Vacation Rental Success in 2008/2009 - Your Future Is Now!
August 9, 2008
Today's newsletter gives you concrete strategies to respond and win in a pressured tourism economy.
If you haven't already done so, review our June in-depth report summarizing forces in the 2008/2009 travel marketplace.
Succeed in 2008/2009 by securing bookings early.
Confirm reservations before winter heating bills influence travel decisions.
It's a pinched economy. Fuel prices and time are your 2 biggest business dampening factors this year. Although gas prices recently dropped, people still are paying approximately $1.00 MORE per gallon than same time last year.
Travel is a discretionary, energy-dependent activity for those with time and money. Your customers' available time and money are shrinking.
How does time play a role?
Consumers are increasingly time poor.
Moreover, gas price fluctuations impact future travel costs. When they increase, airfares dynamically change in response. Today, airlines are making a record 23,000 daily fare changes in the US. In addition, as smaller airlines collapse and bigger ones cut back, the number of available routes contract. That means a smaller number of total available seats...and more competition for those seats.
Your guests must book seats early to 1) guarantee a seat on a larger, more recession-resistant carrier and 2) lock in at a better fare.
Bottom Line: Your success lies in snagging a bigger share of a shrinking pie EARLY.
Action: Time is working against you. Act NOW in response to a transitional marketplace to avoid deep discounting wars in November/December. Today's newsletter will give you concrete ideas. Our recommended action items will boost your bookings.
Projection: Your agility and relatively lower operational overhead give you a competitive edge in the marketplace. Businesses that adapt now will likely remain stable or even out pace last year's performance. Businesses that wait, will become part of the over-supply inventory that will be pressured into deep discounting later in the season (late November/December and onwards).
Estimated Reading Time: 20 Minutes
Recommending Thinking Time: 30 Minutes
- The New Recession-Resistant Customer
- Successful Strategies Used by the Masters
- What Will Happen in 2008/2009 & What to Do about It
- Increased Competition from Rental Managers & Hoteliers
- Tighter Budgets with More Aggressive Shopping & Negotiating
- Less Fly-In Traffic Who Will Stay Longer
- More Last-Minute Bookings
- Shorter Stays/Mid-Week Stays
- More Drive-In/Local Business
- Togethering - Multigenerational, Family & Friend Caravanning
- Time Proverty
- Easy Button Escapism
- Go Green - It Could Increase Your Market Share
- Coupons, Redeemable Vouchers & Gift Certificates - Do They Work?
- Wrap Up - Action Items on What You Should Do!
The New Recession-Resistant Customer
Is this comforting old tune playing in your head?
"Our market is higher-end and is recession-resistant."
A recent Bloomberg Report reported that Costco Wholesale and Walmart posted record monthly sales increases, while more lofty luxury brands reported record declines.
Translation: Even people with money are scaling back & changing their brands.
Your "recession-resistant" customer is spending less money. Isn't that how they got recession-resistant in the first place?
Successful Strategies Used by the Masters
"The Ship Always Leaves Full" & "No Empty Rooms"
Cruises and Las Vegas beat all other travel sectors with these simple business strategies.
They are the travel industry's undisputed yield and profit Masters. They succeed, even in tough times.
What can you learn from them?
They've focused on product quality, value and their simplified communication in a transitional, crowded and noisy marketplace.
Their 4-pronged, math-free strategy is so simple, it's easy to miss:
- Escapism: Promise & deliver an escape where Guests can be or become a better version of themselves.
- Math-Free Bluntness & Big Appeal: Consumers don't need math or a calculator to make a decision when weighing options. Huge, obvious & consistent differentiators in benefits, service and/or value make decisions easy and obvious. If math is involved, it's strictly finger counting...like how many nights prospects can afford. That means that if 2 options are exactly the same price, then there's a glaring benefits gap that lures the business. Alternatively, if 2 options have identical benefits, then price and loyalty play a bigger role. Offers also have high appeal to a wide audience, so you don't see competitive booking incentives that would only appeal to a smaller, prospect subset.
- Know the Real Competition - The Masters are masterful because they define *competing options* as other suppliers, another destinations OR other travel genres. They create products that compete & win across many travel boundaries. That means they consider YOU competition. Cruise Creep is slowly strangling more skiing & riding vacations than anyone would care to admit.
- Effortless & Mindless: Booking is always hassle-free & quick, so there's little opportunity for prospects to keep shopping. They eliminate work when it comes to laying down money, which is why you rarely see effort-related, or restrictive redemption coupons/vouchers as booking incentives.
These 4 themes whisper through today's newsletter in different ways.
What Will Happen in 2008/2009 & What to Do about It
This newsletter touches on every trend reported in our June newsletter. Please refer to it for details and statistics.
In this down economy, consumers aren't willing to change their lifestyles. They'll try harder to sustain them on smaller budgets.
Vacations won't stop. Spending will simply be scaled back. Guests will stay shorter, fly less, drive more, eat in, change their destinations or lodging suppliers, or caravan with others to share costs.
