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Why Hosts Are Backing Away from Travel Sites and Building Direct Bookings

The BiggerPockets Podcast
60 min read
Why Hosts Are Backing Away from Travel Sites and Building Direct Bookings

Most people stumble into short-term rental investing. At some point, they realize a long-term rental, mother-in-law suite, or family cabin could become a revenue-generating, passive income machine. So what do they do? They go online to all the big travel sites, upload their listing, and start hosting. After a few months or years, they buy another short-term rental, and now, they’ve got multiple properties across a few different sites. The reviews are flowing, and the revenue with it. But one day, it stops.

This happened to Rob when his listing got locked—halting his revenue. Without much of a way to repair this, Rob started thinking of how he could host with autonomy and reduce the risk as his portfolio grew. Sooner or later, Rob and today’s guest, Mark Simpson, started talking. Mark, an expert in hospitality, knew that something like this would happen. It’s why Mark has been helping hosts build their own booking sites over at Boostly.

As a short-term rental expert, Mark helps hosts build an income stream that can’t be paused, limited, or removed. Instead, he and his team give hosts everything they need to get more bookings, pay fewer fees, and keep guests coming back for more. And, as the short-term rental space grows at lightspeed, Mark argues that hosts should start building out these direct booking sites now before it’s too late.

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Listen to the Podcast Here

Read the Transcript Here

David:
This is the BiggerPockets Podcast, show 680.

Mark:
If you are a host or a property management company that is looking to grow and scale, and if you are more than 90% reliant on one channel for your revenue coming in, you’re playing a very dicey, dangerous game, because all it takes is for your account to get hacked, your listing to get locked down, or a couple of crappy reviews, or a total algorithm change by Airbnb where suddenly, you’re on page one, and the next day, you’re on page five or six where nobody looks. So, it’s really important that we flip that around, and we look to get everybody to a 65% direct, and then at 35% relying on third-parties AKA OTAs.

David:
Hello, everyone. I’m your host, David Greene of the BiggerPockets Podcast here today with my lovely co-host, Robert Abasolo. In today’s show, we’re going to be interviewing Mark Simpson, owner of Boostly and UK Resident, who has some fantastic advice for us on how to book your short-term rentals without using the online travel agencies, Airbnb, Vrbo, and their ilk. Rob, first off, how are you today? And second, what do you think about the show?

Rob:
First of all, my hat’s off to you because you really went all in on that and we did it all in one take. Most of the time, we would do that five times, but you nailed it first time. So today’s episode is really great, man. I’m super excited. We even get to hear me dabble a little bit with my accent repertoire, and we get into the art of hosting and the idea of getting into direct bookings and when you should possibly consider making your own direct booking website over just staying on all the typical OTAs, online travel agencies out there. So, I’m excited to jump into it because I think if you listen to today’s episode and you’re a short-term rental host, it might crack your brain a little bit and you might think, okay, maybe I should try something else, maybe I should diversify a little bit.

David:
Well, if we’re just being honest, this is a very relevant topic in the short-term rental space. And so much of real estate investing is starting to become dominated by the short-term rental space. This is what everybody’s talking about. This is where the highest returns are. In a lot of ways, this is the future of real estate investing is you got to do more than just buy a property, set it and forget it. You got to learn how to host something, create an experience, and outshine your competition. And in today’s show, Mark gives us some examples of how to do just that. Mark actually came from a background of hospitality. He grew up with people in his house as they ran a bed and breakfast, and his mind was formed and forged in the fires of hospitality. And he gives us some tremendous advice for what you could do to make your place stand out.
And frankly, I think if you’re going to try to be in this space in the future, you have to know how to do it without relying on Airbnb or Vrbo. Rob, you could probably speak to this better than anyone, but it’s getting harder and harder to stand out on those sites. Airbnb recently just redid their whole algorithm. And people’s entire business models were shaken as they’re trying to now scramble and figure out, how do I make my place unique? How do I make it different? How do I make it clichy sort of so that it can stand out with Airbnb? What’s your experience been like since they switched things up?

Rob:
You know what? It’s still the same thing, right? We’re still booking and everything, but there’s a game to it, right? All algorithms out there, whether it’s YouTube or Airbnb, there’s a game that you got to play and you got to play by their rules. So, [inaudible 00:03:20]. You know what? I think that’s a good segue, David, into today’s quick, quick, quick tip. Pretty good, pretty good. I like the combo here. So today’s quick tip is really going to be to diversify where you’re listing your short-term rentals. I know as hosts, a lot of the times, our go-to is going to be Airbnb, but it’s really smart to consider putting your different units and homes on other websites, Airbnb, Vrbo, Booking.com and even considering going direct, right? Direct booking website where people can directly book from you and you can cut out the middleman and be the customer service.
You can be the person that’s dictating all the fees. You can be the person that’s providing that one-on-one experience with your guests. I think that this is very important and relevant today because I’ve just seen a lot of people getting locked out of their different accounts on several OTAs. And when that happens, it can be a really big, stressful moment for you and your business. But if you diversify and you have your short-term rental listed on different websites, if one of those websites crashes or it goes down or locks you out, you still can get booked on all the other different websites out there. So, diversify as you move into your short term rental journey.

David:
Absolutely. I love it. And this is sort of cutting edge information that we’re sharing with you here at BiggerPockets because we love you. And with that, let’s bring in today’s featured guest, [inaudible 00:04:37], Mark Simpson. So Mark, welcome to the BiggerPockets podcast. How are you today?

Mark:
Amazing. Thank you very much. Thank you very much for having me. Nice to speak to you two today.

David:
Yeah. First off, I want to compliment you on your hair and your beard. You’ve inspired me. I may copy it. It looks incredible on you.

Mark:
I went to the barber shop today and said, “Can I have the David?” And he just said, “I know what you mean, the David Greene.” And he just went-

Rob:
He said, say no more, fam.

Mark:
Say no more.

David:
That’s when you know that you have made it. First off, you’re known by one name, right? Madonna, Fabio, J-Lo. When you’re known by one name, you know you’re famous. Now Mark, I understand that you and Rob have a previously established relationship, so I’m a bit of the third wheel here. Can you tell our audience how you two know each other?

Mark:
I mean, I can go first, Rob, if you like. I’ve been a massive fan of Rob’s channel for about, I’d say, the last year and a half. I’ve been really digging into it and I would just [inaudible 00:05:34]. Every now and again, when something comes up on Instagram, I slide in the DMs and just saying, hey, massive fan, [inaudible 00:05:41]. As our relationship grew and he started to actually look at the messages because he gets so many, I said, “Hey, let’s have a chat about direct bookings sometimes.” And every single time I’ve seen videos this year in 2022 of BiggerPockets, and any time Rob talks about direct bookings, I’ve slowly seen him get a bit more gentler towards it. And I like to feel like my influence in the DMs has been a little part of that to where now, we’re doing little bits together behind the scenes and super excited.
But I do actually have an Instagram story about you, David. I actually sent you a message about a couple of months ago and it was just as I feel like me and Rob are starting to chat and I said, oh, because you followed me on Instagram. And I was like, oh, no way. Mr. David Greene has followed me, so I sent a little message back saying, “Hey, massive fan. Thank you very much for the follow.” And then you send back a reply, which is kind of like, “Hey.” And I was like, “Oh, he must be busy.” It’s a very short shot message, and sent a couple of more messages back and forth. And then all of a sudden, you sent me a message back and you started talking about crypto. This has taken a turn. So before I knew it, I was giving over my Bitcoin wallet and the rest is history. But it turns out, it wasn’t you [inaudible 00:06:51]. It turns out I was chatting to a David Greene impersonator.

Rob:
And now, Mark lives under a bridge.

Mark:
And now, I’d have to sell everything.

David:
Yeah. And yet, Instagram still just won’t give me the freaking blue check mark. It’s like, how many people have to get ripped off from this? I’ve tried about 25 times.

Mark:
[inaudible 00:07:09]. Here we are.

David:
Well, I’m sorry about that, Mark. Hopefully, you didn’t spend any money.

Mark:
I’m good.

