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    How to Win Big with the 7 Deadly Sins of Distribution Now and Next Year

    “There is no better boost in the present than an invitation into the future.” Caroline Kepnes

    For hospitality organizations in the throes of planning for 2016, this is one of the most inspired times of the year. This creative energy can and should be harnessed right away. The voluminous marketing plans and spreadsheets, with ideas that won’t be implemented until the luster has long since worn off, are still essential. However, consider what can be achieved now to not only embrace the momentum but also, make this year’s holiday travel season more profitable than anticipated.

    For instance, energy put toward tactical distribution now, will pay off handsomely in the New Year. Using the 7 Deadly Sins of Distribution as a guide, there are several strategies that, if put in place now, will increase bookings and OTA presence at year’s end, and help inform rate strategies and promotions in 2016. Here’s how to begin rolling them out over the next few months. (Note: The Deadly Sins are selected based on year-end timing and, therefore, are not in order. The complete and complimentary 7 Deadly Sins of Distribution eBook may be downloaded for a more comprehensive review of distribution tactics.)

    Deadly Sin #1 One-Week Minimums

    Traveler booking windows are getting shorter, even in vacation rental destinations. According to Fuel Travel’s June booking engine data for Myrtle Beach, over the past two years the biggest shifts have occurred with decreases in bookings 90+ days out and increases in bookings closer in, including: 0 days, 1 day, 2-7 days, and 8-30 days. Travelers booking on a shorter window are often booking shorter stays, and vacation rentals with a one-week minimum will miss out in three ways: decreased search visibility, fewer bookings, and lower ADR potential.

    Travelers desire flexibility and will begin their search with a two- or three-night window, even when they intend a one-week stay. For properties listed with a one-week minimum, visibility among the full spectrum of travelers is decreased.

    Seventy-six percent of leisure travelers spend two or fewer nights in a vacation rental or hotel, while the length of the average American vacation is just over four days. With a one-week minimum, vacation rentals are not meeting the needs of the modern traveler for multiple but shorter trips, resulting in reduced booking potential. 
    Many vacation rentals managers respond to the proposal to reduce minimum stays with concerns about covering the cost of increased wear and tear. However, many property management companies are successfully increasing ADR on shorter stays.

    Bonus: Implementing a two- or three-day minimum in November allows property management companies to take full advantage of the holiday season, during which many traveling families desire a comfortable home stay for less than one week.


    Deadly Sin #3 Bad Photos

    Unless your vacation rental is situated in a winter destination, December is not the time for a photo shoot. On the other hand there is no time like the present to take stock of the images in your distribution arsenal and determine what, if any, photos shoots need to happen in 2016. The bottom line with photos: if the rate is right, but the images are not, a traveler will move on to the next available rental. Here are LeisureLink’s guidelines for vacation rental photos: 
    • Large, high-resolution JPG images. LeisureLink suggests 2048 x 1536, as different channels handle photos differently. Each channel will take an image, resize it, and put it up as-is, whether it’s pixelated or not. This size ensures that the photos will wow no matter the channel.
    • Curb appeal. Prioritize prime real estate. What should a traveler’s first impression be: the lobby, the view, the pool, outdoor amenities, the rooms? 
    • Consistency. In the absence of professional photography, ensure that photos are of consistent quality. 
    • Avoid overlaying text on images.
    • Do not include photos with people unless a release has been signed and preferably only in professional photography.
    • Include both property and unit photos. Channels prefer to see 10 property photos and at least 5 unit photos for each unit.
    • Not all channels are created equal. Consider the audience for each one when selecting photography. For instance, Booking.com has a substantial European audience that appreciates bathroom and television photos.
    • Feature amenities. Use images to highlight and differentiate properties. Kids’ pools, an arcade, spa, cocktail bar, luxury kitchens, anything that sets an accommodation apart should be represented in photography.
    • A rental with spectacular views or an excellent location should have images reflective of it.
    • Highlight the high season. For most destinations, it holds true that high season photos will better represent a property than off-season imagery. Stick with what travelers love about the destination when drawing them in.
    #5 Not Pooling Inventory

    When it comes to OTA inventory, vacation rentals will find strength in numbers. While it may seem wise to break up inventory and spread it across channels, pooled inventory makes a rental much more compelling to the OTAs and affords more operational benefits.

    There are three benefits to pooling inventory:
    1. Increases OTA rankings and, therefore, occupancy. OTA’s assign greater value to rentals with more inventories, which results in higher OTA rankings.
    2. Reduces manual updates and mistakes. When inventory is broken up across OTA’s, there is a substantial risk of missed bookings, as well as errors. Pooling inventory means fewer manual updates and less hovering over OTA channels. Integrating a channel management tool with your PMS means virtually no manual updates.
    3. Increases vacation rental revenue, while decreasing operational costs. The visible effect of greater OTA popularity and the availability of more inventories to a wider array of potential guests, is increased revenue. Additionally, when valuable employees, such as revenue managers, become focused on time-consuming tasks like parceling out inventory and making manual updates, they are distracted from core, revenue-generating operations.
    Start now with the appropriate modifications to pool inventory, so the process can be completed by January.

    In each of these cases, there may be a technical solution required to fully implement. For instance, direct connect may be required to pool inventory, and systemic changes are likely necessary to modify a one-week minimum to a two- or three-night minimum. Beginning now will ensure that even if action isn’t immediate, those distribution-enabling projects are budgeted appropriately for the coming year.
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