Consumers who used to book with traditional vendors through traditional ways, will turn to you. You have an opportunity to win in a down economy just like other direct sellers (Costco) & volume buyers (Walmart).
But Beware: Your new potential customers are used to dealing with traditional lodging suppliers & taking push-button, all-inclusive vacations. You'll see them as a new, demanding customer type. BUT, adopt to THEIR needs, give them a great experience with a new travel product and you'll have them for life. This is an opportunity to build a significant, profitable and expanded long-term customer base from a bigger market that was previous inaccessible.
Are you inspired? Your future is now.
Here's how to step in to it.
Increased Competition from Rental Managers & Hoteliers
It's the most profound change. It's forever - that's why it's at the top today.
The vacation rental industry is maturing and suppliers are converging.
Hoteliers are in the game now. They're offering the vacation rental product and snapping up local rental management companies who can no longer compete the *old school* way. You'll start seeing the impact this year, because they're going to shrink your price advantage in a year of price compression.
Your new competitors offer your product genre, with the added benefits of bigger service and purchasing power.
Here's the kicker: they're also bringing with them the updated technology, operational excellence, a cheaper foreign temporary workforce and global marketing that only multi-national hotel chains can buy.
Your price differential will shrink and being "owner direct" won't matter anymore. The only thing that will, is your offer and your online reputation.
If you could no longer compete for customers by being cheaper, what would you do?
Start doing it this year.
The only option is to be better, have more loyal customers and to focus on what the big guys can't do as well as you can.
Today I want to get you started by thinking of the things that you secretly LOVE about staying in a nice hotel.
Then start adding them to your vacation rental property, whether you're a budget rental or a luxury retreat. You'll get and keep more customers.
It's So Easy to Compete!
Here's my personal short list. I've added them to my budget, mid and luxury rental properties over the years. The small things that delight Guests stay in their memory. I was rewarded with increased referrals and repeat business every year.
- Complimentary bathrobes & slippers (buy them at hotel supply stores)
- Nice soap, shampoo, creams and sundries (yes - you can still buy them at Costco!)
- Welcome basket with wine & snacks (total cost: $30-$40 per booking)
- Free movies
- Excellent beds, pillows and bed linens
- Big, extra fluffy towels in ample supply (no scrimping to save $20 on laundry)
- Huge screen TVs in the living rooms and in the bedrooms - because lying around watching a movie is truly a luxury in real life.
- Bottled water and a small chocolate on the beds on the first night
- Beefed up In-Suite Convenience & Entertainment Amenities - Use the ideas in this newsletter.
The rest of today's newsletter is a checklist of ideas that target other challenges on the 2008/2009 landscape as itemized in our June report. Do what you can and pick away at the list over time. Any little action helps.
STAND OUT clear and strong among the masses - following the pack isn't enough.
Think BIG, irrespective of your property category.
Create BIG differentiators, BIG impact web sites, messages & images & BIG easy bookings.
You'll get BIG rewards.
Tighter Budgets with More Aggressive Shopping & Negotiating
As noted in June, today's travelers believe they'll get a better price if they try harder or negotiate more aggressively. Priceline.com revived itself on this basis. Indeed, Priceline's Q1 domestic sales grew by 76% over same time last year.
There's also the uncertain economy, soaring cost of living indexes and currency pressures.
Everyone will spend more time researching, but they'll only pay attention to the BIG numbers, tied to tangible and obvious benefits and perks. With so many options, they don't need to overexert themselves or blow time on fluff and fine print.
Being owner-direct won't buy you value credibility. Your prospects will independently verify & compare prices this year.
Stay on top with these actionable tips:
- Diversify your Minimum Night Stays & Rates in Each Season - Some Guests will spend less by staying fewer nights. Others will pinch by taking more frequent, local, short drive-in weekend trips. Other Guests will save money by taking fewer, but longer vacations to reduce flight frequency. Diversify your rates table with different rates for different lengths of stay in each season. Even more importantly, up-sell longer stays with better rates. Better rates for longer stays inspires prospects to lengthen their stay. Upselling to people who thought they could only afford a short stay is one of your most important strategies this year. Charge more for shorter stays to cover your cleaning costs. Charge less for longer stays to encourage occupancy. Add long stay deals for up to 14-16 nights. You're the only supplier group in the world who can do this effectively, tactically and quickly thanks to your Rates Table technology. Use your big advantage.
- Get Professional Photos & Significantly Expand your Photo Gallery - This is something you can do better than RM's, hotels and owners on other directories. USE IT POWERFULLY and FULLY. Put people in your home in their mind with lots of top quality photos, and their booking will follow. The head justifies the heart's decisions. Focus on staging, lighting, mood & capturing your home's highlights. Help them create mental images of being there with their friends and family. Lots of photos of the actual property they'll stay (as opposed to a vague representation you see on travel portals and RM sites) makes it feel real and credible. Use highly descriptive captions that put them in your home in a vivid mental image. Your time and money investment will pay off. Here's an example of a great photo gallery.
