s important for owners to remember that tourism is a People led service industry. The way I come across and people I might employ to clean and to do my meet and greet represent the service I provide, so hiring the right staff is very important to me. In terms of Physical Evidence the look and feel is incredibly important. In Barbados people are often buying a dream, so they need to be convinced by great pictures so do not skimp on good photos. I think one area that people don’t focus on as much is the Process. The process of communicating quickly with customers, providing them with receipts for deposits, prompt invoicing and frequent communication. A process needs to be in place to build up that rapport and that confidence in the service.


Q: How would you use the following marketing tools to maximise the number of bookings you get?

Q: 1. Value added offers


There’s a variety of ways. As a holiday home owner you’re competing against other owners, with similar properties and similar prices. You really need to differentiate yourself from your competitors. Customers really want to see that they’ve been looked after, that they’ve been made to feel special, and that you’ve added the value to their stay at your holiday property. I do that in a number of ways. I have created the Barbados Privilege Card which I include with every stay. It gives guests discounts off lots of local attractions. It might sound quite challenging to do but most destinations offer discounts off access to attractions. I’ve really just aggregated all of these and put them together in my own card. I also offer a personal Travel Assistant, a small portable satellite navigation system which you can carry in your hand luggage. It  includes an audio guide to attractions on the island, as well as satellite navigation so you don’t get lost. People find it very convenient if you can arrange airport transfers for them, and finally one of the value added offers I’d the most positive feedback on is the welcome packs I include. Guests who are tailor making and creating their own holidays like to feel looked after like they would if they had gone away with one of the major tour operators. So before everyone actually departs I issue my own welcome packs, which is a tangible product in a cardboard folder which has details regarding inventory, includes a suggested itinery, I even put some Barbados recipes in there, to help guests begin to feel that emotional tie to their holiday.

Q: 2. Special offers and discounts


I tend to encourage guests to return. 34% of people who actually go to Barbados will return because they’ve had such a rich positive experience. It doesn’t actually matter which destination the property is located in, if a customer has a good first experience then there is always the possibility that they may wish to return so you really need to cement that. I offer a 10% loyalty discount, this encourages people to book again, I also extend this discount to friends, and or family. It’s a lot easier to market to a customer that you’ve already had, rather than spend time, effort and money finding a new customer. So encouraging repeat bookings is a key strategy I have applied.

Q: 3. Your personal website


I have found my website a very useful tool to ensure customer confidence. There is the Rental Guarantee on HomeAway.co.uk, which really does reassure a lot of guests when they are booking, because most people will not have seen me or spoken to me, so the first point of contact will be an enquiry. My website is linked to through my advert on HomeAway.co.uk, and by going to my website and being able to view additional information it just gives the guest that bit of reassurance that the property exists, additional information, and the professional look and feel actually gives customers a lot more confidence about the accommodation they could be renting.

Q: 4. Traveller reviews and guest book comments on your HomeAway Holiday-Rentals advert and testimonials on your personal website


I would say reviews and testimonials are amongst the top two or three marketing tools that you should seek to utilise. To reinforce that confidence I mentioned, guests always look at testimonials and read what other people have said. Other people like themselves who have maybe taken a leap of faith. Customers are trying to decide whether this accommodation is the best property for them. They don’t want to base their decision just by what I say on my advert, so they will use the testimonials other people have left to make their decision.

Also, testimonials in their simplest form are a story. People love to read stories. You can put reviews on HomeAway Holiday-Rentals, and testimonials on your personal website that are nice positive stories, denoting a really rich experience from guests, which can only do positive things for your rental property.


Q: What do you do to make your advert on HomeAway.co.uk stand out?


First and foremost in terms of my listing, I try to put something in the headline banner that will grab the reader’s attention. I have also written my Property Description in a first person narrative, so it feels like I’m having a conversation directly with an individual, talking to them about my home and making it very personal. "Home from home" is a term that is often used and people want to feel like they are sharing your home. A lot of my narrative is also written as a story, as I’ve said before people like to read a story because they want to connect with it on an emotional level.


Q: You've talked about Unique Selling Points a lot, how would somebody identify the USPs of the property that they rent out?


David's Holiday RentalFirst of all you need to look at your competitors. On the HomeAway.co.uk website you have access to the prices, the different facilities that are on offer. If in doing your research you can identify something that you offer that your competitors don’t offer then you need to highlight it to actually stand out. You might find yourself in a situation where you have a property which might be one or two of three hundred in an apartment block. Initially it’s not easy to differentiate your property from the rest. If this is the case you really need to create a USP. Creating a USP can be quite easy, when I first went to my property I bought a mobile phone with a local sim card, that I would top up online with ten dollars worth of credit. My guests really appreciated that there was a mobile phone in the house that they could use, and this shows it’s really quite simple to create a USP. Since then I have purchased a Nintendo Wii for the property, and certainly families that come to Barbados find that a huge attraction. It can be quite key in the decision making process, particularly if they’ve got children of a certain age. If you don’t already have an inbuilt property feature you can promote, it’s really important to create your own USP.  


Q: When you are promoting your holiday rental to travellers, which features, facilities and location information would you draw attention to and why?


My marketing materials focus on the destination, and the experience guests will have of the destination if they stay in my property. As beautiful as I think my house is, people haven’t come to Barbados to stay in my house 24/7. They want to know about the local amenities, they want to know about what attractions they can get to, and how long it can take to get there from my particular location. I tend to promote the key attractions, in my particular instance, which is the fact that the property is located particularly close to Miami beach, which is arguably the most popular beach in Barbados, with tourists and the locals, and my house is also within walking distance to an idyllic fishing village which is renowned for its Friday and Saturday night festivals. So focusing on the attributes of your destination really compliments your holiday home as a tourist product.


Q: And have you got any other useful inside marketing knowledge you can share with other holiday home owners?


I think there are a couple of things people can do quite simply really. During the current recession people are saving much harder and putting a greater premium on their holiday. So you really have to make an effort to ensure they think their holiday is going to be the best it can be. The use of video is becoming increasingly popular, to create an emotion. I would particularly recommend a site called Animoto.com; it’s a very simple piece of software that allows you create a professional looking short video using music and a series of photos. It’s all free of charge. I have linked my Animoto video to my website and put it on YouTube. I found that to be incredibly effective in engaging people emotionally.

One last point really regarding Process. It is important once your guests make an enquiry with you to contact them as quickly as possible. It may be several months before they do actually rent your holiday home, it is important to keep the communication and a dialogue. An email every week or two weeks to say hi and lets them know that you are thinking about them. Once they return it’s very important to find out how their visit was. I often send an email survey using a system called Survey Monkey, which you can find at Surveymonkey.com and this is basically a list of ten questions, so a guest who has stayed at your accommodation can give feedback, tips as well on how you might be able to improve your service and also I used that to offer a discount to them to return as a loyal customer, and extend that offer to their friends and family. I find that particularly effective. Process starts when you first receive a holiday home enquiry, and it should never end because a guest who has stayed in your property may be a guest for life.

 
Copyright HomeAway.co.uk, page added September 2010

Read David's 10 cost effective ways to increase your bookings in 2011

Online Marketing Tools David Loves

Animoto - Creates professional looking short videos using your photos and choice of music, which you can use to promote your holiday home

Survey Monkey - Create a Feedback Survey here, to send to your previous guests and show you care. Why not use it as an opportunity to offer them a loyalty discount too?

YouTube - upload your Animoto video, or a video tour of your holiday home, so guests can
"try before they buy"