In most regions, the vacation-rental business is a seasonal one. Which means that most vacation-rental managers have periods of the year when they’re dealing with a much lower volume of reservation inquiries, guest questions and daily back-office tasks. And that’s a good thing. Because downtime gives you a chance to evaluate, audit and plan. And good planning positions you to improve operations, improve guest experience, and take full advantage of the vacation-rental industry’s continued revenue growth–growth that’s projected by many estimates to top $20 billion by 2025.
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1. Examine your vacation-rental marketing strategy and make sure you’re spending and targeting effectively.
You may be getting bookings through your marketing efforts. But are you getting enough bookings? Are you targeting the right audience to optimize your rates and revenue? Are you missing marketing opportunities with higher ROI potential? Are you using performance data to make informed marketing decisions?
Downtime is the right time to look closely at your marketing plan, spend and results. Starting with these important steps.
Identify Your Target Audience
Who’s your ideal guest, and are you connecting with them? If you haven’t yet, or if it’s been awhile, document your target audience based on demographics, interests, and behaviors. If you’re in growth mode, you need to do this for both marketing segments that are essential to your business: property owners and guests.
Set Specific Marketing Objectives
You can’t know if your marketing strategy is working if you don’t first set goals you want it to achieve. Look at your overall business objectives, then lay out the things you want your marketing to do most, such as:
- Increase direct bookings
- Improve website traffic
- Boost brand visibility
- Attract specific guest personas
- Drive return guest business
Choose The Right Marketing Channels
Do you know where you’re most likely to reach your target audience? Or where their engagement with you is most likely to result in a conversion? The most popular social media platforms for vacation rental marketing are Facebook and Instagram, which can each drive awareness and bookings through your OTA listings or direct booking site. Whether you’ve never advertised on social media, or you’re currently advertising but think you could be doing it better, here are some tips:
- Use carousel ads or video ads to showcase multiple properties or provide virtual tours, and make sure the content is professional, compelling and short.
- Choose the “conversions” campaign objective for your Facebook ads, which is optimized for actual sales rather than brand awareness or clicks
- Make sure to set up DM notifications and reply quickly to DMs–or, at the very least, set up “quick replies” to generate an automated DM response letting the user know you’ll get back to them quickly.
2. Analyze your guest services capabilities, guest experience feedback and reviews, and identify patterns and problems that need fixing.
A great guest experience, consistently, is essential if you want to grow your vacation rental business. And a great guest experience relies on great guest care. Take time with your team to look at guest reviews, private messages, guest communications response times, information accuracy, issue resolution time, and repeat guest business. Then use that information to implement improvements now, before the next seasonal occupancy spike.
Review Guest Feedback
Review across-portfolio and per-property guest feedback over a specific time period (one month, six months, one year). Make sure to look at guest reviews, ratings, and comments from various sources such as online platforms, guest surveys, and direct feedback. Look for recurring themes, both positive and negative, related to guest communications, to identify areas that require improvement and areas where you are performing well.
Assess Response Time
How quickly are you responding to guest questions or concerns? Look closely at your response time to guest communications via OTA messaging, text, email and phone. If you notice any delays, consider implementing tools or processes to streamline communication and ensure quicker response times.
Take a good look at the reservation details your team is providing to guests. Measure the percentage of reservations that are free from errors or discrepancies. This includes accurate pricing, property descriptions, amenities and availability. If you’re frequently giving guests bad information, figure out why, and determine if the problems are related to specific properties, so you can fix problems where they’re occurring.
ExtenTip: Take time during your downtime to create guest surveys designed to gather feedback from guests specifically on how their communication experience was. Ask guests to rate their satisfaction with communication channels, response times, clarity of information provided, and staff friendliness and helpfulness. Use the survey results to identify areas for improvement and measure the effectiveness of your communication efforts over time.
3. Dive deep into your operations processes to look for inefficiencies, redundancies, gaps and waste.
If your vacation rental management company started small and grew fast, you almost certainly have areas in your operations where improvements can, and should, be made. But where do you start? How do you prioritize which operational changes are most urgent? Are there solutions that you’re not even aware of?
Let’s break it down into steps.
Conduct a Comprehensive Audit
Start with a high-level review of aspects of your financials, processes, systems, staffing, and vendor relationships. This will provide a holistic view of your business and highlight areas that require further investigation.
Analyze Financial Statements
Sit down with your accountant (maybe that’s you – in which case, you may need some additional help, and go over your financial statements, including income statements, balance sheets, and cash flow statements. Look for any discrepancies, unusual expenses, or trends that indicate overspending. Compare your financials to industry benchmarks or previous periods to identify areas for improvement.
Evaluate Workforce Efficiency
Do you have the right number of employees for the workload they’re handling? Do individual staff members have the training and skills to do their job right? Are there gaps in coverage–for example, responding to late-night guest questions? Make sure to identify any redundant positions or areas where remote staffing or automation could optimize operations and reduce costs.