- Know your Competitor Destinations - Expand your business opportunities by thinking outside YOUR destination box. The first decision among mountain travelers is frequently "Which destination?" Your property CAN be a powerful deciding factor at the destination choice level-which opens your market opportunities. This strategy works. Over 16 years, it became among my top 3 tough-times success tactics. What other destination options do your prospects have in the same travel category (Mountain Travel)? Benchmark & adjust your offer against those options. For example, if your property is in Mont Tremblant, how does your vacation home product offer compare with similar product in other US and Canadian ski resorts (east and west) once you factor in lift tickets, food & flights? If your home is in Whistler, how does it compare against similar product in Mont Tremblant, Aspen, Vail or European resorts? This powerful strategy insulates you against business-crushing pricing, strategy & marketing mistakes made by your local destination's decision makers.
- Know Competitor Travel Options & Themes - What other types of travel do your prospects have? How do you compare with southern destinations, all inclusive packages and cruises? Factors that come in to play are price (what you pay), value (what you get), travel distance, hassle factor & safety. Knowing and adjusting insulates you against bad business decisions made in the Mountain Travel Industry.
- Know Your Local Competition then Create a Blatantly Better Offer that Doesn't Require Math - The right rate is the one that gets you booked - in any economy. Don't use Rental Managers and Hoteliers as your pricing benchmark. They start out with high prices, then drop them at the last minute to rates that actually generate bookings. Right now, they're busy booking those pricey rooms out to Tour Operators at 30% less than advertised prices. Whatever is left over, is sold off at lower prices later on. Avoid competing in the last minute pile. Our advice? Shortcut them NOW & grab the business early to confine your last minute competition to your few remaining dates. Start dynamically adjusting your rates NOW until you start getting bookings. You'll find your ideal rate that propels you toward your revenue and occupancy goals, through experimentation. If you're getting bookings NOW, you're at the right rate.
- Be Rates Transparent to Avoid Negotiations - Don't make prospects work to figure out the price. Just post it and make it easy. Eliminate the need to call you to get more information. Once you create negotiation opportunities, expect to get even less than the win-win, fair rates you've advertised.
- Cut Extra Fees & Offset those You Can't Dump - Analysts attribute Priceline.com's record growth to their decision to cut all extra little booking fees (excluding taxes). More web sites and suppliers are following suit. Lesson? Eliminate all extra fees except taxes. Make your offer all-inclusive. If you have pay parking, consider adjusting your nightly rate to neutralize it. Stop charging extra person fees and make your Internet access FREE.
- Eliminate Up Front Damage Deposits - Credit-crunched travelers have less tolerance for this practice than in previous years. We recommend that you charge it at departure in the event of damage. For further tips please login to your property page, click "Help" in the top bar and select "Property Damage Support & How to Register a Guest Offender Complaint."
- Build Extra Value & Fun Perks into your Product - Every little perk, no matter how simple or inexpensive, increases your competitive advantage. This newsletter is littered with ideas to get you going.
- Upgrade & Advertise In-Home Communication Technology & Digital Entertainment Options - Ideas: Offer free high speed internet access, get large flat screen TV's/HDTVs, go DVD & dump the VCRs, expand satellite & cable options, offer free movies, add an iPod docking station, provide a complimentary computer, etc.
- Create & Advertise Your Own Early Booking Deals - Snag early business by rewarding committed guests with better deals. Frame your offer with a minimum number of qualifying nights to encourage upselling to longer stays. We recommend 5 nights. Exclude peak holiday times. Our favorite deadline for winter vacations is November 15th. By this time, there's convincing evidence of snow, and the Halloween Sugar High is over.
- Promote your Destination's Early Booking Deals - Research your destination's early booking deals on tickets, activities or anything else, and promote them on your web site.
- Contact Previous Guests & Offer Time-Sensitive Favourite Guest Deals - Everyone likes to feel valued. Make your past favourite Guests feel good by offering them a special rate. Again, consider black-out dates and a minimum number of qualifying nights, with a booking deadline.
- Make It Easy to Book - Don't give your prospects an opening to keep researching, or your competitor the chance to offer them a better option while negotiating. Book & commit them while you have their attention by offering instantly confirmed reservations.
- Eliminate Car Rental Costs - If your location is central or is on a free or cheap shuttle route, then put it front and centre & emphasize that car rental costs aren't necessary. If your location is more removed, reduce your rates to reflect the extra costs guests will incur.
- Lighten their Load to Eliminate Extra Baggage Fees - Airlines are charging per bag. The less they have to bring, the less they'll pay for their luggage. The industry is trending towards charging by weight. What amenities can you add to your property that lightens their baggage load? Here are a few that come to mind: hairdryers, curling irons, hot rollers, baby gear, kids toys and first aid kits. A big perk is to provide a computer. See more about this later in this report.
