Vacation Rental Marketing Makeover Session 1.8: Learning Traveler Preferences 

 May 19, 2014

By  Matt Landau

If you haven’t heard, I am working to totally makeover one lucky vacation rental owner’s marketing portfolio live (and step-by-step) for my subscribers to follow. You can read all the prior posts here.

Screen Shot 2014-05-19 at 10.20.35 AMWhy predict something when we can test?

Why guess when we can know?

In a recent post titled The ONLY Way To Find Out Precisely What Vacation Rental Guests Want, the comments section blew up with all kinds of great feedback…

“I like how the 4 questions you ask direct guests toward a more positive and helpful answer track,” said one owner.

“These guests are paying good money to stay in my place,” said another. “While I don’t ‘love’ to hear negative comments, any improvement I’ve made is as a result (usually) of a constructive criticism.”

And “Big ears produce more valuable feedback than a big mouth every time….so asking the right questions is key.”

For many owners and managers, accepting feedback or criticism is a massive learning hurdle to overcome!

So when it comes to her Las Vegas villa, I wanted to share with Amy Firmani a market research tool that we can use to accelerate this process.


The Best Way To Solicit Feedback


Most of us don’t have access to big focus groups or market research budgets…

So we need to utilize smarter tools to optimize our work.

One such tool is called Zipinion, which allows you to get 100 opinions on just about any type of image or text comparison.

Here are some previous posts where I’ve used Zipinion effectively:

> 71% Of Guests Want Floorplans In Image Galleries According To Zipinion

> 59% Of Travelers Would ‘Book Now’ In Exchange For Discount

> 74% Of Vacation Rental Travelers “Google” You Before Booking

The beauty of little experiments with Zipinion is that you can test your hypotheses.

Sure, you could use a dinner table discussion or a friendly phone call to ask friends for feedback. But Zipinion speeds up the collection of trustworthy info…

And for Amy Firmani, I decided to use Zipinion to answer a few burning questions we had with regards to her marketing campaign (and ultimately, her brand new website as well).


3 Impactful VR Marketing Experiments


Why predict something when we can test?

Why guess when we can know?

Here were three of the polls I ran for Amy’s rental that generated 100 responses each (in a little under 1 hour)…


Poll #1) How Can Amy’s VRBO Listing Stand Out?


The first little test was to compare Amy’s listing up against her VRBO competition…

I thought it would be super helpful to show a screenshot of the top 4 results for Bermuda Springs, and ask people which listing they would pick first (and why).

Screen Shot 2014-05-18 at 10.04.45 AM

We got tons of feedback (the large majority) of people choosing Amy’s listing (the first one), citing reasons like “it has the most reviews” and “range of prices” and “it’s simply number one!”

Of course this is all great reaffirmation for the work Christine Anderson did in Session 1.1: Titles & Descriptions.

But what I was really interested in those who preferred other listings. They cited reasons like:

> Listing #3 because it has the only photo of an interior and it caught my attention

> Listing #2 simply because I want to know what an $11k vacation rental looks like

> Listing #3 because it’s the cheapest (I’m a thrifty renter) and it’s closest to the Vegas Strip

> Listing #3 has the best price and best rating combination

> Listing #2 because it has a map pinpoint

Using this kind of feedback can help Amy inject a detail or component that she may not have thought about otherwise (such as the map pinpoint or the pricing).


Poll #2) Which Photo Should Be Amy’s Featured Image?


In this poll, I shared the two (what I considered to be BEST) photos from the brilliant Cameron Carothers’ Session 1.4: Professional Photographs (one of the back pool area and one of the front street view) and asked pollsters “Which image grabs your attention first?”

Screen Shot 2014-05-18 at 2.24.12 PM

Two thirds of people said they preferred image #1, citing reasons like:

> It shows the area in which you’d relax and enjoy yourself: after all, that is what I go on vacation looking for. Does it really matter what the house looks like from the street?

> Because it shows me a taste of paradise compared to a mere front lawn.

> Image #1 looks like paradise whereas the other one looks like…a nice house.

