Tours and activities should be part of the guest experience. Here’s how to drive value through them.
Property managers have always understood the importance of marketing their destination to guests— it’s usually one of the top factors influencing the decision to book a vacation rental in the first place. Dating back to pre-internet times, the books that property managers would send out each year with their rentals and rates for the upcoming season would always include pages of local recommendations for the best places to eat and visit.
Today, almost every property manager’s website has an area of their site that focuses on the destination itself, and many more include destination-specific content in their wider marketing material or listings on online travel agencies (OTAs). But what are the benefits of engaging with local tours and activities? And how do they really impact the guest experience? Let us take a look at some factors at play and how to execute a tours and activities solution in your properties.
Differentiating From the Competition
2022 is set to be a competitive year for vacation rental providers, and I’m expecting it to be particularly fierce in traditional US drive-to-leisure markets. However, I’m not talking about competition to secure guests. AirDNA recently forecast that 2022 will see demand for vacation rentals continuing to rise in the US, growing by 14.1 percent over 2021 levels. Guests are (for the moment) plentiful and continuing to enjoy vacation rentals as a way of traveling.
Instead, driving rates and, in turn, recruiting homeowners, will be the stage for this competition. With AirDNA also reporting that available listings are still 9 percent below 2019 levels, adding inventory will be the mark of any successful property management company this year. The problem with traditional ways of driving rates is that they are generally all capital intensive for the homeowner—think upgrades to the furnishings and fittings in a property or accessing on-site amenities, which aren’t always within the control of a property manager.
So, one workaround is to expand the services offered outside of the four walls of a vacation rental. This is where local tours and activities come into play; they are a great way to enhance the perceived value for the guest without a drain on capital. Whether going above and beyond to assist guests with their planning ahead of their booking, or negotiating discounts or free tickets for guests, every additional element offered can help property managers differentiate themselves from their direct competition and drive up their room rates.
Building Community Relationships
Unlike other types of lodging—and despite the acquisitions and consolidations that are dominating industry headlines right now—the vacation rental industry is still predominantly driven by local operators. I see this as a big asset: Not only will vacation rental managers have more knowledge and insight into their local tourism ecosystem, but they will be more likely to want to support their community and the small businesses around them. Partnering with tours and activities and encouraging guests to use local businesses is one way of doing this.
By providing curated local recommendations, you increase the chances that guests will have an enjoyable experience during their stay, which subsequently increases the chances that they will choose to return to that destination or recommend it to others for future vacations. It also feeds into what travelers want on vacation. According to TripAdvisor’s 2022 Travel Trends Report, the top three most important considerations in choosing a holiday this year are getting immersive by seeing new places, having new experiences, and learning about history and culture. In the US specifically, 73 percent said having new experiences was important when choosing their vacation. Activities are a crucial part of the guest experience.
How to Start Leveraging Tours and Activities
However you decide to promote the local services and the local tours and attractions, it must be something that you can execute at a high level or that you can source to a third party. You are better doing less really well than doing more poorly.
At a basic level, make sure there is clear content on your website or in-room guide (whether print or digital) with recommendations for activities by category. The key is making sure that it is easily accessible to your guests (and not hidden away!), that it remains up to date, and that you provide them with correct phone numbers and websites so they can easily take action.
Another way to go about this is by partnering with local tours and attractions to provide your guests with discounts. This process should be a clear benefit to the guest with minimal logistical input from their side.
You should think about how to:
- Notify the guests of the offers and keep this information up to date.
- Update availability for limited capacity and limited inventory activities.
- Make reservations and handle payments/refunds.
- Deliver the tickets.
- Track and pay commissions.
What Are the Challenges, and How Do You Address Them?
Just by running through the above checklist, it’s clear that the operational side of maintaining destination content is a potential barrier to entry. Even the simplest of partnerships with the local community requires consistent upkeep of assets like photos or hours of operation across multiple consumer touch points (web, social, in-property, email, etc.). The move to touchless check-in and the consumer desire to “declutter” the vacation rentals has made this process even more difficult. However, turnkey solutions can eliminate unnecessary admin headaches by outsourcing both the negotiation of activities and the upkeep of the destination content.
Once you start making recommendations on local activities, you also run the risk of associating your brand with another where the experience may not be as good. This is a real concern, no matter how a property manager partners with local attractions.
Instead, avoid directing guests to any booking aggregators where you forgo control of the activities list. Ask your guests what attractions they enjoyed, and use this data to curate your recommendations. You’ll start to learn which are the best fit for your typical or desired guest, and in doing so, position your property to better drive repeat bookings.
Eliminating Friction for Guests
The biggest value a property manager can provide right now, in today’s tech-heavy, COVID-19- complicated travel landscape, is simplifying the entire customer journey. It should be as frictionless as possible for the guest to plan, book, and enjoy their vacation. Tours and activities are low-hanging fruit here and make a huge impact on the overall guest experience. Getting savvy about tours and activities will help property managers differentiate from the competition while increasing the overall value of a stay and the amount they can charge. Plus, it helps the local economy, making it a win-win.
Matthew Loney currently serves as the president and CEO of Xplorie, the leading guest experience platform for US leisure markets. Delivering best-in-life moments for millions of guests annually, Xplorie has nearly quadrupled in size over the past five years under Loney’s leadership, expanding its footprint to over 55+ markets.