- Reduce In-Destination Shopping Costs, Hassle & Aggravation (Rant Warning!) - Generous supplies of basic convenience items paid big dividends for me. It will for you too. Set yourself apart by NOT making Guests buy the basics that you can secure so much more cheaply with bulk purchasing. It's a personal pet peeve of mine to arrive at a vacation home with a car full of kids after a 6 hour drive, and to be cheaped out of toilet paper. It's really disappointing when it's clear that there's also careful, almost mathematically-calculated scrimpy supply rationing of the no-brainer cheap stuff. Who likes to spend your first vacation day shopping for basics like foil or toilet paper? I highly recommend that you save Guest time AND money while they are in your destination by providing a full complement of basic supplies like laundry supplies, toilet paper, soap, shampoo, toothpaste and other bathroom/hygiene/grooming products. Basic kitchen supplies like garbage bags, paper towels, dish soap, saran wrap, foil, baggies and basic food staples will also save them a bundle of time and money. Quarterly supply re-stocking with help from your housekeeper keeps your service levels consistently higher. Other rental companies don't offer this-I know. That's why YOU SHOULD. It's a powerful differentiator. This is something you CAN do - which sets you apart. It's so basic, but it keeps your Guests coming back year after year.
- Leverage/Sell Consumer-Direct Guest Services Savings & Create New Ones in your Destination - Help your Guests save money on activities & services. AlluraDirect.com advertises local Guest service providers for free on AlluraDirect.com. Rather than charge our partners an advertising or a referral fee, they give your Guests an equivalent discount, which is usually 10-20%. This isn't a booking incentive-Guests don't need to book on the site to get the deal. It's just a perk for using the site that keeps them coming back to check YOU out every year. If you know of a Guest Services company that would would like to participate, please ask them to contact email@example.com.
Less Fly-In Traffic Who Will Stay Longer
There will be less long-stay, fly-in visitors. Those who come, will likely be staying longer and reducing the number of flight-dependent vacations they take per year.
The competition for this customer will be fierce. Here's how to attract them:
- Aggressively Reward Longer Stays - Your cleaning frequency and therefore cost per stay is reduced, as more nights are occupied and paid. This gives you some room to incentify longer stays with better rates. Offer rates for up to 14 nights.
- Eliminate Car Rental Costs - If your location is central or is on a free or cheap shuttle route, then put it front and centre & emphasize that car rental costs aren't necessary. If your location is more removed, reduce your rates to reflect the extra costs guests will incur.
- Boost and/or Emphasize "Home" Amenities & Conveniences - They're coming for a long time. Make it as easy as possible for them to leave home for a long period of time. Add or emphasize "home conveniences" - the things that make day to day life easier and more enjoyable. Focus on expanded and complimentary digital entertainment, kids entertainment, adults & kids games, books & magazines, free movies, DVDs, top notch kitchen stuff, convenience staples & communication connectivity. Having a full stock of gear and items for babies and toddlers plays a big role. Amenities like laundry facilities are particularly important to this crowd, emphasize them.
More Last-Minute Bookings
Consumer's are well trained to wait until the last minute to get a better deal. Others will wait until the last minute to avoid maxing out their credit card. Some still want to ensure that they're still employed when they book their trip. With an oversupply of lodging and the airlines trying to fill seats, last minute deals will be plentiful and attractive. You need a piece of this business. Here's how to prepare and snag it:
- Be Rental Ready at All Times - Get your property cleaned the day Guests depart. Book your cleaner EARLY to ensure it gets done on that day. Treat every clean like a back-to-back.
- Do Instant Bookings - You'll lose out on the business if you're store isn't open 24/7.
- Eliminate Keys & Enable Express Check-Ins - If possible, eliminate keys and work towards getting a booking for an arrival within 24 hours. Use combination locks and automated sending of check-in information, so you can deploy the check-in information while you're sleeping.
- Keep on Top of Your Calendar - Sell All Calendar Gaps as Big Deals - It's going to be much easier to sell date gaps this year to last minute bookers. Don't miss out on this opportunity to supplement revenue. Keep on top of your calendar and post your gaps as big specials in your rates table. They'll get booked.
- Do the FAST Math for Them - Create BIG Math & Perk Differentiators then Make them Obvious - Last minuters are in a rush. Make your price and or perk differentiators BIG and OBVIOUS because these prospects want to make a snap decision. These people want fast and WANT IT NOW. The easier to make the decision, the more business you'll get.
Shorter Stays | Mid-Week Stays
You can save a lot of money by flying during off peak days, during the week.
Travelers will try to blend work and play and take mid-week vacations to conserve cash.
Even though stats suggest that more and more vacations are over the weekend, we expect this to change as consumers strive to save money anywhere they can.
Here's are few tips:
- Remove Friday & Saturday Arrival Only Rules - You'll get the mid week business AND the weekend business too. Don't cut yourself short with strict arrival night rules.
- Add Short Stays to your Rates Chart - Add 2 - 3 night stays to capture weekend-only business and charge more for shorter stays. Be sure to deeply incentify longer stays, as it will likely lead to great upselling opportunities once prospects realize they can afford a longer stay.
