Great photos? Check. Enticing description? Check. “Wow” reviews? Check. Competitive rates? Check.
And yet you still face “The Case of the Disappearing Guest.”
That is: you have a promising early exchange with a potential guest, the ball seems to be steadily rolling toward a booking, and then they simply vanish—never to be heard from again, no matter how many follow-ups you send.
With all these checkmarks working to your advantage, what the heck happened?
In my 20+ years as a vacation rental guest, I’ve been through the inquiry process many times…from the other side of the potential transaction. Allow me to be your case study.
In the below article I’m going to share with you a few of my most memorable booking experiences, and why they’ve stuck with me. (These are real-life examples, but I’ll leave out names to respect the privacy of the owners.)
In The Bookings Race, the Hare Usually Wins
We vacationed in Sandbridge, VA in the summer of 2013. We didn’t want to stay in Virginia Beach (too busy) and OBX was booked. I luckily struck on Sandbridge, a quiet community nestled between Virginia Beach and OBX. Perfect!
I searched, sent out multiple inquiries, and then sat back for the waiting game. Except this time was different. Before I’d even sent out my final inquiry I received a response from a local property manager. It wasn’t the most detailed and personal of responses, but it had one major asset: it was rapid!
Guess what? We booked her place.
When it comes to vacation rentals, ignore the “slow and steady” argument, as well as any advice that tells you to avoid the immediate response for fear of “coming on too strong.” In the race to convert a guest inquiry, the speed of response is probably the biggest factor in locking down a booking. And the easiest, too.
How fast should you respond? As fast as possible, really.
After all, the modern vacation rental guest is generally always “on,” and always ready to book. Especially the millennial generation, who were raised on instant access and fast communication. If you can manage to respond in less than 2-3 hours, then you’re right up there with the best of them (within reason, of course – you do have to sleep!).
Your Guests Have iPhones – Call Them!
It’s the age of the millennial guest, I know. But many of us gadget-crazed guests do sometimes use the phone for its traditional use!
Case in point – I was headed to Sanibel, FL last year with my family. I sent out some inquiries and received a call from an owner who wanted to know if I had any questions about the property.
I confess; I was a little taken aback. I didn’t expect a call. But after 10 seconds of adjusting and composing, I settled in for a great chat, and 5 minutes later I’d booked a stay at his 2-bedroom condo. Afterward, I received responses via email from a few other owners. But they’d already lost out to our old-fashioned friend…the humble telephone!
Equally impressive was the phone call I received from the same owner on our first morning at the condo, just to see how things were going. This is an owner who clearly cares about the entire guest experience. Cynics may suggest the owner was somehow intrusive or snooping, but I felt only positive vibes!
(As a related aside… although I’ve never received a video response to an inquiry, I have seen many examples used by owners over at Matt Landau’s Inner Circle. Highly personal and certainly trust-fostering…a great mode of replying!)
You’re Way Cooler Than Any Guide Book
My family is taking a trip this summer to Daufuskie Island, SC. This wasn’t our original plan; I’d been looking at Hilton Head Island, but an intrepid owner sold me on Daufuskie.
If you know Daufuskie, you’ll know there are no grocery stores, and you can’t drive to the island – it’s boat transfer only. Presented with a few logistical challenges, we started to wonder if Hilton Head might be the less-stressful choice. Right on cue, the owner in Daufuskie alleviated our fears with her expertise. From boat transfer choices, to online grocery shopping options—she covered it all.
Had it not been for this owner on Daufuskie, we would almost certainly have favored the easier route of Hilton Head. And on top of that, she didn’t just give functional information; she also gave us a list of local hangouts, and even a couple of local cooks who will bring prepared food right to our rental.
No bookstore guidebook can match this kind of personal knowledge. They almost always lack suggestions for the “Mom & Pop” places that us modern guests like to frequent. After all, we’re looking for that one-off local experience to remind us where we are in the world. It stems from the same value base that led us to stay in a vacation rental in the first place!
All of this is even more relevant when you consider the person tasked with finding and reserving the vacation rental. He or she has the added pressure of the group to find the perfect stay for everyone. So lend that harried person a hand, and differentiate yourself in the process!
Personalize Your Communications
As I said, those of us looking at vacation rentals over more traditional lodging are often searching for a more personal way to travel. Yes, price is important, but it’s very often a unique experience that guests are after. You can only stay in so many essentially identical places before you crave something a little different.
Use this personal angle to your advantage in all your guest communications. For example, if your potential guest mentions or marks that they have 2 kids, elaborate on your property’s kid-friendly features in your response. Something like:
We’re delighted to confirm that our villa is available for your chosen dates at the price of x.
I notice that you have two kids traveling with you. We’ve spent many happy vacations here with our own children, and we’ve got lots of amenities to keep them entertained! From the large rear garden and heated pool, to the cart of beach gear that we provide to all our guests, to the games room complete with pool table and foosball….”
I’ve seen so many inquiry responses that simply tell me the property is available. When I find a personal touch—something that shows the owner has thought about me, personally—I will pay attention, and more often than not, close the whole thing with a booking.
No more “Case of the Disappearing Guest”!
Andy McNulty is Co-Founder of Guest Hook, the web’s first vacation rental copywriting agency, and Touch Stay, a digital welcome book to help you create great guest experiences through modern technology. Having grown up on vacation rentals, he is passionate about the industry and believes its greatest asset is the personal, 1-to-1 approaches of owners and property managers.