Review Vendor Relationships
Are you receiving competitive pricing, quality service, and value for your money from your vacation rental suppliers? Are you sure? Your downtime may be the time to renegotiate contracts or seek out alternative vendors if you find inefficiencies or overspending in any of these areas:
Cleaning and maintenance
Property management software
Listing sites and OTAs
Photography and virtual tour providers
Marketing and advertising agencies
Keyless entry and smart home tech providers
Local service providers
Implement Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
Now that you’re putting strategies in place to fix operational problems, it’s essential to establish how you’ll continue to track your progress. The most relevant key performance indicators to track include:
Maintenance response times
Guest satisfaction scores
Cost per unit (the sum of total fixed and variable costs divided by the number of your units) or employee productivity
Create a plan to regularly monitor these KPIs to identify areas that require attention, and constantly measure the impact of improvement initiatives.
4. Take a long, hard look at your homeowner relationships, your churn rate, the reasons owners have left, and how you can do better.
Some of your homeowners may be thrilled with the steady monthly revenue you’re generating for them, and for these owners, that is enough. But other homeowners may have tons of questions: Why aren’t we making as much money this month as we did last month? Or last year? Why did we get a 4.8-star review from this guest? How are you going to prevent parties at my property? Why am I paying so much?
If you’re dealing with what you perceive as “difficult” homeowners, or experiencing higher than expected churn, now’s the time to figure out where, why and how to keep homeowners from taking flight, by taking these steps:
Make sure you’re communicating with owners where, when and how they prefer.
Not all owners are alike, and you may need to adapt your communication frequency and style a bit, depending on the owner. Figure out which owners are happy with a monthly report, monthly payment, and maybe a quarterly newsletter. And note which owners may need a bit more personalized attention and updates.
Showcase your marketing efforts and how they’re resulting in higher occupancy rates, ADR and revenue for your homeowners.
We touched on marketing efficiency earlier–here’s where you get to show off your dedication to maximizing your owners’ ROI with those ramped up, targeted marketing efforts. Highlight the various channels and strategies you’re using to attract the right kinds of guests at the right price. And give them a look into the data you’ve gathered on inquiries, conversion rates, and the success of your marketing campaigns.
Be transparent about financials.
Not all owners will want to go over financial reporting in detail. But that doesn’t mean you should withhold or bury financial data on their properties. Make sure you’re regularly sharing revenue statements, occupancy rates, and expenses related to properties, and offer insights and analysis to help homeowners understand their property’s financial performance.
Make sure you’re consistently demonstrating professionalism and trustworthiness.
It should go without saying that trust is the foundation of any homeowner-manager relationship. And you may think you’re doing a good job of maintaining trust with your homeowners. But are you sure things are exactly where they should be? Look closely at staff performance, homeowners questions and concerns, and property-specific issues. Determine where you’re upholding your commitments, meeting deadlines and providing accurate financial reporting, and where you’re not.
ExtenTip: Make property optimization a priority for you and your owners. Always be on the lookout for opportunities to suggest property enhancements or improvements to your homeowners. Share market trends, guest feedback, and industry insights that can help your owners make informed decisions about upgrades, amenities, or decor changes. It’s a great way to show that you’re actively contributing to the long-term success of their investment.
5. Figure out which day-to-day tasks are keeping you from growing your vacation rental business, and find ways to free up your time.
For most vacation rental property managers the hardest part of the job is finding ways to work less in their business so they can work on their business. The slow season provides a good opportunity to pinpoint hours you can reclaim to focus more on hitting growth goals. These tactics can help you get back your time while keeping operations running smoothly and guest satisfaction high:
Delegate and Outsource
These tasks can readily be delegated to other staff members, often at a lower labor cost, especially if you tap into the global hospitality workforce:
Housekeeping and maintenance coordination
Accounting and bookkeeping
Get the right software solutions in place to automate repetitive tasks such as:
Develop Efficient Systems
Review and optimize your existing systems to identify bottlenecks, streamline workflows, and eliminate unnecessary steps. Establish standard operating procedures (SOPs) and guidelines to ensure consistency and efficiency in day-to-day operations. This allows your team to handle tasks more independently, reducing the need for constant supervision.
Empower Your Team
Your staff can’t support your growth goals if they’re not able to take full ownership of their duties. Invest in training and development for your team members, and let them take on additional responsibilities where needed. Delegate decision-making authority and encourage their autonomy, to give yourself more time to work on strategic initiatives.
Running a successful vacation rental property management company is a balancing act, and that’s not going to change. But using your downtime to examine what you’ve been doing, what’s working and what’s not, can help you swing that balance in your favor. Whether it’s tweaking a few minor guest comms processes, overhauling your operational systems completely, or outsourcing labor-intensive but essential tasks to virtual assistants, low-season prep will position you for high-season growth.