For businesses and individuals who need
top-notch copy and content marketing . . .
SANDY WALKER WRITES . . . a blog
top-notch copy and content marketing . . .
SANDY WALKER WRITES . . . a blog
Booking an excellent vacation rental can be tricky. This is especially the case if you’ve previously had a bad experience with an online vacation rental from Airbnb, VRBO, Booking.com or any of the vacation rental possible sites. It can also be daunting for first-time users wary of unwanted surprises. Following these tips will help you navigate wisely through the listings and make choosing a fabulous vacation rental easier.
Key Areas to Consider before You Book
Start your search broadly, and gradually narrow until you have the location(s) that meet your basic criteria.
Book your place as far in advance as possible, especially if you have limitations, you like lots of amenities, or you need a very specific location. You’ll have more options early since fewer places will already be booked. You’re also likely to find the places that offer easy access without the need to climb steps, or provide special amenities like complimentary breakfasts, or have a laundry facility.
Assume that the hosts mean what they say regarding their house rules. Despite our clearly-stated no-pet policy, we occasionally have someone ask us to make an exception. Our answer is always the same, but we hate to have to say what we’ve already said.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions before you book. Good hosts understand that you may need to know some details that their listing description or pictures didn’t capture. We’ve answered dozens of questions about how far our location is from a factory, night spot, or sporting venue. We’ve fielded questions about extra amenities we might provide. We would much rather field those questions before guests book with us than have them cancel their reservation.
Today's Call to Action
You Accept the CHallenge, Too!
If you've used vacation rental sites before, let me know if I missed anything. Would following these tips have helped you as a newbie?
If you're contemplating your first reservation on Airbnb or another vacation rental site, take the plunge! As you do, follow these tips and see if they help you book an excellent vacation rental your first time.
Out of Money and short on TIME. Wow! If that's not bad enough, yesterday we discovered that we will shortly say goodbye to Health, People en Español, and Parents. We soon won't be InStyle, EatingWell, or enjoying any Entertainment Weekly, either. Today's Content Marketing Challenge looks at a struggling industry.
An Industry in Decline
I hope it's evident that I'm talking about print magazines, not predicting apocalyptic changes. Yesterday's announcement by Dotdash Meredith CEO Neil Vogel was the latest in an industry that's declined significantly in only a few years. Several magazines, including Redbook, Money Magazine, Marie Claire, CookingLight, and O: The Oprah Magazine, have all recently ceased printing. Others, like TIME (which went from weekly to bi-weekly), Reader's Digest, Vogue, and Sunset, have reduced the number of issues per year rather than stop printing altogether. When the pandemic hit, Airbnb "temporarily" stopped printing its magazine and hasn't yet announced if it will resume publication.
I noticed when Money magazine went out of print. My husband and I had recently subscribed to Money and several other magazines in order to place them in our short-term rentals; we thought our Airbnb guests might appreciate them. Before the last issue went to print, the publisher notified us that, henceforth, Money would be available only in digital format. Our subscription was transferred to Kiplinger's Personal Finance.
The June/July 2019 issue of Money pictured at the top of this article was their final print issue. I kept it for nostalgia's sake. I stashed away the April 2019 issue of EatingWell because of its cover and its recipes with cauliflower--one of my favorite veggies. In light of yesterday's announcement, I'll continue to hang on to it.
If the print magazine industry continues its steady decline, I may frame both issues and hang them on the wall to remind myself--and future visitors--what a printed magazine looked like. Perhaps I should gather a few more and display them in the Airbnb units as a unique feature for our guests to enjoy.
More about this tomorrow.
Today's YACHT Call to Action
You Accept the CHallenge, Too!
If you're nostalgic and subscribe to any print magazines, I suggest keeping the current issues until you know that they aren't the end of an era.
As I mentioned in an earlier Content Challenge post, my husband and I listed an efficiency apartment on Airbnb almost 6 years ago. As hosts, we’ve discovered both pros and cons of utilizing Airbnb or another vacation rental platform. Through our contact with hundreds of guests, we’ve also learned what Airbnb guests appreciate. Today's Content (Marketing) Challenge shares those discoveries.
What Do You Appreciate As a Guest?
In our experience, Airbnb guests, and travelers who use other sites, appreciate things that enhance their stay and meet their expectations. If you travel regularly, you’ll probably be able to mentally check off several items before you read my list.
All three of our units sit on the same property as our home. So, we usually get to chat with our guests. We place a guest book in each unit, and we carefully read all of the feedback our guests leave on the Airbnb site. After combining all that feedback, we’ve determined that these factors are what our Airbnb guests value the most:
A Clean Place
Guests expect vacation rentals to be clean. We do our own cleaning and follow a regimen. We wash all the linens, bed pillows, and throw pillows every time. We disinfect the furniture and wipe down cabinets. The bathroom gets a thorough scrubbing, too. We do our best to ensure each unit is thoroughly cleaned for every guest.
