After renting holiday cottages in the UK for over 13 years, one thing I’ve learned over the course of time is how different every year is with regard to the pattern in which bookings are made. Some years you’re heading towards Spring with just a handful of peak weeks booked, worrying about where the bookings will come from. Other years the bookings come flying in as soon as the Christmas decorations are down or in some cases even put up!
The past couple of years have been exceptionally ‘last minute’ with many bookings being made just a few weeks before arrival or more often than not, only days. Guests wanting to arrive on any day of the week with only a couple of nights to enjoy some time away. For sure, short breaks can be lucrative if you manage to achieve back to back bookings but they certainly keep us owners on our toes working harder than ever to handle the additional enquiries, bookings and extra changeovers.
But is all that about to change?
For a market that is so last minute and short break driven, there seems to be a good level of enquiries coming through for not only the days and weeks ahead but also the summer months of 2016.
The last minute nature of the business is certainly here to stay, as is the popularity of short breaks in the UK. However, with the potential for securing a good level of forward bookings before the year comes to a close, 2016 has the makings of being a promising year for the UK holiday rental market.
So what can you do to clinch your fair share of early bookings?
There’s no question that the success of a holiday rental property is influenced by major factors such as location, property desirability and facilities offered. But some of the success can also be attributed to pure effort and efficiency of marketing. It certainly pays off to have a broad level of advertising on a number of reputable holiday rental websites but it’s not just about the number of sites you advertise on. It’s every bit as much about how proactive you are and how efficiently you manage your adverts and use the facilities available to turn lookers into bookers.
Here are some suggestions to help you get the most out of your advertising and set yourself up for the year ahead:
- Update your prices – Start thinking about 2016 now and if you haven’t already, set your prices and make sure they are published on all of your adverts and marketing material. Not knowing the price is a big turnoff for potential bookers and you don’t want to get caught on the hop and end up undercharging for a peak week. If you offer short breaks and flexible changeovers, make sure your adverts state it clearly and provide prices.
- Attract early bookings with a discount – Consider promoting an ‘early bird’ discount to encourage people to book in advance. Maybe you’re happy to handle bookings at very short notice but for many of us, there’s a comfort element in knowing you already have a few weeks booked in advance. Success also breeds success and when your calendar is showing a good level of bookings, your property often becomes more desirable which in itself can result in more bookings (and the confidence to increase your prices slightly and claw back any initial money lost by offering early bird discounts)!
- Shout about your facilities – Take the time to review your advert and make sure any new facilities are mentioned and people know what they are getting for their money. It’s always nice to hold back the odd little surprise for when guests arrive but don’t undersell your property and make sure potential bookers know what is included in the price (everyone wants value for money!).
- Keep up with the competition – Spend time finding out what your competitors are providing (including reviewing their prices and facilities) to ensure your ‘offering’ is correctly pitched and desirable. It will also give you the chance to review how they are marketing their property and identify any opportunities you may have forgotten to promote such as local attractions, events and film sets that may entice star struck tourists (set-jetting is a major pull for tourism!).
- Photos for all seasons – Make sure you have a good mix of photos that will appeal to not only those looking for a winter break but also forward bookers wanting to be inspired by what they will see in the spring and summer months. There’s lots of good photos tips here.
- Use local events and festivals to pull in the punters – Do your research and find out the dates for popular 2016 events and make sure they are mentioned in your adverts. It’s also worth contacting the events coordinators (and also wedding venues) to see if they have the facility to promote your accommodation.
- Entice previous guests back – Email guests who have previously stayed nice and early before they book elsewhere and consider offering a loyalty discount to encourage them to return again. These tips should help you get repeat bookings.
- Let previous guests help to sell your property – One of the first things I do when I get to a cottage is read the guest book comments. Everyone loves them so why not photograph yours and share them with potential bookers. It’s your opportunity to show off comments you’re proud of (just make sure you remove all identifiable info such as address from the photos to protect guest privacy).
- Take advanced short break bookings in peak – Traditionally owners have taken short breaks on a last minute basis or out of peak season, but many are now finding it viable to offer them all year round. There is of course the risk that your weekends will be booked and your week days will be left empty during peak, but very often it’s possible to achieve back to back bookings at a higher yield. Plus people are often prepared to pay a premium during the peak season, particularly if they are planning ahead and attending an event such as a wedding.
Time restraints can often be an issue when you manage your own rental but now the mad chase of the peak months has passed, it really is worth investing some extra time in fine tuning your adverts and polishing your marketing strategy. Particularly if you want to ensure 2016 gets off to a flying start!