The line between vacation rentals and hotel/resort accommodations has continually narrowed over the past five years. When people ask me what business I work in, I don’t say “Airbnb,” “vacation rentals (VRs),” or “short-term rentals” (STRs). I say, “I’m in hospitality.”
Whether you’re already in the industry or looking to get into VRs, STRs, and midterm rentals (MTRs), you need to understand that you’re in the hospitality industry. Airbnb has been called “the hotel killer,” but accommodations like vacation rentals have been around for a very long time—just the way we book and list properties has changed.
When I first started in vacation rentals almost seven years ago, there were barely any resources on the topic. So, when it came to optimizing my vacation rentals, I leaned very heavily on books written on hotels and resorts. It may sound crazy, but I purchased university textbooks written on how to manage and optimize hotels/resorts. I even read books written by Disney on how to provide a memorable experience no matter what industry you’re in.
Right now, the economy is stuck in limbo, and it may seem like STRs have a bleak future based on things that have been recently written on them. For anyone who has followed my articles here on BiggerPockets, I have said for a long time now that you should be looking at your STRs/VRs/MTRs as a business, not just a property you place on one platform and forget about.
As the industry evolves and a flood of new properties hits the market, you need to be able to position yourself and your company as a premier hospitality provider in your area. As of now, I am in the slow season of my hospitality business during an economic correction, but all of my properties are currently operating at 85%+ occupancy, with tens of thousands worth of bookings coming in every week.
Here is a culmination of everything I have learned and applied from studying over 25 hospitality/hotel/resort books. This blog article will be split into a three-part series, with the first part discussing guest experience.
What Disney Can Teach Us About Guest Experience?
The very first book I picked up when I started reading about hospitality was written by Disney, called Be Our Guest. You might say, “Disney!?” I know it sounds crazy, but to my surprise, I learned that when it comes to hospitality, Disney offers some of the most in-depth training through the Disney Institute. The most interesting thing that the Disney book teaches is utilizing all the five senses when it comes to the guest experience.
Try to figure out how to utilize the five senses when it comes to your properties, both inside and out. Ask yourself: What does the guest first smell when they walk into the property? We try to use air fresheners that are similar to scents in the environment where the property is.
Bonus tip: Walt Disney was a huge believer in having a centerpiece for whatever property you owned. When you think of Disney, what is the first image that comes to mind? It’s probably Cinderella’s castle.
Thinking along those lines, I want you to consider different ways to make your property unique. I like to say ways to make your property “Instagrammable.” This can be as simple as adding a unique accent wall to one of your rooms, all the way to the structure of the property itself. I’ve seen hosts use murals, both inside and outside, to enhance the entire guest experience.
You can include an Instagram handle to a social media account for your company within the property so your guests can share it. I see this a lot whenever I visit hotels or resorts. The best spokespeople for your properties are previous guests, and establishing a strong social media presence is one way to do that.
Market Like the Pros
I have said this consistently for the past two years: Your properties should not exclusively live on one site. If your property is on only one site, say Airbnb, I would be worried. It’s not anything against Airbnb per se, but you are at the mercy of platform and algorithm changes when you have your property only live on one specific site.
Don’t get me wrong: Platforms like Airbnb and VRBO can be a phenomenal source of booking guests, but they should be looked at more as a marketing arm to your business, not where your business exclusively lives.
Let’s go back to the hotels and resorts and see what we can learn. My wife and I booked a trip to Tulum Beach in Mexico through Expedia. When we checked into the resort, we had to provide our contact info to get access to the Wi-Fi (like any other place). We had a phenomenal stay, and afterward, we started receiving emails from the resort every couple of months to book directly through their website, with links to their social media accounts.
It got me thinking about how we can apply that to our own business. Luckily, I found a service called StayFi, which I’ve discussed before. They sell a service that essentially turns your internet into an email capture tool.
From there, you are able to run seasonal emails to your previous guests directly through their platform. All the emails and related marketing are already created for you.
We utilize this service with a direct booking site. Our guests see our properties on one of the online travel agencies like Airbnb, VRBO, or Booking.com. Once they book their stay and stay with us, we collect their email through StayFi. We then start sending seasonal emails to the guest, directing them to our direct booking site.
This allows you to have complete control over your guests’ stay without an intercessor. It also allows you to build a business asset if you ever want to sell your entire portfolio.
We’ve purchased properties in the past that came with a large email list of previous guests, and we were able to load those guests into our database and start sending emails to book directly with us.
I truly believe that the future of STRs and VRs is providing unique accommodations to your guests—properties they would be proud to stay in and post about on their social media.
With that being said, I believe an untapped gold mine is studying what hotels/resorts do to manage their guest experience, operations, and financials. At the end of the day, it all falls under the umbrella of providing phenomenal hospitality to the people staying at your properties.
Let me know what you think in the comments below. I truly want to hear your opinion on this because it’s been something that I have been working on since I started in vacation rentals seven years ago.