Rob:
No, I think he was just kidding. Yeah, but I did, I’ve sent you several Bitcoin, David. And I like that return please. So yeah, I got locked out of Airbnb not too long ago for a very short amount of time. I think it was for less than a week. But that’s a big deal for Airbnb hosts, short-term rental hosts altogether. I’ve been seeing more stories like this pop up. My students have been locked out. And yeah, Mark, he’s been very tenacious, I guess, on Instagram. And we were chatting back and forth. And then all of a sudden, I got locked out and I was like, wait a minute. I know a guy. I know a guy that is all about direct booking so that this never happens again. So it all came together and culminated into a beautiful, beautiful relationship. And fast forward to today, he was speaking to my students not too long ago and actually delivered a Chipotle burrito to me in the middle of the presentation and he instructed the Uber Eats eater specifically to interrupt my Zoom presentation when the burrito got here. So, I had a burrito on camera not too long ago. And that’s our relationship.

David:
You really are, Rob, like the personification of a millennial in so many ways. The shirt you’re wearing right now, your very eccentric hairstyle, your obsession with Chipotle for 80% of your dietary needs, you’ve got that millennial [inaudible 00:08:32]. You’ve got it down really, really good. But Mark, I don’t know you and I want to know a little bit more about you, so tell us. I’m fascinated. Other than where do you live and where does that accent come from, how did you get started in real estate? What is your story, your origin story of how you ended up getting your first house?

Mark:
Yeah. So I’ve pretty much been born into hospitality pretty much. I grew up on a 200-acre farm in the middle of nowhere in the United Kingdom. As you can tell, this accent is over the pond. So I’m from the UK, grew up on a farm. And in the 90s, my parents turned a 200-acre farm and they converted a ban and put a bed and breakfast on it, and then they converted another ban and put some holiday cottages. And this is before the time of social media, this is before the time of Airbnb and all that good stuff. And they literally relied on very old school methods to advertise their business. It was word of mouth and it was magazine advertisements and newspaper advertisements. And I just grew up in a world where I was so used to strangers being in our house, being in my kitchen, all 24/7, 7 days a week.
And I grew up serving breakfasts and doing all of the things before school. And then eventually as I grew older, I had an opportunity to move away from the farm and do soccer coaching and spent pretty much my 20s traveling around America, coaching soccer, an amazing time, then eventually moved back to the UK, and that’s when I came back into the business. It was me and my wife and my eldest. We moved back into the family business in 2011. And by this point, [inaudible 00:10:05] for 25 years, but we’re still doing everything pen and paper. And my job was to get it online. Being a millennial, my parents looked at me like, well, you’ve been on the internet once, you should know how to do this. And that’s literally what we did. We grew that offline word of mouth and put it online and utilized online reviews.
We utilized Facebook and social media to grow the business, as well as the online travel agents. In the UK, Booking.com is probably the biggest, was the biggest. And Airbnb has slowly been playing catch up over the years. But we built up a business where we didn’t rely on Airbnb. We focused on our direct bookings and we grew that. Yeah, and then fast forward to 2016, I started to go to hospitality meetups in our area, in the area of Scalby, United Kingdom and started to chat to other hosts, other hosts that were either one property in or 5 or 10 properties in. And the big annoyance there was they were having to rely on Booking.com and the whatnots for their bookings. And that’s when I started doing Boostly. That’s when I started helping hosts figure out how they can generate their own bookings and not have to rely on Airbnb or Booking.com.

David:
It sounds like you’re out there doing God’s work, and I want to thank you for that. So, Rob actually called me the other night in a complete panic as he often does, 2:00 o’clock in the morning and freaking out. And he told me a story about a guess we had at our Scottsdale property that wasn’t happy. Actually, he wasn’t in a panic at all, it was one of those like, if I had hair, I would be pulling it out of my head. I have another person asking for a discount over nothing. And apparently, this guest had actually pulled a gun on our cleaners and then had the audacity to turn around and ask us for a discount. And Rob was like, “And you know what? I had to freaking give it to them.” Because you get in this position with Airbnb where you’re being held hostage. And if you don’t give this person what they want, they threaten you with a bad review. You end up playing this really just disastrous game of chicken with the guests where Airbnb has to figure this problem out because sometimes, you’re a normal person.
I’ve never even thought of asking for a discount. If I go to an Airbnb and they run out of toilet paper, I just go buy more. I don’t think about threatening the person with a bad review if they don’t give me what I want or hand-delivering toilet paper, but I’m finding out many people do. And it sounds like it’s turning in some ways into Craigslist where you’re offering a bicycle for $200 and someone offers you 75 bucks. It’s like a bidding war. It turns into an auction. So I wanted to ask you, Rob, not just with our house, but with your experience on Airbnb in general, how big of a problem is the threats of bad reviews and hurting your standings with getting bookings? And how important is a direct booking system like what Mark is talking about to the operator’s chances of success?

Rob:
I have always considered Airbnb walking on a tightrope of sorts where it’s just a game of balance. It is a hospitality business, and so in some regards, I do feel like Airbnb, which I use anonymously with just any OTA, OTA stands for online travel agency, I’m sure we’ll use that term several times today, but in any platform, whether it’s Airbnb, Vrbo, Booking.com, there is some push and pull here with customer service and the checks and balances of the different securities that they offer to their hosts and everything like that. And it does force me to stay very hospitable, keep up the hospitality aspect of my business. I’m happy to do that. But there is a very interesting moment where a guest might damage something, they might leave you damages anywhere from 50 to 500 bucks. Usually, anything that’s under $50, I’m not really going to charge a guest back for, but over $50, it starts getting hairy, right?
And it’s like 51 bucks, I don’t know, am I really going to charge a guest for that? $75, as hosts, we get very scared to charge that back to the guest even though it’s within our right to do it because the moment you send a guest a message and say, hey, you stained our rug, it’s going to be 75 bucks to get it spot cleaned or whatever, then now, they have a tainted experience at your place. They’ll be like, oh, come on, it was an accident or whatever. It was just a wine glass. You really want to charge me for that? And so, you get into this mindset where you ask yourself, is charging a guest $50 worth a four-star review? And if you’re just starting out your Airbnb business or your Airbnb listing, it’s not worth it because if you have five five-star reviews and then one four-star review, guess what? Your ranking just went down to a 4.7 or a 4.75 all because a guest, and it was their fault, broke something in your house and you charge them for it and it forced them to think of all the negative things that happened during their stay when it would’ve just been a five-star stay otherwise.
So, this is a huge pain point for Airbnb hosts, and that’s just on small things, right? But then you get into other situations, like the Scottsdale guest that you were talking about, David, where they smoked a bunch of pot in the house and it smells like pot in there right now. And that can affect future bookings and that can leave a bad experience for other people. We got to charge these people 500 bucks, whatever, to fumigate it, do the ozone treatment and all that stuff. And now, we know that they’re probably not going to leave us a five-star review. So, it’s a whole thing, right? It’s like the customer service aspect of Airbnb. It’s a hospitality business, but at the end of the day, it’s still a business and you still do have to make money. So yeah, when you’re at the mercy of the checks and balances of OTAs, it makes it tough to be profitable in certain situations, if that makes sense.

David:
So here’s my understanding of how OTAs have of evolved over the years, Mark, and I want to get your professional opinion on if I’m accurate. At first, people put a house on Vrbo, Airbnb. It booked like hot cakes you almost couldn’t miss in the short-term rental space. Everyone was crushing it. The money started to move in that direction, the market got really hot. It became hard to get cash flow of any kind if you weren’t doing short-term rentals, and so more and more people got into this space. Now, it’s become somewhat saturated. In some areas, you’re okay, but in others, you’re competing with other people over these guests, and it’s pushing the prices down to the point it’s almost not making sense.
And now, you’re at a point where the tenant has the leverage and the relationship. There, they get to choose which properties they want to book. They get to ask for discounts if they come. They break the rules, you’re afraid to say anything because you don’t want a bad review. The owners of these properties not only do they have to deal with problems of neighbors, problems of the possible city changing regulations, the evil landlord clause that sort of reigns over the industry right now, and the tenants having power. You seem like you’ve figured out a way around that. Just don’t go through those means where you don’t have the leverage. First off, am I accurate with my understanding of the evolution of the industry? And then second, what is Boostly now doing to try to fix this?

