We’ve entered the age of empowerment — guest empowerment. Today’s traveler is embracing the power to customize their experience. With the ease of having information at their fingertips wherever and whenever they wish, travelers are expecting vacation rental managers to be appropriately equipped to meet these needs.
For professional managers, the challenge of staying relevant in a growing market is further complicated by such macro trends as M&A activity, the introduction of slicker and more useful technology tools and the growth and ongoing presence of OTA’s, among others. In a way, you can say it’s time for vacation rental managers to meet guest expectations or be at risk of falling behind.
According to research from Skift, 68 percent of consumers plan to spend the same amount or more on leisure travel in 2018 compared to 2017. That means 2018 is shaping up to be a pivotal year for travel; and one in which vacation rental managers will need to up their game across a myriad of fronts.
Let’s take a look at five in particular. We asked VRMA members to give us their thoughts on how the following five trends will shape up in the year ahead and how VRMs should be prepared: Guest Services, The Growing Role of Data, M&A Activity and Going International
The following are brief ‘executive summaries’ on the first two topics: Guest Services and Data, each authored by a different VRMA member. These summaries are meant to introduce new ideas, which will be explored in greater detail in Arrival (both online and in print) in the year ahead. Check back next week for M&A Activity and Going International.
Guest Services: Time to Up Your Game
For years professional vacation rental managers, and the Vacation Rental Management Association have been extolling the benefits of renting from a professional manager versus going the “rent by owner” route. The standard, the quality of service, the sheer professionalism you could expect, all pointed in one direction for the discerning guest. 2018 will be the year the dog catches the metaphorical car, and managers across the board will have to deliver on an entirely different level in order to meet guests’ expectations. This is because the basis for comparison will no longer be RBOs, but rather hotels. To succeed in vacation rentals, it will no longer be enough to be a “hotel alternative,” but guests will expect “hotel+” service.
Indications of this impending shift in expectations date back to at least 2016 when Accor Hotels purchased Onefinestay for $169 Million. This big splash of cash clearly showed that hotel standards of service were coming to vacation rentals and the broader alternative accommodation space. In 2017, however, took this a step further as Accor rolled up three different professional brands under the Onefinestay umbrella, Airbnb spent $200-$300 million getting deeper into the professionally managed side of the business with its acquisition of Luxury Retreats and Hyatt invested in Oasis, then began promoting the vacation rental company to its hotel loyalty members as providing “the comfort and authenticity of home rentals with the service and amenities of a hotel.” However, if there is any merit to the rumors that Airbnb is about to make a one billion dollar bid for Wyndham’s European Vacation Rental business, this push towards vacation rentals providing at least hotel-like services is only gaining pace.
Deliver on these higher guest service expectations and you will leave RBOs and your competitors in the dust. Fail to do so, and you will be left wondering what changed. The answer is simple. Everything.
Growing Role of Big Data in the Vacation Rental Industry
There’s no doubt that the role of “big data” is growing in the vacation rental industry and there’s ways to use it to improve your bottom line. From a marketing perspective, vacation rental managers can use data to increase consumer personalization in their advertising and on their website.
It’s important to note that data isn’t just statistics and numbers. With the incorporation of new technologies, we can use customer data to personalize their shopping experience like never before.
For example, Google and Facebook allow you to add code on your website that helps tie a user to their interaction on your site. By storing this information and attaching it to the viewer, you can then personalize the experience by showing information that is more relevant to the user throughout their social and online experience. For example, a visitor comes on the site looking for a waterfront property that is pet-friendly, then visits the pet-friendly policy page, then views three properties and abandons the site. By storing this data you can then serve social media and ads across the Google network of sites for personalized ads for the waterfront, pet-friendly properties. Amazon and other big box retailers have been doing this for years. You’ve probably seen it before when you were looking for a product on Amazon, then left the site and went to go check out the weather and saw an ad for the exact product you were just looking at on Amazon. They call this remarketing.
To take this to another level, you can collect and store user information in your CRM. Then you can use the data to see your most popular dates searched, types of properties, amenities and so on. By having the ability for the visitor to create an account, you are then giving them the opportunity to save their searches and creating an entry of their information in your CRM. As they search, view properties and send interaction to their traveling party; you continue to build your database of information.
It seems like a big task to tackle, but there are many tools out there that make this simple to get started if you can follow instructions. Start implementing the Facebook Pixel at the very least and start tracking customers in social channels. If you don’t have Google Analytics installed, then you are also missing a big boat. For the more advanced user and company, have your web development company implement a user tracking system to see what potential guests search for on your website.
All the data is there, it’s just a matter of harnessing it.
The longer you wait, the more data you lose and can’t use in the future. Embrace data and think about more (because there are many more) ways you can use it to maximize your marketing efforts.