Slow season in the short-term rental market can be a property manager’s worst nightmare. While some cities, like Houston and Sacramento, enjoy steady bookings all year round, resort towns and cities with extreme shifts in weather tend to experience dips in revenue at certain times of the year.
As a property manager, decreased revenue can leave you scrambling for bookings, opening you up to potential risks. In order to keep your properties profitable and protected, you need to create a plan that identifies and manages these risks. To get you started, here are some of the most common slow-season problems and how to deal with them.
The slow season is often synonymous with poor weather. Depending on where you’re located, that can range from excessive rain to slick ice and snow-dumps. Bad weather like this bogs down your operations and can even result in maintenance issues.
Rain can lead to floods and leaks while cold temperatures lead to icy steps and frozen pipes. These kinds of maintenance issues are major setbacks, making your off-season vacation rentals uninhabitable, and losing your bookings and revenue. While it’s not possible to catch every maintenance issue before it happens, performing routine inspections or hiring an operations team whose main focus is upkeep will help to mitigate damages.
The operations team should be proactive rather than reactive. By doing weekly walk-throughs of each property, they can deal with issues that could otherwise setback your operations. Problems like a broken bed can be fixed in a day, but flooding or frozen pipes, if caught late, can cost you thousands of dollars in repairs and set your bookings back for months. That’s a lot of missed revenue!
Peak seasons differ depending on your rental’s location. A ski town, for instance, is the busiest in the winter months while a seaside city experiences an influx of tourism in the summer. Outside these peak seasons, bookings tend to taper off. After all, no one’s looking to ski during the summer months.
Decreased bookings for off-season rentals are a major threat to a property manager’s livelihood. If bookings and revenue dip, clients pull rental homes, companies’ portfolios diminish and staff salaries become difficult to afford, especially if the property is situated in a competitive market.
To maximize your occupancy, you need to plan in advance. Even in the high season, when reservations are rolling in, remember to spend time optimizing your listings to increase their online visibility. That way, when the demand in your market is low, you’ll have an advantage over the competition. Always highlight the best features of your property with good-quality photos and inviting descriptions.
Set aside some money to put towards a marketing budget. Promote your short-term rentals months before the slow season by setting up discounts through your booking channels. If you’re still struggling to secure potential guests, drive traffic to your listings with paid ads. These can be set up through the booking channel itself or online advertising sites like Kijiji. Figure out which calendar days are harder to fill and target those with your ads.
Another smart approach is to offer discounted season rates to past Airbnb guests who’ve written good reviews or were vocal about enjoying their stay. Not only does this guarantee you’ll be hosting trustworthy guests, but it can snowball into additional bookings through word of mouth.
Even though bookings tend to decrease during the slow season, there can be spikes in demand around the holidays, especially in resort towns like Ocean City, Maryland where reservations revolve around its beachfront proximity and reputation as a place to “get away”. A high-demand night like New Year’s Eve may be the saving grace for vacation rental management business that experiences massive drops in reservations come December.
Professionalism is the key to making your properties stand out during holiday spikes. Booking with a professional company eases guests’ travel concerns, assuring them that they’ll receive a top-notch guest experience. To achieve this level of professionalism, post flattering photos on your listing, craft a thorough and appealing description with no spelling or grammar mistakes, and be responsive to booking inquiries.
Holiday bookings, however, present an opportunity for parties and fraud. While you want to optimize revenue for your off-season vacation rentals during these periods, you have to be careful who you welcome into your vacation rental home. Encourage extended stays by offering discounts that are applied when a guest books for two or more nights. Airbnb guests who stay for longer periods likely have travel plans beyond throwing parties.
When revenue becomes scarce, property managers get desperate — especially in seasonal markets where the slow season can prove deadly. In order to stay afloat, you begin accepting risky reservations you’d normally avoid. In addition to increased stress levels for your team, this majorly ups your chances of being hit with chargebacks and identity fraud.
Fraudulent incidents are more prominent during the slow season because rental owners decrease their nightly rates, reduce their booking restrictions and accept riskier guests. Even though the booking may offer the potential for high revenue, getting hit with a chargeback will end up losing your money.
With fewer booking restrictions, you can unlock new groups of travelers, whether it’s last-minute bookers or one-night stays, presenting a huge opportunity for revenue growth for your off-season rentals. To avoid the obvious risks that accompany these types of reservations, screen your potential guests. Ensure their ID and credit card match, inquire about their travel plans and look them up on social media to see if they have an online presence.
Tools like Autohost make the process easy, automatically performing guest screenings and background checks on each reservation. Know exactly who booked your property before you hand over the keys.
During the Airbnb low season, it’s important to manage your guests’ expectations. If they show up planning to enjoy the spectacular view you’ve advertised on your listing only to see life-less trees or slush-covered streets, they’re going to be disappointed. Naturally, they’ll write a bad review from guests.
You also need to be wary of how you price your properties during the slow season. Jacking up prices can scare away guests when you need them the most. But offering discounts on those prices can also mislead the guest. If a $500 a night property is suddenly discounted to $100, guests are going to snap up the great price while still expecting the service associated with a $500 a night property. Avoid disappointing them by ensuring the rental’s price corresponds to its level of service.
To garner good reviews, update descriptions for your off-season vacation rentals, reflecting what guests can expect. Instead of highlighting the tree-lined street view, talk about the must-sees and must-dos at that time of year. If possible, update photos for the listing seasonally. As long as the guest knows what to expect, you won’t have to worry about bad reviews.
This post was written by Autohost, a guest-screening and background checking system for hospitality providers. The intelligent software verifies guests to protect properties, owners, and communities in the short-term rental space.