- Respond Quickly to & Promote Availability Gaps in your Calendar - Monitor your calendar regularly. As soon as you have unusual gaps you want booked, post them as new seasons in your Rates Table at an incentified rate. You'll fill in these dates. The trick is to stay on top of your availability.
More Drive-In/Local Business
Less people will be flying.
You’ll have a higher dependency on drive-in business located geographically closer to your property.
The good news is that more families are staying closer to home. That's a big opportunity!
Your drive-in business radius is approximately a 5-hour drive or a $100 tank of gas each way. This business tends to stay for shorter periods. It will include kids.
They're searching for as much bang for the bucks they have. They are willing to search long and hard to get it.
This crowd is used to flying somewhere else (warm), far away from home, and staying at all-inclusive resorts or hotels, where it was easy and they didn't have to worry about details. They never had to pay extra fees. Their kids were taken care of. All they needed to do was pack their bag.
But times have changed. Now they're coming your way with a bag of expectations.
What can you do to attract this business over your traditional competitors?
- Add Shorter Minimum Night Stays - Add shorter minimum say options to your rates chart.
- Incentify Longer Stays - Deeply incentify longer stays with better rates to encourage upselling.
- Emphasize Kid & Family-Friendly Local & Building Amenities - If you have them, flaunt them. These include pools, hot tubs, games, kids' DVDs, common rooms, etc.
- Emphasize Free Parking - Both secure, reserved spots and extra guest spots for larger groups. Most hotels charge for parking, so use your competitive advantage of FREE parking.
- Neutralize Pay Parking - Reduce your rates if you have pay parking.
- Emphasize Extra Parking Spaces or Extra Desirable Parking Spaces - If you have parking for additional cars or a superior parking location, flaunt it. This can include a garage, easy access to your home from your parking spot, or an extra reserved spot in the Village or by the lifts. Parking and convenience are a big deal.
- Make your Home Kid-Friendly & Flaunt It - Add free kids DVD's (buy them used), games, game consoles (like Wii) and FREE high speed internet access. Kids use the internet for entertainment, not just to communicate. Add specialty kids channels to your cable or satellite service. Add baby gear like a stroller, high chair and playpen. Add some plastic baby and toddler dishes so your Guests don't have to bring them.
- Remove all Extra Person Fees - If your property sleeps 8 and your rates are based on 4 people, it's time to change your ways. Although this practice will dampen your results in any economy, you'll particularly feel its's impact in a contracted economy. Your hotel competitors are also eliminating them.
- Axe the Up Front Damage Deposits - No one in the "traditional" lodging industry charges it up front. In lean business periods, you're competing with the traditional players. Eliminate needless barriers.
- Offer FREE High Speed Internet Access - Your hotel competition is starting to do it. So should you. This also makes your home more kid-friendly. They love to play free online computer games, and watch YouTube videos.
- Expand your Cable or Satellite Service - Increase the number of channels to include family, kid & other specialty and movie channels that beef up the entertainment factor and diversify appeal.
- Get a DVD Player & Dump the VCR- It's time! Your drive-in audience probably has a DVD player, so going to your place that doesn't have one, is a step down.
- Add an iPod Docking Station - Enable Ipod Connectivity to your Stereo - Even if you don't have an iPod, most of your Guests will. Remember - they found and booked you online and are probably pretty tech-savvy.
- At Least 2 Large Flat Screen TV's - One for kids - preferably in a room separate from the living room where the adults tend to gather and talk about important things, like what to eat for dinner. If you have a 1 bedroom property, put a TV in the bedroom in addition to the living room.
- Advertise/Publish your TV Type on Your Site & Provide Cables that Connect Digital & Video Cameras to your TV - Did you know that people love to connect their still and video cameras to TV's, so that the photos and movies can play at the end of the day? It's great entertainment for kids and parents alike. Let your Guests know what kind of TV & digital media connection you have. If possible, provide some cables for them.
- Allow Pets - More drive-in business will want to bring their pets. In fact, it could be the big differentiator that gets them to your home and inspires them to stay longer.
- Only If You Must - Offer Complimentary Babysitting, Spa or Restaurant Gift Certificates - Don't depend on coupons, vouchers, redemptions or gift certificates as big booking incentives. Focus on the big things: your home and rates. If you want to totally ignore our advice about coupons, gift certificates and vouchers, chose the ones that makes the most sense. Moms crave not having to cook or clean-up. For many, eating out is the best part of a vacation and is the big lure of all-inclusive holiday packages. Unfortunately, their finances have forced them into a "staycation." One idea to help them get away from it all is a gift certificate to a local restaurant, or babysitting vouchers with a local nanny service. Another "escape" option is a spa certificate.
Before you send me hate mail about eliminating extra person costs, defraying pay parking fees and making internet access available and free, consider this:
Remember when you had to pay to make local calls from your hotel room? How about having to pay for internet access or to watch specialty cable channels?
