I could have lost $25,000.
That was the thought I had after getting off the phone with a big online travel agency (OTA) that I was using for my property. It was 2019, just before the new year. I had a couple of guests reaching out to me because they were looking to book my property for their upcoming New Year celebration. For some reason, the days were blocked on the calendar, and I couldn’t get them unblocked.
I got on the phone with a support representative and she told me that because New Year celebrations are usually big parties, the company had decided to block off those dates, and they could not be unblocked.
It was just something the OTA decided to do, and I had no control over it. I was out about to lose $1,000 from those unbooked days. In this current year, we’re building 25 short-term rental properties. Imagine if I was operating 25 properties back then. I could have lost $25,000!
That experience got me thinking about how I can build my direct booking business. Direct booking is when a guest comes directly to you to book instead of going through a site like Airbnb or VRBO.
I didn’t like that I had put my blood, sweat, and tears into building my properties only to give another company practically complete control over my business.
Below, I explain exactly how I plan to decrease my dependence on the OTAs while at the same time increasing my profits on properties.
How to Capture Guest Info for Remarketing
There are many routes you can go when it comes to developing a strategy to bring guests to your property outside of the traditional methods.
My favorite technique is using a tool called StayFi. StayFi is a service that provides a small device that plugs into the back of your property’s router, which allows you to establish a landing page when guests log in.
It’s the same thing you see when you log into public WiFi spots. Essentially any guest that stays at your property has to log into the WiFi using their email address.
This does two things. One, it protects you if a guest is doing something sketchy on your internet. Two, it captures their email so you can remarket to them later in the year. I currently have StayFi at all of my properties. It truly has become a pillar of my business.
Through their website, StayFi also has a service that allows you to establish email marketing campaigns with templates. This way, a couple of months before holidays or big events, you can send a simple email to your past guests reminding them of your property and redirecting them to your website. This way, they can book directly through you, and you have a completely self-sustaining business. Now you may be saying, “Alex, I have no idea how to set up a website to do something like that.” Don’t worry, I will discuss a simple solution later in the article that solves that problem.
Another thing that you also might be asking is if it’s illegal to do this and if it can you get in trouble with Airbnb or VRBO. You can’t try to take someone off the platform who is initially looking to book your property. That’s not allowed. However, there is nothing wrong with having the guest book a stay with you through an OTA, capturing their contact info with StayFi, then remarketing to them to stay with you again directly.
Before I go on, I want to say that I have nothing against sites like Airbnb or VRBO. I do believe they have a place in your business. I look at them as more of marketing channels for your property than places where my business exclusively lives. You can look at StayFi as another marketing channel.
Create a Direct Booking Website
With the guest information capture and email marketing pieces solved, the next step is redirecting leads to a custom website where they can book the way hotels have it set up.
Let me be the first person to say I am not that techy. I understand simple things about how to automate my business through online short-term rental tools, but I could not begin to tell you where to start if I had to build a website from scratch that would integrate with my other management tools.
So when I went out to search for the solution, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that a handful of companies can build a site like this. That’s when I came across Boostly.
Boostly is a company run by my good friend, Mark Simpson. They build custom-branded sites that are optimized for short-term rental bookings. Not only can they build your direct booking site, but they also offer training on how to get more direct bookings. It’s truly a short-term rental operator’s dream. They have helped over 100,000 hospitality owners and property managers worldwide.
Bonus Tactic: Outbound Marketing
One of my favorite tactics to increase direct bookings outside of StayFi is reaching out to local wedding planners and event venues in your area. I simply search for wedding planners online nearby and reach out to them. I mention my property and tell them it would be a way better option for guests traveling to the city than a dull hotel room. If you have a site already built, you can direct them straight to your direct booking site.
If weddings aren’t huge in your area, I’d ask yourself what events in your city draw travelers. There are always event organizers facilitating lodging for events. Get in contact with them and show your property.
In conclusion, you should always be thinking about how to expand your business.
Online travel agencies should be looked at as another marketing channel for your property. They shouldn’t be the sole source of guests. Being able to control your guests and have complete control over your business is essential.
Using tools like StayFi to capture your guest’s contact info and remarketing to them is key. Sending them to your own site that you control is what will set your short-term rental business apart and help you sleep better at night. I hope this has helped you get some gears turning and expanded your world beyond Airbnb and VRBO.
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Note By BiggerPockets: These are opinions written by the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions of BiggerPockets.