Since some people have a very acute sense of smell, we ensure each unit smells clean, too. My favorite cleanser is my favorite because it cleans well and smells good.
We’re not perfect. A few times, we’ve missed the mark. When that happened, we apologized sincerely and improved the next time.
Comments about how clean our places are top the list of what our guests appreciate.
Remarks about how friendly my husband and I are weigh in as a close second. We don’t consider ourselves particularly outgoing or gregarious, but guests seem to. They appreciate being welcomed and like the fact that we are accessible if something goes wrong, but give them their space otherwise.
Surprisingly, some people who we didn’t meet face-to-face commented that we were friendly. They based their opinions solely on our text communications with them.
A Spot That Matches the Pictures and Description
Our first venture into online vacation rentals occurred several years ago when we booked a “secluded” cabin via VRBO for two nights. The listing was new to VRBO, and so were we, so we asked a couple of questions. Was the bathroom furnished with toilet paper? Was there reliable Wi-Fi? We were assured that both were available.
When we arrived at the “secluded” cabin, we discovered that it was 20 yards from the owner’s home and shared the same driveway. The scenic woodland pictures in the listing were obviously taken from the only side of the house adjacent to a clump of trees. There was no toilet paper in the bathroom, and the Wi-Fi didn’t work at all.
We were frustrated but gracious. We swept up sawdust we found in the corners and left things neater than we found them. Our reward? The owner kept our security deposit claiming that we had arrived with a dog. (Any dog he saw was a figment of his imagination.)
We determined not to surprise our guests like we were surprised. We update pictures if we change furnishings and change our listing descriptions when they need to be updated. Our guests appreciate the fact that our listings match their expectations.
Our guests occasionally comment on some of the little amenities they find. They appreciate the shampoo, conditioner, and disposable razors we provide. The hand-made coasters, classic books, well-stocked cupboards, and the bowl filled with snacks all receive kudos. The pitcher of filtered water pleases folks with an eye to sustainability.
We grow a small “Simon and Garfunkle herb garden” with parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme, in addition to mint and lavender. We keep a flock of hens in the backyard. The yard is also home to several fruit trees. Year-round I have something growing in a small greenhouse out back. Most of the time, we have at least one working beehive.
Additionally, when we installed solar panels, we added an EV charger for any guests driving an electric car. To date, we haven’t hosted any guests who needed one, but hope springs eternal.
Many of our guests comment about one or more of these features, especially folks who value the sustainability aspects of raising chickens, keeping bees, and gardening. We regularly have guests who visit our chickens, snip a slip of rosemary or mint, ask to peek into the greenhouse, or admire the beehive activity from a distance. Guests like these features that set our location apart from other suburban settings.
In a nutshell, here’s what guests appreciate:
Today's YACHT Call-to-Action
Here's today's content marketing, no-strings-attached CTA:
You Accept the CHallenge, Too!
If you host travelers on Airbnb or a similar site, does your experience agree with ours? Would you add any items to the list?
If you don’t host travelers, How do you serve the public or other clients? Could you list the features that matter to the people you serve? Would your list be based on information they provided or on your best guesses?
Happy Monday! I welcome your feedback.
My husband and I listed our first short-term rental (STR) unit--a tiny studio apartment--on Airbnb almost six years ago. Two years later, we added a second unit--a 2018 Gulf Stream Vintage Cruiser. Two years after that, we added another studio apartment. All three have been well received on the Airbnb platform.
As you'd expect from the fact that we've increased our number of listings, we have enjoyed our experience as hosts. The benefits have outweighed the difficulties, and we've learned a lot. If you're considering hosting on the Airbnb platform, this fifth content challenge post gives you an idea of the pros and cons you can expect.
Note: From what I have learned, these pros and cons are similar regardless of which STR or vacation-rental platform you choose. They vary in degree but exist for hosts on VRBO, HomeAway, Booking.com, or another platform.
Good News First -- The Pros of Airbnb Hosting
Here are the most significant benefits we've reaped while hosting on Airbnb:
Bad News Next--The Cons of Airbnb Hosting
Did you just hear a gentle "THUD?" That was the other shoe dropping. Here are the cons of hosting:
Dealing with a few stinkers. Some people are DIFFICULT to host. They look for something to complain about. They don't treat your things well. They do try to take a mile if you give them an inch. Cleaning up after these folks and repairing what they damaged is time-consuming, expensive, and discouraging. Thankfully, we've had to block only a few people like this from being able to book with us again.
Constantly needing to be available (or make arrangements for someone to cover.) Hosting on Airbnb, or any other vacation-rental site, means we are in the hospitality business. As such, we need to be available. Our places must always be clean and ready when the next guest arrives.