Mark:
Yeah. No, you’re 100% spot on. And for a lot of people, and especially a lot of people who are coming into the industry right now, believe it or not, there was a time in this industry that was before Airbnb, before OTAs, before instant book. I mean 2015, you go onto any of these online travel agents and it was request a book. Even like early days, Airbnb, there was no instant book. The only reason that they bought that in was to compete with Booking.com, which is the Booking Holdings Group and Vrbo, which was HomeAway, which is the Expedia group, which owns Expedia and all that jazz. And with instant book coming in and with commission being a big thing because back in the day as well, to be on a listing site, you paid an annual subscription fee, but then people started to come along like Booking.com, et cetera and say, hey, don’t pay as any annual subscription fee, just pay as a commission if a booking comes in.
And for a first time host, it’s like, wow, this is amazing. For marketing and for advertising, if it doesn’t work, I don’t have to pay any money. And we are in an industry, [inaudible 00:18:11] hospitality, short-term rentals, midterm rentals, whatever you want to call it, all of this is hospitality as Rob alluded to. And in this hospitality industry, we are in the industry of making memories. So it’s not like when you buy [inaudible 00:18:23] from Amazon, it’s just a one-off purchase, that’s fine. We are in an industry where people literally come and stay with you and they will remember it for years. They will talk about it with their family, with their friends, et cetera. And because of that, it is so in demand. You both now can look at your calendar and you’ll just know there’s dates in that calendar for all your properties that you could book three or four times over depending on the time of the year.
And because it is so in demand, it is so easy to get bookings. And Airbnb, Booking.com, Vrbo [inaudible 00:18:52] spent billions making sure that they’re in the right product placement. So again, when you first start and you’ve got that one property and you’ve got all those plates that are spinning, everything that you have to know to do, when it comes to marketing, you can just take a couple of pictures on your phone, you can upload it to a website, Airbnb, and be pretty much be guaranteed to get bookings. And because it is so easy, you then become over complacent and lazy and over reliant on one platform. So it becomes a problem when, for example, you get a bad review from a guest or a guest complains to Airbnb and they side with the guest or for whatever reason, your listing gets taken down.
And it’s happening more and more and more now. And if you are a host or a property management company that is looking to grow and scale, and if you are more of a 90% reliant on one channel for your revenue coming in, you’re playing a very dicey, dangerous game because all it takes is for your account to get hacked, you’re listening to get locked down, or a couple of crappy reviews, or a total algorithm change by Airbnb where suddenly, you’re on page one and the next day, you’re on page five or six where nobody looks. So, it’s really important that we flip that around and we look to get everybody to a 65% direct and then at 35% relying on third-parties a AKA OTAs.

Rob:
Yeah. I do you want to add to that list because you were saying all it takes is a hack or this or that. It also takes things that are not even actual [inaudible 00:20:20]. Okay, let me articulate this correctly. We had a bedbug scare in one of our properties three or four months ago, maybe five months ago. And the guest sent over a photo of a bug. And we sent that over to our pest control. People were like, oh my gosh, is it a bed bug? And they’re like, we don’t think so, but we’ll go check. So they go and they report that to Airbnb, obviously. I mean, I don’t necessarily blame them for that, but Airbnb immediately locked that listing, they deactivated the listing, and then we got the pest control people to come out. And then the pest control people were like, oh, actually, it’s not bedbugs, it’s a thing called bat bugs, easy to treat. They found all the different places to plug the home.
All that type of stuff, we had it resolved in a day or two. But even with that, we had to submit a report that basically vowed that we didn’t have bedbugs and we had to do all this stuff. And that account could not be booked or that listing could not be booked for six weeks. And that was a property that we had with an investor. So we’re over here scrambling, trying to make it happen as much as possible. Luckily, it did end up getting resolved. We’d been booking like hotcakes otherwise and we still are making a lot of money on that property. But for people that are just starting out, if that’s your first experience with a short-term rental, that can really taint the rest of your journey, right? And so luckily, I’ve done this a while now, so I’m able to stay calm whenever there’s a bedbug scare or whenever a guest pulls a gun out on our cleaner, all that kind of stuff.
It doesn’t phase me quite as much, but it is interesting to hear you say that, Mark, because really at the end of the day, using different OTAs, like Airbnb and Vrbo, it gives the guests all the leverage. They have all the leverage to basically do whatever they want. There’s some good and some bad, right? With short-term rentals in general like Airbnb, they’re going to bring the marketing, they’re going to bring you the guests. You don’t have to go and market your listing. But certainly now as I’ve done this for five, six years, I’m definitely starting to feel this stat of 65% direct bookings that you referenced there because yeah, it does make sense to bring it all in-house at the end of the day.

Mark:
Yeah. And I feel like it all boils down to when you are so reliant on Airbnb for your bookings, you literally have a boss at that point, and you are literally building your house and your business on somebody else’s land because they can turn around at any point and change the rules. Or like you said, if a guest book’s through there and they complain to Airbnb, they are going to always side with the guest over the host. It doesn’t matter what you’ve got, systems and things in place. It just happens more often than not. And it’s scary to see. Now, if a guest book’s direct with you and you’ve got your systems and structures in place, which is what we will talk about, then that situation with the bedbug, you would’ve had direct communication with the guests, right there and then, you could have sorted it on your terms, on your rules, and you’re not then having to have that little niggling doubt in your head that there’s going to be somebody looking over you making all of the calls and the decisions and you’re worried about it.
And the best example I can give on this and one that I feel that any host that’s been around since 2019 will be able to relate to is that in March 2020 when the world went a little bit upside down and all of these regulations and rules were starting to put in place, Airbnb in the middle of March just sent a notification out to all guests and all hosts at the same time, so no word of warning to hosts, so at the same point, everybody woke up with a notification saying that obviously with everything that’s going on in the world, any guest can cancel their stay free of charge, it doesn’t matter what the policy is. Now, that ended up ending so many management companies and host businesses because they just couldn’t survive it because straight away, guests went and canceled. There’s no one in to host.
Now the kickback that I get when I talk about that story is, well, just because a guest booked direct doesn’t mean they didn’t cancel. Yeah, sure. But what we did at our family business is in March, we were able to have the phone number and the email address of every guest that booked of us direct. All we did was we literally called them. We’re real vulnerable and just said, hey, everything that’s going on in the world, obviously, you’ve got this booking coming up with us. Obviously, you can’t make it. But instead of canceling it, let’s change it. So, we adopted a change, not cancel approach. And we were able to save five figures in reservations and just move it to later on in a year or next year and we’re able to help get us through that part. Guests and hosts that relied solely on Airbnb weren’t so lucky. They literally had no way of communicating with the guests because Airbnb don’t share email addresses, they don’t like you communicating with the guests. Those that were reliant solely on one platform didn’t make it out the other end.
And this is why it’s really important that we actually now start to turn this around. And this is why I’m trying to help 1 million hosts cut down over reliance on the OTAs because if we can do so, if we can do this, we will get a foot at the table at these OTAs. At the moment, all of these Airbnb, Booking.com, Vrbo, they look at hosts as just a number. They just look a number [inaudible 00:25:19] their massive stock list. We are not partners as they keep saying, partners [inaudible 00:25:24]. We have to get aware of them. And at the moment, they don’t think that hosts as an Airbnb hosts want to do their own direct bookings. I’m a stubborn [inaudible 00:25:36] and I want to show them that we can do this. It is simple to do this. And my whole thing is about going old school to go new school. So what old school tactic can we do to drive in bookings and revenue?

Rob:
Yeah. So knowing what you know here, obviously, that the hosts are a number and everything like that, is there a dystopian outlook for using one or two major listing websites?

Mark:
Yeah. So very recently, Skiff, which is a big industry publication, put out a graph and it showed the reliance on where the bookings are going on these platforms, and they took the top five. And out the top five was the free standout, so Airbnb, Booking.com and Vrbo. And in 2017, Airbnb had 15% of the market. So 2017, about five years ago, they had 15% of the market. The wave that the graph is going, the prediction is by 2025, so only a couple of years away, they’ll have 60% of the market. Airbnb are not only playing catch up, they’re going to dominate this industry in terms of where the bookings are coming from. My belief and my opinion is that Airbnb want to become the Amazon of the short-term rental industry.
And if they get to that point, there’s nothing from stopping them from turning around to hosts all on their platform and saying, you know what, Dave, Rob? We feel like this relationship isn’t accurate, isn’t fair. You only pay us, say, 14% commission at the present moment in time. Let’s bump that up to 20. Let’s bump that up to 25, 30, 40, 50%. Amazon, they take up to 66% commission for everything that is sold on that platform. That is crazy. And there’s nothing from stopping from Airbnb doing something similar. And they’re making all of the rules tighter, tighter, tighter. And at the moment, we’re lucky. At the moment, we still… Some hosts only pay 3% commission. If you’re a pro host, you actually have to pay a little bit more if you’re connected up to a property management software, but we’re going to talk about it soon. You’re going to pay a little bit more.
But the worry is that this industry becomes so reliant on Airbnb that they can dictate the rules at any point. And when that happens, and it’s bad enough now, if that happens in the future, then more and more hosts are going to be going out of business or having to pay deep, deep commission costs for something that is simple that we can stop now by starting to think about marketing ourselves, marketing our own businesses, which is what every other industry needs to do. We do website design at Boostly. There’s no listing site that I can go and put Boostly websites on and generate revenue. I have to brand myself. I have to go on podcasts and do all of the social media things. Short-term rental hosts have to start doing that now if we don’t want to go down that route of being very reliant on Airbnb.

