This post by Nancy McAleer of AMI Home Rental is designed to better connect with your guests ahead of arrival. Nancy is also the Co-Founder of Florida Rental By Owners an online vacation rental listing website, designed to allow owners and managers full control advertising of their properties without the fees associated with 'Big Box' style OTAs.
In the past 5-years, I’ve seen a huge shift in the vacation rental industry. Guests are expecting more and more out of a vacation rental reservation. I call it "the Ritz-Carlton effect." Gone are the days of a guest thinking a vacation rental is great because it simply offers bath towels and linens. As hosts, this gives us no option but to ramp it up. Guests are searching for rentals that have over and above the basics. This is what lead me to create one of my most successful marketing campaigns based on nurturing the guest before they check-in.
Why Does This Campaign Work?
I recently read a popular study aimed at obtaining insight into the association between vacations and happiness. The study[1. Vacationers Happier, but Most not Happier After a Holiday by Jeroen Nawijn, Miquelle A. Marchand, Ruut Veenhoven Ad J. Vingerhoets] discovered that vacationers are happiest before going on vacation and are on a “happiness high” so to speak up to about 8 weeks after they returned home. The following Incoming Guest Nurture campaign runs throughout this time frame to take advantage of and physiologically associate my vacation rentals along with this “Happiness Vacation High.”
It’s Easy But It Does Take Time to Create
The Incoming Guest Marketing Campaign can be created in any format you wish, using any different type of app or touch points relative to your target client. I choose to send my guests 3 warm-up newsletters with clickable information as well as call them on the phone the day of check-in to ensure they are all set for their vacation. This does require an actual human to call not a pre-programmed automated text. The reason I do call the guest directly on the phone is to start a one-on-one relationship with them. This increases their affinity to me, increases their respect of my home contents and increases the opportunity to manage guest issues quickly, like maintenance items/damages from previous renters.
Matt's Note: I got to experience this "Nurture" sequence first hand when we featured Nancy's property on A Sense of Place: Anna Maria Island. It definitely makes a difference.
The Incoming Guest Nurture Sequence
3 Emails + A Human Phone Call
After the guest departs I have another Post Stay Campaign that I run that’s geared towards getting guest reviews and solidifying repeat bookings, but that’s a topic for another day. Let’s focus on the Incoming Guest Nurture Campaign to get you started.
The Goal of the Emails
- Calibrate guest expectations (so I can exceed them)
- Get guests excited about their vacation (thus increasing their happiness high)
- Invite guests to my information-packed website and increase units per sale via affiliate links
- Most importantly talking and sharing information about their upcoming vacation with their friends and family, increasing referral and repeat bookings
To do this project, you can use your email marketing tool or a third party app like WIX Shout Out, Constant Contact or MailChimp. For the more advanced folks, this can be easily automated with most booking software. Note: Be sure to get your guest’s opt-in permission before sending them newsletters as it violates the email marketing regulations in relation to spam and newsletters if you don't.
Nancy's Email Preference
I send my newsletters through an automated email marketing plan on my WIX ShoutOut subscription. This is associated with my WIX website. As a side note, I love WIX because it’s a really user-friendly drag-and-drop theme app, where you don’t need to understand website code to make one. All the plugins I need are available within WIX where I simply have to pick and choose which one to to add to my email automation. To have a successful WIX website you just need to have knowledge of what items to include that are really important to a vacation business, how to edit both desktop and mobile views, and how the basics of SEO work (in general and within the WIX editor).
The Benefits of Email Newsletters
Beyond just satisfying the guest's increasing needs for great customer service, this campaign also:
- Increases income via my affiliate links (Recommended Reading: Upselling Your Vacation Rental: From Burger to Combo Meal)
- Leverages the guest’s social/friends network to get referral bookings
- Increases website search engine ranking position
- Increases guest relations
- Get more reviews/testimonials
- Get more repeat bookings
The nurture campaign should look and feel professional with excellent graphics and important information that your traveler needs. The key to this campaign is to direct guests to your website. It's important to have valuable content on your website that acts a lot like landing pages. In my case, almost all of the links go to landing pages on my website where I have created Evergreen content (information that never has an expiry date.)
Some of these pages have a Call to Action, like booking an activity or a making a reservation. This type of content is great for SEO and you can use it over and over again in many different ways (ie: answering questions on social media platforms which drives new traffic to your website).
