You don’t have to do all of these, but each one you do adopt will increase your enquiries and conversions. Or to put it another way, each one you resist will decrease your bookings…
1. Instant booking is coming whether you like it or not...
The first thing to say is if you use an OTA (Airbnb/Vrbo/Booking/Tripadvisor) then set your ad to instant booking. Soon enough this will be obligatory so if you are still resisting (most people are), you may as well bite the bullet and enjoy the benefit before everyone else is doing it. Most travellers seek this out so if you don’t allow instant booking then you are depriving yourself of most of the market.
Your likely objections to instant booking are:
1. You have a good feeling for people and want to be able to turn down an unsuitable booking.
This doesn’t hold up if you think about it because the only problems you will get are with those you didn’t turn down, and the ones you did turn down, well you’ll never know what they would have been like.
2. You are more comfortable with some interaction prior to booking, to manage expectations and so on.
This is fair enough, but you can still do this between taking a booking and the arrival date, through the OTA interface. Although not as freely as if you were emailing.
The good news if you take instant bookings is that your conversion rate for booking enquiries will be 100%. This will boost your ranking in a property search, as it is one of the factors that determines your position.
2. Be flexible
The second key setting, especially today, is how flexible your cancellation policy is. On an OTA you can choose from a menu of options ranging from strict (generally 60 days) to flexible (something like 24-48 hours). Renters pay attention to your cancellation policy and many will pre-filter their search according to the cancellation policy they are comfortable with. The same is true if you are taking direct bookings or through a local listing site, even if travellers can’t pick a filter they will still be rejecting too strict a cancellation policy.
It may be time to be brave and see what happens when you set a more flexible cancellation policy. Typically you will get more cancellations but you will also get more booking demand and that can mean you can put your rates up. The feedback from people who have done this is usually that it is worth it.
The best way to increase bookings is to turn on instant booking and relax your cancellation policy. Let’s assume you don’t want to do this, here are other things you can do which will have a less dramatic effect on your booking conversions.
3. Be even more flexible
While instant booking and more flexible cancellation would not affect your management of your property, the third recommendation would – allow shorter stays and be flexible on arrival and departure days. This will be unappealing to most but you have to bear in mind that Airbnb has changed the way people think about a short-term rental. If you don’t want to change peak season stay-length, at least look at shorter stays for shoulder and off-season. This will definitely increase your number of bookings, the more pertinent question is whether it will improve your bottom line. Only you can answer that.
4. First impressions
It goes without saying that your property will be judged on its photos ahead of anything else. Unless you know that you are a very good photographer the best single investment you can make in your rental business is to hire a professional photographer – the cost will be paid back many times over. You have to have a killer thumbnail, which is the image shown on a page of search results or on the map search.
The title of your ad is also important in determining whether someone clicks through to your ad. Don’t waste words on info that is already being shown in the ad panel: sleeps/bedrooms/bathrooms/pool. Do mention something that is key to your target market. That may be a heated pool, a stunning view, a romantic vibe, proximity to an attraction/pub/bakery, suitability for big groups/family reunions, superfast internet for a digital nomad, and so on.
Brighton’s sexiest little house
Cosy penthouse apartment by the sea with views
Time to escape to the sea? 200m to sandy beach
Art-Inspired Designer Apt Close to Boardwalk
Stylish flat sleeps 4
3-bedroom townhouse (Brighton)
You will also be judged on your reviews, both the quality and the quantity, but that is not a quick fix, the above two are.
Make sure you look warm and approachable in your profile picture, you will be judged on it. Create the same impression with what you say about yourself in your profile.
5. Tick those amenities
Travellers do use those filters when they search so tick as many amenities as you can. Some are an easy win – a microwave is very inexpensive and many parents of babies and toddlers will need one. Some make a big difference but are a big investment, like air conditioning. Some are a state of mind – people increasingly want to travel with their dog, so are you sure you don’t want to accept them even with an extra security deposit?
6. Be the early bird
Responding quickly to enquiries is key – that used to mean the same day, now it’s more like the same hour, and ideally quicker than that. Set an alert on your phone for booking enquiries and have your response templates ready so you can reply to a booking enquiry without delay. Of course, the best thing you can do for this is point 1 at the top – turn on instant booking! Bear in mind here that you are not just up against individual owners any more, you are up against agencies and rental managers who respond immediately.
7. The human touch
When you respond to an enquiry do so with warmth and personality, so you can establish a relationship, which will make it harder for them to say no. Ask questions to engage them and oblige them to continue the conversation. Even if they don’t book this time, if they like you they may bookmark you for a future stay.