Rob:
100%. I mean you’re talking about marketing your listing, right? If you want to market your listing out to the masses, I know that you have to have a ideal audience or demographic or avatar in mind. And I’ve heard you say that most people don’t know their potential guest avatar. So, do you think you could just really briefly explain what this means and why would not knowing your avatar be impacting your bookings?

Mark:
Yeah, it’s a great point and it’s a great question. And when you say avatar, I guarantee [inaudible 00:28:44] so many listening to this or watching this will be like, what is even an avatar? And the most simplest way to put it in terms of hospitality short-term rentals is that the ideal guest that you want to walk through the door. And when you really nail down who that avatar, who the ideal guest is, it makes everything so much easier because at the end of the day, you haven’t got an Etsy store, you haven’t got an Amazon store, you haven’t got unlimited downloads. There’s only a certain amount of heads that you can fit on beds. There’s only a certain amount of inventory that you have.
And the biggest problem that I see in this industry with the millions of hosts that are out there is that we’re trying to appeal to everybody. When you appeal to everybody, you appeal to nobody. And another cliche phrase, “The riches are in the niches.” So if you can really figure out, number one, who is your ideal guest? So, who is the type of guest that is coming to my location, Scottsdale, wherever it may be? Who is the type of people that are coming to here? Is it all leisure? Is it a mixture of business and leisure? Is it families? Is it solo people? Is it digital nomads? Whoever it may be. So, you figure out who that is. So, who’s coming to the area?
And then what you do is you look at your property and it’s like, okay, so what is my property good for? And then, has it got a pool, has it got a real good bed to bath ratio, has it got private parking, really good wifi? And then what you’ll then do is you go, okay, so this is who’s coming to the area, this is what my property’s good for. Now, what can I do with my property to really speak to my niche? And as a prime example, a person that I was speaking to, she had a couple of properties on the coast, some amazing seaside properties. You could see the beach sea, see the sea literally from the window. And the location where she was at was well-known for surf. And she was trying to decide on who her avatar was.
And the property, the way it was laid out, it was repelling who her ideal guest was because that was ideal for surfers to come away for a surf break, but she was doing the exact opposite. So a little couple of tweaks. So for example, by stipulating in the listing on a marketing, on a social media literally how close the property was to the beach by putting in some surf racks, private parking, all of that stuff, she was able to really focus and niche down on her avatar and her ideal guests. And with that, the people that walked through her door were the ideal people. They literally, as soon as they landed in the door, it was like an instant five-star review because it matched everything what that guest wanted and needed, so you didn’t have people rocking up and pulling guns on cleaners and all that stuff.

David:
I love that. So here’s what I like about it, as a real estate investor, we don’t have to think about the avatar of who’s going to be staying at our house. It’s someone who needs a place to live. Maybe I might think, what kind of job does this person have, so what kind of rent can they afford? That’s about as far as it goes. But as a host of a hospitality asset, you do need to be thinking about that. So, what are some of the mistakes that you see people making, Mark, that are real estate investors approaching it with the real estate investor mindset that don’t understand that they’re actually becoming a hospitality host?

Mark:
Well, this is the main thing is that everybody comes to it and they sort of take off the hospitality hat. I don’t mind. I don’t care where you’ve come from or what niche or [inaudible 00:31:54] you’re coming into. As soon as you have strangers coming to stay in your property, you’re in my world of hospitality. So, you always have to think hospitable first. Hospitality is the main part of it. And if you can, always think about making sure that that guest has got the most amazing stay in your property, then you’ll win time and time again. There’s a saying that I came up when I created The Book Direct Playbook, which is the book that I put out this year that the tagline was, “There’s a story behind every booking.”
And I don’t care if a guest is staying with you for work or for leisure or for a family stay, but there’s a story behind the booking. It’s up to you as a host or it’s up for you as your team to make sure that you can uncover what that story is and how can you make that stay memorable because if you can make that stay memorable, what it means is that you will not have to market your business. Your guests will become super fans and they will market your business for you. The referral networks, the comeback ability, all of that is there for years to come. But the first thing you’ve got to do is you’ve got to take off that real estate hat, take off the numbers hat, take off the Airbnb hat, and just put on that hospitality hat for a second and just think, okay, what can I do to make sure that I can make my guest stay as best as possible?

Rob:
That’s super fair. I always say this, and I think I was telling you this too, David, because you just bought 15 short-term rentals in two hours. I don’t know. It took you a month. But either way, you were talking about the idea of getting a property manager and I was like, well first, I honestly think to anybody that buys 15 properties or that’s really getting into this, that you should really be in the weeds of your business for a little bit. If you want to go the property manager route, that’s totally fine, do that. But give yourself 2, 3, 4 weeks out of minimum to just understand how guests communicate, how they communicate specifically about your property, what are the common questions that come up about your property.
Because I have a lot of different Airbnb listings, and the common questions that I get for each listing are wildly different. You never really know, right? And people ask you things and you’re like, wow, okay, there’s something not clear about my property or there’s something super appealing about my property, and you find out your guest avatar, kind of to your point, Mark. But either way, for me, I like people being entrenched in the nuts and bolts of their businesses before they hand it off just because if you learn how to drive up the hospitality and how to be a good host, then you know how to manage a property manager. That’s always been my stance.

David:
Well, let me just say, I would not recommend anyone else do what I did. 15 short-term rentals at one time has turned out to be a very taxing endeavor that I don’t think was very wise to get into. I do that often.

Rob:
Mentally taxing, not financially taxing. That should probably help you out [inaudible 00:34:41].

David:
That’s exactly what I’m getting at. I had somebody who was helping manage my portfolio that I had to let go because they couldn’t keep up with the strain of all that goes into this, plus a lot of them had rehabs. It’s a very challenging time for me right now trying to keep up with all of this stuff that’s going on. So I think you’re right, it would be much better to have taken this at one or two at a time. So, I don’t want anyone to hear this and think that they should go copy. What I did there, it’s been a little bit crazy. And I actually was thinking, Mark, maybe I’d hire you as a consultant to see what could be done to get some of this stuff off the ground a little bit quicker.
But you do make a very good point there, Rob, that you want to understand the asset class that you are getting into. Mark, I think our audience would really benefit from any specific examples like the one you gave of the surfer home where someone approached it thinking just like an investor, like oh, on a spreadsheet, this is what it should bring in and this is my occupancy, and it’s all science, there’s no art. And then you seeing, hey, here’s some tweaks somebody made on the art side. They added surf racks, they advertised it, it was very close to the beach that it actually impacted the numbers that the property brought in.

Mark:
Yeah. Well, there’s another great story as well. And when we talk about of hospitality and how you can really make sure that your business will thrive on the other end, we had a lady that was part of the Boostly community and she had a lakeside property, and this is what I’m talking about, like old school market and how it can really help your business. She had a person book at her lakeside property. And they booked direct. And on the note it said, “We’re really looking forward to come and stay at your lakeside property. Little Timmy’s 9th birthday. He’s wanting to learn how to fish.” And what the host did is… What most people would do, and the most problematic thing that people would do is they would just look at that note and go, oh, that’s nice, little Timmy’s birthday. Well, that’s fantastic. But what this lady did was on the day of arrival, she went to the fish and bait and tackle shop and she bought a fish and rod and just a couple of other things, like some bait tackle, et cetera, and went 5 to 10 minutes out of her way. So, she did a meet and greet with the family.
And before the family arrived, she put the little gift with a little card on the dock just as the people parking up and going up to the property. The family arrives and they see that note and they opened it and it go, “Dear Timmy, have an amazing 9th birthday. Here’s a little gift from us, the property manager, just to get you on your way in your fishing journey.” And instantly, that was a little tweak that they had made to their business, a little gift that cost no more than 30, $40, and it impacted massively because what happened was that guest instantly pictures Instagram, social media, so they had the social proof right there. And then when they went home, they were talking about it to their friends and the family members. And then it was that same guest repeat book for the next five years, brought their friends with them and told all of their coworkers, et cetera. So, a little gift like that, a little shift, a little look at the property, a little, okay, what can I do to make this guest experience even better, and it resulted in thousands upon thousands of dollars worth of direct bookings. And it’s all because of one little tweak that they made.
And that’s just one little example. I think one thing that every host should be doing right now, everybody that has got a short-term rental business, whether it’s one property, five properties or 10 properties or more, you should all be looking right now and just look at the property, look at the area and go, well, what can I do to make sure that I can make sure that the ideal guest that I want to walk through this door make sure that it’s as easy as bookable as possible and making it stand out. One of the easiest things you can do right now is to get a little floor plan, a little cartoon floor plan drawn. You can get someone on [inaudible 00:38:34] cost about 20, $30. And what it does is it lays out your property instantly from an Airbnb listing or a Vrbo listing or even a social media because there’s so many people that book with you first time without properly knowing the layout of your property. So, little tweaks like that you can do that will really make sure that your property stands out really will help gain those heads in beds.

