Online travel agencies are awesome, and we get great bookings from them, but they’re also expensive. You’ll sometimes have to (or opt in to) pay commissions of up to 25% per booking. That’s a big chunk of your revenue.
The standard answer when people renting out their property on booking.com or Expedia or Airbnb when they search for the question of how to stop paying OTA commission and get direct bookings is “build your own website” and although that’s true (and we have a partner that builds websites – please contact us here) there are a ton of other things you can do.
Here are our top 10 tips, which we’ve implemented all of and have seen our profits increase by over 22%!
- Collect (and get consent to contact) email addresses from each and every guest that stays with you.
- Personally email past guests who haven’t stayed with you for a while.
- Tell every guest that if they wish to book again you will give a better price than an online travel agency.
- If at all possible meet every guest who stays with you. A 5-10 minute meet and great conversation may establish a strong rapport and will mean you can then establish direct email/phone contact.
- Make sure you do have your own website! (and GMB listing).
- Make sure your own website is 5-10% cheaper than the OTAs.
- Nurture your email list and regularly email your list with advance notice of offers, or discounts available.
- Make your website valuable: Adding local information and useful content will help drive traffic to it.
- Send every guest a thank you postcard in the mail (not email). This is a personal touch and shows you care.
- Get as many reviews as you possibly can on TripAdvisor. The more reviews, the more credibility, and the more likely people are to book direct.
- Ask for referrals – ask people to recommend you. If you don’t they won’t, if you do, they might.
- Give your guest your business card – preferably in person, or at the very least have cards printed and ready in your property.
These strategies work. In year 2 of our operation, we started implementing probably half of these strategies. Now we implement them all, and it has made a huge impact on bookings whilst still being able to charge a competitive price. This is a real win-win. So now I’ve given you a short summary, let me drill down into the detail and explain exactly why these strategies work:
Collecting Email Addresses and Postal Addresses from Guests
It sounds simple doesn’t it but collecting email addresses is an excellent way of being able to re-contact former guests easily and you know what? Most people don’t!
The way to do this is to have a booking form attached to your website which is emailed to guests when they book or alternatively you could have a short form to be completed when the guests check in. Please note that in order to comply with privacy regulations, especially in Europe, you must specifically ask for consent to contact the guests.
This is how we do this:
Once you have their email addresses, open an account with mailchimp and enter the details (you can add 2,000 addresses for free without having to pay).
When to send out email “blasts”?
An email “blast” is simply a technical term for a mass email sent from your list. Answers vary on the question of how often to send a blast. I would recommend sending an email once every two-three months. You don’t want to annoy people with spam, and you will do this if you send emails too often.
So the next question is what to send.
What to put in your guest emails?
The answer is this: anything which is truly valuable and not wasting the guests’ time. And there is plenty that you can add which is truly valuable.
- Notification of a special “early booker” offer. (Booking.com / Expedia do this, so why shouldn’t you). This is especially useful if your own website can accept coupon/voucher codes.
- A discount for referrals to friends and family.
- A simple reminder that you’re getting booked up early for the next summer/winter season so book now! (If people desire something and they feel they might lose it, they value it more).
- A notification that you’ve just upgraded/refurbished your apartments.
- An invitation to VIP guests to book again (people love to feel special, so the term VIP has power).
- …..and many more ideas you might have. Just send them an email with effectively nothing in it. It must say something specific.
How Long Should the Email be?
The simple answer is short. 2-3 paragraphs at most should suffice. Just remember these rules:
- Make sure you’re absolutely clear about who you are. One image is acceptable (i.e. your logo). Don’t add any more images otherwise you risk being listed as spam.
- State that “You recently stayed with XYZ apartments….”
- Get to the point quickly.
- Add a clear link to direct them to your website.
- Suggest that they forward this to someone else that might find it helpful.
This will get you results. Expect an open rate of 5-10% and a click-through rate of 2-5%. Anything more than this and you’re doing well.
Finally (on this point) surveys suggest that it takes people 7-8 “touches” (i.e. contacts) from a business to motivate people to take action, so if you don’t get results the first time don’t worry. Persevere.
Why send guests a postcard? Does this really work?
Yes, it does. Do it right after the guest has stayed with you to say thank you for staying. Saying a simple “Thank You” is very powerful in human behavior. Here’s why it works:
Many emails today are obviously automated and even if not automated take little time to send. Postcards, on the other hand, take time to write (hand write them) and put in the mailbox.
What’s the point?
Well, the point is that if the guests see you’ve gone to the trouble to write them a nice handwritten postcard, they will appreciate it. If you believe, as I do, that human nature is basically good, not bad, people will feel very much appreciated by this, and then when it comes to receiving your emails, they are far more likely to engage with them and share them with their friends and family. At the very least, you’ve increased your brand recognition a lot.
Meet all of your guests for more bookings!
The fact is that it’s far easier to build rapport (a close connection) with anyone if you do it face to face. Guests do appreciate being shown around your property. It gives them a chance to see you as a person and not just a business (a subtle but important change in the relationship), and it has the following benefits:
- Guests will be far less likely to complain about minor things.
- Guests will be far more likely to give you a positive review on TripAdvisor if you ask for one.
- When a guest gets your “email blast” they will identify with you as well as your brand.
- and more.
I don’t like meeting people or I’m nervous?
This is a common problem and is only overcome with practice. The first time you may be nervous, but I bet you the fifth time you meet and greet a guest you’ll love chatting with them and showing off your great property!
Build your brand on TripAdvisor
TripAdvisor is arguably the go-to brand for hotels, apartments, and all things holiday or business stay.
Get yourself a (free) listing on TripAdvisor and ask all guests to review you (apart from ones where you have a major unresolved problem).
The simple fact is the decision to book a hotel or apartment is a decision based on pictures, location, and reviews. And reviews = trust.
If you have 20 reviews that are not 5 star this = low trust.
If you have 300 reviews all above 9/10 = very high trust = more bookings.
Create your own website with your own domain.
It sounds obvious, but many small hospitality businesses don’t do this.
There are many options to do this. We have a partnership with a company that will build you a stunning website for under $1000 / £800 fully integrated with your booking system (you can contact us here about this) and there are many other options to easily and quickly set up a website.
Booking.com has the option to create a website from all of your data on booking.com and it takes literally about 15 minutes. All you need is your own domain name.
The advantage, of course, is that as with all the other suggestions on this page, direct bookings via your own website are commission free! – saving you a lot of money!
If you want to really boost your profitability, take action on these suggestions. Having direct bookings gives you not only the full price (no commission) but it also gives you a greater degree of control.
Getting to know your guests is really important. Show them around, make them feel comfortable, and give them your mobile number in case of any problems. Consider leaving a nice bottle of wine for them. Isn’t it the little touches that people always remember?
And finally, do get some (nice) business cards made and give them to your guests. I always keep business cards, and most people I know do. When they go back home, having that little visual reminder of you and your property on their desk might just be the prompt to get you your next booking.
Good luck and do let me know your feedback on how this goes!
Q: What are other ways to make more money from my short-term rental?
A: There are a ton of other ways including optimizing your pricing, offering complimentary services, offering breakfast, and more. I’ve written a separate post about this here.
Q: OK reviews are important, but how do I get more reviews?
A: It’s easier than you think to get good reviews. One of the simplest ways to get good reviews is to simply ask the guest. You can read more about getting great reviews here.
We’d be really interested to see if you’ve tried any of these strategies or if you think these ideas would work for you. Please do comment or share this on social media. We’d love to hear from you!
Check out our other great posts here!