If you don’t have a website you could create several PDF documents or a digital magazine to deliver the same information to your guests. Don’t forget to include ‘Call to Action’ items (indicated above) within the document. Here is what I recommend including for each step:
1. Email #1: Send upon booking
- Links to your affiliate page to book things to do directly from a website
- Link to top 10 restaurants blog post
- Link to a local interest item, like my free trolley insider’s guide
- Links to my social media platforms, ask them to follow
- Call to action to subscribe to my newsletter
- Here is an example of my first newsletter email that goes out to my booked guests immediately upon creating a reservation.
2. Email #2: Send 1 month prior to arrival
- Include information from any question that has been asked by a traveler more than twice (this advice I took from fellow Inner Circle member, David Angotti, relating to anything you do more than twice needs to be automated). Examples are questions about local grocery stores, caterers, guides...etc.
- A list of the vacation rental kitchen amenities, kids amenities, beach gear, grilling amenities, welcome basket stock, bathroom amenities
- A list of what starter items supplied in the home
- Instructions on how to mail or deliver items to our vacation rentals (since we live on an island without door to door service this is important to our guests)
- Call to action to subscribe to my newsletter
- An example of this and my remaining newsletters can be accessed in the Inner Circle.
3. Email #3: Send out 2 weeks prior to arrival
- Information about what items are provided and what is not (we stage our VR photos with bikes and kayaks)
- Links to categories of our affiliate links boating, horseback riding, grocery concierge, etc...
- Link to the average weather insider guide on my website
- Link to the beach insider guide on my website
- Link to a local artist affiliate blog post about getting an oil portrait of their family on the beach
- Check-in info about when their documents will be emailed directly
- Call to action to join my Facebook and Instagram accounts and share their photos
- Call to action to subscribe to my newsletter
- An example of this and the remaining newsletters can be accessed in the Inner Circle.
4. Human phone call on arrival day
- Inform the guest of any maintenance issues that may have arisen. It’s best to let guests know ahead of time so that you can avoid unhappy surprises.
- Inform guest about operation manuals location in each house
- Inform guest about YourWelcome tablet usage and how they can book rentals directly from the tablet in each house (affiliate links are in the tablets)
- Talk them through some house details that may not be in my operations manual and in house tablet
- Give them my cell number so they can text or call me if they have questions or need something
- Ensure team has welcome basket prepared and ready for guests to enjoy upon arrival
- An example of this and the other newsletters can be accessed in the Inner Circle.
Why the Phone Call Is So Important
Real Life Example ~ I recently had a pretty serious situation where one of the docks at my home was badly damaged and unusable for several days. The dock and waterfront is the primary reason why guests love this home and book it! But because of this Incoming Guest Nurture Campaign, I was able to deal with the problem in a way that the guest was already ‘on my side’ because we had built up a relationship through my newsletters and phone call. I let him know about the issue before he arrived at the property to manage his expectations, there were no surprises. The guests that were affected trusted me to handle the problem professionally and as quickly as I could and most importantly knowing that I would be treating them fairly in a way that they would still walk away happy. This guest left me a 5-star review and has already contacted me to book again! Sweet!!!!
My guests love this information and professionalism and the proof is in my email stats, reviews and repeat bookings. In fact, I’ve had to turn away repeat guests due to lack of supply...time to invest in my next vacation rental!
This past month I sent out a batch of these newsletters to guests for my 3 properties. Check out these stats:
89 Clicks to Website
Note from Matt: With the help of David Angotti, Nancy and I took something of a deep dive into these statistics and we concluded that while a) they are super impressive (they blow traditional email marketing stats out of the water), what's more important is b) that they are evidence people really love this incoming guest nurture sequence and find it incredibly useful. The point here when you go to implement this technique is not the quantitative result but the qualitative outcome, that people appreciate and engage with your work.
My guests love this marketing campaign because it doesn’t feel sales-y and they get loved-up and happy from the moment they book one of my vacation rentals to the moment they depart. They often leave information relating to this campaign in their reviews. Having tried many different campaigns in the past I’m now in the stage of really nurturing my business where my repeat guests are booking 2-years in advance just to get back into my vacation rentals.
This is the one simple marketing campaign that you need to put into practice TODAY to get more 5-star reviews and bookings! Once you have completed this Incoming Guest Nurture Campaign start a “Post Stay - Nurture Campaign” to solidify those repeat bookings. Remember to send it to them upon departure, you only have up to 8-weeks after they depart to take advantage of their ‘Happiness High’ period.