Those days are gone.
Internet is now free at an increasing number of hotels and watching specialty cable and movie channels is free.
Industry pundits predict the extinction of even more nickel and dime amenities.
Togethering - Multigenerational, Family & Friend Caravanning
As reported previously, family and group travel is the only form of travel that's increasing. 80% of American leisure travelers have vacationed with friends and/or family in the last year.
It's being driven by:
- demographics/aging boomers
- seniors taking their families on vacations
- consumer time-poverty (not enough time with friends and family)
- post 9/11 value shift away from money and materialism and towards relationships
- the desire to save money on lodging and transportation by sharing costs with more people.
The cruise industry recognized and leveraged this trend early. For many lines, the more cabins you book, the cheaper it gets per cabin.
Consider this example of how Regent Cruise Lines is leveraging "togethering," shrouded in capturing market share early. Even this luxury brand is getting in on the game.
Budget-oriented lines are even more aggressive.
This year, I was brute-forced by my in-laws/family to take a family cruise instead of a family ski vacation.
Why did my traitorous flesh and blood skewer our ski vacation?
The crafty Cruise Masters sneaked into the hearts, aging bodies and wallets belonging to the 2 accountants and 2 actuaries I call family. The more cabins our group booked, the less we all paid. My spreadsheet-wielding tribe inspired their friends and more family to book with us. I think I know half the ship!
How can you attract this business? ("ignoring it" is the wrong answer!)
Think about people cooking together, eating-in together, playing games together, hanging out together and entertaining themselves in your vacation home. How can you make that easier and more enjoyable in YOUR home?
Upgrading or adding the items below isn't enough. You need to capture it in high quality photos that put your prospect directly in your home, in their imaginations.
Once they see themselves there with their tribe, their booking will follow.
Here is a great example of a photo that suggests socializing & fun with friends & family.
- Amazing Kitchens & Gadgets - There's going to be more cooking at home. Add & emphasize amenities, tools and gadgets that make it fun. Make it simple for the tribe to gather & gab while food and drinks are flowing. Ideas include higher end coffee/espresso makers, fondue pots (think "community eating"), good quality baking supplies, gourmet style pots, pans & knives, nice platters & bowls, bread makers, slow cookers, rice cookers, cookbooks and nice cutlery, dishes, glasses & table linens. Waffle pans and panini makers are also a lot of fun. Guests and their kids love trying things they don't have (but wish they did), at home.
- Strategic & Supplemental Dining & Seating Arrangements - They're going to be eating in, and eating together. They''ll be sitting around playing games together or watching movies. Can your property actually seat its capacity at your dining table or in the living room? If not, it's time to get creative. Folding card tables & chairs, supplemental bar/counter space doubling as dining space, and floor cushions are possible options.
- Emphasize or Add Muscle-Soothing Amenities - If you have amenities that ease aching muscles, like hot tubs or saunas, flaunt them. If you are considering a bathroom renovation, consider adding a steam option to your shower, deep soaker tub with jets, shower body jets or a sauna. As the population ages, these investments will pay off over and over again as boomers need more muscle recovery help after an active day. You don't need a huge bathroom or a lot of space to add a steam shower or body jets to a shower or bathroom. Here is an example of how to do a lot with a small space. This shower included a rain shower, steam option and body jets. It also had a fold-down seat.
- Comfortable/High Quality Beds & Chairs: Burn the Futons! - Would your grandmother enjoy sleeping in your beds or sitting in your chairs? If not, it's time to upgrade because Grandma & Grandpa have money and they're making/influencing big vacation decisions. People vacation to rest. They need great beds and chairs, or rest eludes them. If you need convincing, think about the Westin's wildly successful Heavenly Bed marketing campaign. Beds and comfy chairs are one of the most frequently overlooked items in vacation homes. Older and active travelers are particularly sensitive to bed quality. If you have high quality beds or new mattresses, emphasize it. Get rid of futons. Flaunt high quality couches & seating, or upgrade uncomfortable seating.
- BBQ's - Add them and/or flaunt them! BBQs are especially attractive amenities for summer vacationers and group gatherings.
- Outdoor Fun Items - Provide complimentary knapsacks. Moreover, think of vacation activities other than skiing that families might enjoy and give them the tools to enjoy them. For example, we've had a number of calls from Guests wondering where they can buy a sled or toboggan in the resort. Funny thing is, there aren't many places. Providing fun items like sleds, inner tubes or other sporting goods and advertising them on your website might just seal the deal. Letting them know the best places for sledding is also helpful (and no, on the ski hill is not a good idea!).
- Outdoor Patio/Lounge - Older travelers want to enjoy the outdoors their way. Put outdoor seating on your deck. If you have it, ensure you profile it.
