"Oak Terrace Preserve's Walkable Neighborhoods" on Flickr by North Charleston (CC BY-SA 2.0)Referrals are a common way for businesses to grow, and rent-by-owners (RBOs) aren’t any different; you likely already know that word-of-mouth marketing from happy guests can be one of your most powerful assets.

But what about referrals from other businesses — and other vacation rental owners in particular. Is it weird to get referrals from your competitors, or is it a potential source for new bookings that you’ve overlooked?

How referrals work

We make referrals almost daily, whether we’re pointing guests to favorite restaurants, unique boutiques or a local taxi company. In general, we make referrals to help other people get the information or service they’re looking for.

But referrals can also be part of a more formal arrangement, whether through networking organizations like your local chamber of commerce or using vacation rental-specific networks. Some networks offer incentives for referrals; for example, Matt Landau shared the idea of the Vacation Rental Referral Pledge, which encourages a 10 percent commission. Other businesses might offer a fixed cash incentive or other type of reward.

Why referrals can help build your business

Building positive relationships with RBOs in your area can be a smart move, whether you’re interested in referrals or not. Who knows the challenges of running a vacation rental in your area better than other owners? “Ask them their experiences, how booked they get,” suggested owner Pat Luftman in an interview with MyVR, whose local network also sends referrals to each other.

I think building a vacation rental coalition can be an effective part of your overall marketing strategy, and it’s one of the best ways to deal with what can otherwise be frustrating situations:

  • Large groups looking for additional accommodation (i.e. weddings, family reunions)
  • People who want to book your property for dates that are already taken
  • Inquiries that may not be a good fit (i.e. people who want to bring the family dog to your pet-free property)

Sending guests to a property across town costs you nothing; whatever the reason, this inquiry isn’t a good fit. But saving them the hassle of starting their search over again builds goodwill and could turn into a booking or referral in the future.

When you’re on the receiving end of a solid referral, you’re helping a fellow owner out of a jam while benefiting from a new booking. And, however they find you initially, a happy traveler can always lead to more business down the road.

Things to watch out for

Referrals work because people trust the source; a business owner won’t risk their reputation by sending a new customer to someone who can’t deliver.

That means two things within a referral network:

  • Your property and customer service must be top notch or the referrals will quickly dry up.
  • You need to be confident that the properties you refer people to have the same high standards you follow, or your own reputation will take a hit.

Incentives can be effective and having them in place — and detailed in a written agreement — can help avoid strife. Referral agreements work without incentives, too, but it can be frustrating if you consistently make referrals and get none in return. If you get a referral fee or other incentive, however, you’ll always receive a benefit.

MyVR has a referral tool that lets owners share leads with each other and, if you refer a traveler to someone else, you can track whether it converts into a booking.

Whether you pass referrals back and forth as part of being a good neighbor, or turn referrals into a whole new revenue stream, is entirely up to you. But it’s something I think every owner should consider adding to their business-building strategy.

What works and what doesn’t when it comes to sharing referrals with other RBOs? Share your advice in the comments section below!

Fish with big eyesLaunching a new website for your vacation rental business is an exciting event…that can quickly deflate when nothing seems to happen. Where are the website visitors? Where are the new bookings?

Like building a business, generating web traffic takes time; over time, there are a lot of different ways you can improve your search engine optimization (SEO) — where you show up in search results — and make it easier for people to find you.

But for now, you just need your site to show up! Continue Reading…

Skift || Here’s a First Look at the Expedia-HomeAway Vacation Rental Experiment

Expedia

After announcing a partnership late last year, Expedia and HomeAway have just launched a beta version of their combined vacation rental search.

The user experience is a little rough, explained Skift’s Dennis Schaal, saying that it “functions more like an advertising relationship would than a tightly integrated booking process.” He also notes, however, that these are only first steps; much will likely change as they gain information and feedback.

Poster for the United States Travel Bureau promoting tourism, showing two cowboys on horseback by stream near desert rock formation. Created for the Works Progress Administration Federal Art Project, by Frank S. Nicholson, between 1936 and 1939. [PD] This picture is in the public domain.

Travel Daily News || Vacation rentals even more popular with U.S. travelers in 2014

A recent survey by TripAdvisor found that 52 percent of American travelers plan to stay at a vacation rental in 2014—up from 44 percent last year.

Where are they planning to go, what are they willing to spend, and what amenities are they looking for? Reporter Theodore Koumelis covers the survey’s highlights. Continue Reading…

"Ice storm" on flickr, by Amanda B (CC BY 2.0)From a drought in California to snow in Texas, transportation blocked by ice storms and blackouts—not to mention the introduction of “polar vortex” into everyday vocabulary—it’s been an unpredictable season for traveling.

What do you do when your guests’ vacation is derailed by extreme weather—or worse, they can’t even make the journey to start their trip?