Things get tricky when:
Responding to the changing focus of the Airbnb platform. When we started hosting, Airbnb had the reputation of supporting its hosts. When issues arose, company representatives listened and followed through on the promises of support and financial backing it made to hosts when they listed their properties. That's changed significantly, thanks largely to COVID, which sent Airbnb stock plummeting and cost the company millions just in the first few weeks of the pandemic. Variants and uncertainty continue to plague Airbnb
To attract and reassure skittish travelers, Airbnb switched its focus. Now, company reps are hard to reach, and claims that appear to fit neatly into the coverage program are sometimes denied. Additionally, Airbnb has added an onerous cleaning protocol, even for hosts with excellent reviews for cleanliness. Hosts don't have to comply; if they don't, however, they risk having their listings removed from the site.
Airbnb uses the slogan, " You have full control of when and how you host," to attract potential hosts. Lately, that hasn't rung true.
We've benefitted from being Airbnb hosts, and plan to continue. For us, the pros outweigh the cons. As long as that is true, we will stay with the platform.
YACHT CTA for a Saturday
For today's content challenge, I struggled to come up with a YACHT that applies to everyone. Here are my thoughts:
You Accept the CHallenge, Too!
How would you answer these questions?
If you already have listings on Airbnb or another vacation rental platform:
So long until tomorrow.
We are continuing to accept guests.
The obvious question is whether or not we (or other hosts) who are continuing to host are doing so because we MUST keep hosting in order to survive financially. Airbnb income isn’t our only income, but it’s a substantial portion at this point. Staying “open” helps us financially. Several other factors influence our decision.
Our 3 units are all separated from our home.
Two of them are 1st-floor and 2nd-floor efficiency units in a 2-story detached garage. The 3rd is a camper. They are separate units with entrances separated from each other and from our home. The only shared space is the laundry room, which guests can simply avoid.
Our units are close to our home.
We don’t feel that they are SO close that they present a danger to us or to our guests; we can maintain social distancing. However, since they are close, we have easy access to our units if we need it. If something comes up, we are close by.
Having the units close allows us to handle the cleaning ourselves. We know that everything is cleaned and disinfected according to our standards and in accordance with Airbnb suggestions.
Our location is attractive to people who need to travel or to self-quarantine.
We are located 3 miles from an airport and within walking distance of a hospital and medical complex. People who must fly into Greenville-Spartanburg Airport can easily access our rental units. Medical personnel who want to separate from their family in order to protect them could do so.
We understand why other hosts aren’t.
Even if your location and rental situation mirror ours, you may have already voluntarily blocked your calendars for several months. You may have health issues that put you at risk. You may vehemently disagree with our reasoning. You may think we’re reckless. We accept that.
Each of us has to evaluate the situation and do what he or she thinks is best. Only hindsight is 20/20 vision. This is uncharted ground for all of us.
We are taking special precautions.
We have increased our cleaning regimen.
We are VERY careful with linens and pillows. We always wash the sheets, comforter and mattress pad. Now we wash throw pillows and replace bed pillows. Guests find 2 new pillows --still in the wrappers--on the bed when they arrive. They can bring their own pillow cases or use ours. When they leave, they take the pillows with them.
We run an ozone generator in each apartment after the guests leave. This isn’t the norm for us. We know these machines can be dangerous if used excessively or in unventilated areas. In this case, we think the generator is warranted. We run the ozone machine after the guests leave, and allow the unit to thoroughly ventilate before we clean.
We place the remote control for the TV and the heat/AC unit in plastic zip-top bags. When guests leave we replace the bags with new ones.
We clean and disinfect thoroughly. This was normal for us before COVID-19 arrived. Now we are especially careful. We use a mild bleach-water spray to disinfect knobs, handles, switch plates, etc. Guests also have access to disinfectant wipes (as long as we can get them.)
We limit face-to-face interaction with our guests.
We don’t chat with our guests like we used to. When we do, we maintain 6 feet or more of distance between us and them. It feels a bit unorthodox, but we’re adjusting.
For now, our plan is to continue hosting. Those plans might have to change. We’ll see.
Pricing is tricky, whether you're marketing hair dryers, deep fryers, robes for choirs, strings for lyres . . .or vacation properties for rent. A critical factor to remember when you're pricing your vacation rental units is that the "right" price for you is the price that lines up with your other goals.
You'll be able to determine the best price for your units when you can also answer questions like the ones below. The bullet points suggest areas to consider. They aren't meant to be exhaustive.
What's my compelling motivation for listing my property on Airbnb or another vacation rental site?
What's my occupancy goal?
If increased competition drives price down, will I:
These questions don't cover all the ramifications of price. Nor can they be entirely isolated from each other. But formulating answers for each of them will drive intentional Airbnb pricing decisions, and allow you to be proactive rather than reactive.
I'm Sandy . . .
I write crisp, accurate, engaging copy and content marketing for B2B and B2C clients. Calling on degrees in marketing and accounting combined with over 20 years of teaching experience, I write for clients that represent industries as diverse as SaaS, woodcarving tools, private education, life transitions, accounting advisory services, and residential and commercial real estate.