- Diversify & Separate Entertainment Zones - Your Guest groups will be more multi-faceted. More groups will be composed of kids AND their grandparents. That means creating kid and adult zones in your home for improved comfort. It may mean expanding digital entertainment to the bedrooms if you are short on living space. This creates places for either kids or adults to escape to. One way we got around this with one of our properties was to make the largest bedroom kid-friendly, with a huge flat screen TV and lots of bed surface area for lounging. This made the living room more adult-oriented.
- Beef up/Diversify/Flaunt the In-Suite Entertainment Options - Get the largest flat screen TV's you can afford & provide & advertise supplemental digital media connection options/attachments. Offer free high-speed internet. Take it one step further and offer an in-suite computer. Expand your cable and satellite service to include services that span different generations and interests. iPod-ize your stereo. Get some games consoles. Here are some other ideas: free DVDs for different audiences (buy them used), books, magazines, kids, adult AND family games, and games tables (like foozball). I also had a craft box, scrap paper and colouring stuff in one of my homes.
- Eliminate Extra Per Person Fees - If you charge them, you're dampening family and caravanning business for people trying to reduce costs per person.
- Emphasize Easy Location, Building & Unit Accessibility - Elevator-serviced, ground floor and single-level properties have greater appeal for seniors. Ensure that you fully disclose your accessibility. It's an increasingly important question in your prospects' minds.
- Know your Neighbour & Advertise/Work Collaboratively - Not every family or group of friends can live in the same house/condo. They'll also be looking for vacation homes that are clustered together. Find out who your neighbours are. Start collaborating to capture more family, group and caravanning business. Promote each other on your web sites.
- Mix up the Beds - Intergenerational travel means greater bed diversity demands. While you want to cater to couples, you also want to accommodate kids. Teenage boys won't sleep in the same bed. What should you do? Some strategies that worked for me are to include collapsible air and trundle beds. Trundle beds are low to the ground and conveniently slide under another bed when not in use. Queen/Double/Single bunk combos are also an option, however, be sure they have enough head room on the bottom for adults. The most successful option we ever had was to have a single and a double bed in the same room, with a single trundle.
- Apply as Many Kid-Friendly Suggestions in this Newsletter as Possible!
- Emphasize & Add Amenities that Would Appeal to More Sedentary Guests - Some group members (likely seniors) will not be skiing. What other activities can they enjoy in your property or nearby without exerting themselves? Hot tubs, interesting libraries, fireplaces and special kitchen gadgets are good items to include in your unit and emphasize on your web site. If your property is located near restaurants and shops for a quick & easy trip out, make it clear on your site as well.
Time Poverty - The Convergence of Work, Play & Skiving off School
Increasingly, travelers are bringing work to their vacations.
What can you do to make it easier? It's worth some thought because it could extend Guests stays by a few nights.
Stats suggest that parents are willing to take their kids out of school for vacations. The real impediment is work stress.
As more people worry about employment in a down economy, work pressure will become a bigger vacation killer.
Here are tips for relieving time-crunched, work-oppressed consumers who will be more likely to take a trip if they can also keep up at work at the same time. Some of these tips will also make it easier for kids to take more time away from school:
- Easy Instant Online Bookings
- Do the Math for Them
- Free High Speed Internet Access from Your Home
- Complimentary Computer/Work Station
- Cheap/Flat Rate Long Distance Plan or Complimentary Calling Cards
- Quiet and Separate Work Area
Easy Button Escapism - Increased Importance on De-stressing
In recent travel surveys, your prospects said they take vacations to sleep more, eat more, play more, love more, talk more and be together more.
They want to escape and return a better, more inspired and renewed version of themselves.
Escape means going to a place that reminds them of, or connects them to, what they aspire their lives to be like.
70% of Americans feel they have too much stress in their lives which explains why the hottest amenity right now is a spa.
Do your photos & amenities suggest a restful, easy, peaceful getaway?
It doesn't take much time or money to add the little touches & upgrades that make the perception or experience difference. These suggestions apply equally to budget AND high end properties.
Many of these suggestions go back to my first point about hotels. If you have renovated and have high end, spa-like bathrooms, capture lots of photos & promote this high-demand feature on your web site.
- Spa Quality Bath Products - Buy them in bulk to save money, then invest in really nice bottles to hold the products.
- Bathrobes - Buy them from hotel wholesalers. You can get really nice bathrobes that dry quickly for $20-25 each.
- High Quality, Neutral Linens in Ample Supply - Changing the bed, bath and kitchen linens can change the visual impression and experience. They have a life cycle of 3-4 years. Buy 2.5x as many faceclothes as towels. People tend to use them for other things! Don's scrimp in towel quality or number.
- Improved Lighting - Light impacts mood. Changing, upgrading or modernizing your lighting can increase appeal without doing a full renovation.
- De-clutter - Remove extra clutter & simplify visual processing to make your property more peaceful and relaxing.
- Neutralize Wall Colors - If it's time for a paint job, choose soothing, neutral colors.
- Arrival Gift Basket - Nothing calms people down like a nice glass of wine and some dark chocolate. Diffuse their travel stress at arrival with something that encourages them to sit back and relax.
