Most property managers we know dread the low season when the tourists and other travellers go home and the vacation rental reservations dry up.
While this is something all properties and property managers deal with, there are some who handle it better than others. How? They employ time-tested strategies to convert in the limited market and maintain a steady flow of guests, even during the slowest times of the year.
Want to know what they are? Here are 7 tips for attracting more bookings in the off-season.
Before you can improve your low season revenues, it helps to know when exactly your low season is, since it’s going to vary depending on the type of property, location, and other factors.
So, use your analytics to determine what months people are booking and what months they’re staying. You should also take advantage of the forecasting tools provided by OTAs like HomeAway and Booking.com to see what the upcoming trends look like.
From there, you should be looking at what kinds of guests you’ll be attracting during the low season. Is it business travellers? Retirees? Budget travellers?
Nationality can play a big role here as well. For instance, February is typically the slowest month for property managers in Paris, yet it is one of their biggest months with Chinese tourists in 2019 due to the Golden Week holiday season.
As always, knowing your ideal prospects is one of the biggest parts of successful selling, so make sure to do your homework. From there, you can create strategies to better cater to these specific demographics.
Keeping your property booked requires constantly generating new leads and attracting new customers. But that doesn’t mean you should forget about the people who have stayed at your property in the past or previously enquired about it without booking. Especially because these “warm” prospects tend to convert better on average.
So, what are some ways to reach out to existing customers and leads?
In the case of previous guests, there are a few different options. The most straightforward strategy is to simply contact these customers directly, particularly those who stayed during a previous low season. Consider making them a special offer when you do, like a “repeat customer” discount.
If they’re not interested, try tapping them for referrals – and make it worth their while. A good example of this method is seen in the credits that Airbnb gives when you convince a friend to sign up and book a trip.
There are some slightly more indirect ways of tapping your existing customer base too. By plugging their contact info into a marketing channel like Facebook, not only will they receive ads to your property, the algorithm will also reach out to people like them.
Have prospects who viewed or asked about your property but didn’t pull the trigger? If they emailed or messaged, you can try contacting them directly with a reminder or special offer as well. If not, you’ll have to rely on targeted ads.
It’s the middle of winter and your city is covered in snow – but your listing’s main photo is a picture you took last spring. While this isn’t necessarily a deal breaker, you’ll have a better chance of appealing to low-season renters by replacing your main photos with images that actually reflect the season you’re in. Make sure that your vacation rental website design allows you to be that flexible.
It’s also a good idea to highlight features that suit the season. For instance, adding that your property will be decorated for Christmas is a nice touch that can help convert folks who are looking for a place in December. You can also play up things like fireplaces, hot tubs, and other seasonal options.
If your low-season policies are identical to the ones you use during peak season, you’re leaving money on the table. Guests have more negotiating power during this time of year, so you have to do a little bit more to sell them on your property.
How? Well, for starters, low-season travellers tend to value flexibility. They’re usually not looking for a family vacation that they planned months in advance. In fact, many value flexibility even more than they do the lowest price.
So, give them what they want. For example, offer free cancellation until two weeks before arrival. Even better, set up multiple cancellation policies – each with different price points – for the same listing.
For instance, Booking.com makes it easy to give customers the option to pay more or less for the same room depending on whether they pay in advance or at the property, whether and when they can cancel without being charged, and whether their stay includes free breakfast.
Take advantage. Though you should also keep in mind that as the travel date approaches, people start to again value price over flexibility since they’ll be more set in their plans when they book last minute.
Of course, even though you’re giving people the option of cancellation to secure their business, you don’t actually want them to cancel.
One great way to reduce this risk, especially when you have more time on your hands during the slow season, is to take a more personal approach. For example, send a “thank you” email that lets them know how much you value their vacation rental reservation and appreciate their decision to choose your property.
We don’t need to tell you that people are less likely to travel on weekdays, especially during the low season. But how do you attract the folks that do – or even convince them to book on a weekday instead of a weekend?
Discounts are an obvious choice. But you have to be smart about how you offer discounts, by using these offers to create an incremental business.
For example, a property management company in London was able to triple their bookings by creating a 15% promotion for vacation rental reservations made 40+ days in advance. Another management company in Portugal doubled their revenue by adopting a more generous cancellation policy, dropping the required notice from 30 days to 7.
Of course, you’ll need to identify your average:
…for guests to find the best opportunities for creating incremental sales.
Finally, you can increase your weekday business by simply making your property more available. Listings that accept last-minute direct bookings receive four-times more vacation rental reservations. And make sure you’re flexible on arrival days.
We already talked about highlighting the seasonal features of your property. But at some point, you should also consider adding amenities to that will help you maintain a steady flow of business through the low season.
One example is a hot tub or jacuzzi, which are a big selling point in the cooler months of fall. In fact, a hot tub boosts a property’s value by an average of $29 per night. In some cities, like Miami, FL, the boost can be as much as $80.
Of course, even the best amenities won’t make a difference if you don’t advertise them. Make sure to use the OTA tools to mention all of your property’s best and most important features. Not only will it help you convert, but it will also help your listing’s rank in search results.
There’s one type of traveller that isn’t much affected by low season: business travellers. In fact, they’re more likely to stay during weekdays and off-peak dates than weekends and holidays. Not only that, people travelling on business tend to spend more money at the property on things like food, drinks, and other services.
So, we want to attract more business travellers, but how do we do that? By looking at Airbnb’s “Business Travel Ready” requirements for its Work Collection, we can get a good idea of what these travellers are looking for:
Of course, there are also certain locations that are much more likely to attract people on business. For instance, centrally located areas of a major city. Whereas your beach town property might not get any.
Make sure to attract some business-travel friendly properties to your portfolio to attract these desirable customers.
As we covered above, there are many different strategies you can use to boost your low season vacation rental reservations, and some of them only take minutes. Of course, depending on your property type and location, you’ll likely always see some drop off in guests during certain months, but these tweaks can at least help you level out the fluctuations and maximize your earning potential during the off-season.
Try one, two, three, or all 7 – and see the difference it makes in your bottom line. In the end, you should always be trying new things and learning from your peers, competitors, channel managers, and OTAs if you want to get ahead.
Thibault Masson helps vacation rental and short-term rental entrepreneurs grow and streamline their businesses. You can find on his blog RentalPreneurs.com articles about how to scale your operations, grow your occupancy and grow the number of your units.
This piece is a guest-contributed post.