> l prefer the view of the patio and furniture. Why? Because I can see myself lounging there…the pure the perfect vacation escapade!

> Image 1 grabs my attention more as the morning sun rays are striking feature with the reflection off the pool near the resort. Beautiful scene, eye catching and would be the most optimal photo for the ad too. (Matt’s Note: I love how this person assumed Amy’s rental was a resort!)

This gives Amy great insight on which photo is more eye-catching.

She can even take the winner of this poll (image #1) and pit it against a new image of the pool to see which one of those comes out on top.

Constant upward progression!


Poll #3) Should owners pressure guests to get on the phone?


In Makeover Session 1.2: Correspondence, Amy revealed that getting guests on the phone was working really well for her.

But she was also weary that some percentage of people didn’t really want to talk on the phone (they just wanted to book!!!).

So we asked 100 people, “When looking to reserve a vacation rental for your family, do you a) prefer to speak with the owner/manager over the phone or b) prefer to limit communications to email (no phone)?”

And since this applies to so many of us, I’ve decided to publish the extended results for anyone who shares this project using the content lock below…

[wpsharely id=”11160″]

Screen Shot 2014-05-19 at 9.14.46 AM

The funny thing is that it was split almost right down the middle (53% choosing the phone call and 47% choosing only email) which actually says a lot about where to go from here…

Travelers on both sides of the coin voiced their preferences:

> I feel like more context can be given over the phone and I can explain my needs better (and it’s quicker) than email. Example: it will be easier in the phone conversation to inquire about how easy is it to stay a few extra days or is that problematic.

> I like to know whom I’m speaking to, if they are an honest and reliable person to rent from.

> I prefer to talk on the phone because I can get a better sense of what I’m getting myself into that way. You can tell a lot about a property from how the owner talks.

> I think it’s important to know whether the other person is real or not, and if they are willing to communicate directly. This tells me that they don’t have anything to hide and they’re confident in whatever it is they’re offering.

> I always prefer to know the personality of the person, which helps me get a feel for the place. A friendly phone conversation can often strike a deal, and/or show honesty about the location.

> I prefer email because I can do it at any time of the day. I like to do things late at night outside of business hours. When I email questions late night and receive answers back the next morning, it works just fine.

> I hate when vacation rental owners try to PUSH something on me. Or manipulate me by using my emotions. If I can keep it to email, it eliminates that part of it (I think)

> I’m really shy so I find it difficult talking on the phone.

> I don’t like having someone give me a sales pitch over the phone. Generally, that’s what a call degrades to. If I don’t have a specific question or request, I don’t need a phone call.

> I prefer email because it presents a record or documentation of the information exchanged such as price and dates availability. Plus, my questions can be much better thought-out. Email leaves a history you can easily come back to. I always want the details in writing.

> I stick with just email because it acts as written proof if anything goes wrong

So while these results aren’t really enough to drive Amy one way or another, it’s incredibly helpful to have peaked under the hood and know where both types of travelers are coming from…

Heck, Amy can even use some of that verbiage in her marketing.

She can add to her emails, “Wanna speak to Amy and truly know who you’re renting from? Call XXX-XXX-XXXX”

Or, “Do you have special needs? Give Amy a call at XXX-XXX-XXXX.”[/wpsharely]




As you can tell, the ability to investigate what others think about your vacation rental is just as important (if not moreso) than what you think of it yourself.

Using tools like Zipinion, or even if you’re artfully canvassing your current/past guests or friends and family, can do amazing things for the pinpoint accuracy of your vacation rental marketing:

Why predict something when we can test?

Why guess when we can know?

Matt Landau

Matt Landau is the Founder of the VRMB and the Inner Circle, two online resources dedicated to helping vacation rental owners and managers generate more bookings.

  1. I did not know you were going to do this and I am (again) very intrigued by this….the information gathered is very helpful. I am going to think about these responses before I make any changes!

