It is a perennial question for vacation property owners: how can I increase my low-season bookings?
While seasonal fluctuations are part of the industry, this marketing issue does not have to cause anxiety. There are several ways to increase your low season bookings to balance out your yearly average.
1. Find your low season
Every location has high season and low season, but there is more to it than that. Low season is generally the time when there is less demand for your properties but more demand for lower rates. Even so, low season can still be profitable if you focus on the days that there still is a demand, such as weekends.
Between high season and low season is what is called the shoulder season. This is the time between the high and low seasons, when rates are relatively low, though not as low as the off season. The shoulder season often occurs during Spring and Fall. Shoulder season can be profitable because, although it is not the high season, your rates are still generally higher than the low season, thus offering a boost in profits during this slow time. Be sure to also raise your rates for individual days or weekends when there are special events, like races, concerts, or festivals. These little pockets of business can boost your low season bottom line.
2. Identify your low season guests.
Who are your ideal guests? Are they a family of five on a drive from the East Coast? Are they colleagues on a business retreat? You probably have the perfect rental in mind during the high season, but in order to profit during low season, you may have to change your expectations.
For example, a low season guest might be a group of old college buddies having a reunion, or a married couple who want to rent out an entire villa, but only pay a two-bedroom rate. You may have to make some concessions in order to keep revenue flowing.
Review your data and see who tends to rent during the low season. If these clients are not your vision of the ideal rental, then it is time to adapt your strategy, which brings us to the next point.
3. Adapt your pricing.
It is inevitable that you will have to generally lower your prices during the low season to guarantee a continuing revenue. Even so, there are times during the low season when the demand is up. In those cases, you should raise your prices. It is the old law of supply and demand: if there is a music festival on a certain weekend during the off season, then charge high rates that weekend, then lower them again once the festival is over.
One suggestion to decide how and when rates should fluctuate during the low season is to do some research on competitors’ websites, such as those of HomeAway, Flipkey and Airbnb. Choose five rentals and see how their pricing varies throughout the season. Also check the websites of larger hotels, as they tend to have very good pricing analysis systems. Enter various dates into their booking systems and see what they are doing. Are they lowering their rates during off-peak times? If so, how much are they lowering them? 30%? 40%? How much do they raise them back up during high-demand weekends, for example? Do some research and adapt your pricing model to fit patterns that have proven to be successful.
4. Lower your minimum-stay policy.
During the high season, a minimum-stay rule makes sense. If, for example, you require a minimum rental of seven days, it not only helps to guarantee that you remain booked, but it also increases revenue. What happens, however, when you simply cannot find clients who are willing to rent for an entire week during the low season? In this case, it makes sense to bend your rules.
What if you had a three-day minimum stay during the off season? This would accommodate the more likely weekend renters, and still keep you reasonably booked. Willingness to flex your high-season policies can increase revenue in the low season.
5. Make weekdays more attractive.
Weekend rentals during the low season may remain relatively steady, but what about those weekdays when most people are working rather than vacationing? You obviously do not want your rental properties sitting empty, so what can you do to fill up some of those weekdays and offset the low season losses?
One idea is to offer weekday specials. For example, you might offer three-night rentals for the price of two. It may not be ideal, but it is much better than no income. This can also act as a form of upselling. If guests rent three nights, for example, offer them a fourth night at a discount.
6. Close some bedrooms.
It is far more likely during the off season to see renters in small groups rather than large groups. The problem, though, is that smaller groups do not want to pay to rent an entire large villa. Why not close off some bedrooms, and rent the property as a smaller one? This will not only attract smaller groups and thus maintain revenue, but it will also lower the wear and tear of the closed bedrooms and thus retain greater property value.
7. Create targeted packages.
What better way to attract renters who may not have been planning to rent, than to offer packages attractive to their demographics? For example, if you offer a foodie package, include a voucher for a free meal at a local restaurant, and print a slick brochure featuring a photo of people dining. Or, if it is a festival weekend, offer a free ticket or two to the festival. This will attract guests who may not have been thinking of renting in the first place.