Rob:
Yeah. So Mark, we covered the idea of what hosts are neglecting as they move from real estate into the hospitality side of things. We’ve also covered why relying on one platform is bad. I mean, I think one of the big reasons there obviously is guests have a lot of leverage. And if you have all your eggs in one basket and you get shut down or hacked or whatever, your business is effectively over until you’re able to restore your account. So for people that are going into the direct booking option, and even to clarify this for people at home that may not know what we mean, we mean if you were to buy a domain like robuilthomes.com, I should have brought that before I said this, but robuiltholmes.com, and you can go and actually book your stay through my personal website and I’m the one that controls basically all the customer service and everything like that. For people that are going that route and just for people that are still even using OTAs, do you feel that hosts are neglecting the security and the guest screening that comes along with guests that are booking stays at their home? And what are some tips here for people that are still booking on those sites and even through a direct booking website?

Mark:
Yeah. This is definitely something that is a big pain point. And so many people are saying a guest has booked and they’ve shown up with X amount of people. It started really during the lockdowns where, especially over here in the UK, all of the nightclubs were closed. You couldn’t really go on a proper night out. So, what was happening was people were booking a stay, they were booking a stay in their town or their city. They say, yep, two people are turning up. And then before you know it, there’s 16 people and there’s a party going on in your short-term rental business. So, there’s a big problem with security and guest screening. Luckily now, compared to when I first got started in 2011 properly in short-term rentals, there’s so many providers and software and service tools that are available to short-term rental hosts, people who’ve 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 properties that wasn’t there before.
So, one of the best things that everybody can be doing is looking to getting guest screening software set up as soon as possible. There’s one over here in the UK that is a worldwide brand that’s called Superhog, S-U-P-E-R-H-O-G, that’s a really good one. And what it basically does when a guest books, what happens is they get a little notification, they have to verify who they say they are, so as that guest screening element. And when it comes to it, even if a guest books via a platform or if they book direct, you’ve got to make sure that you are protecting your investment at the end of the day. And a lot of people talk about making sure that you’ve got exterior cameras set up. Obviously, don’t do the interior cameras, that’s gets you into a lot of trouble, but the exterior cameras, making sure you’ve got relevant guest screening. But again, it’s still something that so many people don’t do, and it’s those guests that don’t put those simple blueprint in place, the foundations in place to have a very successful short-term rental business are ones that you see that come onto Reddit, that come into the Facebook groups and complain about X, Y or Zed [inaudible 00:41:58].

David:
All right. That’s a great point, Mark. I like that you highlighted guests screening. And protecting your investing is another part of the hospitality business that you don’t have to think about with typical real estate investing. When it comes to what hosts are putting on their profile, what are some things that are commonly missed?

Mark:
Yeah. So, one of the big things that I show hosts how to do is how you can take someone from an OTA into a direct booking. And one of the best ways and the best places to start is your listing, literally your profile on Airbnb. And everybody has the ability to make your listing on Airbnb look super professional but at the same time showcasing your business and your brand. And so what it will end up doing is it’ll take a guest from Airbnb to a Google Search where hopefully they will then click on your direct booking website. So one of the main things that people can do is go onto your Airbnb listing right now and you’ve got your first six pictures, which are obviously your most important pictures, we call them your hero images or your unique selling pictures, and what you can do on there is you can watermark them with your business and your brand.
So say that you’ve got the Rob House and the David House, but the overall brand is, let’s just say, the Mark business brand. Then what you can do is on these individual listings, you can put your logo of your business on there, so instantly to the user because as a user, as a generation of people that are using these, we skim read at best. So you’re looking at the images and instantly, every single one of them is watermarked, so the user knows that, okay, so this is a proper business. This isn’t somebody who is just listing a house for a hobby, this is somebody that’s properly doing this as a business. And then the next hack that you can do is in your profile, so everybody on Airbnb, and this is really cool, you don’t get this on Vrbo and you don’t get this on Booking.com, but everybody on Airbnb has a profile and you’d be amazed at how many people when the guest is going through. So your future potential guest is going through the booking process. They actually go and check out your profile and you can actually put a little bio in. This is one of the most undertapped resources that I see on the platform from host that we do marketing reviews for is you’ve got that first little bit of the bio.
And the first line in particular, you can introduce yourself as, hey, my name is Mark, I’m part of Boostlybnb, please check out our online reviews. They’re really good. Now, we’re not directly saying on our Airbnb profile to go check out boostly.co.uk. We’re not directing people to a domain because Airbnb will obviously shut that down. But what we’re saying is we’re introducing ourselves as being a business, being ourselves as a property management company or just a professional business on Airbnb, but to go and check out our online reviews, they’re rather good. So instantly, what happens there is that the guests will see that, they’ll go to Google, they’ll type in your business name in the location where you’re at, and obviously then, your website will pop up, any social media that you have, and obviously your Google business listing. So, those are two things that everybody can do right now. It’ll take a couple of minutes, but it instantly will separate you from everybody else. When everyone’s zigging, you got to zag in this industry. And so, that’s one of the two core things that every Airbnb host should be doing.

Rob:
Yeah. Oh man, as an educator in this space, it does kill me whenever someone has a listing that they’ll ask for feedback on it, for example, and be like, what do you think? And then they have one sentence for the whole entire listing and then photos that were taken on a cell phone and I’m like, dude, you got to spend an hour just writing what this place is a writeup about it, and then spend like 250 to 500 bucks on professional photos. And if you do that, you’ll increase your booking significantly. So in the vein of you got to zig when others zag, a lot of people in this space think beds and heads, that’s all I really need, right? To have a successful Airbnb business is just putting as many people I can into a house. What are your thoughts there?

Mark:
Yeah. No, you’re right. And this is more than just a heads on beds game. It really is about the guest experience. And now more than ever, your guests that are staying in your property, they’re looking at the amenities as much as it is for a real good pillow and a real good comfy bed to sleep on. So for example, one of the most important things that Airbnb is going to be focusing on in 2023, and this is based on all of the searches that they get and all of the data that they have is WiFi. Your WiFi speed is going to be crucial, even more so the… It’s only a matter of time before in the filter of your Airbnb listing will a future potential guest be able to filter the internet speed, depending on what property you show. So right now, you can go into your property, you can open up your Airbnb app, and you can do a speed test, and you can submit that speed test to Airbnb and they’ll say if it’s poor, good or excellent.
So if you have really good WiFi, you should be definitely tapping into that and taking full advantage of it because again, it just makes your property stand out so much more. And not only just talk about it on Airbnb and your listing sites, but talk about it on social, talk about it on your website as well, talk about that because the digital nomad or the slomad, which is going to be a new phrase in 2023, this is going to get even more popular. Brian Chesky even said in an interview that he believes that it’s only a matter of time before 50% of the US workforce is working from home or working from a short-term rental property, so amenities is massive. Also as well, the other massive thing is the kitchen. Go into the utensils that you provide, whether it’s an air fryer or whatever it may be, a decent coffee machine, a decent coffee bar. Make sure that you put in a little bit of time and an extra bit of budget into the amenities as much as it is that real comfy pillow and that real comfy bed.

