Who doesn’t love repeat guests?
They ease empty calendar anxiety. They’re more likely to #BookDirect, giving you greater control over the booking. They refer your property to friends and family. And they bring peace of mind: you know what to expect from them and, in turn, they know what to expect from your property.
So, how do you turn the Smith family’s one-time vacation at your rental into an annual Smith family reunion?
Wow Them with Five-Star Hospitality
A clean, well-organized and welcoming space is a must for attracting repeat guests.
To achieve this, make sure your rental feels like home. That means you should:
- Keep your own personal items to a minimum (or at least stow them out of the way in a locked owner’s closet).
- Invest in furnishings and linens that are as comfortable as what you have in your own home.
- Be generous when it comes to stocking your rental. Kitchens should include all cooking utensils and bathrooms should feature hotel-like amenities like small shampoos and soaps. (Take a peek at our room-by-room host checklist to make sure you’re properly stocked!)
- Go above and beyond with extras like a bottle of local wine, some artisan chocolates or another locally inspired snack. These make an impression and keeps you top-of-mind when it comes time for guests to book their next trip.
- Clean to a standard that would satisfy even your pickiest guest, and do a deep clean at least twice a year.
Create an Email List to Keep in Touch
The travel industry is ripe for successful email marketing campaigns because travelers—we hope!—have created happy memories at your property and appreciate the nostalgic reminder.
If you don’t already, collect your guest’s email addresses and send occasional, non-salesy pieces of communication. Topics for successful email newsletters include:
Updates at your property. Installed a new fireplace? Show it off! Wildflowers in full bloom? Remind guests of the natural beauty of your place with a colorful photo.
Guides to events in your destination. If your area has a popular yearly event, like a wine tasting weekend or 4th of July festival, give past guests an insider’s perspective with a guide to help them navigate the event. Bonus points if you offer an incentive for them to book with you, like free event passes.
Storytelling. Our brains are wired to respond to stories. Engage guests with a story of a local doing something extraordinary, or even a story from your own life (recent travels, welcoming a new grandchild, etc.). It may sound unorthodox, but vacation rentals are an unorthodox industry! Personal connections are powerful currency.
Deals and specials. More on this below. but you can also use your mailing list to market special deals and specials.
How do you collect email addresses? We’ve seen several strategies succeed, from leaving a piece of paper at the rental requesting guest emails, to requiring that guests join the mailing list before they can join their WiFi network (sneaky!).
However you get guest’s emails, do make sure that they opt-in to your email marketing. That way you’re sure to reach folks who are engaged with your business and keep it all above-board.
Offer Special Incentives for Past Guests
Some vacation rental owners/managers employ the strategy of asking their guests outright if they plan to come back to that destination. If the answer is yes, they will offer guests a 10% (or more) discount on the spot.
You can also create a deeper strategy and copy the model behind hotel loyalty programs. Frame it as a special club, and offer discounts and other perks for referrals and repeat stays—like free airport pickups, for example.
One more tip: encourage social media follows from your past guests, too. That way, you can slide into their newsfeed with those nostalgic images and updates we mentioned earlier.
Of course, the above strategies work best if your destination itself often attracts repeat guests. Those with properties in once-in-a-lifetime destinations, like Alaska or Hawaii, may struggle a bit more than those in, say, the Outer Banks of North Carolina. But that’s not always the case!
Get a guest to fall in love with your rental—and your area—and they may be compelled to come back, no matter how far they have to travel to get there.
Managing Director, aBundle
If you want to watch a hospitality professional wince, just say the words “bed bugs.”
In the last year, 8 out of 10 hotels dealt with bed bugs, to the tune of $6383 per incident, and 20% of hotels have faced litigation as a result. Not to mention the consequences of even one guest review that complains of bed bugs. [Source: Behind the Cost of Bed Bugs: Hospitality Industry Report.]
Unfortunately, vacation rentals, Airbnb and other short-term rental properties are not exempt from bed bugs. Single-family homes, in fact, are most likely to be infested, followed by apartments and condos. Hotels are third on the list.
Needless to say, bed bugs should be on your radar as a vacation rental owner or manager, even if you aren’t in a particularly bed-bug prone city, and also if your rental is spotlessly clean (cleanliness has no effect on whether or not bed bugs take up residence).
The good news? Annoying as they are, bed bugs do not spread disease. In fact, some people don’t even react to bed bug bites. Plus, while treating bed bugs can be a hassle, prevention is not.
Knowledge is half the battle, so aBundle spoke with Donna Charpentier and Andrew Walters of CleanBrands about recognizing, treating, and preventing bed bugs at vacation rental properties.
CleanBrands advocates for a three-pronged prevention approach:
- A knowledgeable housekeeping staff trained to detect and respond to bed bug sightings
- Installing mattress and box spring encasements
- Routine inspections by a licensed pest management professional
1. Train your housekeeping staff to spot bed bugs
Because vacation rentals are not cleaned as often as hotels (once a week or so, as opposed to daily), bed bugs can go unnoticed until they make a meal of your guests. Definitely not an ideal scenario for discovering an infestation!
