Destination: automation

by Susanne Young 30 Mar 2020

The top 10% of hosts are crushing it in the vacation rental industry, leaving their competition in the dust. How do we know this? AirDNA tracks performance metrics for more than 10 million short-term rentals across 80,000 cities worldwide, using data mined from Airbnb and HomeAway to generate detailed analytical reports on average occupancy, daily rates and annual gross income estimates for each property.  

Top performers have a rock-solid understanding of what it takes to run a bustling hospitality business. They keep their eye on the ball of delivering an exceptional guest experience and continuous improvement. Despite their premium rates, travelers will flock to their property and even visit year-round. Eventually, their vacation rental brand attracts a loyal following of repeat guests and referrals. 

Before getting drawn into the orbit of short-term rentals, you need to spend some time decoding the industry secrets. There is more to it than fabulous décor, enticing descriptions and professional photography. Without establishing behind-the-scenes efficiency, you could find yourself buried under a mountain of time-sensitive demands without a shovel.

Property management software is your ace in the hole for this type of business. Innovative solutions built on cloud-based platforms have been developed to address common pain points. Think of this software as mission control for time-consuming tasks like communication and rate-setting.

Maximizing rates and conversions
Did you know that the best rate for your property changes daily? The trick is to find the sweet spot between overpricing or selling out at a deep discount. Using fixed rates or seasonal rate categories will leave money on the table. Dynamic pricing automates rate-setting by factoring in supply and demand data. Hotel rates take into consideration available inventory, current reservations, conventions, concerts and special events – and so can you. Sophisticated dynamic pricing tools can increase your revenue by an estimated 10% to 30% annually.  

Turning on Instant Book raises your visibility on the listing site algorithms. Look for software that also has a channel manager to sync your calendars in real time and avoid a double-booking fiasco. 

Improving communication
Guests love to know you are on top of things, highly organized and have not forgotten about them. Your conversion rate will go up if you can respond to inquiries immediately, but realistically, you may be on a beach somewhere or otherwise unavailable. Set email auto-responders with a simple message like "Thank you for your inquiry. I am normally able to respond within two hours." Follow up as soon as you can before they book with someone else. 

Once a booking is confirmed, automate the repetitive task of communicating the details by using email templates sent on a ‘just in time’ delivery schedule. The software will handle all of this on autopilot. Specific booking information such as name, arrival date and departure date is pulled into the template, and all emails (booking confirmation, check-in, checkout and thank you) are sent at precisely the right time.

To really shine, add a polished online guestbook such as Touchstay. Summarize the property info and include arrival directions from the city or the airport, along with city maps. Attach links to local attractions, even sourcing a site like Shutterstock to find high-quality images. Create a gallery of stunning property photos and maintain a FAQ page. A high-end glossy guidebook will set the stage for a positive preconceived notion about how fabulous the place will be.

Improving guest experiences
Housekeeping modules automate turnovers and eliminate errors such as housekeeper no-shows – a situation that’s stressful for everyone, especially the travel-weary guest who just wants to check in. The module uses accurate dates pulled directly from the booking calendar. Not all software has this feature, but integrations like Get Properly can fill the gap. Reminder notifications are sent to the cleaner's smartphone, along with a cleaning checklist, giving you confidence that the turnover will be perfect each time.    

You can also use automation to set the stage for a welcome vibe when guests arrive: A keyless entry code has been sent automatically, the porch lights are on, and the blinds are open. When guests enter, the thermostat is set at a comfortable temperature, and background music is softly playing. Alexa is there to answer questions about the weather, local attractions, events or restaurants. Smart home integration and stacking commands within arrival or hibernation programs can even be triggered by your booking calendar. Bonus: You’ll also enjoy reduced heating and electrical costs when the property is vacant.

Automating your short-term rental can be surprisingly affordable, even for single properties. There are many property management software options with a range of functionality, even some that include special features like trust accounting for property managers.

I recommend scheduling a few demos to find the right fit. Look for a single dashboard where you can view the status of guest information, reservations, calendar sync and email from all sources. Most software will have a front-facing portal; this allows repeat guests to view the calendar availability, sign your property agreement and make a direct (no-fee) booking. Another bonus: You will receive payment within days, even if the reservation is made months ahead.

A short-term rental shouldn’t be a second job. Stay ahead of the competition, meet rising guest expectations and increase your profits by establishing an efficient framework to manage your hospitality-based business.

 

Susanne Young is a vacation rental investor with a passion for helping hosts and property managers achieve five-star reviews, full calendars, and high ROI. She is the author of the vacation rental guidebook, BOOKED!, and the Vacation Rental Consultant at www.vacationrentalstrategist.com

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