Rob:
100% agree. I think probably over the years, the number one, I won’t say complaint, but I guess feedback that people give me, and it’s less now because I’ve addressed it, but it’s usually people that are like, hey, love your place, would love for your kitchen to have been stocked a little bit more. And so now, when I’m teaching people how to do this, someone was like, look, just go to TJ Maxx, I don’t know if you guys have TJ Maxx over there, but like Ross Michaels, wherever, some of these more bargain places, they have a whole section that’s just kitchen stuff, like can openers and wine openers, all that kind of stuff. And just spend like 100 bucks on all the little knickknacks and the lemon squeezers and all that kind of stuff because people are always super excited when it’s there and really bummed when it’s not.
And even to that point, these days, when a guest says, hey, do you have this item in the kitchen? I’m usually the first person to say, hey, I don’t, but tell you what, go buy it. I’m sure I could use it in the listing and I’ll reimburse you for it. And people are always like, oh my God, that’s amazing. Most of the time, they don’t, but I’m always willing to, right? If it’s like a $10 lemon squeeze or whatever [inaudible 00:48:39], other guests will probably use it. So, I think that the kitchen is so important these days because a lot of people tend to book Airbnb so that they can actually cook there.

Mark:
Yeah. And also as well with the coffee bar, if you go and do something a little bit unique by getting local coffee beans and whatnot, it instantly makes your property Instagrammable. And the more you can make your property Instagrammable, the more that your guests will take a picture and they’ll upload it to their socials because the number one time when your guests are taking pictures is when they’re on holiday, is when they can show off to their friends back home that they’re on vacation, staycation, workation. So the more that you can make your property Instagrammable and they can tag you in, then that’s how you get that social media word of mouth and that virality just thriving.

Rob:
Yeah. So effectively, let’s juice up the amenities, right? Let’s make sure that the kitchen is great, that the internet is fast. I’m curious, is there any tactical advice there on increasing internet speeds? Is it a special router, like a mesh system or anything like that or is it just going with the fastest package that your internet provider provides?

Mark:
It all depends on what you have available. So at the end of the day, you could put all of the little cool mesh things and all that jazz, but if you’ve only got a certain amount of speed coming into your house, then you’re screwed. Luckily, now, it doesn’t matter where you are in the world [inaudible 00:49:50] solutions, these satellite solutions are making more people, rural or wherever, you’ve got more options available. But it’s only going to come a matter of time where having WiFi and having quick WiFi, especially for the Gen Z generation, and people think Gen Zs like teenagers, Gen Z now in 2022 is 25. These are people that are going to be paying money to stay at your properties, so you’ve got to make sure that a generation that are literally born with one of these cell phones literally in their hand 24/7, you’ve got to make sure that you’ve got WiFi and you’ve got good WiFi. Don’t just have like, say, I’ve got WiFi and it’s like two megabytes speed. It’s got to be decent. It’s got to be double digits.

Rob:
Yeah, for sure. I’ve got a couple of listings that don’t have WiFi and we make it as well-known as possible and it’s like, hey, it does not have WiFi. And then sure enough, they check in and they’re like, what’s the password? I don’t see it. I’m like, I told you there’s no WiFi. We would offer it if we could, but that’s something I’m always happy to spend 100 bucks a month on simply because it’s super important.

David:
Okay. I have to ask you, Rob, is the location not offer WiFi, is that why you don’t have it?

Rob:
Yeah, it’s too secluded. We can’t even get HughesNet out there, which is like eight megabytes per second.

David:
Wow. So, there’s just it’s not internet. Well, what about the thing Elon Musk is doing? What’s that going to be called?

Rob:
Starlink. There’s a wait list for that everywhere. I mean, it is possible. Finally, one of the properties, my Gatlinburg property, I got the email from Starlink to set it up and I was like, oh, it actually happened, but it’s not always readily available.

David:
Do you think that Starlink will change all the emails that old people use that have SBCGlobal.net as their email domain name? Are they all going to change [inaudible 00:51:23]?

Rob:
Are you sweating over there because you still have the SBCGlobal.net and your Hotmail, [email protected]?

David:
That’s right, Rob. I’ve got a Hotmail account. It’s back when email was created. So Mark, we’ve talked about having a great experience, amenities, everything that leads up to this moment, but there’s comes a time where a guest leaves, right? And that’s the end of the stay. So, what aren’t hosts doing to follow up with their guests? And do you feel like this is a crucial aspect for marketing your business in the future to those guests?

Mark:
Yeah. And this is where you can get those juicy direct bookings so easy and simple. And this is the cool thing is that it doesn’t cost any money. Literally, it takes a couple of minutes of your time, but you just got to reach out to your guests. We are very lucky that Airbnb, for example, they give you the phone number. They don’t give you the email address, but they give you the phone number of the guest. And this is where… For a lot of people, it may be a little uncomfortable, but it’s all about becoming comfortable, about feeling uncomfortable. Pick up your phone, call your guest just when they check out. If it’s not you, if you are super busy, get a member of your team to do it and just say, hey Rob, I really appreciate you supporting our local business and coming to stay with us. Can I just ask why did you book with us?
Ask a lot of who, where, why, when questions. What did you do when you were here? Why did you go into that X, Y and Zed? And then at the end of the conversation, if it’s going well, just say, hey Rob, we really appreciate you. We really loved you as a guest. Thank you very much for that five-star review, hint, hint. By the way, do you know anyone? So, really important four words that so many people don’t use, but it will be everything in your business in terms of marketing and getting more bookings is, do you know anyone? So do you know anyone who’s coming to the area? Do you know anyone who’s coming here for work? It’s a really good one to ask anybody who’s stayed for a business day. Do you know anyone that needs to come to X, Y, or Zed?
And at that moment, that person will say a couple of things. Number one, no or yes, or maybe I’m not sure. So if they say no, just say, listen, no worries. By the way, if you ever do know anybody who needs a place to stay, please bear us in mind, recommend us. And if they book, we’ll give you a X in return, like Amazon vouchers or whatever it may be, bottle of beer, burrito, whatever floats your bought. But in the other time, if they say yes and say, actually, I do [inaudible 00:53:38] friend David who’s coming to town, then say, brilliant, do you mind sharing his contact information or setting up a group chat on Messenger or whatever it may be, on email? And if they book and they mention you, then I’m more than happy to give you a X in return. X could be $50 Amazon voucher or whatever it may be.
Because when you ask that question and you want somebody to do something, you’ve got to dangle the carrot. By dangling the carrot, they’re more likely to take action. And that’s the most crucial thing. But if you do that consistently, if you can do that for, say, of every five guests that check out, if you can call one out of five, I guarantee that what will start to happen is you will build up a pool of referrals. And if you can do that successfully, like I said at the start, you’ll never have to properly market, pay money for Google ads, Facebook ads, again, because you’ll have a referral network of your guests who will be your super fans who will just keep referring you and referring you to their friends, family and coworkers for months and years to come. And I know it works because that’s exactly what we did. Our business, The Grainary [inaudible 00:54:33], the farm stay business.

Rob:
Yeah. This is a really great approach in my mind simply because screening is such a big deal, right? And so if you have a guest that comes, you’ve screened them, they’re staying with you, let’s say, through Airbnb and they leave your place in decent condition, then we can probably make the assumption. Obviously, you don’t want to always assume, but if you reach out to them and they book through your direct booking website for a second time the next year, they’re probably going to leave your place in good condition again. And then if they’re referring you to all their different friends in the network, then again, good people tend to know good people and hopefully, you build up this referral network of people that treat your house pretty well, right? So it alleviates the concern of having strangers in your house.

Mark:
So 93% of purchases are made on the back of social proof. So if it’s you as a friend, is Rob recommending David? And [inaudible 00:55:26] David is much more likely to book, then if it’s just me straight messaging David saying, hey, come and stay at our place. You know what I mean? So with that social proof, it’s everything. So yeah, it goes a long way.

Rob:
For sure. Yeah. I mean, even on my end, I’m looking at the social proof, like guests that are trying to book my place. And if they have no reviews, I’m definitely going to be a little bit more apprehensive about accepting that booking over someone that has 25-star reviews on Airbnb. And then if I see someone that has a 4.5 as a guest, I’m always like, well, why is that? I’ll go in and I’ll read all the reviews. And if most of the reviews are good, usually, it’s nine good reviews and one so-so review, then I go forward with that because it’s nice to know the proof, the reviews of the people that are staying at your place and vice versa. People that are staying at your place probably want to know, right? And so that’s why you say in your listing, hey, go read our online reviews, and then they can read about it and then feel assured there.

David:
All right. So, we’re going to move on to the next segment of our show. It is going to be a modified version of the Deal Deep Dive called the Direct Deep Dive. Mark, in this segment of the show, Rob and I are going to take turns asking you questions about your direct booking system. Question number one, where can you set up a direct booking? Is there a specific portal to use?