Guests are increasingly savvy about checking mattresses and luggage for bed bugs, which is helpful. Ideally, though, your guests should not be your first line of defense. That job instead falls to you and your cleaners.
As of the last five years, hotel cleaning staff receive routine training on bed bug prevention, and vacation rentals should follow suit. If you have housekeeping staff to handle your turnovers, give them a primer on how to spot bed bugs.
Here are the signs to help you and your cleaners identify bed bugs throughout their life cycle:
Egg stage. Bed bug eggs are black and roughly the size of a pinhead—imagine a marking from a black felt-tip pen. They can be tough—but not impossible—to spot with a naked eye.
Nymph stage. In this stage, bed bugs are still quite small (about 2mm) and translucent until they feed, at which point the blood meal turns them reddish/brown. At the nymph stage, they may still be difficult to spot without a trained eye.
Adult stage. As bed bugs continue to feed, they elongate in size and become more noticeable—roughly the size and color of an apple seed. Note that adult bed bugs are quite similar to other insects, like bat bugs and carpet beetles.
A bed bugs’ size and ability to hide make them difficult to see during the day, so it’s important to also look for other signs, like:
- Shed skin, blood, and fecal smears, live bed bugs, and eggs.
- Rusty or reddish stains on bed sheets or mattresses (caused by bed bugs being crushed).
- Dark spots which are bed bug excrement and may bleed on the fabric.
- Fecal spots, eggshells, or shed skins in areas where bed bugs hide.
- An offensive, musty odor from the bugs.
2. Use mattress encasements
Ultimately, your best bed bug offense is a good defense, and mattress and box spring encasements should be your first line of defense because they deny the bed bug its preferred sanctuary.
Fun fact: bed bugs don’t have a particular affinity for beds or mattresses. They just like being close to their host—your snoozing, blissfully unaware guest—and mattresses get them very close to the host for seven or eight hours at a time.
In other words, encasements remove a bed bug’s best buffet access.
“Encasements encourage bed bugs to live somewhere else and travel further to find a host,” says Walters. “Then, you can spot more of them—and spot them sooner—because they’re in plain sight.”
Plus, guests who check your mattresses for bed bugs will spot the encasements and feel secure and protected. With increasing concern about bed bugs, some accommodation providers even leave a postcard by the beds to explain—without using the dreaded words “bed bugs”—that the mattresses are encased for guest health and wellness.
3. Get routine inspections from a pest management professional
Finding a good pest management company is key to mitigating bed bug infestations. A pro can conduct periodic inspections and evaluate whether your rental has an elevated bed bug risk. Then, if you do end up with an unfortunate infestation, your qualified help is already on deck.
Do not try to DIY a bed bug situation. “Over-the-counter” bed bug measures just won’t cut it, especially in a hospitality setting. Bring in the pros!
When searching for a pest management company, be sure that they provide a dual approach of both chemicals and heat treatment. The fewer chemicals, the better—some can be harmful to pets, which is a particular concern for pet-friendly vacation rentals.
For more resources on bed bugs and other pests that could hurt your business’s bottom line, check out the National Pest Management Association (NPMA).
Managing Director, aBundle
As more and more guests discover the benefits of vacation rentals, it’s the industry’s job to let travelers know they have options when it comes to finding and booking their ideal accommodation.
That’s where Guest Education Day comes in.
Every year in the first week of February—peak booking season!—property managers, vacation rental owners, and other small accommodations providers encourage guests to #BookDirect via their own bookings-enabled websites.
What is #BookDirect?
It’s a #hashtag, a concept, and a movement.
Online travel agencies (OTAs) give both accommodation providers and their guests a convenient, trustworthy place to transact a reservation. But these conveniences come at a cost: most OTA platforms charge guests a booking fee of 10% – 20% per reservation, which really adds up! Guests booking large and luxury properties, for example, can end up paying hundreds of dollars in fees.
Owners, hosts, and managers, meanwhile, must play by the OTA rules—conducting all email conversations on-platform and, in some cases, paying a fee for the transaction, too.
For vacation rental businesses who have their own website capable of accepting bookings, Guest Education Day and Book Direct allows them to let guests know they can save on traveler fees by booking direct with them.
How Can You Educate Your Guests?
There are a few ways to spread the word about the benefits of booking direct.
Offer guests a discount for booking via your website, and share the deal with your mailing list. Post a graphic to your social media accounts like the one below (provided by VRMIntel, the driving force behind Guest Education Day and #BookDirect).
You can even tell your guests in-person (or leave a note at your vacation rental). It might be too late for that reservation to book direct, but in the future, the same guests will know they can “think beyond the booking sites” by booking directly with you—and save cold, hard cash in the process!
aBundle and the entire American Hotel Register team wish you a healthy, happy and profitable 2019.
Managing Director, aBundle