  2. Hi Matt. Great article and fantastic use case for Zipinion. We now have over 500 vacation rental owners who use Zipinion to maximize their listings. As a thank you, we would like to offer your readers a 20% discount on any package purchased before July 1. Use promocode VRMB20

  3. Great information as always, Matt! I’ve used Zipinion many times now. Love it!

    One poll: Would you like to meet/talk with the owner before checking in?
    1/3 No way!
    1/3 It would be nice but not necessary
    1/3 Absolutely!
    Another poll: Would it be weird, cool or inconsequential to have live chickens at a Vacation Rental you are staying at?
    Just under 3/4 said very cool!
    A very small percentage said too weird for them.

    The folks Zipinion are awesome.
    I urge everyone to try it! Especially at this rate. You won’t be disappointed.

    I would love for folks to share what they find out with their polls.


    1. The crafting of polls on Zipinion is certainly an art too. I’d recommend making your question as simple and “black and white” as possible. I’d also recommend building your question based on some particular actionable technique. Which is to say, instead of asking “which headline do you like more?” try asking “what words pop out to you from this headline” so you can then take those words and merge them all together.

  4. I’ve noticed that only about 30% of inquiries include their phone number, which is in line w/ Lianna’s poll results. 9/10 inquiries I call book right away. If they leave a number, they appreciate the call. I don’t have to give them any kind of sales pitch whatsoever. They just ask a few questions, and are usually so surprised, and glad that I made the effort to call, they just book it.

    1. I do that for premium leads (the ones who are gonna spend $1,000+). For other leads, I just don’t have the time to call them all. In fact, lately I’ve been really lazy and if/when I miss their call, I’ll forget to call them back :/

      1. We implemented a new policy for our properties. If there is a phone, we call. If we get voicemail, we leave a message, send an email, and follow up with a phone call in a reasonable amount of time. We book an additional 10-15% just from follow-up calls. Most travellers inquire at a bunch of properties, and can’t remember one from another. Most of our bookings are because of our quick response. If we get a call during business hours, we answer or call back right away. We answer calls 9am – 9pm – 7 days a week. We answer emails from 8am – 9pm – 7 days a week. We keep a log of inquiries, so we can follow up, and are thanked for it by the traveler. We even do co-op style reservations for other peoples homes in the Keys. We now book up 80-98%. The trick is a quick response time, calling when possible and FOLLOWING UP.

        1. That 10-15% is what my father would call “free money.” The potential income many of us leave sitting on the table.

  5. More gold in this post Matt, thank you yet again.

    I call each of my enquiring guests. And it is usually within 10 minutes of them first placing the enquiry, having sent them an informative email reply.

    My prime objective is to be first in their headspace, after what is often a confusing time for them searching for the best place to stay.

    I always say ‘this is a courtesy call in case we can help answer any questions you might have about our property or the area.’. I never try to sell. The response is overwhelmingly positive. Often folks say ‘thank you so much for calling, and so quickly, I really appreciate it.’

    I also have a follow up email if there is no answer to the telephone call, and a final email.
    I convert most of my incoming email enquiries, typically 50-60%.

    There may be cultural differences. Most of my customers are Australians. I call overseas enquirers too, being careful of time differences. I found some Asian customers are a bit uncomfortable with speaking English, so I use email instead.

    Amy is one lucky lady having you to help her on the case Matt.

    Rex Brown

  6. Excellent idea on the verbiage to add to the listing, Matt! I am with Amy in that I can book a guest more frequently if I can talk to them. And am with Rex in that I call as soon as possible if they leave their phone number. And I am like you in that I get a little lazy if it is not an ideal guest.

  7. Hi Matt, great strategies! Over time I discovered it’s a bad idea to rely on my own perspective. I often find myself going against the majority of the opinions. Running polls and a/b tests are remarkable ways to get a sense of what people actually want and make business decisions wiser.

  8. Hey Matt,

    Reading your blog for some time already. What do you think does it all work for some smaller countries in Europe? Such as Estonia. We have 15 apartments in Old Town of capital of Estonia. Doing some notes and thinking, it is not the same thing, right?

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