Mark:
So, the main important thing that you need is a property management software, otherwise known as a PMS. The unfortunate thing is there is 1,400 plus property management software tools. The good news is that there’s about 10 to 12 top ones, and those are the ones let’s focus on. You may have heard of a couple of them, Guesty, Hostaway, Hostfully, et cetera. If you want a blog post about this, I literally don’t want them on Boostly. So boosly.co.uk/PMS, that is where you get started because when you’ve got a property management software tool, it helps you create everything that you need to put in place to build a direct booking business. So the guest screening that we spoke about, it will link into that. If you want to be on more than one platform, for example, Booking.com, Vrbo and an Airbnb, it’s all programmed via the PMS and it all directly speaks to it. And the best thing is you can then create a Stripe account to take direct payments and you can also create your own direct booking website. So, this is the most important thing to get started with is getting a property management software tool.

Rob:
Question number two, how do you build out the communication with the potential customer?

Mark:
My old school favorite is picking up the phone and giving them a call. And I like to do it at the end of this day but also the start of the booking process as well. So when a reservation comes in, the best thing to do to not have any cancellations, to make sure that there’s no miscommunication, pick up the phone, give them a call, have a chat with them, figure out why they’re booked, what can you do to make that stay even better. That’s one of the best things that everybody can be looking to do, take in this old school in a new school world.

David:
Awesome. All right. If somebody wants to do this, what does it cost to set up a direct booking website?

Mark:
So, the cool thing is as you are getting started in this game, so let’s just say one property, it’s actually free. You can go to so many free providers to have a direct booking website or just with anything in the world. As you level up your business, you need to level up your tech stack. And as you get to maybe three, four or five properties, then you’ll have to pay a little bit of money to actually do so. There’s many providers out there. There’s many ones that do it. Boostly obviously, the elephant in a room, we offer a service that we can help with that. Just got to boostly.co.uk.
But you can start off by anywhere, sort of a couple of 100 bucks. And then the more you grow, let’s say, you get past 10 properties and 15 properties, then you want to look for a pro solution where guests can book directly on your site. You can have things like live chat, retargeting and all those cool stuff, and that’s going to cost you a couple of grand. But when you get to that level of 10 plus properties, the money that you will spend on a website hails insignificant with what you’d be paying to commission cost, to Airbnb and all these other online searches. So, the best thing to do at that moment in time, invest the money as you level up your business and you’ll be set for years to come.

Rob:
Awesome. Question number four, how do you measure your success? Are there any KPIs or key performance indicators for measuring success in this world?

Mark:
The best one for me, and not only do I look at this, but investors or potential buyers of your short-term rental business will be looking at a very high ratio of direct bookings coming into your business. So if you are looking to sell your business and say you are 90% reliant on one platform for your industry, for your reservations coming in, they won’t look at you as well as if you’ve got 65% direct and then 35% reliant on other people. The way that I like to describe this is you got to look at Airbnb as your banker. Now, the banker basically is when I was… I’m a happily married man now, but when I was single and I would go on a night out, I would be basically looking to take a lady home to do some horizontal dancing with at some point during the evening, but as the night go on, it got to 2:00 o’clock in the morning, I would always have my banker on hand that I could call if I wanted to do so. And this is exactly how we need to look at Airbnb, they need to be your banker. So Airbnb is your banker, direct bookings is the one that you marry. And so, this is the main thing that what you need to do to measure your success. 65% direct, 35% OTA.

David:
Is banker like backup plan, like you got one in the bank?

Mark:
That’s the bank, that’s the backup plan, that’s the to 2:00 AM call. And it worked both ways. I was the banker, but this is where you got to look at Airbnb. Airbnb need to be your banker. You go and marry the direct bookings.

David:
There’s a lot of business principles that work that same way. You’ve got the home run pitch you’re looking for and then you’ve got, well, if I don’t get what I want, here’s my backup plan, at least I can get on base. And so, I think that’s very wise and also very funny analogy. All right, last question of the direct booking deep dive. Let’s say you want to convert an OTA, like an Airbnb or a Vrbo listing into a direct booking, what can you do?

Mark:
So, the two things that we spoke about are very handy in a reactive way, but a proactive way could be when a booking comes in. So the premise is that you’ve already knocked off number one where you’ve got your PMS portal. So when a booking comes in from Airbnb or Vrbo or Booking.com, if your PMS is set up right, an email notification will go out to the guest. And a real proactive way of converting an OTA booking into a direct booking is in that email template, you basically say to the guest, and this is something you can set up once and you can set and forget, and the terminology used should to go, hey Rob, thank you very much for your booking a stay at Boostlybnb. Just to confirm, the date of arrival is the 1st of December. You’re checking out on the 4th. Please make sure you read the rest of this email because your check-in information is really important.
And the way it should go is if you have booked of us directly, I email, phone call or website, your check-in time is 1:00 PM. If you have booked via an OTA, i.e. Airbnb, VRBO or Booking.com, your check in time is 5:00 PM. So what you are doing right there, psychologically, you are punishing somebody from booking via a third-party, and they will see that and they will go, well, hang on a second. If I had booked direct, my check-in time is one, but because I’ve booked via Airbnb, the check-in time is 5:00 PM. The next line of text is important. But if you want to amend anything about your stay, here’s my personal cell phone number and email. Call me at any point and we can rectify that for you. We would do this for our emails that went out to everybody. And we had about a 60 to 70% success rate of them calling us. And they would go, Hey Mark, I’ve got your email about the check-in time. If I’d have booked direct, I would’ve obviously got an earlier check-in at 1:00 o’clock.
And the main thing to realize here is that when somebody comes and stays with you, they’re going to be traveling from a couple of hours, flying in maybe, maybe it’s for an event or maybe it’s for X, Y or Zed, and they don’t want to be hanging around before they can check-in with you. So, they’re much more likely to take action and book of you direct. So the conversation would go, can I flip it to a direct book and how do I do that? And it’s super simple. This is where you just take over with a little bit of nose and you say, yep, sure thing, Rob, no problem. So all I need, just for security reasons, can you just confirm what your email address is? Again, you don’t get that email from the OTA, so you get the email. Just say, can you just confirm your card details? Brilliant. And you’ve got everything that you need. And just say, just do me a favor, can you just open up the Airbnb app or the Booking.com app? Can you cancel that stay for me because I can’t do it for you. Fantastic.
As soon as you’ve done that, I will bucket you in and you’ll get a confirmation directly for us and you’ll get that new check-in time. And it works in so many levels because number one, the major kickback I get to that, people say, well, hang on a second, you are canceling an Airbnb listing. Why would you do that? I’m not canceling the reservation. The guest is canceling it. One in three OTA reservations results in a cancellation. So because it’s them doing it and not you doing it, it doesn’t flag up on any radar, on any OTAs, and it’s totally within the Ts and Cs as well. And by doing that, again, you’ve basically canceled an OTA reservation, you’ve got a direct one in the bag and [inaudible 01:04:37] we had about 60 to 70% success rate on that just from having one little email template that went out after a booking.

David:
All right. Thank you for that, Mark. That is going to move us into the last segment of our show. This is the world famous-

Speaker 4:
Famous four.

David:
In this segment of the show, Rob and I ask every guest the same four questions and we will fire them off at you. Question number one, Mark, what is your favorite real estate book?

Mark:
So I’m going to keep it Bigger Pockets, Avery Carl, Short-Term Rental, Long-Term Wealth, love the book. And I’ve got to know Avery quite well. And yeah, I think that’s a really good one for everybody in real estate we’re looking to get into short-term rentals.

Rob:
Cool. Number two, favorite business book.

Mark:
I’ve always got it at hand, I’ve got it with me now, it’s Tools of Titans by Tim Ferris. And I’m a massive Tim Ferris fanboy. I’ve been listening to him and watching him since 2016. That book is amazing because it took 200 of his best episodes, all of his interviews with his guests. There we go, David, it’s right there. And he put it into a book. It is a huge book and it’s one that you don’t have to read it from page one to page 500 or whatever it is. You can just dip into different chapters as you go. And as far as business, it’s got a section on health, it’s got a section on wealth. And it’s, by far, the one that I always come back to is Tools of Titans.

Rob:
All right. I thought you were going to say Who Not How since you… Fun story here, Mark mailed me a copy of Who Not How with a note that said, “This book is going to change your life, I think.”

Mark:
Funny you mentioned that because there’s so many books that you could give. And I remember when you interviewed Alex Hormozi, his answer was, “It depends on where you are in your journey.” Now, me personally, right now, I’m on a massive hiring spree, and Who Not How is top of mind, Clockwork, Who Not Ho and [inaudible 01:06:27]. I sent it to Rob because there was a lot of things that he said that resonated, but the one that I always come back to is Tools of Titans. A massive fan. And I feel it doesn’t matter where you are in your journey, Tools of Titans is one that you can come to at loads of different stages.