- If you Renovate-Focus on Bathrooms! Go all the way to meet the needs of the active, aging boomers. Add a steam shower, deep, jetted soaker tubs, heated floors, and body jets. Think de-stressing and getting more from tired bodies.
- Lots of In-Suite Amenities - Think about the concepts and trends, then ask what YOU can do to fill the need. This newsletter has a lot of ideas!
Go Green - It Could Increase your Market Share
Recent Travel Monitor stats suggest that when faced with a decision between suppliers, travelers will choose the more environmentally-friendly one. The caveat is that they aren't willing to pay MORE for it. They consider it to be a business responsibility.
What does this mean for you?
If you're upgrading your property to "green" standards, you should flaunt it on your web site.
- Recycling in the suite or building
- Energy efficient windows, doors and skylights
- Water-saving fixtures
- Building materials that contain recycled content and minimal chemical emissions (such as ceramic tile, linoleum, formaldehyde-free particle boards)
- Minimal use of carpet (carpets can emit numerous chemicals and contribute to indoor air pollution)
- Cleaning done with chemical-free, environmentally-friendly products
- Energy efficient light bulbs
- Buildings that meet higher energy efficiency standards
- Energy-efficient appliances
Many of these ideas can also help you save money over the long run. Read BC Hydro's check list for some more ideas on how to go green and save.
Coupons, Redeemable Vouchers & Gift Certificates - Do they Work?
Hotels and resorts are offering them. Should you?
What are the Master's doing?
With the exception of a Vegas brothel, you'll be hard pressed to find a Cruise or a Vegas hotel that offers labor intensive and appeal-restrictive coupons/vouchers as booking or critical decision incentives.
There are 4 reasons why:
- They don't have universal appeal. Guests value the cash more-so just give it to them with better rates and let them decide how to use it.
- They create mental and physical effort. Let's face it, we hate small print, deadlines and the mail-in rebates on electronics. Why expect our Guests to prefer restrictive coupons, vouchers or gift certificates over a better nightly rate?
- Today's time-poor consumer won't get past the big numbers, to read fine print perks. They just notice & respond to the big things, like what you have and what it costs.
- It messes up your message, which should simply be:
"Hey World - I am your best and easiest option & I won't make you do math to figure it out!"
What Really Happens
Harry Smith is researching his trip.
Operator A has a rate of $150 per night for a 2 bedroom condo. Operator B has a rate of $225 per night for the same condo, but is offering gas coupons, accompanied by a lot of fine print, conditions, a deadline and extra work for redeeming the gas coupons.
If Harry Smith reads the coupon info, his head banter goes something like:
"I should do the math. Where's my calculator? A whole lot of fine print looks like a lot of extra work, never mind the extra effort to redeem the coupon and all the conditions. Plus I have to take out my PDA and enter yet another deadline to adhere to. Where was that calculator?
Yawn. Hey - is that Late Night about to start on TV? I have to get this off my to-do list ASAP"
Click & Ka-ching! Operator A gets the business because of a better offer AND less work/effort.
Instead of offering gift certificates, lower your nightly rate for qualifying stays.
For example, if you offer a $100 gift certificate on something for 5 night+ stays, my advice is to lower your rate by $20 per night, and let the Guest decide what to do with the extra $100. Focus on shaping your BIG NUMBER, BIG MESSAGE and BIG benefits.
You're not out of pocket, your prospect has more choices on how to spend that cash, and you get the booking.
Wrap Up - Action Items on What You Should Do
Want to be successful and stay on top of the game? Here are some action items that you should do:
- Secure & confirm bookings as early as possible.
- Experiment with diverse rates and minimum night stays in each season.
- Get professional photos & post lots of them.
- Know all of your competition. Don't trust others to know what the best rate is-experiment until you start getting bookings. Look outside your destination and mountain travel box to expand your market.
- Incentify long stays, but also add short stay options.
- Stay on top of your calendar and post gaps as specials.
- Be ready for last minute bookings.
- Axe extra fees - Guests don't want to do the math to find out if you really are a good deal.
- Offer a better overall rate, rather than offering additional vouchers or coupons. The big number matters.
- Make your property multi-generation & kid-friendly - then flaunt it.
- Upgrade your digital communication & entertainment perks.
- Beef up your kitchen, living and dining areas.
- Add extra perks.
- Welcome regional business with open arms.
- Go Green!
15 BIG themes for a successful 2008/2009!
They work - I'm not holding out on you.
Think about them. Adopt what best suits your home and personal preferences.
Today's newsletter is jammed with different tested strategies and ideas about about how to succeed in today's dynamic conditions. Pick what you can do now and move towards the others over time.
We're here to help until 11 pm every day of the year.
What are we planning to do to help you succeed?
Look for a whole new site design and upgraded search modes tailored to industry and market changes.
Our top priority is getting more traffic to your web sites and increased booking frequency, in less time.
Thanks for your business and support of AlluraDirect.com.
Sue Chappel & the AlluraDirect.com Team