8. Add a hot tub. No, really!
Adding amenities can make a rental property more attractive, especially to certain demographics. While a hot tub is not the only possibility, a 2014 TripAdvisor study actually lists hot tubs as one of the top five luxury amenities that attract travelers.
Do you often rent to couples on a romantic getaway? Offering a hot tub is almost guaranteed to increase the perceived value of your property.
9. Contact previous guests.
Maintaining low season rentals requires marketing of course. What better place to start than previous guests? They already know you; they know what the property is like; they know your pricing; and assuming that you run a quality operation, they most likely enjoyed the experience. Moreover, you already have their email addresses and contact information.
Studies have shown that happy former clients offer the best chances of future business. Contacting previous guests is much more efficient than cold marketing, so get on the phone or on the computer and aggressively pitch your low season promotions. You will definitely see a high conversion rate.
10. Offer referral incentives to previous guests.
Your former guests enjoyed their stay. They likely told their friends, family, and colleagues about the lovely time they had. It is only good business, then, to leverage them for referrals. They are already doing word-of-mouth advertising for you, so it should not be difficult to take that to the level of acquiring new clientele.
What would make it worth it to previous guests, to encourage their friends to rent from you? A nice bottle of Champagne? A discount for a future rental? A cash bonus? Figure out what will motivate them, and then press them for referrals.
11. Contact potential guests who decided not to book.
For every guest who booked a stay in your rental property, there are several who investigated the offer, but who decided not to book for various reasons. By reaching out to these potential clients, you can encourage them to take that last step, or try to remove whatever obstacle they may have.
For example, what if they wanted to rent, but your bookings were full? Then call them and tell them about openings you have during the low season. What if they were going to rent, but something happened in their life to prevent them? Call them and see if that obstacle or situation has changed, and encourage them to reconsider. After all, they wanted to rent from you in the first place.
12. Update your listings.
Do you advertise your rentals through companies such as HomeAway, Airbnb and Flipkey? Then be sure to update your listings for the low season! This simple act will not only bump your rentals higher in the queue, but it will also set you apart from others, who tend to ignore their low season marketing.
Change your photos to show what you have to offer during the low season and shoulder season. What might attract a guest to your rental property? Show that attraction in a photo. Mention your discounted rates. Think of some activities that might attract different sorts of guests. For example, if you rent beautiful beachfront property, but that beach is not so attractive during the winter, what else can guests do in your town? Mention those other activities and promote them.
13. Advertise to niche markets.
The low season gives you time to test new booking channels. If you are already on the major sites, then try out niche vacation rental websites.
For instance, have a look at PetVR.com if you own a pet-friendly vacation rental. If your place is great for triathletes (either to compete or to train), check out Tri Properties. If you are in a gay-friendly location, then you may want to list on MisterBnb. You never know how large an audience you can reach with these niche markets, and by doing so, you are increasing the perceived value of your property.
14. Make a blog.
If you do not already have your own website for your properties, then you should make one immediately. Furthermore, if you do not keep up a regular blog on your website, then you should start doing so.
Blogs make things personal, and you can write blog posts that highlight your specials. One good idea is making “listicles”, or articles that are formatted into lists. These are popular formats for social media, as they offer lots of information in a condensed, easily-digestible version. Speaking of social media, be sure to promote your blog and your rental properties in general on sites like Facebook.
15. Contact local event organizers.
Whether your town has huge, famous musical festivals, or smaller, more niche events, be sure to capitalize on them. Contact the organizers of these events and tell them that you hope to promote their events among your guest pool. They will probably agree to list your rentals on their event promotion materials, creating a mutually-beneficial situation.
Actively trying these strategies can increase your low season revenue. Rather than looking at the off season as a loss or a write-off, view it as an opportunity to use your creativity and ambition to rent to non-traditional guests. Go the extra mile and think outside of the box, and you might be surprised at the great results you get.