How you respond to any particular situation depends a lot on you and the relationship you have with your guests; there are no clear-cut answers, and it’s unlikely you’ll hit the same unexpected situation twice. But here are some ideas and best practices from other vacation rental owners. Continue Reading…

Sydney Morning Herald || The hottest travel trend of 2014? We know everything about you

We’ve talked about different ways to connect with your guests and provide truly personal service, something vacation rental owners are in a great position to provide. But hotels are upping their game, too. In this article from Australia, industry executives say they’re focused on detailsfrom remembering a guest’s preferred room temperature to buying personalized gifts inspired by their social media posts.

Vacation Rental Marketing Blog || 4 vacation rental guru predictions for 2014

Will 2014 bring more competition or more opportunity for vacation rental owners? Likely a good dose of both, according to the four vacation rental pros interviewed for this predictions post. From new initiatives by big brands to the need for better systems and more comprehensive marketing, our industry is poised for significant growth and change over the next couple of years. Continue Reading…

Once they decide where they want to go, travelers want to know what they can do when they get there, relying on the Internet and a sense of exploration to serve their needs.

However, new and emerging websites and smartphone applications are popping up all the time, many of them delivering information that’s local, socially curated and—in some cases—highly personalized. And they require little if any extra work from you!

Pointing your guest towards resources like these can help make their travel research much easier. Continue Reading…

Guest post by Karen Clark

Once you’ve addressed the vacation rental essentials—like price, convenience and cleanliness—the renters’ market, to some extent, becomes a battle of aesthetics and what’s in vogue.

If you’ve taken steps to automate your vacation home, you already have a leg up. Home automation has seen a massive spike in popularity. Homeowners are tethering their houses to their electronics, and there’s never been a better time for vacation rental owners to consider the smart home game.

Why automation? Why now?

"Home Automation" on Flickr, by Denis P (CC BY 2.0 from www.pallspera.com)Vacation rental owners are specialists in simplicity. With just a few pictures and some lines of text, you can sell an entire experience to tourists. It just goes to show that in the world of travel, easier is always better—and automating your home can bring both simplicity and efficiency.

Home automation has quickly ascended and is close to becoming an industry standard. According to SecurityCompanies.com, the home security and smart home spheres are quickly merging. It’s getting harder to find a home security service that doesn’t offer some type of home automation access and vice versa.

With the onset of automation features gracing so many products in today”s market – from security systems to toasters to sprinklers – it’s only sensible to give your guests the most hassle-free experience possible. Continue Reading…

"Question mark" on flickr by the Italian voice (CC BY 2.0)When it comes to guest surveys, the old “K.I.S.S.” motto works best—”Keep It Simple” and you just might get a few insightful comments in response. Make it complicated and, like this 20 question survey deconstructed by Rafat Ali of Skift, you’ll risk irritating anybody who stops to consider responding.

Sandy Bayes, owner of Sandy’s Cabin in Flagstaff, AZ, opened her vacation rental last March and has been surveying her guests since Day One.

“Especially as a new owner, I’ve tried to think of the places I’ve stayed and consider what would have been nicer,” she explained. “But you can’t think of everything, and everybody is different. It’s been a real learning experience for me.” Continue Reading…

Skift || HomeAway Sues Airbnb Over Use of Birdhouse Mark

Having long argued that Airbnb isn’t a competitor and operates in a different market, HomeAway is suing Airbnb over their use of a birdhouse in their latest national marketing campaign—something HomeAway says infringes on their trademark.  The battle between the two companies has seemed inevitable to many, and has certainly just increased a notch (or 10) with the news of the lawsuit.

Skift || Why Hotel Brands Should Care About Airbnb’s Disruption

"hotel" by Daniel Zedda on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Airbnb has made a significant dent in the hotel market, building on strengths that every vacation rental has—whether they use the rental site or not.

Vikram Singh of Skift says brand loyalty has lost its power; people care most about location, value and good reviews.

He also notes that transparency helps build trust and community: “The host is the brand, and you have access to him at every stage of your travel experience.” Continue Reading…

Guest post by Madoline Hatter

MyVR on Pinterest

Connect with MyVR on Pinterest.

While sharing interesting content via a blog can support your vacation rental business, adding images—and taking advantage of an image-based social network—can improve the experience exponentially. Like the adage goes, “a picture is worth a thousand words.”

Pinterest is a growing social media hub that can help boost your blog; pairing the two creates a powerful way for you to connect with new visitors.

Draw in new travelers

Even though it’s relatively new, Pinterest drives more traffic to websites than several other social networks combined. It’s easy to direct people back to your blog: add short snippets of information to each picture and link them back to your main blog or website.

Unique and well-developed pictures can spread, generating additional traffic from other sites such as Facebook or Reddit—a strong argument for hiring a professional photographer. The more attention any single image can receive, the better your chances of getting attention from a potential guest.

Boost your marketing efficiently

It’s not just about pointing people back to your website, either. By adding a Pinterest link to your website, it’s easy for visitors to find more images from you or others. Use these photos to showcase your rental property and nearby attractions. This could easily entice visitors to explore further and find out more about your property or the location itself.

The more you can draw website visitors in with eye-catching photos, the more often those visits will turn into bookings. And Pinterest makes it easy: not only can you integrate it with your blog, it’s also free to use. Continue Reading…