Rob:
All right. I’ve got that noted. I have a notepad here. Whenever guests say their books that they recommend, I always write down the ones that sound intriguing for the day that I possibly read a book again. I’m still working through Burr right now, but honestly, this is going to be my year. I’m going to get two books in.

David:
I do the same thing with interesting hairstyles that I see guests come in and the odds of me actually acting on that are about the same as Rob reading a book.

Rob:
Oh, that’s probably accurate, that’s probably accurate. Three, when you’re not busy creating direct booking websites and just totally shaken up the short-term rental world, Mark, what are some of your favorite hobbies?

Mark:
Well, at the moment, it’s sleep. Like I mentioned at the start, I just had a baby girl three weeks ago, so whenever I can have sleep, that’s a big part. And the other thing is my basic, my main passion is soccer, football, Liverpool Football Club. I’m actually going to go after this episode and watch them probably lose tonight, which is a shame because they have very good soccer team. But yeah, let’s say Liverpool. And if we’ve got any Liverpool fans watching, please send me a message on Instagram. Come and say hi at boostlyuk. And yeah, that’s my big passion is Liverpool and creating children, it looks like

David:
You don’t sound like you are from Liverpool. Are you from that area?

Mark:
I am not from that area. It’s the other area of the Pennines. But my granddad got me onto Liverpool when he was alive, my first ever game my granddad took me to, me and my cousin. He was a big fan back in the day. And I will never ever forget that experience. But I’ve had it ever since the age of 10 or 11. But yeah, good scout knowledge there, David.

David:
Well, which part of the UK are you from? I’ve been trying this whole time to peg it. It sounds like you’ve got a British accent with a hint of Irish that just keeps showing up and I can’t place it.

Mark:
So, I’m a little bit of a rogue. Because I’ve traveled so much, America and Australia and everywhere, I’ve sort of lost my proper accent. But I’m one of these chameleons where if I hang around somebody for so long, I will just tap into their accent. So if I go and stay in Liverpool for a week, I’ll come out sounding like I’m from Liverpool. If I hang around in Australia [inaudible 01:08:53]. So basically, yeah.

David:
That’s how I sound with this cold. That sounds like I’m from Liverpool there. They’ve got that Middle Eastern [inaudible 01:09:02] with everything they’re saying. So here, I want to do this before I ask you the next question. Rob, speak in your English accent and Mark, you’re going to tell us where Rob’s accent would be placed if he lived in the UK.

Rob:
Not really my bag.

Mark:
See, the movie Forgetting Sarah Marshall when Russell Brand gets [inaudible 01:09:22] has a surfing accident and then Paul Rudd’s character goes and comes over and goes, “You sound like you are from London.” That is basically.

Rob:
So I’m Paul Rudd in that.

Mark:
You are Paul Rudd in that [inaudible 01:09:31].

David:
You sound like someone trying to sound like they’re from London, that’s what he’s telling you.

Rob:
Not really.

David:
All right. Now, we’re going to do mine, Mark. It’s not going to be necessarily British, but it will be from somewhere in the UK. If you had to say what do you think I’m talking from, what does this accent sound like, Mark?

Mark:
That’s two hours north of me. That’s good old Scotland.

David:
Aye, that’s right. [inaudible 01:09:55] from Glasgow. They’ve spoken like this my entire life.

Mark:
Good, good.

David:
As a little kid, I thought everybody’s grandparent sounded like they were Scottish. I just thought that’s like a grandparent thing. I didn’t know that that was my grandparent. So the first time I met someone else’s grandparents and they didn’t sound that way, my five year old brain was like, what? Why do they sound like your mom and your dad? They’re supposed to sound different. That’s how I thought that it worked. All right. Next question. In your opinion, Mark, [inaudible 01:10:21] pun worked together pretty well [inaudible 01:10:23]. I didn’t even expect that pun to have a pun. It’s a pun within a pun. It’s punception happening on the podcast. In your opinion, Mark, what sets apart successful investors from those who give up, fail or never get started?

Mark:
Procrastination is the killer of all good ideas, plans and businesses. And somebody once said to me when I first got going in this is the key to success is imperfect action applied at speed. So, I always stand by that. Just [inaudible 01:10:49] perfect, just go and get it done.

David:
That’s beautiful. Strikingly similar to Rob’s dancing style.

Rob:
That’s true. I’m more of a vertical dancer. I’m still mastering the chop chop slide.

Mark:
Well, I’m a horizontal dancer. That’s why I’ve got four kids.

David:
And what was the strategy, the imperfect action done, what was it?

Mark:
So imperfect action applied at speed is key to success.

David:
Yes, that describes Rob perfectly. All right, Rob.

Rob:
That’s right. Hey, don’t trample on my… This is my question. This is the one question I get all podcasts, Dave. Number five, that’s actually more of a statement, Mark, tell us where people can find out more about you on the internet.

Mark:
So one place only. Just head over to Amazon and go grab this, Book Direct Playbook, go grab that copy please. And in there is my Instagram where you can come and find me on Instagram. Thank you very much, chaps. Much appreciated.

Rob:
That’s right. We got it.

Mark:
[inaudible 01:11:36] freeway. There we go. Lovely. Really appreciate [inaudible 01:11:39].

Rob:
It’s on my goals to read this as my second book.

David:
You are one of the 100 books competing to be the second book that Rob has ever read. We will see how the book Hunger Games works out in Rob’s leg.

Mark:
[inaudible 01:11:50].

David:
May the odds ever begin your favor. All right. Before we get out of here, Rob, where can people find out more about you?

Rob:
Oh, you can find me on Neil YouTube where I put it all out there. I put everything, my emotions, my trauma, my successes, my victories, my how to win playbook. And yeah, soon enough, you’ll probably see Mark on the channel too. So you can find me on Instagram over at robuilt. And then if you want to see me dance and do funny little trends on TikTok, you can find me at robuilto with an O. What about you David?

David:
You could find me at davidgreene24 on just about all social media and then on YouTube at David Greene Real Estate. I’ve also been going live on YouTube on Friday night, so join us there. I’m going to start bringing in guests. Maybe Mark himself will join us, one, to answer all your questions about OTAs and avoiding corporate travel, crazy lunacy that we’re starting to see within those industries. And if you would be so kind, please go to your favorite podcast app, be it Stitcher, Spotify, Apple Music, whatever that’s called now, Apple Podcast, and leave us a review. Those help a ton. We want to get the message out there that Bigger podcast is preaching to more people. We want to get more people exposed to messages like Mark’s and Rob’s and the other BP influencers. So please, if you would go leave us a review, we would love you for it, as well as following us on our YouTube channel, which is growing as well. This has been a fantastic show, Rob. I want to give you any last words before we get out of here.

Rob:
HI just want to say, you called me an influencer, that’s the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me. I really appreciate it.

David:
You’re such a millennial that that would be the best compliment anyone could ever give you.

Rob:
I hope so. I don’t know. It depends on who you talk to.

David:
You are the millennial.

Rob:
That’s right.

David:
Are you old enough to remember that movie, Weird Science, where those nerds create this really hot girl in a lab and they fall in love with her?

Rob:
What year was that? I mean, I’m a 80s baby. I was born in ’89.

David:
Yeah, it’s this movie where these two really nerdy guys create a woman in a lab and she’s beautiful and then she falls in love with them, I think. Well that’s like Rob. If two people created a millennial, it would be him. He is the personification of how that looks. Well, Mark, I want to appreciate you for being here. And Rob, thank you for recommending Mark for the podcast. This was fantastic show, full of very practical, tactical advice that we don’t always get. So I want to thank you for that, Mark and I will let you get out of here. This is David Greene for Rob imperfect action [inaudible 01:14:15] Abasolo. [inaudible 01:14:17].

 

 

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In This Episode We Cover:

  • The danger of solely hosting your short-term rentals on online travel agencies
  • How so many hosts find themselves “held hostage” by guests and travel sites
  • Building your “guest avatar” and modifying your vacation rental to fit your ideal guest
  • Guest screening tips and how to safely rent your property on your own website
  • Underrated upgrades to make to your short-term rental that massively boost bookings
  • Effortlessly converting guests online travel stays and into direct bookings 
  • And So Much More!

Links from the Show

Books Mentioned in the Show:

Connect with Mark:

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Note By BiggerPockets: These are opinions written by the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions of BiggerPockets.