On paper, 66-year old South African retiree C.C. is not what most of us might imagine as a hospitality entrepreneur.
But upon dissecting her evolving vacation rental business, you’d be surprised at how uniquely proactive her marketing strategy is compared to those of her competitors.
With South Africa’s monetary value dropping at alarming rates late last year, C.C. dipped into her savings and built a 35m2 cottage above her garage in Cape Town with one goal in mind: to rent it to travelers and supplement her income as a retiree.
Not unlike many enjoying the wave of the newly emerging vacation rental industry, C.C. finished the cottage in March, then listed it on Airbnb, and almost instantly hosted her first guests on April 11th, 2015.
These guests would be the first of more to come. In June she was booked 75%. And in July she set another record with only a few nights going vacant.
“It surpassed my wildest wishes,” she told me.
What happens next is not the doomsday scenario that plenty of newspapers and magazines like to harp on (featuring mishaps or scams or adversity in the vacation rental industry). In fact, it is very much the opposite.
C.C. decided to build on her early success and began exploring growth opportunities: “I wanted to get more guests, buy more apartments, and maybe even give the business to my kids one day.”
Yet despite owing her early marketing success to Airbnb, the one inherent limitation C.C. faced when relying on the shared economy giants, is that she didn’t feel she had full control of her brand. In other words, she didn’t feel she was giving herself the greatest chances of success.
“I wanted to leverage my authority, for example,” she said, “and offer travelers all kinds of effective information on what’s going on this weekend, different art exhibitions that I love, or news about our amazing wine festival. And unfortunately Airbnb does not allow me to do that on my normal listing so I cannot stand out from the crowd.”
“Another example is the street address,” C.C. told me. “I know Airbnb blacks out the street address for security purposes, but frankly I am fine with sharing my street address. I think it gives credibility to my offer. And I think I should be able to decide whether or not I want it shown. In fact, a client just booked one full month next year after they managed to do an independent Google street view search and match a photo of my gate with the view. How about that?”
Seeing these rules and standardizations as mini obstacles to her rental growth, C.C. took a step that is still surprisingly rare for most listing site users: she built her own website.
I had the opportunity to speak with Amy from The Abundant Host, an Airbnb optimization blog, and asked what percentage of hosts she felt had their own website presence: “Gosh, 10-15% max,” she told me. “I think Airbnb hosts don’t often choose to build out additional marketing platforms because they tend to think in a linear way about their listings—they’re spending time on Airbnb, and that just ends up becoming their world.”
Planting additional marketing seeds takes work, but with the plethora of inexpensive tools and services at our disposal these days, many hosts are increasingly up for the challenge.
And here’s proof: utilizing an inexpensive website building platform called Squarespace 1, C.C.’s daughter Misha launched a new website (below) for the newly minted Rose Cottage Studio in less than one day (website).
With an interface as simple as writing an email, C.C. plans to begin blogging on a regular basis, add in more information about her own personal story, and even begin building backlinks (free tutorial).
In this process, C.C.’s website spirit is brilliant: “I think it’s the way life is going these days: if you don’t can’t sell yourself on the web, you haven’t got a chance. I love how a website gives travelers more information about me and the cottage. It allows them to see that I am professional but also a unique personality. Most importantly, it does all of this on my own terms.”
As a cheeky example, here’s where C.C.’s website shares her rental’s location:
And none of C.C.’s marketing moves involve going cold turkey on the listing sites either. Airbnb is her best friend! And while it wouldn’t be insane to see C.C. down the line adopt her own booking software or payment platform, for the time being she’s perfectly happy paying tribute the company that got her here in the first place:
“I really love Airbnb and for the 3% off my payments it’s an absolute joy to use. I do not have a credit card facility here at home so they handle all that as well as the hosting guarantees. This makes the clients happy and it takes all the financial work off my shoulders.”[wpsharely id=”14198″] [/wpsharely]
Amy from The Abundant Host also shared with me some very clear predictions:
“More and more hosts will start to diversify their marketing in the future,” Amy said. “Even building a simple website for your listing can gain much more traffic from people searching for a place to stay outside of Airbnb.”
And no matter which listing site you enjoy, I’d like to further pry Amy’s observation open with a crobar and ask (also the theme of last month’s listing site dependence workshop) the following hypothetical question:
If you’re have trouble imagining this hypothetical, ask yourself, “What happens if my favorite listing site doubles its fees? Changes its ranking algorithm? Forces me to accept instant bookings in a way that I’m not comfortable with?”
It’s a good dilemma to ponder no matter which listing site(s) you primarily use. Simply because it forces you to define how diverse (not unlike your investment portfolio) your marketing really is.
After chatting with her for a few days, I have decided to chronicle C.C.’s vacation rental business trajectory. If my instinct is correct, she will begin using everything at her disposal (including listing sites) to build a sustainable asset and grow. C.C. didn’t retire to be told how she can and cannot market her vacation rental. But she is also fully aware of (and enchanted with) the challenge of learning independent techniques:
“It’s a learning curve for me. Do I enjoy it? Very much so.”
So my question for everyone who is an Airbnb host (or has used Airbnb when traveling) is as follows: why don’t more Airbnb hosts work to diversify their marketing portfolios? (There is no right or wrong answer.)
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.
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